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What I Wonder When I Wander: How can I Get Healthy on the Road?

What I Wonder When I Wander: How can I Get Healthy on the Road?

Last Updated on March 15, 2023

First off, I’d like you to notice what the title of this week’s column is not. I don’t wonder how I can stay healthy on the road – at least not yet. I have to get there first.

Before Dani and I left to travel, I was definitely not at my healthiest point in life. In fact, saying it that way is just being polite to myself. I was a wreck, physically and emotionally. Not only did Dani and I have terrible eating habits, but I was also constantly stressing out and not handling challenges well. I can see now that this had as much to do with my poor diet and lack of exercise as it did with my dissatisfaction of office life.

Sticking our middle fingers upCutting all ties with anyone else’s expectations (becoming a nomad) was an amazing way for both of us to stick up our middle fingers at the status quo and re-claim our lives. I have lived abroad since I was 19, but actually becoming homeless has made me the happiest yet. It did wonders for my mental health. There was a sense of calm in the freedom. A slow but steady confidence pushed up through the cracks of the conventional lifestyle I was slowly shedding. Having just recently hit 800 days traveling last week, it is obvious that this lifestyle really suits us both.

For the first time in a long time, I want to be healthy physically as well. Not just to lose weight, although I have gone up two sizes since we set off. I want to get into great shape, rock a bikini while I’m still young enough. I don’t need a six-pack but I want to be able to do 100 push-ups, use a playground as a place to do pull-ups, run miles through new cities. I want to know just how good I can feel, physically. And I know that weight loss is key for that.

montaione pizza & jessie

Sampling local specialties in Italy…

The Nomadic Nutrition Conundrum 

Being nomadic is not the same as being on an extended vacation, even though I saw it that way at first – road-side diners and fast food in the States, lots of oily beans and rice dishes in Latin America, cheese and bread in Europe. Each country has a specialty or two, and I can safely tell you, some 30 countries later, that, though delicious, these dishes almost always fall under the category of comfort food.

We are both total foodies and really enjoy sampling these foods it is also nearly impossible for me to say ‘no’ when Dani also gets to work sampling the national pastry or dessert as well. Unlike me, Dani is one of those lucky ladies who can eat whatever she wants and not gain weight. She feels unaffected by her food and was born with a bottomless energy tank. It is hard not to fall into that seductive trap…how much easier it would be to just enjoy the food we find around the world and not worry about it at all like Dani… On the one hand, I see this as a self-control issue. I could always just say no to the fried foods and not eat those sweets. But that solves only one half of the problem.

Dani at Runyon Canyon

One of the rare occasions that Dani joined me for a work out | Runyon Canyon, L.A.

If I don’t eat the rice, the bread, the cheese (though I am pretty sure this one is impossible) I have trouble finding the healthy alternative. Not being from a place makes it a lot harder to find those healthy restaurants, and although we always try, much of the time the attempts are futile. Don’t forget – Dani and I are vegetarians and have been for a combined total of 51 years (me, my whole life, Dani since she was 12 years old). More than anything I would love to dig in to a big salad for at least one meal a day, but anyone who has traveled in developing countries can understand the, let’s say, explosive risk involved in ordering a salad.

salad in battambang cambodia

Unexpectedly, Cambodia turned out to have some of the best salads we had anywhere on our travels

When we ordered salad in Guatemala or ate that lovely sliced fresh fruit on the side of the road in El Salvador, we risked the revenge known as Montezuma in a serious way. The two of us have had just about every travel sickness there is. This means that when traveling in developing nations, we eat fresh food primarily at restaurants aimed at foreigners, cleaned with filtered water. These places are harder to find and not always available, which puts me back at square one – eating local foods that I enjoy without being able to control my diet.

nicaraguan food

Sampling local specialties in Nicaragua: Platanos, Rice & Beans, Yucca, Cheese, Eggs and Potatoes.
Note: Everything on this plate is fried.

Getting fit on the road is Insanity! 

Nutrition conundrum aside, burning calories is obviously the best way for me to get fit – and in January of this year I started to get serious about working out again. P90x required too many items that don’t fit in a backpack, so I opted for Insanity, which requires only your own body weight and every extra ounce of energy you can summon from your soul. I was working out in 100 degree South East Asian heat on dirty guesthouse floors – I wanted it that bad! I got myself a yoga mat and took up that practice to balance the intense workouts.

I also started learning about health from my two favorite wellness podcasts – Jillian Michaels and Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness. We were in Thailand at this time, and I was able to afford full blood work, got a series of B-12 shots and leveled out my iron and magnesium. We started taking a multivitamin everyday on top of it and by the time we got to Cambodia I was rocking, shedding weight and feeling the best I had felt in years.

Venice Beach

There should be more beaches that come with work-out equipment like this one in Venice Beach, California

Injury and lack of motivation 

Fast forward to April in Singapore when I aggravated a knee injury and then on to May in India when the injury had practically incapacitated me. In India of all places where I was looking forward to yoga every day and had even toyed with the idea of hitting up an ashram. For sarcastic old me, that was as far as I had ever thought to go, spiritually. But first my knee held me back and then, of course, I was rammed by that cow.

Cow encounter in Denver

Another encounter with a cow… luckily, this time no-one got hurt.
Denver, Colorado

Laid completely flat for over two weeks and stuck with the few restaurants in the beach town we were in that would let Dani take food away, I gained back everything I had lost and more. This shook my confidence and robbed me of my motivation. The longer I couldn’t exercise, the less I felt like it anyway.

Our housesit in Tucson saved me. There I could go on short walks with the dog and swim in the pool to help my body recover, and was able to shop at Trader Joe’s and prepare healthy food for a month. We were having all-organic fruit and yogurt parfaits for breakfast and strawberry and spinach salads for lunch. Now we are in Mexico on a two-month housesit at the beach house. While the food options in this remote area are limited, I can still plan meals, plus I have a beach to run on when I am fully recovered and the perfect rooftop for yoga to get me back to that point.

tucson homemade yogurt parfait

Home-made yogurt parfaits in Tucson, Arizona

But herein lies my problem:

1. Stability is the best way to control a food and exercise regimen.
2. Being a nomad is inherently unstable.
3. I want to be physically fit and eat right.
4. I have never been happier than when being a nomad.

The two things I want most don’t seem to line up.

Here’s what I wonder…How do I get fit on the road? It’s been over two years now and the ups and downs are really bugging me. I know that I probably won’t be attacked by normally docile livestock again, or get Dengue Fever again (yep, didn’t even mention that up there), but how do I manage to find the balance between nomadic life and kick-ass physical condition. If I could do that, I think I would be entirely at peace…


Friday 17th of August 2012

Jess, I commented here about a month ago when you first posted this blog. I just wanted to give you an update. I've been traveling for about 4 1/2 months, and around month 3 realized that gaining a pound a week was something I would have to stop if I was going to continue traveling long-term. I started doing Couch-2-5k and now am running whenever it is possible, probably 4 out of 7 days a week. I'm also doing some crunches on the side. I cut out beer, bread, soda and whatever other sugars and starches had made their way into my diet. It's a sacrifice, especially being in places with cheap beer and great bread, but it is well worth it as I feel MUCH better about myself and can tell I've shed a significant part of that beer belly. I just realized that long-term travel is a lifestyle, not a vacation, and I have to make an effort to keep these healthy changes constant while I'm gone. Glad to hear that you're feeling better as well, and thanks for sharing in the first place--I thought I was the only one!

crazy sexy fun traveler

Thursday 16th of August 2012

You would never say so if you looked at me or my photos, but I do have the same problem. I cannot gain more than 5 kilos, that's the fact, but I still need to watch what I do and eat. And each time I visit home, I almost don't do any physical movement, but eat, so it is visible on me just after a week at home. Struggle!

Good post!


Friday 17th of August 2012

It's definitely hard to keep it all off when we travel for sure!


Tuesday 14th of August 2012

Excellent post. My partner and I have been traveling since April 2012 (we came across your blog in Guatemala and it seems you guys have always just been, or are going to, the same places as us). Its fair to say my metabolism sounds similar to Dani's, but my partner has the same concerns you do. Funnily enough, Shaun T has become our personal fitness guru also...we got through 6 weeks of the program but fell of the wagon when we moved places again. But the fact that you can do a class here and there (even if not following the program) is a real plus. Another suggestion is to find a local gym class. Generally I hate gym classes but we went to a Les Mills bodypump class in Mexico which was not only bearable but fun 1) because it was in Spanish and 2) because its a great way to see people just doing the same everyday things no matter where you are in the globe. Yoga and spin classes seem to be pretty globally available too. The other thing of course is taking control of your own diet by staying in places with a kitchen, clearly you're doing this anyway, but it made all the difference for us, plus shopping in local markets and seeing all the crazy supermarket products is one of our absolute favorite things to do in a new place! Good luck finding a health regime that works for you. Hope you get fit enough doing insanity that you could wipe that overenthusiastic smile of Tania's face! Ha.


Tuesday 14th of August 2012

Sandra, thanks so much for your comment - it feels really good to hear how other people struggle and identify with this issue. I am back up and running now and working out again, Insanity starts again in a week or so. And by the way - Tania - she is the one with the abs in the red sports bra, right? I want her abs for real! Dani and I used to do bodypump classes in London twice a week and we both LOVED it. It was amazing how much stronger we were after a few weeks than in the beginning. Our problem with gyms is that it can be really costly always paying the day rate. In Kuala Lumpur, for example, they wanted $30, in Singapore it was even more, New York was $35, etc. When we can we try to get a hotel with a gym, but that only happens in the developed world. Groupon is great for finding cheap workouts, as well, especially yoga and pilates. You guys should stay in touch and let us know where you're traveling to next - maybe we can meet up somewhere in the world!

Alex in Wanderland | Travel and Diving Blog | Getting Back in Shape for Travel

Saturday 11th of August 2012

[...] realized that health is an incredibly important topic when it comes to travel — and I’m not the only one musing over it. I have some pretty big travel goals and dreams — I want to do a yoga retreat in Bali, hike [...]

Kirra Cheers

Tuesday 7th of August 2012

Someone else mentioned green smoothies and I could not agree more. Nothing stabilises me more than a green smoothie in the morning. It sets me off to a good start and inspires me to make better choices during the day. Its not always possible but if you can get your hands on a cheap $20 blender when you arrive at a new destination you are all set. I follow this up with yoga and then see my new destination by bike or walking. it is a constant challenge though. When i first started travelling I put on 12kg so I sympathise with you.


Wednesday 8th of August 2012

Very interesting Kirra! What do you put in the green smoothie? I like what you say about picking up a blender, maybe the next time we stay somewhere for a bit longer, I'll do that. I am doing yoga and I absolutely love it, and as soon as injuries heal I'll do Insanity again!