Staying in Shape when Traveling

I know how hard it can be to stay in shape when traveling or living abroad. When I first moved to Thailand in October 2012, I gained 15 pounds in less than two months.

“How did I let this happen?” I asked myself. But I knew exactly how.

The equation is simple: Little physical activity + overindulgence in food = rapid weight gain.

But it was more complicated than that. For starters, I was living in the middle of nowhere. There was no accessible gym. The heat was extreme making outdoor exercise unbearable. Not to mention the packs of wild dogs that lived by my house, among other wildlife (think snakes).

Moreover, emerged in this new community, my good-hearted neighbors frequently brought over food. From Thai candy to other kinds of desserts, it was all fattening.

The weight gain happened so fast I barely had time to notice. But as soon as I stepped off the scale at the doctor’s office where I first got weighed, I knew I had to take action.

Step 1) Track what you eat, even if it’s not exact.

My Fitness Pal ScreenshotI could have not survived my weight-loss journey without My Fitness Pal. Not only did it allow me to track calories and exercise, it also helped chart my progress.

At first I got caught up in exact calorie counts. But who was I kidding? I had no idea how many calories were in the green curry I ate for lunch. Nor had I any clue on the portion size. A cup, two cups? Without proper gauging tools, I could only guess in the end.

However, I didn’t allow myself get bogged down by the little details. To me, it was more important to track what I ate as a general idea. And a good way to avoid over indulging.

Step 2) Light morning exercise

Recent studies prove that just seven minutes of exercise every morning makes a huge difference. While I was in Thailand, though, I was not aware of the seven minute workout trends. Nevertheless, I knew every little bit counted.

As soon as my mission to shed the extra 15 began, I started waking up a bit earlier every AM to get in a quick ten to fifteen minutes of easy cardio. I mostly did a workout found on YouTube (more on that later). But some days I would simply dance around the room to a song or two.

Step 3) Figure out how to workout. No excuses.

If there’s a will, there’s a way. I thought exercising in my rural Thai town was a lost cause. There was no gym. Going outside was not really an option given the heat and wild dogs. Also, I was the only white girl in town and had enough attention as it was. Jogging outside in country where relatively few make a point to exercise would undoubtedly lead to some uncomfortable situations—at least for me. Perhaps not for the high school boys in the neighborhood.

Beyond that, my home was small and not air-conditioned. But I made it work. Fortunately I found the plethora of free YouTube channels dedicated to producing at home workout videos. My favorite fitness channels are: Fitness Blender, Blogilates and Jessica Smith TV . However, there are countless others.

Despite no AC, workout mat or weights—basically, just myself—I found a way to get in 40-60 minutes of cardio about five times a week.

Step 4) Stand.

I saved the best for last because people never believe me when I tell them how effective standing is.

Over the past few years innumerable studies have shown the deadly effects of sitting. Yes, deadly. Yes, many studies. And, less severely, how too much sitting leads to weight gain.

What is the opposite of sitting? Standing.

So I began to find ways to stand instead of sit. As a teacher, sometimes I would sit on the floor with the kids or sit on a chair in front of the class. But I began to always stand when instructing.

Makeshift standing desk

When I was done for the day, I would head home, sit and work online. Then at night I would sit and watch TV. As a change, I built my own “standing desk.” I simply stacked a little laundry basket upside down on top of my desk.  Thus forming an elevated, flat surface.

Basically every opportunity I saw where I could stand, I would. I truly believe incorporating more standing into my daily routine made a huge difference.


I’ll admit that it took longer to lose the weight than it did to put on. But guess what? By the time I headed back to the US, a few months later, I was the same weight as the day I left for Thailand. And since I have been able to maintain a consistent weight, with fluctuations no more than 3-5 pounds. Even when traveling. So there was a happily-ever-after.

The best part is that anyone can make these or similar adjustments to their schedule as they travel.



— Wouldn’t it be nice to have a treadmill in your hotel room? A girl can dream… photo taken at the Westin Taipei, Flickr

— Screen shot of My Fitness Pal log from Thailand

— Fake it till you make it right? Photo via Flickr