Staying healthy on the road is a big deal for most long-term travelers. We’ve written posts about medical care abroad and, while it’s not as scary as it might sound, the inside of a hospital is never on our list of must-sees, no matter what country we are in!
If you’re not careful, your healthily habits can slip pretty quickly on the road. You can find yourself eating bag after bag of chips and rest stop pizza on those long haul bus rides. In unfamiliar surroundings, exercise may no longer be as easy as taking a quick jog around the block. Variety in fresh produce might be far harder to find, depending on the country being traveled. Tired, run-down bodies get sick easier and take longer to heal. Even water can pose a problem in many regions, which might mean drinking sodas or juices far more often than you were used to at home.
So, how exactly is one supposed to stay healthy while hopping from place to place almost constantly and relying on street food to keep bellies full and budgets in check?
1. Make finding the local market your #1 priority. If you are in town for more than 12 hours, find the local market. Any supermarket is stocked full of junk and whether we are in Guatemala or India, we are never impressed by the produce selection in big box grocery stores. Local markets are usually packed to the brim with veggies, fruits, grains, and sometimes fresh cheeses and freshly butchered meat. The prices are lower and the products they are selling offer much more variety. As an added bonus, local markets are run by and frequented by locals. You are feeding the local economy directly when you shop at local markets and you will get a feel for the culture by surrounding yourself with people who live here day in and day out, even if it is for a quick stop at the market on your layover.
2. Look for local farmers. This can be harder to do in some regions. If you are in a big city, for example, this might not be as easy as it sounds. But in Central America, we had so many opportunities to look for local farms to buy direct from that that is exactly what we started doing. We found a wonderful farm just outside of of Antigua, Guatemala we could take a long walk to. Many of their products were organic and they were happy to offer us tours of the farm anytime we wanted. I like knowing who is growing my food and what the conditions for their workers look like. Not only am I getting fresh produce and other goods, I am educating myself on the lives of the people who make sure I have food to eat. Farms who know people might show up on site to buy their food also tend to fall on the ethical side of the fence when it comes to the treatment of their employees. This has a long term outlook on the health value of my food as it keeps farmers in touch with who they are producing for.
3. Do your best to find accommodations that will give you the option to cook. This is not as hard as it sounds. One of the hardest things for us while traveling is having less control over what we put in our mouths. Having spent nearly a year in Central America, we ate far more street food than we ever did before we left Brooklyn. Street food is fast, cheap, and not always healthy. We were lucky enough to have plenty of opportunities to indulge in a bag of fresh mango with lime juice and chili but mango alone was not enough to make us feel as though we were eating in as a healthy a manner as we would have liked. Finding ways to cook for ourselves made a big difference in how we felt, health wise.
Look for hostels with a shared kitchen for guest use, consider a doing a housesit, or ask around town for an short term apartment rental. Believe it or not, sometimes renting an apartment makes more financial sense than staying in a hotel, especially when you factor in your ability to grocery shop and eat in. There are some online sites you can look at to rent an apartment with a kitchen before you arrive (such as AirBnB) but, in general, it’s generally a better bet to book a hotel for a night or two, arrive, and spend some time asking the locals about rentals. For housesits, our friend Talon has written a ridiculously helpful series of posts on housesitting.
4. Walk absolutely everywhere you can. We lived in Brooklyn before we left. That means we walked. A LOT. I estimate that I walked at least 2 miles a day while living in NYC. Once we plopped ourselves into cultures that relied less on walking and locations that were not planned to be explored on foot, we found ourselves hitching rides more often than we ever had. Forcing yourself to walk whenever possible is a really easy way to ensure that you are getting some regular exercise.
5. Invest in some sort of water filter. We have the LIFESAVER Systems 4000 Ultra Filtration Water Bottle but there are lots of options out there. We use it to fill up a couple of reservoirs that we stuff into our backpacks every time we go out. We have even taken to doing this when we are in NYC. Having a large supply of clean water at the most inconvenient times not only means we are steering clear of water born illnesses, it also means we have little excuse to purchase sugary drinks. While bottled water is found around the world, it wastes a ton of plastic not to mention the fact that not every rest stop has bottled water and not every bottle of water looks like it should be ingested….. Soda doesn’t help anyone stay healthy. Water does.
6. Consider taking some of your easiest and most precious health regimens on the road. Not every personal health protocol is easily transportable. But some of them are. Jennifer Miller, a fellow long term traveler, takes her kefir grains, sprouting seeds, and yogurt cultures on the road. We have not tried this yet but, after reading Jennifer’s post, it is on the list of things to add to our nomadic health regimen!
Staying healthy on the road looks a little different than it does at home. Nevertheless, with a little planning and some creativity, there is no reason to leave healthy practices at home!