One of the biggest struggles people have when becoming a digital nomad is to stay fit while traveling. All of a sudden your lifestyle is completely different, your routines are gone and your body often unable to cope with the new situations. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be like that. There are plenty of things you can do to stay fit as a digital nomad. Check out the following list and see what helped me during the past 10+ years of long-term traveling.
Exercise While Traveling as a Digital Nomad
If you want to stay fit, you have to exercise regularly – even when you are traveling a lot. There is just no way around it. The good news: There are plenty of ways how you can do so:
1. Workouts with your Body Weight
Probably the easiest way to exercise. There are so many workouts you can do that don’t require any type of equipment. Just think of squats, push-ups, burpees, crunches, planks, etc. The list is endless. If you need some more inspiration, simply head over to YouTube or Instagram and look for something like “body weight workout” or “home workout”. These exercises can be done even in the smallest hotel room or apartment. At any time.
2. Bring Small Equipment
As a digital nomad you often carry your whole life around in one backpack. You don’t want to overpack. But something I’ve been bringing with me for 10 years now is a jump rope. It is small and super lightweight. Ideal for travelers. Only 10 minutes of skipping rope burns as many calories as 30 minutes running. Perfect quick cardio session!
Another idea would be resistance bands. Just as easy to bring with you and they give you many options for strength workouts.
Something that I wouldn’t recommend to bring are dumbbells (I’ve seen that before!). Even small ones are just way too heavy. If you want to lift stuff while traveling, use water bottles instead. Maybe there are heavy books in your rental place or any small pieces of furniture that you can use? You’ll surely find something.
3. Use Apps
If you need some more help, motivation and inspiration, check out the following fitness apps:
Seven I’ve been using Seven for a few years now. It guides you through an intense 7-minute workout which you can do from anywhere. For most exercises you won’t need any equipment, occasionally a chair, or a wall or something like that. It is based on scientific studies to get the maximum benefit of a short workout. You might think “7 minutes is nothing! How should that work?”. Well, give it a try and let your muscles tell you the next day how it worked ;)
Runtastic Runtastic is my go-to app that I use when I go for a run, explore the region by bike and even when I go for a walk. It is a simple way to track your kilometers and calorie consumption. It also has some nice networking features which help you stay motivated.
Freeletics Freeletics has different components, depending on what you want: Bodyweight, gym, nutrition, and running. I’ve only used the bodyweight programs before and they are between 10 and 30 minutes and can be done without any equipment. The training is based on your personal characteristics, like weights, age and abilities. Very intense workouts you can do from anywhere.
4. Bring Fitness Clothing
As I said before, you don’t want to carry additional heavy sports equipment with you. But you can easily bring a few sports pants, shirts and bras. And definitely invest in some nice (trail) running shoes. I wear mine not only for occasional morning runs, but also for hiking trips or while exploring a new city. They are comfortable and so much better for your feet than any fashion shoes you would normally wear. High-quality sport outfits are great for any type of activity while traveling. They are lightweight, durable and can be very fashionably.
5. Daily Activities
Try to integrate activities as often throughout the day as possible. Walk to the market instead of taking the bus. Don’t rent a scooter to get to the coworking space, rent a bicycle! Instead of chilling in front of the tv in the afternoon, go for a walk or a swim. Avoid the elevator in the shopping mall, use the stairs. Instead of doing a guided city tour by bus, go on a walking tour. You’ll find them in many cities today. There are so many ways to stay active during the day. And even if it’s just half an hour a day – this is still better than not moving at all.
6. Find a Gym
Easy one? If there is a gym close to where you live, that’s awesome! It’s always motivating when you have a certain place you can go to every day to exercise. However, not every region has an abundance of gyms and some gyms only offer annual memberships, which is usually not what a nomad is interested in. Other may offer plans on a monthly basis but then they are super expensive. It is always worth going there and talk to the service staff. Maybe there is a way you can cancel the membership earlier when you leave the country or you can get a discount. You never know.
7. Do Courses
If you can’t find a gym or are not a gym type of person, maybe there are certain courses near you. Think of Pilates, HIIT, tennis, volleyball, or pretty much anything you enjoy or can find in your new town. The good thing with that is that you can usually book those courses on a weekly or monthly basis, which works well with the nomad lifestyle.
8. Do Yoga
Another easy way to stay fit while traveling as a digital nomad is doing yoga. You don’t need any equipment for it, although a yoga mat would help. Check out this travel yoga mat that is lightweight and easy to bring while traveling. If you don’t want to bring one, use a carpet, a blanket or go outside and do yoga on the beach or on the grass. Yoga is not only great for your muscles but also a fantastic way to reduce stress and can help you get better sleep. If you are a beginner and don’t know where to start, check out YouTube channels. I started my yoga journey a few years ago with Yoga with Adrian’s 30-day challenge for beginners. Great introduction to yoga!
9. Buddy Up
Staying fit as a digital nomad is always easier when you have someone who has the same goals you have. Maybe you are traveling with your partner and you can exercise together? If not, don’t worry. You can look for fitness buddies in your local gym or see if you can make friends in coworking spaces with someone who is interested in working out together. You could also see if there are Meetup groups in your location that focus on exercises. If that all doesn’t work, you still have Facebook. Look for groups like “New in Barcelona” or “Meeting new people in Buenos Aires” or “Rio Runners” – and ask if someone would be interested. I’m sure you’ll find a fitness buddy this way.
10. Do Local Sports
A great way to stay active and get to know the local culture is by doing what they do. Is there any type of sport particularly popular in your current country or city? Maybe learn how to play rugby or cricket or do Muay Thai or ice hockey? This is a really fun way to try a new sport, make new friends and learn about the local lifestyle.
Eating Healthy While Traveling
Ever heard of the quote: “Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym”? Even if you exercise every day, you won’t be able to out-exercise a bad diet. So if your diet is not healthy, you’ll never be. But especially when you are traveling, it can be very hard to watch what you are eating. You want to try all the new flavors, food is cheap, smells amazing and you can get it on every street corner. Oh those temptations! Here are a few tips on how you can make sure you eat right on the road.
1. Cook Your Own Food
I know you want to try the local food. And you can! But you don’t have to eat out 3 times a day. Try to prepare your own meals at least twice a day. This will not only be cheaper but you will also know what’s in your dish. Of course, in many regions local cuisine looks super healthy. However, they might often use plenty of salt and oil or fat to fry the ingredients. What looks good at first glance, might be full of calories and fat. If you prepare it yourself, you can control that.
2. Ask for Healthier Variations
An example: I love how you can get fresh juice on every street corner in many Asian countries. What I dislike is that fact that often they add industrial sugar to it to make it much sweeter. I don’t mind the bitter or sour taste and prefer to have it the natural way. So I always ask for a freshly squeezed lemon juice without sugar. If they prepare it right there for you anyway, they don’t mind to leave out the additional ingredient. The same goes for any other type of drink or food you are ordering somewhere. Don’t be afraid to ask if they can prepare it without or at least with only little oil, fat, cream, sugar, or salt.
3. Control Your Portion Sizes
Another one that sounds too easy. But when you are traveling you want to try it all. And often, other cultures offer huge portion sizes. Way more than what you actually need. Eat slowly, take breaks during your meal and listen to your body. If you are full, stop eating. No matter how tasty it is. Also don’t be tempted to buy from every street food stall you find on your way. You wouldn’t eat that much when you were at home in your “normal” life. So don’t overeat while traveling.
4. Keep Track of Your Calories
Since you are eating different things than what you eat at home, it can be hard to keep an overview on how much that actually is. MyFitnessPal is a great app to track your daily diet. You type in your details (weight, age, etc.) and decide if you want to gain, lose or maintain weight. The app calculates your necessary daily calorie intake to reach your goals. During the day you track what you eat and what kinds of exercise you do and then see how many calories you have “left” to eat for the day and where they should come from (fat, carbs or protein). A nice and easy way to keep an overview of what you actually eat during the day.
5. Don’t Be Too Local
Yes, when you are traveling you want to experience as much of the local culture as possible. But especially when it comes to food, your body is not used to this type of sudden diet change. Eating tons of fried stuff or carbs like rice twice a day might work for locals but not for you. Of course, you can test all the meals. Just make sure you are not going too far off your normal diet routine.
6. Drink Plenty of Water
No surprise here. If you want to stay fit and healthy, you need to drink lots of water. No matter if you are a digital nomad or have a steady home base. Since science isn’t too sure how much water you should drink (recommendations usually vary between 1,5 – 2,5 liters a day), find what you feel comfortable with and then drink some more. I always carry my hydro flask water bottle with me wherever I go. Literally anywhere. Even when I’m only going to the supermarket around the corner. When you always have it right to your hand, you’ll automatically drink more.
7. Portable Blender
My smoothie addiction doesn’t go that far. Yet. But I’ve met a handful of people who are traveling with a portable blender. And I have to admit that I really like the idea because most rental places don’t have a proper blender. Smoothies are a great way to get your daily vitamins and keep you hydrated. You can also easily add protein powder, which would also help you lose weight and/or gain muscles.
If you have the space in your backpack, that’s definitely an option you could look into.
8. Healthy Snacks
Especially, for those phases when you are traveling more or when you are relocating, it’s tempting to go for unhealthy snacks. You can get chocolate, chips, and a coke literally anywhere in the world. Again, try to resist the temptation and go for healthy alternatives instead. Get some nuts, like almonds, peanuts or cashews. Fruits, like bananas, apples or peas, that you can easily eat in the bus or plane are great, too. You could also prepare a healthy snack, like a sandwich, at home and bring it while traveling. No need to buy unhealthy things.
9. Go Plant-Based
Many digital nomads I know don’t eat meat or any type of animal products. I’ve been a vegetarian/vegan for 20 years now, too. And I also know a few people who go on a plant-based diet only when they are traveling. Not considering the environmental and ethical reasons here, but this type of diet can indeed help you keep your weight (or lose weight) and stay fit and healthy while traveling. If you don’t think you could go completely plant-based at once, start with avoiding animal products every other day. Or start with a challenge, like 4 weeks no meat. See how you feel with it and if that’s something your body could profit from.
10. Intermitted Fasting
Interval fasting is another simple, yet effective way that can help you stay fit while traveling. The idea is that you only eat around 8-10 hours a day and fast during the rest of the day, for instance, cancel dinner or skip breakfast. This will naturally reduce your calorie intake and also give your digestive system a break. While this works great for many people, you should check with your doctor first if that’s the right method for you. People with chronical diseases or women during pregnancy should avoid it.
Sleep & Stress
A third aspect that you need to control when you want to stay fit as a digital nomad is your sleep behavior and your level of stress.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Again, scientists can’t decide on how much sleep a night we should get. Is it 6 hours, 7 hours or 8 hours? I personally think you should listen to your body and do what works best for you. If I sleep somewhere between 7 and 8 hours, I’m dead the next day. 6,5 hours are ok, 8,5 hours are ok, anything in between is not. Make sure you find out what works best for you and get those hours every single night.
2. Evening Routines
Not only quantity, but also the quality of your sleep is important. If you are the kind of person who struggles to fall asleep or sleep through the night, try to implement evening routines that prepare you for the night. For instance:
- Don’t eat anything 2 hours before you go to bed.
- Don’t watch movies until late at night.
- Don’t sit in front of your laptop or smartphone just before you go to sleep.
Things to do instead:
- Have a cup of tea every night.
- Read a book or listen to relaxing music.
- Do some yoga, stretching or meditate.
- Take a hot shower.
- Light a perfumed candle.
See what works best or you and make it a habit to repeat that every night so your body knows that it’s bedtime now and it’s easier for you to fall asleep.
I doubt that there is any better way to reduce your level of stress that easily. There are plenty of advantages of meditation and if you only meditate for 20 minutes a day, you will not only create more inner peace but are also able to focus more on your work. Your productivity increases and you are more balanced and happy. You can use apps like Aura or Headspace to guide you through your meditation sessions and to set daily reminders.
Here are some other important tips that you should consider when you start your digital nomad life and want to stay fit with your new lifestyle.
1. Kick-start your Metabolism
Some easy ways to kick-start your metabolism are, for example:
- Drink a glass of fresh lemon juice first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything else.
- Switch between hot and cold water when taking a shower. This might not feel the best but it will help you wake up in the morning and boost your metabolism.
- As mentioned before, have a quick but intense workout session. 10 minutes of rope skipping are a great way to get the fat burning going.
2. Cut Down on Partying
When you are new to a place and have just made new friends, you will probably go out with them a lot. And that’s great! Social life is super important, so go and meet new people whenever you get the chance. But make sure you don’t drink alcohol every night or eat lots of unhealthy foods or party all night and then get up early in the morning for work. Your body won’t like that on the long-run and will surely pay you back.
3. Working Ergonomics
Staying fit also means taking care of your body while working. As a digital nomad you will naturally spend plenty of time in front of your laptop. We all know that sitting all day is not healthy. Maybe you can find a coworking space that offers standing desks. You could also bring a laptop stand and an extra keyboard with you. This can prevent neck pain to some degree, too.
It is also important that you get up every hour or so (set an alarm for it) and stretch. Stretch your arms, legs, your back – get the energy flowing and prevent your muscles from getting stiff and painful. Also make sure you get up and go for a walk every now and then. This is not only important for your physical health but it will also help you to focus again once you are back at work.
4. Make a Plan
All those tips only work when you implement them. So make a plan. Schedule your daily exercises and stick to them. Prepare your food for the week in advance or at least make a plan what you are going to eat when and buy the ingredients. This will help you resist temptations.
Treat this plan like any other business related task. If you really want to stay fit while traveling, you have to make these things a habit. It won’t work when you only exercise every other week and that’s it.
Staying Fit as a Digital Nomad: You’ve Got This
As you can see, there are plenty of tip you can follow to stay fit while traveling. None of this is rocket science. All you need to do is to become aware how important it is (also for your productivity) that you take care of your body. Once you realize this, it should be easy to set up a plan and stick with it.