Whether moving abroad or traveling abroad as a digital nomad, staying in shape can be tough. You’re thrown into new environments, rid of your habits, and introduced to a new routine whether you mean to be or not.
I fully believe that while settling into a new place you need to let your hair down so to speak and enjoy your new environment. Try new foods, go out more often to make new friends, and don’t feel so restricted by the desire to stay in shape that you forget to actually enjoy your new home.
I know from first hand though that that mindset can get out of control though and what maybe you meant to be something to get you settled in is now your lifestyle. And hey, if you love it, then you love it, and have fun. But, if you’re reading this then I imagine you’re looking to grab hold of the reins of your lifestyle and settle into a healthy life abroad.
For the past decade, I've been living all around the world. I've been an expat, a digital nomad, a traveler, and a lot of different labels in between. While it changes how quickly I move from one country to another, some things stay the same. And the biggest similarity is how my daily routine gets affected by the move and for me, that mostly affects my lifestyle and workout routine.
In the beginning I was greatly affected by the changes and was far more interested in eating out and partying than living a healthy lifestyle but over the years I've realized how to build a balanced life, regardless of the country I'm living in.
Just going on a trip? Scroll to the bottom of this article for the biggest tips on how to stay fit while traveling.
While for me it took years to sort out, let’s dive into these 7 tips to stay fit while living abroad and get you on the fast track.
1. Create a New Routine
Creating a new routine when arriving to a new city or country isn't just beneficial to your fitness, it's beneficial to your entire livelihood. One of my favorite things about moving to a new country is getting to embrace a new routine.
- Moving to the mountains for winter? Your new routine should include daily runs on the slopes.
- Moving to the beach for the summer? Of course you'll want to get your toes in the sand as often as possible.
- Moving to a bustling metropolis? Set out to explore new neighborhoods each week to find your favorite spots.
Not only will this help in overcoming loneliness and settling in abroad, it'll help you achieve your goals of staying fit while traveling. See what new ways of exercising you'll have at your fingertips. From surfing to salsa dancing, embrace the local culture and try what they do to stay healthy.
2. Go for Long Walks
Especially for those like me who work online, our work forces us to sit down most of the day. This can quickly create a sedentary lifestyle where you're moving from your bed, to your desk, to your sofa, and back to bed again.
A routine like this will quickly kill your goals of staying fit. Instead, make sure you get in some physical activity throughout the day. And one of the best ways to do that while still getting to explore your new neighborhood is by walking.
While it might seem counterintuitive, if you go on a long walk each day and strength train a few days a week, you'll actually have more energy than if you don't. Starting this routine can be tough but trust me, it'll be worth it once you make it a habit.
Plus, there's no better way to find hidden alleys, cute coffee shops, and pop into small stores you'd otherwise zoom right past than by walking. Your new home will start to feel like your real home the quicker you get to know its quirks.
3. Find Healthy Local Food You Love
While exercising is a key component to staying fit, the biggest factor of all is actually healthy eating. Don't get me wrong, when in Italy, please try the pizza, pasta, and gelato but balance that out by trying healthy meals in between. While these meals might not be the most popular ones, trust me, every country offers a balanced diet.
If you're struggling to find healthy meals at restaurants, take a trip to the local market. There you can pick up fresh fruits and vegetables and cook for yourself in your apartment or hotel, if you have access to a kitchen. If you don't, treat yourself to yogurt parfaits in the morning instead of the corner bakery.
The moral of this tip is that you should try the junk food and less healthy options that a country is known for (food is one of the best reasons to travel after all) but don't let all of your meals revolve around only that, especially if you’ll be there for weeks or longer.
4. Invest in a Work Out Program You’ll Actually Use
Settling into a new routine and eating food that fuels you is super helpful to get you off on the right track but once you've decided to stick exercise into your routine, what now?
Deciding how to exercise can be tough, especially if you're in a new country and don't want to join a gym. When I was teaching English in South Korea and again when living in Saranda, Albania, I joined a gym and picked a few people on Instagram and TikTok I liked and would randomly do their workouts. The results were...OK.
But as I've been traveling more constantly the past year in the Balkans, I wasn't as motivated to join a gym and preferred working out at home. Again, the results were...meh.
A big part of this is because I wasn't doing a program. I was randomly picking exercises based on Reels that looked interesting and not much else thought was going into it. And even though it was better than nothing, I wasn't making the progress to warrant the amount of time I spent exercising.
That's when the PT Couple come in. They're personal trainers and fellow expats living in Phuket who specialize in programs geared towards expats and digital nomads. They have a few courses to help with the mindset behind a healthy lifestyle but to me the real gem is their personalized workout plans based on your access to equipment.
No more needing to adjust your workouts based on what you have laying around, just tell them when you start with personal training, and your exercises will reflect your resources. Plus, I was able to tell them about an injury that inhibits me to do jumps and they worked around that seamlessly.
To get started with them, hop on a free consultation call to figure out which of their plans best suits your fitness goals.
5. Join a Local Sport
This one is really two tips in one. Not only is joining a local sport a great workout but it's also a fantastic way to make friends abroad. When I was living in Da Nang, I joined a boxing gym, and while in Ecuador, I played on a local soccer team.
These sports made all the difference not only to me getting into a routine and becoming a part of the local community but they also helped me hit my goals of staying fit while traveling.
The sport you choose to join is completely up to you, your interests, and where in the world you move abroad to. You might want to befriend the local mountain climbers and scamper off into the wilderness with them, join a local basketball team to brush up on your high school skills, or it could be as simple as heading to the park in the evenings for Zumba with the older women in the neighborhood.
The choice is yours but the results are the same - this will keep you active and help you integrate.
6. Set SMART Goals that Feel Attainable
Here's another one that kicks most of us in the bum: we set lofty fitness goals that we can't really keep up with. You most likely moved abroad or started traveling the world to embrace a better life for yourself. One where you feel more balanced and at peace with your day to day.
Your exercise goals should reflect that.
Start with small goals and work your way up to larger ones. Focus on making smart food choices, walking whenever possible, and breaking a sweat a few times a week. The more fun you can make it for yourself, the easier the goals will be to achieve.
7. Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself
When all is said and done, don't be so hard on yourself. Moving abroad is a huge leap and it can take time to adjust to your new time zone, culture, environment, and cuisine. As a digital nomad, moving from one place to another often, it can be even tougher to build new routines every time you arrive somewhere new.
The more you move countries and cities, the more comfortable you'll get with making smart choices for yourself and restarting your routine quickly. Give yourself grace while overcoming the hurdles of this lifestyle and be sure to still take plenty of time to fully enjoy wherever you are in the world.
*Bonus: How to Stay Fit While Traveling*
If you're just going on a vacation, not all of the above tips will apply. So instead of joining a local sport or creating an entirely new routine, there are a few additional tips that'll help you continue your progress on your next trip.
- Go on a free walking tour. Walking tours are fantastic ways to see a new place relatively quickly and get some historical and cultural context along the way. Plus, all the walking will serve as good exercise.
- Book a hotel room with a gym. OK, I don't always do this but when possible, it's really great. Usually if I'm traveling somewhere for a week or so, I'll make sure that for a few nights I have access to a gym but know that I don't need it each day. This helps me to continue strength training with my workout program even while on vacation.
- Plan a day for an outdoor adventure. Go hiking, mountain biking, skiing, surfing - it doesn't matter what, just something that gets you active outside. I always make sure to do a big hike in every country I go to and it's been such a great way to see a country's landscape while traveling. Hiking in the Balkans has been especially rewarding.
- Combat jet lag by landing in the late afternoon. Unless you have a super small window of time for your trip, I recommend landing in the late afternoon when drastically changing time zones. This means you only have to stay awake for a few hours before being able to immediately get on the correct sleeping schedule.
- Don't forget to drink water. It can be really easy to forget to drink enough water while traveling. Packing a reusable water bottle you can refill throughout your day will help loads. This helps you keep up your energy levels and won't let you get dehydrated while spending so much time outdoors. Drinking a lot of water the day before your long flight will also help with jet lag and fatigue.
Enjoy That Balanced Lifestyle
Staying healthy is something that most people worry about when deciding to move abroad. It can be tough to stay on track when big changes affect your daily routine. I get it - I've been there more than once.
With these few tips though, you'll be well on your way to living a balanced lifestyle regardless of where in the world you are. Just be sure to make it fun. If you don't enjoy something, it most likely won't last long. By following a fitness plan that promotes regular exercise, choosing to eat healthy more often than not, and focusing on an active lifestyle rather than a sedentary one, you'll be good to go.