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The single most difficult problem I have with long-term travel

The single most difficult problem I have with long term travel

In the #TTOT twitter chat that I take part in with a bunch of other travel industry professionals on a near weekly basis, we were asked the following question:

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Stopping to think about this for a second, I pondered what I thought would be an appropriate answer. At first, travelling at too fast a pace came to mind – a big problem I had on the three month trip I took through Europe with my partner Robert a year ago. But then I realised no, that wasn’t the biggest problem I had.

What was worse, was getting fat.

While I still try and be careful with what I eat, I do tend to eat larger portions and fattier foods when I travel. So unfortunately for me, travel = weight gain.

Typing my answer and hitting the tweet button, I felt a sense of satisfaction. Surely other peeps in the travel industry had come across this same challenge, so I waited for the re-tweets and replies to start gushing in, messages of understanding about how hard it is to stay slim during long-term travel.

Nope.

Instead, I got told ‘As long as you’re keeping fit and active, you’ll be fine’, ‘Enjoying the Gelato a bit too much?’ and ‘I actually lose weight. Much more active travelling.

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You’ll be fine! Just do what I do.

It was a virtual slap to the face.

Now I don’t consider myself a chunky person, though I’m sure I have some room for improvement, but I have to work bloody hard to keep the figure I have. I’m tiny, only just over 5 feet, and I need to eat much less than the average human’s energy intake.

A few short weeks of unhealthy eating (and I don’t mean eating at McDonalds every day, I mean eating slightly larger, slightly less healthy meals than usual and maybe a chocolate bar every couple of days) and suddenly I’m a couple kilos heavier.

I don’t go to the gym or work out, but I do a hell of a lot more walking than most people do (usually between 30 and 60 minutes daily) and I measure my kilojoule intake about 50% of the time so that I don’t turn into the marshmallow man.

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Now I know that some people don’t have to work hard to stay slim. My partner, for example, can eat twice as much as I do (including junk food every day) and it will take him months to start putting on a tiny bit of weight. You know why? Because A) he is a man, and men usually need a higher energy intake than my small female self, and B) he has been genetically gifted with a killer metabolism.

So when fellow travellers tell me ‘just to stay fit’ I say, piss off. We’re not the same person. Our bodies work differently, and what works for you will not necessarily work for me.

If we all went out to the same restaurant and ordered the same dish, we’d be given the same portion size. If I eat it all, I get fat – and if you eat it all, you might not.

Skiing in Innsbruck, Austria

In Innsbruck Austria, 2 months in. My chubby cheeks say it all.

Travelling and dieting at the same time is bloody hard. I know – I’ve done it. Two months into our Europe trip and I realised I’d put on a few kilos and I needed to do something to avoid putting on more weight. So I spent the third month counting kilojoules to make sure I wasn’t overeating.

It was tough, and there many nights where I went to bed miserable because I wasn’t allowed to eat that Italian pizza or have a few drinks after dinner. If you have never had to go through the emotional ups and downs of dieting then you should count yourself damn lucky, because it is not a fun journey.

So this is what I have to say to those who sit there and judge people when they have expressed that they find something difficult. They are not the same as you, they have different hurdles to overcome and different solutions to their problems.

In this online world filled with trolls and haters, we need to encourage understanding and empathy. Because one day it might be you on the other side, and I can tell you – it’s no fun to be judged for something you can’t help.


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Ashlea Wheeler

Blogger & Photographer at A Globe Well Travelled
I'm Ashlea, an excitable Australian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

36 Responses to “The single most difficult problem I have with long-term travel”

  1. Alissa

    I am about the same as you (petite and short) and every ounce (or kilo in your case) counts! Gaining even a pound puts my whole body out of whack compared to what I’m “used to” looking like. My husband is the same! Eats junk and LOSES weight. I completely understand how hard it can be. I’m about to take a 2 week trip to Europe (Paris, Amsterdam, and Madrid) and while I want to indulge I don’t want to come back 10 pounds heavier. I’ll just have to be mindful to make healthier choices when eating and indulging only a couple times a day rather than all day, every day. I understand your case completely though!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I know exactly what you mean Alissa! When you’re a small person, only 1 or 2 kilos can make the world of difference to your appearance! It’s usually ok to indulge a little on shorter trips as it’s not so hard to counteract with dieting when you get back, but long term travel is extra hard. And it is easy to overindulge when you’re travelling, temptations are everywhere. I hope you enjoy your eating your way through Europe though, it really has so much to offer your taste buds 😀

      Reply
  2. Lindsay @ Frugal Frolicker

    I’m pretty sure I’d have a similar problem if I were more of a foodie, but I’m usually so busy trying to do ALL OF THE THINGS when I travel that I put off eating or sometimes skip meals (which I NEVER do at home). I think I even lost a bit of weight when I traveled around Italy for 5 weeks and was on the daily gelato diet… but only because I’d eat, like, yogurt and bread for breakfast and then either pasta or pizza for dinner, but nothing in between. If I ate that stuff at home as part of my normal 3 meals + a snack or two routine, I’d be in #fatasscentral for sure!

    Aside from “accidentally” skipping meals, you could also work in some salads a couple times a week in lieu of a caloric, oversized meal. Not sure how easy it’d be to prepare your own on a trip through Eastern/Central Europe, but I’ve done that loads at hostels in Australia so far and it’s worked well – cheaper, too!

    (Side note: is that you with reddish hair?? :P)

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Oh yeah that’s a common problem I have when I travel too, but then I find that if I’ve skipped a meal I tend to way overeat later so that doesn’t actually help 🙁 I think you’re right about the routine, at home I try and be really strict with when I eat my meals as I know what works best for me, but when I’m travelling that’s sometimes impossible!

      Yes, and it was a light brown haha!

      Reply
  3. Petra @ The Global Couple

    That sucks you received those comments on the #TTOT chat. That’s not the place to make fun of others. I totally get where you’re coming from in regards to gaining weight while travelling, although for me it varies with where I am in the world! We travelled through Europe in the winter and ate lots of cheesy stuff and loads of carbs, and probably ate more because it was cold, so I gained a bit of weight there. In contrast, travelling through Asia I think the food is much lighter and less fatty with more veges, and I think I eat less because it’s so hot, and you sweat a lot more out! My fiancé is also the same – he can eat whatever he likes and doesn’t have to worry about it. Lucky!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s a really good point Petra, I definitely find it easier eat well in Asia than in Europe or North America (USA especially, those portion sizes are so gigantic!). I envy the people that can eat anything and stay slim, but alas, that will never be me 🙁

      Reply
  4. Kiara Gallop

    I totally get you! Maybe it’s us petite, small-framed people that suffer with this problem – I’m just over 5 foot and a size 8, and despite being really active during my long-term travels (hiking, walking around cities for about 6/7 hours a day) I still end up putting on weight. Despite all my best efforts to eat healthily I do often find that in countries where you don’t speak the language, it’s often a case of what’s available and what you recognise, and travelling on a budget makes it harder still because a lot of street foods are heavy on the carbs. I sometimes think I’m weird and slightly insane when I miss being able to go to the gym when I’m away! 😉

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one Kiara! I know what you mean about missing regular exercise, once you get into a routine it feels strange when it’s all thrown out of whack. And you’re absolutely right about how hard it is to eat healthily when you don’t speak the local language, I find it hard enough to ask if there’s a vegetarian option on the menu, let alone whether it’s healthy or what the ingredients are!

      Reply
  5. DT

    Weight is always a problem in travelling. I like to eat, and try new food.. Especially when visiting new places, I don’t wanna miss out on something. And like you, my metabolism doesn’t work as well as my friends. So, weight gain. 🙁 It’s also hard to follow any fitness routine during that time.
    -DT
    http://hereiscribble.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You’re absolutely right, any fitness routine you had back home is much harder to follow when you’re staying in a hostel, or have jet lag, or don’t know what facilities are in the area. And I think trying out the local cuisines is half the fun of visiting a new place, so you can’t just not try it!

      Reply
  6. Sammi Wanderlustin'

    I’m not worried about my weight at all, but I think I am one of the few people who loses weight travelling. I tend to eat a whole lot more healthily left to my own devices than when I’m at home– there are waaayyy too many carbs in this house. At the same time, I never worry about my weight because I can always buy bigger jeans.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You should count yourself lucky! Definitely sounds like you’re one of the few who doesn’t have to worry about weight gain while travelling 😉

      Reply
  7. Erika

    You are so right! I’m actually kind of shocked by how little your fellow travellers seem care about their own health! I thought it was a pretty well-known fact that a healthy diet is way more important to your health than exercise. These kinds of habits will probably catch up to them as they get older and their metabolisms aren’t quite as fast as they are now. Good for you for thinking about this early & figuring out what works for you!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Exactly!! Not that I’m any sort of expert, but I’ve heard that diet is about 70% importance and exercise is about 30%. I know exactly what you mean Erika – as annoying as it is to have to think about these things while I’m so young, I’m kind of thankful because it means I’ll be more knowledgable about my health when I get older!

      Reply
  8. Chalsie

    That sucks. You’re right, we’re all very different! I definitely fluctuate in weight when travelling. Sometimes I put on a few kilos, sometimes I lose them, sometimes I actually put on muscle.

    On another point, lately I’ve been getting really sick and tired of reading the same content on every single blog. This was a really refreshing read. I like it when bloggers can open up and show their flaws. Because in the online world, we don’t often get to see that.

    So thank you for writing this post Ashlea!

    Chalsie | The Workshop Co. x

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Ooh that’s a really good point – muscle can make a big difference too. And it really does depend on the area you’re travelling to as to whether you gain/lose weight or muscle.

      Thanks so much for you comment Chalsie. I’m trying really hard to stand out and be different from all the other bloggers out there, so receiving feedback like yours is a huge encouragement! 🙂

      Reply
  9. Jennifer Stevens

    Haha this is HILARIOUS. I feel the same way! I live in China and always hear guys complaining about how much weight they’ve lost. Seriously?? How can you LOSE WEIGHT while being surrounded with soup dumplings filled with delicious pig fat? How can you lose weight while all the food is swimming in oil?

    Really enjoying your blog.

    http://www.adventurousappetite.com

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Oh man, that has got to be the very worst thing to hear when you’re someone who puts on weight easily. Anyone who tells me “I’ve lost weight while I’ve been travelling!” I really just want to punch in the face. Seriously. Hating on them so much.

      Thanks heaps Jennifer!

      Reply
  10. Anna

    well I haven’t tried long term travelling but it’s true for short term as well. Back home I have a routine, I eat fruits+lunch at work and a snack in the evening. When I travel I don’t do that, and guess what, I ditch the fruit!
    I thought that walking would help but no…I walk so much when travelling+still!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Very true! Routine is very easily thrown out by travel. And you think that the extra walking will help, but no… your body has other ideas! Thanks for sharing Anna 😉

      Reply
  11. jo

    Not only is it the delicious food to try everywhere it’s also the “I’ll have another wine”.. then another, then another. Then whoops kebab at midnight.
    When Robert gets older he won’t be able to eat the same and get away with it! If he’s anything like me that metabolism will slow down 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Haha you read me like a book. One wine with dinner suddenly turns into clubbing with a bunch of Germans in an underground nightclub, 5 shots and a midnight snack later, you’ve just doubled your calorie intake. Oops.

      Yeah I hope so, I’m sick of him being able to eat anything he wants 😛 You two are damn lucky!

      Reply
  12. Emily Luxton

    Well I’ve got to say you definitely don’t look at all fat in yours pics, so if you’re gaining a little weight I’m sure that unlike me you can afford to! You’re tiny 🙂

    I was exactly the same in South America. Food was cheap and delicious, I ate out all the time, in Argentina the meat and wine is AMAZING and in Brazil all the free hostel breakfasts involved not much more than cake and bread. I can’t compete with that! The biggest problem is those long distance busses – I eat so many biscuits. What is it about sitting still for hours on end that makes you so hungry?

    No idea how best to counteract the problem – I never want to have to watch what I eat when travelling, but I also want to stay healthy. It’s definitely one of the biggest problems with travelling for me and plenty of other people I know (including my boyfriend), so you can ignore those people on twitter with their wonder metabolisms – they aren’t the majority!!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Haha thanks Emily! I try and hide it. One of the other commenters mentioned that slight weight gain is really obvious on petite people, and I can vouch for that. Though in all likelihood I’m probably overreacting some of the time 😛 Once I put on two kilos I start freaking out…

      Ohhh man, long distance travel is the worst for constant snacking. I totally get you! One 10 hour bus trip and a packet of graham crackers, and there’s 2000 kilojoules gone. Thank god those Twitter people aren’t the majority. Here I was thinking that my shithouse metabolism was just bad luck!

      Reply
  13. Ellie Quinn

    I totally agree with you! Every trip I put on weight! A few weeks after getting home and eating differently and going to the gym people start saying ‘ooh you look good’ and I think well what did I look like before?! Haha.
    I’m 6 weeks into my South America trip and not finding it too bad over here, lots of fruit and it’s expensive to eat out so I cook a lot meaning I make better food choices and not drinking as much. After 5 months in Asia last year I think it was the beer and spring rolls that were my downfall but I enjoyed them!!
    I hate that you were so honest online and got all the backlash! X

    Reply
  14. Katarina

    For me it really depends where I go – trips around Europe usually make me gain weight (pizza, pasta, tapas and wine in the South; AMAZING bread and cakes – not to mention meatballs and sausages – in the North), and in the US, the portions are so big its always a struggle. Every time I go to SE Asia or India though, I come back a lot thinner. Two words – food poisoning!

    Reply
  15. Bibiana

    As my blog name suggests (www.travellingomnomnivore.wordpress.com), a big part of travelling for me is the food, sampling the local delicacies and top restaurants around the world. Yet, despite that fact and the fact that I only have to LOOK at food to put on weight, I find that usually I actually lose weight whilst on holiday. These days anyway. How? Well, firstly I have an office job at home but my travel style involves walking everywhere and climbing up any available tall structure for the views. Probably more importantly, these days I choose water over alcohol, juices and soft drinks. There are a LOT of hidden calories and sugars in drinks. Not only that, I once did a trial out of interest where I got my blood taken pre- and post-Contiki tour, during which a lot of alcohol was consumed. All my tests were normal before, and when I came back, I had abnormal liver tests and increased inflammatory markers as well as triglycerides (a type of bad fat), indicating a degree of liver inflammation and fatty damage. I then abstained from all alcohol for 3 months (didn’t change my diet), repeated my blood tests again, and everything was back to normal. Hopefully, knowing this will help you in your quest to stay healthy while travelling. Of course, have a yummy drink now and then, whether alcoholic or not. But just be aware it’s not just the food that contributes to weight gain, but also the drinks. Good luck on your next trip! 🙂

    Reply
  16. Gwen

    Oh man, unfortunately this is the problem I have when I’m NOT traveling. The longer I stay in a place, the more I seem to gain. No matter when it happens though, it is definitely a bummer.

    Reply
  17. Landon @ Uneven Sidewalks

    I hear ya! My wife and I both fluctuate so much in weight when we are traveling. Sometimes we are gaining like crazy and other times losing. It’s a constant battle to keep at a decent normal weight.

    Reply
  18. Lisa

    I’m really shocked by the Lonely Planet US comments. I mean, they are a brand, a business with lots of workers, a policy and a name they put forward – not a blog owned by 1 person who has its own opinion. I find it very unprofessional of them.
    I think you’re right. I don’t put on weight easily but sure, when travelling, and especially in expensive European countries, you end up eating a lot more bread than at home (and home is Paris for me, so baguette is part of my daily diet). I went to Copenhagen in November, everything was so expensive, we always had huuuge breakfasts and made sandwiches for the day with the leftovers, and stopped for café and a cake in the afternoon to warm ourselves up. So bread, cereal, bread, and cake – oh, and bread with dinner. Per-fect diet :/

    Reply
  19. Sanji

    I understand you sooo much. I’m also tiny and I live now in Australia since 7 months and I put on so much weight. I worked as a Au Pair first and now I’m travelling. My idea was that after starting travelling for some weeks/months I’ll be so broke that I can’t afford buying much food so that I HAVE to loose weight. I don’t think it will go this way …
    After realizing that I put on some weight in the first couple of month I went running every day but it didn’t help at all. Maybe because in Germany at home I did gymnastics 3times a week.

    So let’s hope all together that a good fairy godmother comes and that she’ll take all the extra kilos away!! 😉

    Reply
  20. Addie

    Hey so I’m actually working on an eBook specifically for travelers offering workouts that are strictly body weight workouts without ANY equipment that can be done virtually ANYWHERE. I’d totally send you a free copy once I’m done with the beginners edit ion if you want it when I’m done? Let me know! I struggled with it before, but now am the most fit I have ever been 🙂

    Reply
  21. Ashliegh

    This has literally been the hardest part of traveling for me as well. I love trying out the local cuisine. I’m also a very active traveler, I’m on the go from dawn til dusk. I’m not even sure how it happened but my former size 2 petite body seems to have become a size 6 or 8 in just a few short months. And weight gain is so draining emotionally, too. Some options gotta be out there that works for us, haha!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It’s so frustrating isn’t it! No matter how active we are, our bodies have other ideas. And seriously, how can we say no to sampling the local cuisines? An essential part of travel!

      Reply
  22. Milou

    I just read this post. I feel for your problem, and have to restrain myself at the ‘I know better’-comments. For me it’s actually the exact opposite as you have. When I travel for some reason my body goes crazy… I lose appetite, usually my stomach plays up, and yes I do walk a lot more. Whereas when I’m home (and this is quite sad tbh) I’m usually so bored that I end up eating everything in my house, and don’t feel like working out at all. But I know what you mean about gaining weight easy. I do have that too!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Even though you have the opposite problem, it actually proves my point exactly – everybody’s body works in different ways! We can’t all expect that everyone will have the same problems and what works for you at home or while travelling might not work for someone else. Thanks so much for your comment Milou!

      Reply

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