The other day I was in a really bad mood; I’m talking deep blue funk. I was fatigued, felt horrible and was as blah as I’d been in a long time. Then I went to the gym for my normal daily workout and afterwards I noticed a funny thing. I felt better; not 100 percent, but there was a marked improvement. That made me think seriously about the benefits simple workouts give us and so I thought I’d extrapolate that to the travel experience.
I’m not a super buff, work out fiend. Far, far from it, but in the last couple of years I have made health and fitness a much bigger part of my life. The results have been great, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since college and frankly am more productive than ever. The results don’t only exist at home of course; they’ve also impacted my personal travel experience in the best ways possible. So with all of that in mind I thought I’d offer a few easy, non-preachy tips on how exercise can and will make your travel experience a much more pleasurable experience.
Before you travel
At the risk of violating my promise not to be preachy, there are some simple life decisions that you can make to improve your overall health, which in turn helps you when you travel. Add some element of physical activity to your life; it can be as simple as a 30 minute walk a few times a week. By getting in slightly better shape, you’ll have more energy when you do take a trip and will be able to see and do much more. Also, do an audit of what you eat in a typical week. Write down everything and then review at the end of the week. I did this and was pretty surprised, and not just at the number of chocolate chip cookies. While I felt and looked healthy, I wasn’t eating that way which explained nagging lethargy in spite of working out every day. I reduced the amount of sugars, carbs and Diet Cokes and within a couple of weeks I felt a lot better. What does this have to do with travel? Well, of course it means you’ll also have more energy on that dream vacation but more importantly, if you retrain your brain (and stomach) before you leave home then you’ll make better decisions when you travel.
A huge part of the travel experience is food and eating and that’s fine. I’m the first one in line for a pain au chocolat whenever I’m in Paris. But by retraining how we eat and even look at food at home, that absolutely will translate to the travel experience. I noticed that on my last trip when visiting the hotel’s breakfast buffet I opted for fruits, granola and oatmeal instead of the baked beans and fried eggs. A year ago that wouldn’t have been the case, but since I altered how I eat at home I didn’t even want the heavier foods when traveling. That doesn’t mean I always skip them, I do love a great Full English Breakfast, but they were no longer part of my daily routine. Extrapolate this throughout the average day and you will consistently make healthier eating decisions while still enjoying your trip.
When you travel
I was reading a web site recently and the travel provider made the case that instead of having a gym accessible to guests, simply walking around the city would provide everyone with more than enough exercise. While I appreciate the sentiment, that’s not exactly true. Yes, walking miles through a city will help us work off those wiener schnitzels or macarons, but it doesn’t give our bodies the rewards that a more intense workout provides.
Why did I feel happier after my workout the other day? Most likely it was due to a not-so-well-understood chemical produced by the central nervous system and pituitary gland called endorphins. I’m not going to get all science-y here, mostly because I’m not good at it, but endorphins are created in many ways and one way is as a response to prolonged, continuous exercise. Endorphins decrease feelings of pain and increase feelings of euphoria, what is sometimes referred to as a runner’s high. What degree of exercise is needed to produce these varies by person, but it takes more than a simple walk around a city. You need to hop on a treadmill or stationary bike and really exercise, for at least 30 minutes normally, in order to produce them. In turn, you’ll find that travel stress and some of those nagging aches and pains melt away. I find it easy to incorporate a workout into my travel regime, either my getting up a little earlier or using my down time not to sleep but to work out.
Other things to keep in mind
Of course exercise isn’t the only thing you need to do in order to be a healthy traveler. A few other things to keep in mind include:
- Don’t overplan! If you keep a relaxed schedule, you won’t be a stressed out traveler and will actually enjoy the experience.
- It’s expected to sample the local foods, but don’t go crazy. One giant pretzel in Germany is enough, three probably aren’t necessary.
- Starting at least a day before your flight and continuing until you get home, be sure to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is key to helping you feel better during the travel experience from mitigating the effects of jet lag to being more energetic when you’re on the ground.
- Stretch. Take 5-10 minutes every morning to do some simple stretches. You don’t have to go yoga-crazy, although that’s certainly great, just some simple moves to help you tackle the day ahead.
- I’m guilty of always being on the go when I travel, which is a huge mistake. Take time out of your day to rest and recharge. When we travel our schedules are typically much more active than at home and it’s key we give our body the time it needs to recuperate.
I hope this post wasn’t too self-righteous, it’s just the simple result of things I’ve noticed as I’ve tried to be a healthier and happier person.
What are some ways you try to be a healthy traveler?