“I love to exercise, but I’m going to turn into a beluga whale because I am going to eat anything and EVERYTHING that remotely interests me in Europe. I guess I’ll run in the mornings, do some band exercises, and do some bodyweight workouts to offset the impact… the three months of carefree-eat-what-I-want impact.”
Or at least, that’s what I thought going into my three-month budget/backpacker trip to Europe. I’m now back from my trip, and looking back on it, I did eat everything I wanted to eat. But did I do all the exercising I had hoped and dreamed of doing? Pshh, not at all! So what happened to my body?
*Please note: All of the products listed in this post are my personal recommendations (and…what I would actually want as gifts!) and may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep the blog running and content coming to you. Thanks!
My Fitness Hopes/Dreams vs. What Actually Happened
Before I set off to Europe, I knew I wanted to maintain my weight—I didn’t want to gain fat nor did I want to lose my muscle. I was extremely concerned with the complexity of taking workout classes abroad. Wouldn’t drop-in fitness classes or even gym day passes cost a fortune? How would I understand the language to follow along in these fitness classes? I had done some research and located some multi-country chain gyms such as McFit or John Reed, but these chains weren’t serving half of the countries I was to visit. Frustrating, I know–especially for someone who relied on ClassPass 4-5 times per week in her normal life.
I decided to play it by ear once I got there. Of the 3 months abroad, I ran on 5 occasions, did maybe 2-3 home exercises, rode some bikes, and walked a lot to get from point A to point B. Oh yeah, I also hiked 100 miles in my last 10 days in Europe (we’ll get to this later). In the end, I attended 0 workout classes and never stepped into a gym during my 3.5 months in Europe. What did this do to my body? I was so curious to find out.
Here’s where the metrics come in. A few weeks before I left for Europe, I had a DXA scan done (Goodbye USA, goodbye cares!). One day after my return, I took another DXA scan (Hello again USA, hello again responsibilities!). For those of you who aren’t aware, Dexa scans are one of the most accurate ways to measure your body fat, lean mass, and bone health—it’s basically a huge machine that you lay down on while it takes low-energy X-rays of your entire body. It provides tons of details and breaks down your muscle mass and body fat by body part, amazing stuff for people who love numbers, really. Today, I will share just my high-level numbers with you to show you how my body changed over these ~4 months.
How Do I Interpret This??
Though my weight has remained relatively the same, there was a shift in my muscle/fat ratios. I lost 4.6 pounds of fat and gained 3.4 pounds of muscle. (Now if you have no idea what 5 pounds of fat looks like, imagine a yellow blubbery fluffball of cotton candy! Eww.)
There you have it. I actually lost fat and gained muscle. This was actually quite shocking to me, because I always thought abs were “made in the kitchen” and I sure as hell was not limiting what I was eating abroad. Sure sure, you could say “Hey Elle, you hiked 100 miles so that’s probably why you saw success in your numbers.” Yes, that may be true. But do you think it’s actually possible that only 10 days of intense activity would make up for 3 whole months of constant fat gain? Seems highly unlikely. I would, however, attribute some of my muscle gain to the backpacking trip, as most of the muscle gain occurred in my legs. But honestly, I think the fat loss was due to an immense change in lifestyle.
No longer was I stressed, sedentary, or mindlessly snacking on processed foods in the office. Instead, I was relaxed, taking daily strolls, and eating freshly prepared meals made with love and care. In Europe, my day to day consisted of a lot of city exploration on foot. On average, I walked 9 miles per day. Some days I would walk less, some days I would walk more. I must say, I love walking and I firmly believe that the best way to see a new city is by foot. Forget those hop-on-hop-off buses, there’s so much you can capture on foot, moving as you please at your own leisurely pace.
Clearly, my lifestyle change had done a complete 180. Instead of doing a 45-minute workout in the morning and then sitting the rest of the day, I was walking for most of the day. Instead of sitting at my desk snacking whenever things got boring or stressful at work, I was mentally stimulated by all the sites and attractions in these new cities I was visiting. I was stress-free and often too busy enjoying my day to think about finding snacks to munch on. I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as whenever I saw sweets or pastries on the streets. I never really limited what I ate, nor did I eat salads frequently (I would probably say I rarely ate salads in Europe—it was carbs carbs carbs a lot of the time!)
How amazing, I ate and drank whatever I wanted and lost fat in the end. If I had to drill it down, I believe these four factors led me to getting more fit than I was before I left the USA:
- I stopped snacking as often; there was rarely a desire to snack out of boredom, because I was never that bored!
- I walked a lot as a substitute for my lack of formal exercise.
- I ate better quality foods during my meals. This is because the EU has way higher standards when it comes to matters such as GMOs, hormones, questionable chemicals and other additives in food (step it up please, America).
- I was less stressed. I was actually happy.
Learnings and Recommendations
It’s About The Mindset
As a final note, I want to call out that this is just my experience. I’ve done my fair share of scouring the web looking for resources on this topic. I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone’s results really will differ and will be extremely dependent on how you value your health and wellbeing. On one hand, if you go into a vacation thinking “hey, these two weeks I’m going to allow myself to relax, sleep in, and gorge on the finest foods and pick up my routine once I get home”, then maybe you’ll put on a few pounds that you’ll worry about later; this is totally okay! On the other hand, if you remain conscious of your everyday choices while abroad (and yes, you are still allowed to gorge on the same amount of the finest foods), then you have good chances of staying fit while traveling!
Walk instead of taking the train. Take the longer but more scenic route. Have a stroll by the river and catch the sunset. Go for a sunrise jog with your friend. Rent bikes and cycle the countryside to the next town over for lunch. Swim in the lakes, swim in the ocean because you can. Go row a boat. Go for drinks and dance the night away. There are so many physical activities (that don’t feel like exercise) that you can work into your travel itinerary. See, it’s not so hard to stay fit on vacation!
Fitness Gear To Take With You On Your Travels
The following items are lightweight and ultra-packable, so you can stay fit while traveling.
- Resistance Loop Exercise Bands – The ultimate multi-purpose workout tool that takes up almost zero space! Comes with an instruction guide, bag, e-book, and online workout videos
- Pilates Ring – for toning thighs, abs and legs
- Resistance Band Set – handles and ankle straps to allow you to perform the widest variety of resistance training exercises possible
- Full Body Gliding Trainer – this sliding workout device can effectively tone your entire body, and be easily transported anywhere
- Adjustable Jump Rope – perfect for cardio, super lightweight and tangle resistant; just toss in your bag and go
- Muscle Roller Leg Massager – deep tissue massage stick to take anywhere with you, fits into most bags easily
Have any tips or tricks of your own for staying fit and active on vacation? Leave a comment below!