I used to be gym-obsessed. After working for many different kinds of gyms and boutique studios, I fell in love with the variety of equipment, shiny gym perks, and heart-pumping hour-long classes. I found myself planning out my week, looking for 30-60 minute windows of space to squeeze in these gym sessions, and feeling stressed if I didn’t manage to get in my daily sweat.
After I moved across the world to Southeast Asia, armed with nothing but an eight kilo backpack and my workout gear limited to two gym outfits and an old pair of trainers, my attitude and approach to fitness changed dramatically. My new reality did not come with safe, long stretches of paved running trails through the woods, air-con fueled workout spaces and elite fitness instructors; on the road, simple luxuries like even having your own space to work up a sweat just aren’t available in the same way.
Instead, I learned to shift from gym and fitness class obsessed to prioritizing staying ACTIVE and building movement into my travels. In fact, once I made this shift, it actually began to feel a little absurd to squeeze in time to exercise in between chaotic and abnormal travel schedules and prioritizing fitness over connecting with new people, sightseeing, and enjoying my time on the road. I focused on being present over planning, staying active over “fit,” and choosing adventure over routine. Maintaining an active lifestyle was an achievable, sustainable way to view staying healthy, and I began to seek out ways to merge my passions for travel and exercise in a way that encouraged me to move, explore, and keep the focus on having fun while doing it.
Here’s how I made that shift—and how you can incorporate these changes into your everyday life, even if you’re not living abroad.
I added way more walking into my everyday life
Without the comfort of my own vehicle to rely on, I was naturally walking way more than I ever would back home. There is no better (or cheaper!) way to see a city than by foot, so if the sights were within a reasonable walking distance I jumped at any chance to get lost in a new space by walking around alleys, down side streets, and up to beautiful overlooks.
Instead of rushing from place to place, jumping in the car at the last minute like I found myself doing back home, I would purposefully leave earlier to get to where I needed to be by foot. I cherished this extra time that I used to explore my surroundings, listen to an interesting podcast, and decompress even when heavy traffic or city noises surrounded me.
I naturally sought out excursions and cities that were more active in nature
Eventually, I realized that I preferred to visit more nature-heavy destinations over big cities, places that offered outdoor activities such as epic hikes, kayaking, and cycling. For example, I will never forget the first time I went abseiling in Da Lat, Vietnam. After strapping on a helmet, life jacket, and harness, and listening to a 10 minute safety briefing, I set off with a new group of friends into the woods for a day of trekking, ziplining, and canyoning in nature’s playground.
As we approached the 25 meter waterfall we were to rappel down, I felt my heart begin to race. As I looked around, nothing but lush green forest, the sound of water rushing below, and the major challenge ahead of me, I felt a nervous excitement settle in. I planted my feet, leanedddddd back (as the Vietnamese guide kept instructing over and over), and began my descent, slow step by slow step with my heart pounding.
Halfway down, the water came rushing right at my face, pushing me down, daring me to slip. My legs shook and quivered as they supported me, my arms gripping for dear life. “Almost there,” I thought. I kept eye contact with the Vietnamese guide at the bottom as if he were the only person in the world that mattered, following his cues to shift left or right, or lean back, which were all communicated with hand motions as the sound of the waterfall was too loud for words. About three meters above the pool of water, he cued for me to let go and jump. “WHAT?!! HERE?!!!” I shouted. He nodded and kept motioning for me to jump. I pushed off from the rock face, let go, and hoped for the best.
The cool waters below broke my fall, and it felt like a hug. The guide pulled me out of the water and back to the safety of dry, solid land. Endorphins rushed over me in waves and I looked around smiling from the exhilaration and even absurdity of where I was, appreciating and thanking the physical strength of my body, and admiring the mental strength of the voice inside that told me to keep going.
Even as a physically fit person, this was an extremely active and adrenaline-fueled day. Nature never fails to challenge and humble me, allow me to feel my own strength, and clear my mind. There’s no better place to grow than in nature’s abundant playground.
I said “yes” to new friends and communities who encouraged me to try new things
Especially while solo traveling, I found one of the best ways to connect and meet new, like-minded and active travelers was through finding yoga classes nearby.
When I traveled to Kampot, Cambodia, for example, I arrived around 10 pm after a border crossing, immigration checkpoint and two hot, cramped buses. In desperate need of some yoga, I found a class the next morning just a 20 minute walk away. The morning came quickly, and though I was tired, I made my way to the yoga space—a women’s only spa and yoga studio dedicated to empowering the local Khmer women, overlooking the sleepy river that ran through this dreamy town. I was already on cloud 9 and I had been there one minute. I was home.
After a beautiful 90 minute flow, I started up a conversation with the teacher. As a fellow yoga teacher myself, we instantly hit it off and began talking all things yoga, eventually making plans to ride motorbikes to a secret waterfall later that week. Through meeting this amazing teacher and woman, I gained an adventure buddy, a new friend, and a new community, as I continued to meet more friends and yogis through her all week long.
Now, rather than stressing about scheduling the sweat-dedicated hour I craved and clung to back home, I get out and pursue activities I’m already passionate about. I still receive the health benefits and endorphin release I’m after, and I find that I’m having even more fun than my previous gym routine brought me.
When I go home I plan to carry this mentality with me, using my feet or a bicycle as transport and a way to connect to my city over a car when possible; staying social through active activities like weekend hikes or outdoor yoga classes over heading to the bar; and overall seeking fun and enjoyment as reasons to move rather than from stress or obligation. Maybe most importantly, I will carry with me the attitude that staying active can look different in different places; that a lack of traditional fitness only means you need to get creative; and that diversifying or ditching routine altogether can lead to a joyful, healthy life.