How to Stay in Shape While Traveling (and spend $0)

Avoid being a fat mess on the road

Traveling and fitness are like oil and water. The last thing you want to think about while traversing the globe, stuffing your face and drinking like a fraternity pledge is your health. Even if you’ve been backpacking for a long time, it’s hard not to feel like you’re on vacation. Temptation and indulgence are staring you in the face at all times. Your routine changes weekly, sometimes daily. Self-discipline is hard to come by.

But staying in shape is not impossible. First, you need to want to be in shape. If you’re comfortable being chubby or just unmotivated at your core it’s not going to work. So before you try to incorporate any of this advice, ask yourself, do you really care?

If the answer is yes, I have a lot of advice on how to get in shape while on the road. There are a few shortcuts and some dishonesty involved so if you’re somebody who hates breaking the rules my approach is not for you. This is for people with flexible morals and a durable butthole.

Have Some God Damn Discipline

Staying in shape, regardless of your situation, starts with avoiding things that give you temporary pleasure and saying “no” when you really want to say yes. Your brain will do everything possible to keep you chasing cheap, quick serotonin highs rather than making long term changes.

“Let’s drunk and do some drugs at this Vietnamese club.” Your brain will probably say. Or “Let’s eat enough food for a family of 5.” These thoughts will be much louder if your habits have been shitty for a while. You’ll be temporarily frustrated and annoyed when you ignore them but at the end of the day, I promise you’ll feel better. The cravings are only temporary.

Having discipline in one area of your life will spread to other areas of your life. If you can work out 3-5 times per week while traveling and stay in shape it’ll prove to your brain that other seemingly impossible things are very possible.

Discipline takes time. Don’t get hung up if you fuck up a few times, just get back on track immediately. Missing 1 day is forgivable, missing 2 days is not.

And it does suck. You’re not going to like working out most days, but you’ll always feel better afterward.

Don’t be an Alcoholic

Drunk in Pai
Me drinking, but only after working out.

I know, drinking is fun. A lot of fun. Especially when you’re in a different country surrounded by interesting, beautiful people that you want to have sex with. But drinking will make you a fat, disgusting mess faster than any fast food can. Plus, when’s the last time you ate something healthy when you were drunk or hungover?

All those empty calories will have you looking heavy after only a few weeks. Plus you’ll be a sweaty, hungover mess during the day and the last thing you will want to do is work out or explore a new city.

Eat the Sketchiest Food Possible

The more diarrhea the better

You can’t gain weight if your entire body is constantly falling out of your asshole. Food poisoning is extremely unpleasant but also great for getting those 6 pack abs. And in between bouts of violent sickness you’ll experience some of the best food each country has to offer.

As a general rule of thumb: the sketchier the establishment, the better the food and the higher chance of pooping off a few pounds. It’s a terrible, painful, unhealthy way to lose weight but at the end of the day, you’re losing weight. Keep focused on your goal.

Be adventurous, even reckless when eating your way across the world. Your mouth and physique will thank you for it and your butthole will forgive you. Eventually.

Work Out in Public Parks Like a Prison Inmate

Hiking works too

Every country has public facilities that you can utilize to stay in shape. For instance, Thailand has a lot of public parks that include pull up bars, tennis courts, heavy bags, and in some cases, weight lifting equipment. Sure, they’re all rusty and sometimes you have to bench press some tractor tires, but you’re still getting all the essential movements you need to get ripped.

You’ll also lose A LOT of weight from the humidity while you’re out there. Bangkok has a gym in Lumphini Park that has all the essential equipment for any workout you can imagine. I only had to pay 100 baht every time I used it. I felt like I needed a tetanus shot every time I left but man did I look good at the end of the week.

You won’t find the outdoor prison gyms everywhere but you also don’t need them. If you have a pull-up bar you can do an entire back workout. Use a bench for dips, do some squats while wearing your full backpack, or just run around until you feel like you want to pass out. This shit isn’t that hard.

If you’re not sure what to do, find a bodyweight workout on YouTube and do a bunch of push ups, sit ups, pull ups, burpies etc. You’ll have to do a lot of reps but you’ll get your cardio and weightlifting all in one. Make sure you do it outside to maximize your sweat.

Free Weekly Gym Trials

Working out at a mall in Kyoto
Getting a solid lift during a product demonstration at a mall in Kyoto

Most places I went to had gyms that you could pay $5-$15 for a day pass which is affordable but not free. You know what is free? Trials at international gym chains. F45 has locations all over the place that offer free trials, I must have made 10 different Gmail accounts to take advantage of this while I was on the road.

Local gyms offer free trial days/weeks too. Just research what’s around and ask until you find one that does. They’ll probably ask if you’re interested in joining and at this point, you can either lie and never come back or tell them that you’re taking advantage of their offer. I’ve done both and they don’t care either way.

If you’re signing up for an F45/Orange Theory or something like that, have an escape plan for the end of class so you don’t get stuck with a salesperson trying to sell you on the workout. Bring only a water bottle and book it out the door the second the class ends or you’re in for about 30 minutes of awkward boredom.

Be resourceful. Lie. It’s for a good cause (you staying in shape) so you shouldn’t feel bad about it.

Travel During Summer

Sweating to lose weight in Chiang Rai
I lost at least 10 lbs. on this day

You know what’s hotter than Asia in the summertime? Nothing. Well, maybe the sun, but nowhere on Earth. If you hate being disciplined and don’t want to compromise with your lifestyle even a little bit, travel to Asia in the summer. You can treat your body like a garbage dump and still lose weight. You’ll be sweating like a fat person trying to get out of a chair but once you get used to it, it ain’t that bad.

OK I’m lying. It is that bad. Uncontrollably sweating is the fucking worst, but think of how fit you’ll look.

Be cool with being uncomfortable all day and prepared to wash your clothes every 3 days then watch the pounds melt off as you walk around at a comfortable pace. Don’t worry about that horrible smell coming off you, everybody smells like that.

Smoke Cigarettes and Drink Coffee

Smoking in Mo'orea
The “Strung out on anxiety” diet plan

I know everything in your head is telling you “No! Those are bad!” And you’re mostly right unless you’re trying to lose weight without putting in too much effort. In that case, these are your two best friends.

You’ll rarely be hungry and since you’re in Asia you don’t even have to step outside to smoke most of the time. You can light up anywhere. This increases your smoking intake by 80% which means 80% less appetite (citation needed). Combined with the coffee, you’ll be looking gaunt and have a generalized anxiety disorder, but you’ll have that “Brad Pitt in Fight Club” physique. And who doesn’t want to look like that?

Stop Thinking Start Moving

These vague, general tips may help you but at the end of the day all you need to do is keep moving. Don’t binge drink every night and sleep during the day, walk around and explore, be OK with sweating, and try to do something active every day. The amount of effort you put into it directly correlates with how good you look and feel.

I know it’s hard trying to do anything productive on the go but it genuinely helps when you’re feeling homesick or have a bout of travel fatigue. “At least I’m in shape” will be what you can fall back on when your mental state is collapsing and you feel isolated from everybody who cares about you.

Plus, these tips cost $0. You’re almost certainly on a budget if you’re traveling and this can help ease the burden of that next adventure or nitrous balloon while providing you with something to do that makes you feel good.

Be resourceful, be ruthless, stay (mostly) healthy.

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