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(Part 2) What I Wonder When I Wander: Can I Get Healthy on the Road – The Answer is YES!

(Part 2) What I Wonder When I Wander: Can I Get Healthy on the Road – The Answer is YES!

Last Updated on February 16, 2021

I was desperately hoping to be able to write this and was terrified I would never get to. This is a follow up, in response to the post I wrote and published on July 15th, 2012 pondering whether I would ever be able to get healthy on the road. Can I lose weight while traveling the world?

The answer is ‘Yes.’


Jess in Tucson, AZ, August 2013

This is the story of how I was able to transform myself in more ways than I even imagined in just over a year.

I have always known that travel could be incredibly transformative, in whatever ways you let it change you. While the changes for me have been more visible, Dani’s mental and spiritual transformation has also been an incredible process to witness and be a part of.

For me, though, it took a while to write this. I was so deep in the process that I didn’t realize most of my goals were accomplished. It first hit home that i had actually gotten fit when we were sitting around with friends in Berlin, and in response to some comment I must have made about my weight, a friend looked me right in the eye and said simply, ‘Jess, you’re thin.’ For her, she was confused at why I would have made whatever comment I made – I can’t remember what it was now. For me, her unwavering matter-of-fact statement sliced through me. I replied that my mind hadn’t caught up with my body yet.

Jess in Tucson July 2012

Jess in Tucson, AZ, July 2012

Then, I was further prompted to write this when we had readers actually pointing out that we should update our photos across the website, since I had ‘slimmed down’.

What pushed me to finally write this, to officially declare that I accomplished this goal, was that Dani sent me an email with five possible ‘Before’ photos if I ever did get around to writing the post.

My jaw dropped and out popped, ‘Holy shit!’

Jess in Thailand, January 2012

Jess in Thailand, January 2012

It made me remember how achy, sad, unfit I felt back then. I remember being upset every time I looked in the mirror because that person looking back at me did not represent who I was inside.

The fact is, that I actually received a serious outpouring of support when I wrote that first post about this last year. Everyone reassured me that what matters is who I am on the inside, not my outward appearance. I am incredibly sensitive, so this support felt amazing at the time. But the truth is, the whole idea that all that matters is what is on the inside, that has never quite sat right with me. I might be sensitive, but I tend to be loud, outspoken and I swear like a sailor. I’m funny (at least I think I’m funny), I’ve got strong opinions and express them, some days, I feel very feminine and other days I feel like I want to hop on a motorcycle and speed away. Other days, I feel like a girly badass.

lose weight while traveling

Jess in Sukothai, Thailand, November 2011

Self-expression is a major part of who you are. and that is expressing the inner you, outwardly. But I was at a weight where I was stuck with whatever clothes fit, not ones that accurately portrayed how I felt inside. I couldn’t find much in the U.S. and almost nothing traveling in Asia or Latin America. The chubby-cheeked girl just wasn’t who I expected to see in the mirror every time I would dare to look.

But it isn’t just about what clothes I was able to wear, and this was never just about my weight.

I now know that when you are fit, mentally and physically, you are able to become your best self, and that is who you translate and project it outward. Not because you wear a size four or eat your spinach, but because you have all cylinders firing at maximum capacity to really make a difference.

Dani and Jess in Las Veges, July 2010

Dani and Jess in Las Vegas, July 2010

Again it wasn’t about the weight. It was to be able to bring my A Game to life. I knew that we were already traveling, which means we doing something remarkable with our lives. And yet I was achy, my bones hurt, my skin took ages to heal from bug bites, I felt older than my age – all of these things were holding me back from truly enjoying the amazing experiences we were having as two girls traveling the globe!

So, you want numbers? Just what did I achieve?

The truth is, I have no idea how much weight I lost while traveling. Here is what I do know:

The pair of black shorts with a drawstring that I bought from Old Navy last July, right before publishing the Part 1 post, were a size 14. This summer in New York, the day we walked the length of Broadway, I bought another pair of black shorts from Old Navy, and these were a size 8 with a button (and therefore much less give).

My best friend drove right by me when picking me up at the airport in Denver this June – she didn’t even recognize me, and not just because of my new bangs.

I own a bikini now. I even started to wear it.

can i lose weight while traveling

Jess 2011 vs Jess 2013

How I got healthy on the road – Mentally

The biggest changes that had to take place were the mental challenges. I had felt for a long time that no matter what I thought, about almost anything, I was probably wrong. I constantly undercut my own drive and ambition with the idea that I had no real idea what the world was like, and that I was an idiot. It’s hard to explain where that mentality comes from, but that is what a lack of confidence looks like, rotting on the inside of you.

Because we don’t have a solid group of friends around for support I had to look elsewhere and I really meant it when I named that post ‘I think a podcast saved my life‘. The intimate experience of listening to people who expect to live their best life, talking about it right into my earbuds…I know I have talked about this before, but it rewired my brain and my way of thinking. It’s impossible for me not to mention this again. It played a huge role in life.

jess angel valdivia

Slimming down, Jess in Valdivia February 2013

In direct terms of my health, I credit Tara Brach for her witty, intelligent mix of psychology and Buddhism that gave me a dose of desperately needed spirituality and permission not to be so hard on myself. From the uber-intelligent interviews that Sean Croxton holds on his Underground Wellness podcast, I learned how to heal my gut and why I gain weight and feel like crap when I eat sweets and gluten (gluten intolerance/leaky gut/insulin resistance), but Dani can have cake every day and still feel fabulous.

My relationship with food changed not because of my ability to overcome my cravings for Taco Bell, but because I learned from him that food is the best form of preventative medicine, so why stuff myself with junk and then worry?

From Jillian Michaels, I learn how to let go of the past. Jillian’s own goals are lofty and she has a hell of a time achieving them, but she shares openly about her failures and this idea of ‘Why not you?’ Why should other people live their dreams, but not you? Why not me? Why not us? I internalized that thinking and it has lead me to making much loftier goals for the future.

dani and jess torres del paine

Dani in Jess in Torres Del Paine, Chile, March 2013

Because podcasts played such a role in helping me transform, I finally launched our Break Free podcast this year, in order to help women understand they can forget the glass ceiling and break down the walls, instead. I interview women who know way more than we do about how to do this in order to provide a blueprint for breaking free. If I can affect and inspire change for just one woman the way that these podcasters have helped me, then that is more than enough, because I have felt the power and energy behind my own transformation.

How I got healthy on the road – Physically

Being nomadic presented a certain set of challenges in terms of working out. No gym membership, cramped hotel and hostel rooms with dirty floors, plus the challenge of finding the energy to work out after those physically exhausting travel days. Here’s how I got my weight and nutrition under control:

1. I started with Yoga. My joints were very achy and I was recovering after getting rammed by a cow in India, so this was the best way to do something physical everyday.
2. I tricked Dani into committing to do the Insanity Workout for 60 days. Shaun T is another person who played a huge role in my transformation.
3. We continued to do Insanity through two months housesitting in Costa Rica, six weeks in our Buenos Aires apartment (even when we ate all that pizza!) and two months housesitting in Santiago.

can i lose weight while traveling

Working out in Chile

4. Whenever possible, we started making green smoothies in the morning.
5. We started shopping in grocery stores more and eating out less. When we traveled heavily through Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, I traveled with boiled eggs, bananas, avocados and nuts. This kept me full, was healthy and kept me from snacking on cakes and cookies.
6. With no space to do Insanity, I (and sometimes Dani) would do a Deck of Cards workout (here’s an article about it on Lifehacker) in a park or open space.
7. I started choosing a non-bread, non-pasta option whenever possible. I don’t know if I am gluten intolerant, but I think my joints hurt from a constant low level of inflammation and I just know that I feel better when I don’t eat gluten.
8. In New York I did the 21 Day Sugar Detox to regulate insulin levels and learn about how insulin affects hormones, hunger and overall health.
9. In Berlin we cycled everywhere, 20km a day or more.
10. In Tucson, where we are at the moment, WE (Dani and I, together) are doing the 21 Day Sugar Detox for a second time right now – you can pick up a copy of the book, smoothie guide and other supplementary material here.

I could probably still lose ten or fifteen pounds and might attempt that at some point to get in the best shape of my life. But for right now, I consider myself in maintenance mode, looking to maintain my weight rather than lose. I still have to be active, but I know now that my nutrition is 80 per cent of my success and workouts make up only 20 per cent.

can i lose weight while traveling

Making sugar and dairy free chocolate pie

What I have learned in the last year

1. Having a supportive partner is key.

Dani has been incredibly supportive throughout this entire process. She committed to Insanity even though she didn’t want to, and then made me do it on the days I wanted to stay in bed. She understands if I don’t want to split some meals, because she is eating bread or pasta and I don’t want to eat it that day. She has been cooking throughout this entire 21 Day Sugar Detox – making cauliflower crust pizza, amazing soups, pretty darn good sugar free desserts – even though she just wants to order pizza and eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

dani and jess in nyc 2013

Dani and Jess in New York, August 2013

Most importantly, there were some big hiccups this past year. I went a little crazy on the health food for a while. I went from having no confidence to a period of over-adjustment where I was a cocky, arrogant jerk face, and Dani stuck by me until I realized that my bubble had become too inflated. I burst my own bubble and came out to find Dani there, willing to accept the person that I had truly been trying to become. We’re happier now than we ever have been. Some of this has to do with me being in a better place, and most of it has to do with her incredible support.

With our friend Nicky in New York City July 2013

2. Getting healthy on the road is different, but not harder, than getting healthy any other way.


3. The only way to be my best is to do my best.

Over the course of this year and a bit, I have learned that I can only do what I can do, but that I can do more than I thought I could. Let me explain: in Argentina, as a vegetarian, your options are often pizza and pasta. But rather than feel like a victim, I carried nuts, eggs, fruit and veg with me. However, if I was starving and didn’t have the snacks to sustain me, I just ate what was available and didn’t beat myself up over it. I can only do what I can do.

4. Happiness and confidence are not how I imagined them to be.

Looking at successful people who I considered mentors or just plain ‘better than me’, I always thought that they just had everything together, that they were perfect, armored, felt no pain or fear.

On the contrary, I have learned that fear will always be there, bad things will always happen and that every country we visit will have some sort of cheesy doughy dish, and I am powerless to resist, be it empanadas, pierogies, pizza, whatever. My mentality toward food will shape the decisions I make. Are chips really a treat? Is a second empanada worth achy joints?

chips & nuts chiang mai market

Nuts instead of chips!

Do I have a six pack? No. Do I want one. Hell yes and if I set the goal to get one, I now know that I could. But I don’t think that is what would make me the happiest. What I’ve learned is that happiness and confidence come from knowing that I’m doing the best I can do at any given moment to be exactly who I want to be.

Fitting in to clothes in foreign countries is just the cherry on top.

can i lose weight while traveling

Jess in Berlin, July 2013

There are affiliate links in this post. This means that you pay nothing extra if you make a purchase, but we receive a small percentage for recommending you. If you do decide to purchase the 21 Day Sugar Detox, please write us so we can trade stories and recipes and commiserate on the hard days and if you do Insanity you have to get in touch share your progress – we love Shaun T and Insanity and want to share our experiences with you, too!

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Monday 9th of September 2013

Well done! I know it's no mean feat to stay healthy when static, let alone while on the road. I'm currently trying to work out the best diet for me and it is quite a challenge. I'm cutting out gluten, dairy and sugar for a month to see how I feel when I go back on them — it sometimes feels on a par with giving up smoking (not that I ever had to do that but I imagine). I'm in Ubud right now, which is the perfect place for it — full of healthy food – but even here it can be a struggle. I crave cakes so much! I've been trying lots of different therapies while here, and have had loads of dietary advice from ayurverdic and Chinese medicine doctors, naturopaths, kinesiologists and more. The variety of info is pretty mind-boggling, but ayurveda is my favourite so far. I'm writing about it all on the blog for a 'Dont knock it til you've tried it' series. Anyways, Congratulations!


Thursday 19th of September 2013

I really like that - don't knock it til you try it. That's the kind of simple advice that nowhere near enough people actually follow! Good on you. I'm not a sugar person, so for me on the 21 day sugar detox, I was actually content. Gluten is what I'd love to be able to just delete, but I'm not always in control of my food. I have had skin issues before and I have always secretly thought it might be dairy. But cutting out dairy as a veggie means going vegan and I just hate that thought. I eat a lot cheese, eggs, yogurt and butter and love a high full fat diet which is what ironically helped me lose weight. Anyway, I'd love to do the elimination, too, though, and who knows, maybe we'll be in Bali next year and we can try it there too :)


Sunday 8th of September 2013

Oh wow. Mega inspiration! Thanks so much for your honesty and openness. This is a post that I really needed to read! Congrats on the hard work, you look rad, and thanks for writing this x


Thursday 19th of September 2013

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I need to get these things off my chest, but also I want to share that it's not impossible to actually get fit while you travel. So many people run themselves ragged, but when this is your lifestyle, not just a two-month escape, for example, getting and staying fit is a struggle and I just wanted to add my voice to the positive possibilities...


Thursday 5th of September 2013

An idea for the new "Wonder when I Wander" header ... same pose but a current photo of you, chin in hand, wondering. I bet you'll be surprised how it looks.

Or crop the photo by the harbor to show just you leaning against the rail. That one kind of says, 'I may wonder, but I'm HERE!"

A topic for wondering would be something about how we can have an idea of how we look and not update it in our minds, when we change. No full-length mirrors in hostels? Something mental or habitual that keeps us from noticing ourselves reflected in shop windows, etc.? Interesting question.

And an idea for getting the mental image in sync with the reality ... Stand in front of a full length mirror any time possible and let the sight sink in ... turn to the side, turn to the back, look at yourself moving, let the old view fade away.

Congratulations! It really is quite a difference!


Thursday 19th of September 2013

Hi Carolyn, thanks for the ideas and the compliments. I suppose we could update that - I just love that picture because it was from a great stay we had in Singapore at a fab hotel and we just had such a nice time while we were there. I think the reason that I, and posisbly others, don't see the changes is because we focus on the small things that we still want to change rather than seeing the big picture of what did change. So I still see remaining love handles or jiggly thighs, for example, rather than the fact that I'm down three or four sizes!

Tom Bartel

Wednesday 4th of September 2013

Great story and tips, especially on the green smoothies. I'm going to try to follow some of them. I swear.


Thursday 19th of September 2013

Hi Tom, thanks! The green smoothies are great, we both feel much healthier when we can have them for breakfast or a snack in the afternoon. If it made any logistical sense at all, we'd carry a blender around with us :)