• Maya Leeds

Staying fit on the road

Anyone who knows me also knows that working out is a huge part of my life. It’s my daily therapy, my ‘me time’. Not only do I love working out but I love taking fitness classes. I love the energy & motivation from the teachers and other students but I also like the structure & formula. I like that I don’t have to think too much and can just follow the instructions of the teachers, knowing that I’m going to get a great workout, perfectly planned to fit into the allotted time. Left to my own devices, I often work out for too long - trying to cover every exercise in the book that I know, not sure when to stop - and end up feeling unsatisfied at the end.


But, that was the pre-backpacking, NYC version of Maya. On-the-road Maya has already had to adjust a ton. Unlike a more traditional trip, we’ve been staying at hostels & homestays, which means small rooms and certainly no hotel gyms. And although I’ve had my share of days craving what had been my go-to classes and still haven’t quite nailed down the daily routine I thought I would, I have figured out a way to stay fit and maintain my body & peace of mind despite having been on the road for over a month.


I expect this to evolve over as our trip continues, but one thing I can say for sure, extended travel does not mean loss of fitness! Here is what I’ve found so far to be the best:


In room workouts:

  • Although we have stayed in hostels and homestays we have always had our own room. No matter how small they are, they generally have had at least enough space for me to do a small routine. My new rule of thumb: if there is enough room to do a plank, there is enough space to exercise.

  • While my preference would be to follow an online video or streaming class, with spotty wifi, it’s just been easier to do my own thing. Fortunately I’ve built up a good base of exercises but will occasionally do a quick online search if I need more inspiration.

  • These can all be done without any equipment, but I did bring a bunch of bands (i.e. TheraBands with me) which help with arms and legs in particular.

  • Types of Exercises: Think squats, lunges (so many types of lunches you can do!), sit ups, etc. If I’m lucky and don’t think I’ll bother other hostel guests or the people staying in the room below ours, jumping jacks and other cardio bursts also make it into the mix. I’ve even just turned on music and danced around to get my cardio in.

Small workouts on the go:

  • Since most days when traveling are different, I haven’t been able to get into a true daily routine yet, so I like to take advantage of any moment I have. This is similar to the in room workouts above, but with less time commitment and even less space.

  • Maybe I’ve just realized how antsy and hyperactive I am on this trip, but if there is a time I have 10 minutes and don’t know what to do with myself, finding a little movement helps! For example, at a rest stop during a long bus ride? I do some arm circles. On a boat in Ha Long Bay? I tread water for 5 minutes. I even made the bed on an overnight train into a little exercise space. Given how hard it was I found a way to do some abs and butt moves while we were killing time before our stop!

  • Types of exercises: This often takes the form of small, easy moments like arm circles, calf raises, possibly squats or leg lifts depending where I am.

Workouts by accident - Getting from point A to B:

  • Walking: Before our trip, any time I mentioned my anxiety about leaving my typical workout routine people loved to say, “but you’ll be walking so much!” I would typically brush this off, because in my pre-travel mind, walking was not equal to exercise. BUT, it’s true. When you travel like this, you walk A LOT! Experiencing new cities is so much better on foot (in my opinion) and because every dollar counts for budget travelers, we didn’t set foot in a cab until we truly needed to, and when we do, it’s always begrudgingly.

  • Biking: There are some places we’ve visited where walking just won’t work, either because the distance is too long or because it’s too hot to walk and we don’t want to pay for a cab or motorbike. Many homestays lend out bikes for free, so it’s a fun and cost-effective way to cover more ground in a city you’re visiting.

Find a local Gym

  • This is definitely a treat, and probably not something we’d do if we were on a short trip. But after being on the road for so long, it’s nice to find a place where we can actually use weights so that we’re not losing all our muscle! Not every city will have one but I was surprised by just how much fitness we have found so far in SE Asia.

  • This also doesn’t need to be a splurge. We found a great gym in Hue, Vietnam that was $2.50 each for the day.

Local Classes

  • Yoga definitely is prevalent all over South East Asia. In bigger cities, classes cater to westerners (i.e. taught in English). My preference is to save money and do my own thing, but it’s a nice way to change up the routine and have a different experience. You also get to meet some interesting characters along the way.

What else can you do?

  • Running: For a few reasons, running isn’t something I’ve done while on the road while traveling in SE Asia. First, because it is HOT. It would either have to be super early in the morning or later in the evening to run. Second, I just don’t feel comfortable. As a woman I get intimidated, especially since I’d be running when the sun is down (because of the heat just mentioned). But I’m also scared of aggressive drivers and motorbikes that pop out of nowhere. I’m also not a big runner to begin with, so I prefer some quick cardio bursts over running.

  • Jump rope: I brought a jump rope with me, but have yet to use it. I still hope to, and fortunately it’s lightweight so hasn’t been a burden to carry.


Staying on track


I’ve continually had to remind myself that no matter what, my fitness on the road is going to be different from what it had been at home. I’m working out differently, but I’m also eating differently, sleeping differently, spending my time differently.


At the end of the day, how you feel is most important (the classic, ‘how do your clothes fit?’ question). But there is one more thing I easily packed in my bag to give me some peace of mind: a little measuring tape. By tracking my measurements every so often (i.e. waist, chest, hips), I can observe the changes traveling is having on my body. I think it’s important for anyone, myself included, to make sure none of this impacts the overall enjoyment or experience of the trip. I know for myself, I have not held back on any indulgences (more coconut ice cream please!). But I’m also proud to say, at this point, my measurements are exactly where they were on day 1!


With more than half of our expected journey still ahead, I’m looking forward to finding my routine, maybe some online classes, or other local experiences that continue making me feel strong physically & mentally and connected to the people & place we visit.


Got any backpacking workout tips? Let me know!


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