Staying Healthy as a Long-Term Traveler
One of my biggest challenges since I began traveling full-time in June 2015 is to keep up and care for my health. It can easily feel like a new location brings a total shock to any good habits I’ve previously built up.
The main health areas which are most difficult to maintain — and most vital to my wellbeing — are: strong mental health, maintaining an active lifestyle, getting outside my comfort zone, and eating a healthy diet. In this post, I will share how I examine each of these areas and come up with a game plan for each new location I visit.
Strong Mental Health
When I’m not actively taking care of my mental health, the impact is almost immediate. Maintaining a solid footing in this area of my life, as often as possible, is a top priority to me. It is something I am constantly course-correcting.
There are three things that have made a massive difference in my health while traveling long-term:
- Talkspace. Talkspace is an online therapy company, where anyone can get therapy, where ever they are for significantly less money than traditional United States therapy. Talkspace has created a marketplace for licensed therapists and patients, and communication happens via their mobile app. I have been using Talkspace since September 2017 and I cannot say enough good things about the experience I’ve had. My therapist is amazing. I enjoy being able to check-in asynchronously anytime, no matter my timezone, and I find it to be an effective way to stay accountable to my goals. If you want to give it a try, use this referral link for $50 off your first month.
- Retreats. I am grateful to be able to unplug for a handful of days each year and focus entirely on my mental health while on retreat. Many people I know don’t have this luxury. Retreats are wonderful places for me to take in new information, reset my routine, and have space to reflect on what I value most. As of January 2019, I have been on six retreats — from Peru to Portugal to southern Utah. My most recent retreat with US-based meditation teacher Tara Brach was a top favorite. It was a 5-day silent meditation retreat over New Year’s, and I grew tremendously in my inner-peace and understanding of compassion. One way to keep momentum going post-retreat is to get my next retreat on my calendar before I allow other things in my life to take priority.
- Daily Practice. In order to stay on track toward having strong mental health, I identified mental health micro-actions to practice daily. Less of a to-do list and more of a map, my micro-actions help me to remember the actions I want to take to live my best life. In addition to mental health focused micro-actions, I set small — yet profoundly cumulative — micro-actions around my career, my physical health, and my curiosity. My mental health focused micro-actions include 20 minutes of meditation, morning journaling with a gratitude list, evening journaling with a reflection of what went right during the day, and doing a short loving-kindness meditation directed toward someone I interacted with that day. I use the 5-minute journal for my daily journaling. I write more about how I identify micro-actions to guide my life in my book, Travel Isn’t the Answer.
Keeping Up an Active Lifestyle
Before long-term traveling, exercise was almost exclusively happening in my local gym. As I began to travel, I noticed that exploring a new location was, many times, best done through physical activity. Street art walking tours, horseback riding through a forest, salsa lessons, clocking 10,000 steps at a museum, or taking long walks through a city’s central park were ways for me to get moving while also being in discovery mode.
Around two and a half years into my travels, I came to the conclusion that although these exploration activities were fun, I wasn’t doing enough to compensate for my foodie tendencies. (More on that later.) It was time to revisit the old idea of heading to the gym.
As a traveler visiting for a short period of time, I found that sometimes my options for a local gym membership were limited.
Here are two ways I have tackled this:
- Localfit. Think of Localfit as your sole gym membership, even if you are traveling across many cities in the United States. With a $14.95/month membership, you’ll have access to 5,000+ gyms and studios as you travel. The team at Localfit reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in trying out their service while I was visiting New York City. Currently, the vast majority of their gym and studio partnerships are on the East Coast, so my trip was a perfect opportunity to try out their service. If you nomad around the United States, and enjoy trying out different gyms and studios in new neighborhoods, Localfit is a great option.
- Trials. I have been surprised by the number of number of gyms and studios around the world who offer free trial periods to new customers. To be fair, if I am in a location for more than two weeks, this isn’t always the best way to keep up a fitness routine. But, if I’m in a location for 1 or 2 weeks, I found this is an interesting option to explore. Some gyms will work with me if I am in a city for a short period of time, offering me an affordable month-to-month option.
Salsa lessons, training for a local 5k, registering for a yoga workshop, going into nature for a hike, showing up for a pilates class… Whichever combination of physical activity I choose, the most important thing for me is to put it into my calendar. The times when I am setting myself up for success are the times when I spend time on Sunday filling my calendar with physical activities for the week.
Getting Outside My Comfort Zone
You may be thinking, “How does getting outside of her comfort zone have anything to do with staying healthy as a long-term traveler?” I’d argue that leaving our comfort zones is one of the most powerful ways digital nomads can grow mentally and physically.
I am a creature of habit — to the extreme.
During my time as a startup founder, I worked with an executive coach. I took a test called the iWAM test, which identifies a person’s motivational and attitude preferences. My results around my strong preference toward keeping things the same were something that stuck with me for years after taking the assessment:
“Compared to the average population, she is more interested in keeping things the same as they were before. She may resist change. She is less interested in new projects and tasks.”
The average person scores 50 for “sameness and stability.” Someone at the high end of the average scores a 100. I score 200, which it turns out is the highest possible score.
For me, getting out of my comfort zone as often as I can stand it — and maybe a bit more than I can stand — is crucial for my wellbeing. I take extra care to catch myself if I am saying “no” too often at work or if I am going to the same coffee shop day after day.
Similar to my physical activity, I take deliberate action to put new activities into my calendar each week. Airbnb Experiences have been a low effort and effective way to get me into situations I wouldn’t normally seek out. Searching for events on Meetup is another great avenue to shake up my routine. I write more about how to increase curiosity — whether you travel full-time or not — in my book, Travel Isn’t the Answer.
Eating a Healthy Diet
One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new location is to check out the foodie scene. So, what naturally results is I find myself eating out… a lot. Too much at times.
Making a healthy diet a priority is one of my biggest health challenges since I started long-term travel. Sometimes it feels like a struggle that will never end.
But, as I reflect on what has worked for me, I can see that I’ve made strides. Here are two things that have worked to help me grow in this area of my life:
- A Plan Around Eating. I was raised vegetarian (my parents are vegetarian) and in recent years I have moved slowly toward eating more and more vegan. I feel better when I eat a vegan diet, I pay attention to what is on a restaurant’s menu, and I enjoy seeking out innovative vegan chefs in a new city. I think having any kind of guideline around what we eat most of the time — whether that be eating paleo, plant-based, limited added sugar, or counting calories — brings more mindfulness around our diet.
- Being Mindful of Dining-Out. It can be easy to eat out often when constantly visiting new locations. I have started to make finding a healthy grocery store or street market nearby a top priority. It’s now one of the first things I do after my bag is unpacked. If I can get this right early on into my stay, it’s easier to eat in more often. It turns out, if I wait to pick up that first run of groceries, it becomes harder to break my notorious dining-out habit — even weeks or months into my stay.
If you feel like from time to time your healthy habits slip one by one, you aren’t alone. Living a healthy lifestyle — whether you travel full-time or not — is a challenge for everyone I talk to. I hope sharing some of the ways I set myself up for success can help you to explore how you might do the same in your life.