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Home » Backpacking Tips

Look Good, Feel Good: Backpacking the Healthy Way

Girl with young green coconuts

Photo from Flickr by iferneinez

Sometimes people wonder how on earth backpackers manage to gain weight while they’re travelling – surely with all that hiking, surfing and missioning round with a great big rucksack will the them buff and in the peak of fitness, right? Well, to a point yes. But factor in the change in diet, climate, general fatigue and the penchant for opting for cheap, convenient meals and it’s often a recipe for a pretty unhealthy lifestyle.

Luckily, there’s a couple of small things you can do (or change) that will get you on the right track to feeling and looking good…

Spend any length of time sleeping in dorms and you’ll quickly learn the value of a decent night’s sleep. Chatting people, lights being turned and all manner of nocturnal activities can make it very hard to get the sleep you need. Two backpacking essentials are ear plugs and an eye mask. You might feel a bit of a wally to start with in your mask but blocking out the light is the fastest way to a peaceful kip.

If you’re lucky enough to be travelling to the tropics, then get acquainted with green coconuts. Don’t like the taste of coconut? Fear not. The clear coconut water inside has almost no taste, but is packed with potassium and essential minerals. Necking one of these, ice cold, is the fastest way to cure a hangover in any tropical country. They taste delicious!

Now I’m not a big fan of pill-taking but it’s worth considering taking a supply of vitamins with you on your travels. Depending on where you are in the world, your intake of essential vitamins will change wildly. It’s possible to go from eating nothing but steak every day in Argentina to being an incidental vegetarian in India. For girls spending time in Southeast Asia (where the cows are skinny and the beef is therefore terrible) it’s worth considering iron tablets and for those doing a lot of hiking or hard activities, then cod liver oil goes a long way to soothing those creaky joints.

There’s a reason why the Nepalese eat high fat, high carb meals and the Japanese opt for sushi: it’s all about the environment. If you’re at altitude your body is working hard to get you going so you need a higher calorie intake; the opposite if you’re lounging on a beach in Asia. Our tip? Eat local. Not only will you save loads of money by eating in shacks by the road but you’ll learn new flavours, have a greater experience and will ultimately be giving your body the nourishment it needs (without even thinking too hard about it).

Step outside of Europe or Australasia and bang! Over the counter meds are yours! It’s astonishing to newbie backpackers just how easily available prescription meds are in foreign countries. If you’re experiencing belly troubles, infected motorbike/rope fire injuries (Thailand) or altitude sickness then it’s all too easy to reach straight for some knockout drugs that you’d never dream of taking back home. Proceed with caution: frequent use of antibiotics plays havoc with your insides and becoming reliant on sleeping tablets or opiates to get a good night’s sleep is a slippery slope indeed. Be sensible and remember that you only get one liver!

What’s the biggest battle some backpackers face when they’re away? The backpacker beer belly. Being sociable in hostels usually means having a couple of drinks while you do the ‘where are you from?’ chat. They all add up though and no matter how much walking you might be doing, beer always collects in one place: around your middle. Give yourself designated no-beer days and wait til you feel the difference!

Fiona Tulloch has written 32 articles. At the age of 27, Fiona gave up a publishing career in London to travel round the world, spending a year around South America and Asia. She currently resides on the Cambodian coast after deciding that rain and unemployment back home in the UK were not for her. She enjoys eating local food (a lot), learning languages (badly) and living a simple life surrounded by sunshine, smiles and palm trees.

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