I am a gymnast at heart (or a monkey). When I was a baby, my parents told me that I escaped my crib and found me on the ground with my hands in the air, as if I had just nailed a dismount. That’s when they agreed that they will put me in gymnastics.
Through childhood and high school, I went to practice 12-15 hours a week and competed on the weekends. Personally, gymnastics is the overall best sport for both your mind and body. Gymnasts are highly aware of their bodies in space as they build confidence and grace (okay, I still didn’t master that one yet). With four diverse events showcasing power (vault), balance (beam), strength (bars), and grace/endurance (floor), every bone and muscle must be strong. So, exercise and flexibility have always been a priority in my life.
You don’t get old from age. You get old from inactivity.
After retiring as a gymnast when I was 16, I kept up with exercise through various mediums – running, being a gym rat, taekwondo, rock climbing, hiking, and cycling.
Traveling full-time, however, has put a damper on my workout schedule. I walk a lot and do some stretches and cycling occasionally, but nowhere near to the amount of exercise I used to do.
When on the move between cities, I would sit on buses and trains for a good part of the day. No, it didn’t help burn the rich Indian food I consumed daily.
After a month in India, we arrived in Southeast Asia where the weather is hot and the beer cold and cheap. A day’s worth of the scorching sun and humidity caused me to crave nothing but an icy beer (well, not ice inside as they often do in these parts) and ice cream while resting my feet. The daily beers in combination with eating out a few times a day (often greasier than what I’d normally eat) didn’t help with my fitness.
It wasn’t until two months later that I began running again in Vang Vieng, Laos. I’ve made it more of a priority to take care of myself since we are living a nomadic lifestyle; we are not on vacation.
This post might appeal to casual exercisers more than serious body building people. My goal is to stay in shape and do my body good without the aim to gain or lose weight. Just maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Here are a few tips on how I’ve been getting back in shape while traveling:
1. Walk everywhere
This is kind of obvious, but sometimes I’m surprised how much some people rely on tuk tuks for even short rides. Opt to walk to your destination, if your schedule allows. Not only are you saving money and getting exercise, you will likely run into something interesting along the way.
2. Rent a bicycle
Bikes go for about $1 a day in many Southeast Asian countries. Cycling can be more rewarding than walking because you can cover more distance. Make it even more challenging by cycling up and down hills! We bicycled to Pai Canyon, thinking that 8km is absolutely nothing, but we didn’t take into account the grueling hills. Our glutes thanked us later though. Do exercise caution: Wear a helmet, use a bike light at night, pay attention to your surroundings, and lock up your bike. It is not advisable to cycle in busy cities like Ho Chi Minh City or Bangkok if you’re a beginner.
3. Take sunrise or sunset jogs
Put on your running shoes and set out to explore the town! I normally use RunKeeper to track my mileage, but since I usually don’t get a SIM card when traveling, I’ve used Google Fit. It’s not entirely accurate, but it’s good enough for me.
4. Go hiking
Hiking is one of my favorite forms of exercise. Your glutes and heart will get a workout and your lungs will thank you for immersing yourself in fresh air. The motorbike pollution can get sickening in big cities like Saigon. Even though the hike up may seem painful at points, it magically disappears when you reach a breathtaking view of a picturesque waterfall. Do be careful when hiking off the beaten path unless you’re a real survivor kind of person. Stick to known trails, bring a map, and watch out for snakes. Some places in Asia require you to hire a guide as well.
5. Go swimming.
If you’re visiting a beachy destination, this is an obvious piece of advice. But even if you’re in a landlocked city, you might be able to find a public pool. I wish I loved swimming because it’s a refreshing whole body workout with low resistance. But the sport doesn’t get me as pumped as hiking or cycling.
6. Try adventure sports
In Asia, there are plenty of opportunities to get your adrenaline pumping like rock climbing, kayaking, surfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding, etc. Whenever I tried a new adventure sport, I used muscles I didn’t know I had, so the next day was sore. The good kind of sore.
7. Take up local sport.
You can get fit while learning about the local culture. In Thailand, travelers can train in Muay Thai, even as a beginner. In Vietnam, I often saw a circle of people playing jianzi, which is like hacky sack. Sepaktakraw is an impressive sport that combines martial arts with volleyball. Cricket is a national past time in India.
8. Do exercise videos.
If it’s rainy or you don’t feel comfortable going out for a run, a free way to get your heart pumping is to do workout videos. I personally love tabata, an efficient Japanese interval workout. 20 seconds of effort and 10 seconds of rest, repeated. Even though each session lasts four minutes, you will quickly find your muscles burning and your breathing heavier. I usually do 20 minutes in the morning along with stretching to make me drip sweat and energize myself for the day. Check out some videos on YouTube. Tabata is adaptable so challenging for people of all fitness levels.
9. Go dancing.
Whether you’re at a local or foreign bar/club, go out and find some great music and get down! Adam and I danced to an incredible duo busting tunes in Pai. People in the cafe were sitting and enjoying, so we decided to go out in the alleyway and do our dance. It’s okay to be silly.
10. Find a free outdoor “gym” in a park
Here in Asia, you will have to try hard not to find a park with outdoor exercise machines. We’ve seen some actual resistance machines in Korea and Thailand, but most of the machines are for stretching and not so much an intense workout unless you’re 80 years old. But it’s still a nice place to be where locals gather and get their stretch on. We love the machines so much that I recorded Adam using his favorite machine in around 30 places in Asia. It is actually my go-to video when I want a chuckle, but perhaps it is more entertaining for me than you.