Picture this- you leave for a European summer backpacking trip with a passport in your hand and a 30 pound backpack strapped around your hips. Saving money for the trip has dramatically cut into your snacking budget (and you’ve been working out more for the hot foreigners, obviously)… so you’re looking better than ever. You strut through the airport like you literally run the show. You get on the plane, order your free soda, and revel in your upcoming adventure. Screw “New Year, New You”, try “New Country, New You!”
You’ve arrived in your first country, fling your giant bag off the carousel and perform a balancing act to get out of the airport without falling backwards (or forwards). You hop in a cab, or a bus, or a train (Vespa, anyone?) and- assuming all goes well- eventually find yourself in your new, temporary bed. You reach into your carry-on and finish the last of your airplane snack (you are exhausted, after all) and you brainstorm the first thing you are going to do in this new, unexplored place.
So you go to a cafe, or to a bar, or to the hostel lobby and you have a snack or drink and people watch. This results in making dinner plans with new friends or travel companions and you order the most incredible, delectable thing on the menu (“Pasta! I am in Italy after all”, “A waffle in Belgium! Breakfast for dinner anyone?”)
One night turns into two weeks and you’ve barely even covered all of the local meals. You fall into the reward trap: “I deserve the steak frités after walking around all day!”, “I have definitely earned this gelato, I mean I got myself all the way to Italy!” One night drinking turns into multiple nights out and next thing you’re walking from taking a beer bong at your hostel to splitting an alcoholic milkshake with new friends. You wake up in the morning groggy and hungover, fall back asleep, miss the whole day of sightseeing, and wake up to a pizza or cheap gyros and go out again (you are in Paris/ Berlin/ Amsterdam after all!)
You return from home 3 months later, full of incredible life-changing stories… and carrying an additional 20 pounds.
There is one very important thing that needs to be noted before I say anything else:
Never miss out on local cuisine or truly unforgettable experiences because you are afraid of gaining weight abroad.
You can usually find a way to lose the weight you gained afterwards, but you do not want to be the person no one wants to go to dinner with because you always order a plate of raw tomatoes. Even more importantly- you will miss a lot of genuinely remarkable local experiences by not trying (or worse- refusing) the local cuisine (just think about a host family dinner in rural China or in an Italian villa).
One of my personal frustrations with gaining weight while traveling is that sometimes it affects the experience itself. Those 6 hour hikes are just a bit harder with an additional 10 pounds and the one tight dress you brought just doesn’t quite fit the one special night you want to wear it out. For me, eating a balanced diet while traveling simply makes life a little bit easier on the road.
That being said, I think it is important that you see how so many travelers get caught in the weight-gain-abroad-trap. Keep in mind that you should not 100% avoid these things below (otherwise your trip would be so boring… no offense!) Just think about toning down one or two (or five) of these things every once in a while so you do not go overboard.
The biggest reason to stay healthy while traveling is so you can be the healthiest version of yourself for the best experience of your life.
How do people gain weight traveling?
It has been argued that jetlag can actually slow down your metabolism (which just sucks). To be honest, there is no real way to fix this except trying to beat jetlag by sleeping at set times to adjust your internal clock to the next timezone.
Read more about this in my post –> How to Beat Jet Lag When Traveling the World
2. Long transportation
Transportation that takes an incredibly long time (such as never ending train rides) is a common pain in the a** for many travelers. For example, you find it hard to sleep so you sit up and snack, or talk, or snack and talk, or drink and talk… Next thing you know you have sat on your butt all day, taking in additional calories, and losing valuable sleep hours.
Btw- if you have mastered the art of sleeping on an overnight bus, please give me your tricks!
2. Poor sleep patterns
This is can be pretty unavoidable while traveling. Whether you are out late enjoying the nightlife, waking up early to run to the airport, or still stuck in a time-zone from two countries ago… your sleep patterns will probably get messed up traveling. Even if you planned your trip around optimal sleep hours (which I doubt is possible, but props to you if you can), then you will still run into problems with your sleep pattern. Example 1: Snoring hostel-mates 2: Boiling hot hotel rooms 3: Not sleeping in your own bed 4: Mosquitos.
3. Eating out every meal
This is tempting and, honestly, I think it is really fun. But- it will hurt your waistline and your wallet. Save your money for that one activity you have always wanted to do (cage diving with Great Whites, anyone?) and enjoy a lot of meals in (no, this does not include delivery).
4. “I deserve this” attitude
Does this make sense for short vacations? Sure. Does this make sense for long-term travel? Sadly, no. Look- I totally think you deserve it (gelato, gyros, whatever). I think I deserve it too (*cough* Nutella*). But in moderation. If you choose to eat pasta for every lunch and dinner during your one week of vacation out of the entire work year, then I completely understand! But when you are traveling for more than a few weeks, this is really unrealistic. It is not fun to carry around the extra weight during your travels and even less fun when you feel unhealthy and fatigued during an incredible experience. Try the local veggies, I heard they’re delicious.
5. Overestimating how far you walk
Sometimes you walk REALLY far when you are traveling, other times you don’t. One of the sneakiest mind-games with this is that carrying a heavy backpack can make a one mile walk seem like an eight mile walk. Tread lightly (pun intended). Tip: Track your steps with a pedometer, your smart phone, or go back on Google Maps later to see how far you actually walked.
6. Not working out
I will be the first to admit, I am a total victim of this. The last thing you want to be doing during a beautiful day in Barcelona is spending your time planking in your windowless hotel room. My best tip would be to find a local park to workout in. If there is no local park, workout on the beach. Don’t like exercising outdoors? Wait until that random hour after dinner and before going out where people are spending extra time getting ready or power napping and the sun is down (so you don’t feel like you are missing out).
7. You try ALL the food… three times
If trying local foods is one of your passions, go for it. Never sacrifice an incredible experience just to save a few hundred calories. However, that Icelandic hot dog will probably taste very similar to the first time you tried it… and so will the Belgian waffle, and the single flavor of Italian gelato, and the ribs in Tennessee, and the empanadas in Argentina. Don’t get me wrong- if you love it, eat it again! Just don’t eat it repetitively just for the sake of eating it (especially if you didn’t even like it the first time).
8. You drink everything but water
Wine, soda, cappuccinos, beer, sake, coconut water, caipirinhas, goat’s milk… whatever it is, it’s not water. Yes, other drinks will hydrate you (remember alcohol and caffeine can be dehydrating), but they can also be full of unneeded sugar. Just because you have a refillable water bottle with you does not mean you are drinking as much as you should be. Simple trick? Refill your water bottle and down it before each meal. Being full(er) of water can help you eat less and keep you hydrated!
9. Loose clothes
So you left your jeans behind to save weight? Bought a pair of gaucho pants like your fellow travelers? These things are pretty common for travelers to do, especially in places like South East Asia. The only problem is that sometimes you cannot tell if you are gaining (or losing) weight because you are essentially walking around in a (super comfy) bag.
Side note: I do not own a scale. I believe scales are great for once a year doctors visits, athletes, people with medically-related weight concerns, and trash cans. To keep myself sane, I judge my weight by how I fit into tighter pieces of clothing. For me, not bringing jeans on a trip is just asking for trouble.
10. You forgot calories exist
Quite frankly, this is a little bit okay (to an extent!) Let me explain myself: I really believe that no one should ever spend their time abroad (or entire life at home) meticulously counting calories. That being said, if you are having a difficult time choosing between two similar dishes (five cheese meat lasagna vs penne with grilled chicken)… just do a little math in your head and choose the slightly less-caloric choice. Don’t completely forget that calories exist, but don’t torture yourself over them.
12. Getting drunk + drunk eating + hangover cures
Personally, I can avoid drunk overeating… but I can never avoid the ravenous hungover monster I turn into the next morning. You might be different. If you want to drink during your trip, just make sure you keep moving around to balance it out. Just be careful not to make this a habit and know your limits.
13. You haven’t moved all day, but you’re exhausted & starving
This can happen anywhere in the world, whether you are at home or traveling. There is a reason why people notoriously gain weight at their desk jobs. The same can be said for bloggers or computer geniuses abroad… sitting at your computer and working all day can make you deliriously hungry. Be aware of this.
After spending all day laying at the beach, I tend to be insanely hungry after… Which then I have to remind myself is so crazy because all I did all day was literally lay and bake like a turkey in the sun!
14. You have no idea where the grocery store is
I promise, it will be less difficult than finding the “hidden gem” restaurant you have been searching for all afternoon. Once you know where this is, it will be easier to get in the habit of making trips there. You will save yourself some money and work on #3 (above).
15. You bring your habits back home
So you ignored all of this and ended up gaining 20 traveler pounds. Not a big deal. Not the end of the world. YOU WILL BE TOTALLY FINE. The problem happens when you return home and eat out every meal, don’t find a workout routine, forget calories exist, and end up saying “I deserve this second piece of chocolate cake because life is hard.” Don’t do this! Use your boredom and wanderlust as motivation to get back in shape.
As always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out! 🙂