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I Tried to Exercise Every Day for 30 Days While Traveling. This Is What I Learned

The post is made possible by Asquith, which offers quality bamboo and organic yoga clothes for women that go from the studio to the street. As always, EcoCult only works with companies we think are doing great things. Support EcoCult by supporting them! 

Long ago I decided that when I’m on vacation, I’m not going to worry about working out. It’s only a week! And if yoga is on the resort menu, great. If it’s not, I wouldn’t worry about it.

But when we decided to travel for a year, I knew that I couldn’t take such a lax attitude. I wasn’t worried about duh duh DUH (whispers) getting fat. I was worried about losing my muscle mass, getting stiff from being on planes and in sleeping in uncomfortable beds, and my health deteriorating if I didn’t regularly raise my heart rate.

But any way you look at it, regularly exercising while you’re traveling from new foreign place to new foreign place is really difficult! So I decided to push myself to exercise every day for 30 days. The goal was to figure out what was standing in my way, and obliterate those obstacles. And to have a really great title for this post. I got on the mat every day for 30 days, it was going to be called.

Haha, nope! But even though I didn’t achieve my goal – I got on the mat 24 days out of 30 – I learned just as much from the days I didn’t exercise, than the days that I did. More, even. Because I when I didn’t exercise, I didn’t berate myself, think, “You’re so lazy!” or, “You’re a failure.” Instead, I mindfully probed what happened so I could learn from it for next time.

Here’s what I found:

DO: Bring a mat.

It might seem annoying to carry a yoga mat around with you from country to country. Several times I’ve packed everything up, zipped my suitcase closed with significant effort, and then seen my yoga mat sitting there to side. Noooooo.

But believe me: It is worth it to bring your yoga mat if you are traveling long-term. It was crucial when we crashed with a friend in Mexico City who had freezing cold marble floors. It was crucial at the hostel with dirty concrete floors that we shared with our friends in Ometepe, Nicaragua. It was crucial on a splintery back porch in the jungle. It was crucial any time I wanted to do ab-focused moves that press my spine into the hard floor. (I hate that feeling, I really do.) Were there places that provided yoga mats during these 30 days? Sure! Do I think those places washed those yoga mats after every use? Nope. From a yoga mat in a typical U.S. studio, you can get, “viral infections such as plantar warts and herpes along with bacterial infections such as Staphylococcus and impetigo… Athlete’s foot, toenail fungus and ringworm… the common cold and influenza.” Imagine the risk that comes with an unsanitized mat living in an outdoor yoga platform in the tropics!

I have a Manduka eKO Superlite Travel Yoga Mat. It’s not as cushy as a normal yoga mat, but it folds up very flat and is very light. And it’s sustainably made of natural, biodegradable tree rubber and is free of toxic plasticizers and dyes. There are lots of options for new and lightly used eKO travel mats on eBay.

DO: Have at least three outfits you can work out in.

I am not telling you to pack four fancy organic yoga leggings, four sports bras, and four yoga tops. The name of the game here is versatility! Everything you pack should have multiple uses, either going from the studio to street, or able to be used for other activities like hiking. And of course you can reuse things a couple times before you wash them, because you won’t always sweat, and who cares if your stuff is a wee bit funky when you’re working out by yourself on the beach?

I made the mistake of packing drop-crotch buddha pants, and I really regretted it. They’re so hippie that I felt uncomfortable wearing them at any time but during yoga. So I ditched them, and Asquith sent me a pair of their super flattering Move It leggings, made from bamboo and organic cotton. I now wear them for yoga, on the plane, walking around whatever city on cooler days, and to bed when we were in a chill mountain area. Plus, the fact that they’re made from bamboo means that they’re perfect for hot countries as well because they’re sweat-wicking, temperature regulating, and anti-bacterial. They’re so soft and comfortable, too — a crucial component for something you’ll wear a few times a week for a year! And I really like Asquith’s organic activewear because they don’t do synthetics — and I hate synthetics while traveling. Wearing anything synthetic for more than a few hours makes me itchy.

DON’T: Rely on Wifi or accessories for your workouts.

That fun workout app that brings you new workouts everyday? That yoga streaming service? Ditch them. Your wifi will be unreliable and it will totally kill your zen when the app or video freezes up 15 minutes into your workout, which is exactly what happened to our group of friends in Ometepe.

Likewise with weights. You might think you can just use gallon jugs for your arm exercises, but what happens when you get in late and don’t have time to get a gallon water jug, or canned food, or whatever? The only workout accessories I have are my yoga mat, and two stretchy bands that fold up tiny.

DO: Try to choose accommodations with yoga and/or exercise activities on the schedule.

It gets boring and lonely to always workout by yourself, and I’ve found I like having a refresher yoga class when it’s available. Lots of hostels and coworking spaces will have yoga one or two times a week, as do eco resorts. And if they have classes, they have a good space to workout even on days where they aren’t having the class.

You can also look for accommodations that offer activities like hiking, bicycling, kayaking, surfing etc. Working out is working out!

or DO: Scout locations when you arrive.

I understand you won’t always be able to find an affordable place with yoga or a gym. In that case, you’ll just have to do some research or ask around. If it’s a hostel or hotel, ask at the front desk for studios or safe parks where you can work out. Check in with any contacts you have in the area or who have visited, or post on Facebook. If it’s an AirBnB, ask your host. Then try Google maps, Yelp, or Foursquare (which is a big thing in Latin America, bigger than Yelp).

DO: Wake up early.

This is very important. Planning to workout later only works if you have a nine-to-five job. When you’re traveling, all that goes out the window. So you need to be up early before your partner, before your friends, before your workout spot gets crowded with people.

DO: Tell your travel mates you want to work out every day.

I understand how you might want to just sneak off to your workout every morning without announcing it. But I’ve tried this before and it doesn’t work. Be very loud and clear about how you want to work out every day. A friend of ours did this at the beginning of a week of hanging out with friends, and I was impressed with how well it worked. First of all, he got almost everyone on board with doing yoga with him in the morning. Next, it helped him in planning around our group activities, because we took his morning yoga into consideration. And finally, we didn’t bother him when we saw he was doing yoga.

DO: Time yourself.

It’s really important at the beginning of your journey to time how long it takes for you to change into workout clothes, pour yourself some water, roll out the mat, set up your timer, do the workout, rest, put away your workout gear, take a shower, change into day clothes, do your makeup and hair, and be ready to go out the door. That way you can block out the proper amount of time or plan for a shorter workout rather than find yourself cutting your workout off early when you realize how behind you are, or before you find yourself going, “Sorry, sorry! I’m still getting ready!” while your friend or partner rolls their eyes at how your workout is making you both late for the walking tour.

DO: Plan your mat time out during the whole week.

Put in on the calendar as a repeat event, with notifications as reminders. This is so you remember, but also as you’re deciding what time to book that excursion, whether to join an acquaintance for brunch, or booking plane tickets, you either work around your workout or know that you need to wake up earlier to get it done. If your plane or bus is at 6:30 am, make sure to move your workout to later in the day when you get to your destination so you can work the kinks out from sitting in cramped quarters.

DON’T: Do anything before you get on the mat.

Don’t look through Instagram. Don’t respond to emails. Don’t go in the kitchen to make tea. Don’t have breakfast. As soon as you allow space for other things and people to crowd in, they will absolutely take it, and then you will not workout. Pee and brush your teeth if you have to, but then get on the mat immediately.

DON’T: Think, I’m doing x activity later today, no need to workout.

This happened to me a couple times, where I would think we were going to go on a hike or go surfing, and our plans would change. Those were days when I didn’t work out. So even if you think you are going hiking, get on the mat for at least 20 minutes at the beginning of the day, just in case.

DO: Have a detailed workout plan or goals.

If you rollout your mat and don’t have a plan, you’ll probably do some half-assed pushups and squats, then wander off. So have a list of things you want to do, or a time goal. Or both!

Personally, I’ve been practicing yoga long enough that I can come up with a 45-minute routine on the spot, and I also have a 30-minute routine memorized to deploy even when I’m tired and annoyed and brain-dead. But I still use Insight Timer to make sure I get in a full 30 minutes instead of cheating and slinking off early. For my cardio, body-weight workout, I have the list of moves written down in Evernote, and pair that with a Tabata timer app.

If you are currently planning your long-term travel, I think it’s worth it to invest in a few personal training sessions before you leave, where the trainer will build you a personalized workout routine and email it to you. Simply because they will correct your form and make sure you’re doing it right before spend a year doing it by yourself!

DO: Be OK with quick workouts.

It’s better to do any type of workout at all every day, than to fail to workout at all because you don’t have a full hour to do your “proper” workout. Get on the mat for 15 minutes and call it a success.

DON’T: Be embarrassed by your mat time.

You’re working out. It is not weird. You will have to remind yourself of this, though. I’ve worked out in front of workers building the outdoor bar at our friend’s house in Panama, in front of early-morning fisherman in San Blas, in front of the employees and cleaners. Whatever, I can’t care what they think about a woman doing an awkward exercise move called “Banana Superman.” They’ve seen weirder things and I’m not doing anything wrong. Finish the workout and be proud.

However, I will say that yoga can be easier to do than a workout because it’s quiet and unobtrusive and even celebrated. So, I do yoga whenever I’m working out in a place where I might wake people up if I’m pounding the floor and clapping, for example.

DO OR DON’T: Make your workout the most important thing to you.

Look, I can’t put this post out into the world without talking about this very important thing. Unless you prioritize your workout above all other things  – saving money on plane tickets by taking a 6:30 am plane, sleep, cultural experiences, spending quality time with your partner and friends, going out at night, working to earn money, errands like grocery shopping and getting your shoes fixed, accommodating other people’s needs and wants – you will miss workouts. That doesn’t make you a failure. It means that sometimes you have things you need to prioritize over your workouts, and that is ok!

If I learned anything from this month of trying to make it on my mat, it was that while it’s useful and important, it is not the most important thing. And that is the most valuable “tip” in this article that I hope you walk away with.

Tell me in the comments: Do you have any other strategies or tips you use to workout while traveling? 

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