Before we left behind our comfortable lives as Aussie expats living and working in London, Carmen forced me to go to the doctor for a check up. Being a man, I had neglected to go to the doctor even once in our nearly five years of living in one the world’s busiest, most stressful cities where the inevitable weight gain for Aussies is called ‘the Heathrow injection.’
What the doctor revealed about my health shocked me.
‘You have high blood pressure for a man your age and it needs to come down quickly. It is very likely stress related.’
For the better part of three years I had been working at BBC World News as a producer and often worked punishing overnight shifts punctuated by laddish levels of drinking with my mates and nights out to restaurants that specialised in butter.
‘That explains it,’ the doctor said. ‘You need to get healthy. You need a holiday.’
‘Well,’ I said nervously. ‘I’m actually taking a long term trip across the Americas.’
‘Jolly good,’ she said. ‘If I could prescribe travel as a remedy to my patients on the NHS I would.’
Carmen and I have been travelling now for 14 months and can see no end in sight.
These days I feel fitter, skinnier, waaaaay less stressed and far happier than when I was in London.
Back then I weighed in at over 95kg (209 pounds for you archaic Americans!) and now I top the scales at around 86kg. I just cut a new hole in my belt and my jeans look like something I dragged from the cupboard drawers of a 1990s gangster rapper.
So how did I do it?
Well, the simplest things are cutting meat from the diet save for seafood and the occasional steak (which I thoroughly enjoy), exercising every day and cutting back on the grog.
But when it comes to long term travel, there are lots of things you need to do every day and night out if you’re going to keep the weight off and enjoy the health benefits of getting away from the grind. It’s taken me and Carmen a while to really find our feet with this sort of thing, but we’re getting better at it and seeing the results.
Relax. I’m not going to bombard with kale and gravel smoothies, kombucha enemas or raw food massage techniques.
But here are three simple health tips for long term travel that you can do every day to make it an investment into your health.
Cook for yourself most of the time
If you’re travelling for a long time you have to be pennywise and dollar smart. Eating out at restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, even if you get the specials and cheap meals, will add up very quickly and all that rich food will end up rolling over your belt buckle if you over do it.
So if you can cook, then cook. It makes sense for the wallet and the waist line. Plus, for me anyway, it’s a stress reliever to sizzle and bubble away at something in the kitchen.
We like to rent Airbnb accommodation or housesit so we can stay in place for a long time and enjoy the use of a full kitchen. We look up a bunch of healthy recipes each week and go to the local shops and markets to hunt down all the ingredients.
This gives us total control of the things we put into our bodies and saves us a lot of money in the long run. Plus, market shopping is a great way to experience a local culture first hand – and this is an added bonus.
If that’s not an option, most hostels have a communal kitchen. If they don’t, in my opinion it has no right to call itself a hostel. Whenever we stay in a hostel we knock out a vegetable soup or a tuna salad – something simple, cheap and healthy that can serve as a lunch or dinner. For breakfast, we boil some eggs and slice up some bread for toast and pack some sandwiches away in a tupperware container for lunch.
Then, when it comes time to eat out and enjoy the local delicacies we really enjoy it knowing that we have earned the splurge.
Other health tips – buy some vitamins like C, Iron and Zinc to keep travel bugs away. Drink lots of water (bottled is safest) and avoid foods that could make you ill, like seafood ceviche in a town 1,000 miles from the ocean!
Change your attitude
Long term travel is more than a holiday. I think of holidays as quick breaks, a reward for hard work back in the real world where the aim is to see, eat, drink and do as much as you possibly can without worrying about the consequences until you get back.
But with long term travel, you carry the consequences with you if you let them.
At the beginning of our trip I’ll admit I went a little nuts. I drank on school nights, ate massive hamburgers and wolfed down fries and rich food until I started to develop another chin. Not the sort of thing my doctor back in London would’ve prescribed. So I decided to do something about it.
I began to treat each week just like I treated them back in London, only better. I cut out drinking save for weekends. I started going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. I started running every day, knocking out some push ups or going for a hike.
I made a decision to eat healthier food and do all of the healthy things I had been saying for years I would do if only I had the chance.
Well, I’ve given myself the chance and I’m bloody well doing it. My big goal with this journey is to improve my life in every single possible way and none of that comes without a positive attitude. I still have my off days and stumble into a beer glass but the important thing is to make a distinction between slacking and living. Just because you don’t have to work 9 to 5 doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to let yourself go.
Meditate or create
This brings us neatly to a great point. Long term travel is awesome if you want to do things you’ve always wanted to do. I just wrote a book. It’s being edited right now and I can’t wait to get it back so I can keep honing it. We work our arses off doing blog posts for this site and for the clients of Red Platypus, our creative content agency.
I’ve read more books, watched more films, been for more runs, hikes, SCUBA dives and museum visits in the past year than in the last five combined, I reckon. I sketch, write the occasional diary post and do the odd bout of mediation. It’s brilliant.
Having the time to do the things you want to do and having tasks to accomplish every day makes your life feel all the more worthwhile.
So if you’re planning a long term trip I’d recommend you don’t step out the door without something to do other than travel. Take a sketch book. Upload 100 books you’ve always wanted to read to your Kindle. Buy some water colours and an art book. Start that novel or finish it. Just do something.
The brain is a muscle too and if you don’t use it, you lose it.
There is plenty of down time in long term travel. Use it wisely.
Don’t waste it eating onion rings and lazing beside a pool. If you do that, you won’t have anything to enjoy when you finally do take a holiday!