At home, I typically follow a pretty healthy lifestyle. I try and work out most of the week, I cook and eat lots of veggies, I even make green juices a couple of times per week, I have a routine so I go to bed on time and get enough sleep, and I make sure to take care of me. But when traveling, especially when I first started traveling frequently, keeping this up is something I really struggled with.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with having fast food here and there, not working out daily, not getting enough sleep here and there, etc. But when traveling, it’s hard to have a routine as you do at home. One day you’re driving 12 hours, then you’re getting up at sunrise to start hiking, then you’re driving to the next spot, then you’re trying to squeeze work in… this is pretty much what my schedule looks like when I’m on the road. Even before becoming a full time blogger, I was hiking and traveling (more locally) every weekend, and these bad habits started then.
I was often sacrificing a lot of sleep, eating more candy and stopping at fast food restaurants. Yeah when I’m hiking, I’m burning off all of those calories anyway, but I would build up these habits and they carried on when I got home and wasn’t burning off as much as I do on hiking days.
Plus, I started to feel icky inside, I didn’t feel like myself, I was low energy all the time and just didn’t feel good. But you know when you start down that path it’s hard to get out of it. Over 10 pounds later and after feeling low energy for a while, I finally snapped myself out of it.
I finally stepped back and asked myself the hard question, how do I stay healthy even when traveling?
After a lot of trial and error, this is what works for me to help me fuel my body in a way that makes me feel good and energized instead of tired and icky, make sure I get sleep and work done, and overall what’s helped me learn to stay healthy even when traveling.
Remember, following a healthy lifestyle is going to look different for everyone. There is no right or wrong (unless your doctor gives you specific guidelines). Do what makes you feel good.
Fueling Your Body
How are you fueling your body?
This is probably one of the most important questions you need to ask yourself when it comes to staying healthy. At the end of the day, especially when backpacking, food is just fuel. Fuel our bodies use to drive the car, hike up the mountain, go to work, actually have the brainpower to do work, and so forth.
But it’s not just about fuel equals food, it’s about the quality of food.
Having candy or a Big Mac here and there is totally cool, nothing wrong with it, but it’s not very high-quality food. It might taste good but is it fueling your body with essential nutrients? Is it making you feel good and energized or do you have a stomachache and feel groggy afterward?
These are important questions to consider when choosing what you’ll be eating.
On a long road trip where you’re just trying to cover miles, it’s so easy to go to the gas station and grab candy and a bag of chips or go through a quick drive through.
But as an alternative, could you bring food from home that’s already done so you can quickly grab it while driving?
This not only saves you money but then you start eating healthier. If I’m on a longer trip, I’ll make grocery store stops and pick up fruit, small bell peppers, cucumbers, and nuts to snack on so I have those on hand instead of stopping at gas stations for candy. Honey is also a great candy alternative! It’s sweet but far healthier than candy.
If I’m eating out, I have started looking for healthier restaurants if I eat out and picking healthier options on menus. I also try and cook whether I’m camping or staying in a hotel. You can make a quick rice/quinoa bowl with some tuna or chicken packet for protein and toss some kale or other veggies in there and tada! Super simple and healthy meal. Instead of sugary cereals, just hard boil some eggs, stick them in the hotel fridge, or your camping cooler and they’re ready for breakfast. You can improvise how you want and please do get more creative.
With backpacking, it can get more complicated because you’re trying to squeeze as many calories as possible for as little weight. But even with backpacking, you can be healthy. You might not be able to take apples and kale with you. If you’re going on a one night backpacking trip you can, but for a week long trip, you don’t need the weight. So instead, look at the quality of ingredients that you’re consuming. Instead of candy, grab honey, instead of chips, bring pretzels. Instead of the ramen packet with the endless list of chemicals, you can’t even pronounce, can you find a healthier alternative?
These are questions to start asking yourself. What do I already eat that can be translated to road trips, traveling, hiking and backpacking?
It takes a bit to figure it out, but it makes a world of a difference with how you feel.
Hydration is another important one because your body needs it! Especially if you’re going somewhere higher in altitude, you’re going to want to hydrate.
Skip the sugary drinks from the gas station and drink good old H2O and throw in some electrolytes in there so you get the yummy flavor and the benefit of electrolytes. Just monitor yourself to make sure you’re drinking enough water.
Yeah stopping to pee all the time can suck, but do whatever works for your body. If you gotta pee, pee! Don’t not drink because you’ll have to pee. It’s actually really good because it helps your body flush itself out.
Your Relationship with Food
Many of us have a poor relationship with food. I know this is something I’ve really struggled with for years and am still actively working on.
In my early teens, I had an eating disorder that I overcame, but I still struggled with body image, my relationship with my body, and my relationship with food. You might not have had an eating disorder but most of us have had some sort of bad relationship with food.
We’ve all learned to assign moral values to food. This food is good or it’s bad. I know I still do this if I’m not actively paying attention. But food is neither good nor bad, it is what it is, and at the end of the day it’s just fuel. Now bad vs good taste is a different story.
But by assigning moral values to food, we then guilt ourselves when we have something “bad.” We focus on eating only “good” things, deprive ourselves, and then endlessly shame ourselves for having that one cookie. That shame then turns into 12 cookies. Am I right?
The key here is to focus on quality and moderation. You want one cookie, have one cookie. You don’t need to go run it off tomorrow, or shame yourself, spend the next week kicking yourself for that cookie.
So many of us do this in one way or another.
Give yourself permission to change your relationship with food. Start loving food instead of viewing it as the enemy. When you go to eat, think about what am I going to eat today? What will help fuel my body today?
Not only do you no longer want to eat the 12 cookies, but you’re going to release the guilt, shame, and poor relationship with food.
Since it’s a mindset change, it will not happen overnight. This does take practice. Just like you go to the gym and don’t expect to lose 20 pounds overnight (we all hope though), it takes consistency to get there. Same with re-training your mind.
Working Out While Traveling
If you’re hiking that day, that’s usually enough of a workout! But if you’re spending the entire day driving, or having a work day in a hotel like I do, you still need to find a way to move your body.
If you’re on a long drive, break it up with some hiking or do mini workout breaks every couple of hours. If you’re staying in a hotel with a gym, use it! Even if it’s only for 30 minutes. I also bring a resistance band with me when I travel. It’s light and fits pretty much into any bag. This way gym or not, I make sure to get moving even in my hotel room.
If you just did a hard hike, spend the next day stretching or go for a walk around a lake you can drive to. Just get moving.
Once you’re in the habit of moving your body, it’s easier to stick with it.
This is where largely I fell short. I would constantly fall off of the working out bandwagon. I always felt so much better after a workout, but without consistency in my routine, it was hard to keep up. So now just focusing on moving my body whether I’m at home or traveling has helped me so much.
Take Time to Relax
I don’t know about you but I get real FOMO (fear of missing out). When I’m traveling, I’ve tried to cram as much as humanly (more like inhumanly) possible into the duration of the trip. I think this stems from our US culture of productivity. If you’re not being productive, what are you doing? I’ve learned that it’s a terrible way of thinking and living and am now retraining myself on this.
I quickly burned out, got exhausted, and never really got to enjoy the area I was in because I was trying to cram so much in.
Now I’ve learned to slow down and relax. It’s not a marathon. I still do hard and long hikes, but instead of trying to do the full John Muir Trail in 15 days or instead of trying to see two national parks and a bunch of other state parks on a three day trip, I need to slow down and focus on one area.
I also need to give myself zero days. Zero days are the term used by thru-hikers when they don’t hike for the day. They basically give themselves a day off, usually while still in the backcountry. I use this term even outside of the backcountry. Some days are nice being spent in camp or just chilling by a lake. This helps prevent burn out and gives you more energy for the big days where you’re hiking a lot and doing a lot.
Your body and mind need zero days to relax, have space, and recuperate.
Get Enough Sleep
If you’re like me and tend to get up at sunrise or before sunrise when hiking, this one is so important. I used to drive to around 12am or 1am, then get a couple of hours of sleep and start hiking. Not only was the hike miserable, but I also needed about a week to catch up.
Now, I try to be more mindful when planning trips. If I want to get up at sunrise or before, I need to make sure to plan accordingly. This doesn’t always go according to plan, but you don’t need to be 100% perfect.
If you’re heading somewhere far, consider flying instead of driving to cut down on time. If you’re driving, break it up into multiple days, or consider leaving earlier. Then make sure to set your phone so you get the eight to seven hours of sleep that you need. Once your phone alarm goes off for bedtime, discipline yourself, and put all electronics away and actually go to bed. Don’t just turn off the lights and lay in bed on your phone.
When I can’t sleep, I focus on my breathing and that always knocks me out quickly. Our minds tend to race a million miles per minute, especially when backpacking. So I just kick all other thoughts out of my head and focus only on my breathing and that seriously helps get me to sleep. You can also try reading before bed and drinking some tea to wind down.
Another thing that has really helped is having a bedtime routine that I follow whether I’m traveling, at home, camping, backpacking, or anything else. I usually make myself some tea before bed, make my to-do list for the next day so that’s out of my head, and read. Find something that works for you that will help ease you at the end of the day and signals to your brain that it’s time for some sleep.
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