Before we left home on our two hundred and seventy-five day trip around the world, we were a reasonably fit family, and I think a big part of staying fit on the road is having already established healthy habits. You can very easily develop some good habits while you travel, but you can also very easily entrench the bad ones.
Here are my thoughts on the subject.
First of all, it's all relative. What does "fit" mean to you? That opens up a whole other can of worms, but by and large, let's say that by "fit," we are also considering your health. Generally speaking, if you're fit, you're healthy. And if you're healthy, you're fit. That's how we'll approach this.
Fit also looks different on different people. So we're not talking how you look, but how you feel. And how you respond to the rigours of travel, both physical and mental.
If your response to a missed train is a bout of screaming and stomping your feet, or if climbing a flight of stairs makes you wheeze, you should probably take some time to consider how that will impact your travel plans.
For my family and me, staying fit was less of an issue than making sure we were getting enough calories. We weren't running marathons or doing cycling tours, but we walked an awful lot, carrying all our stuff in a single backpack each. At the end of the day, we were hungry. And at the beginning of each day, we needed a good meal to help us stay energized.
Travelling encourages you to do a lot of walking. You could take a taxi or other mode of mechanized transportation, but if you don't have to, don't. Walk. See the sights on the way to the site. Meet local people, stop and talk, get to know your surroundings. It will do wonders for your psyche and help you shed some unnecessary pounds, if you have any. Walking is simply one of the best exercises ever 'invented,' and comes will all sorts of excellent side effects. Being fit has the potential added benefit of allowing you to experience a place a little more fully. So if you need to walk the five hundred steps up to the top of St. Peter's, or the nine hundred steps up to The Monastery at Petra,
you can do it without over-exerting and maybe hurting yourself. If you can't now climb a few sets of stairs comfortably, start preparing for your travel dreams today, or be realistic about what you'll be able to accomplish. Or both.
We did a number of hikes, like in the Vikos Gorge in Greece, that demanded a fair bit of physical literacy, as they say.
You could also carry your kids' backpacks when they get tired. Or carry your kids...we tried to avoid that as much as possible. We tossed the frisbee with locals on the beach in Gokarna, India. Walked from the Ephesus site back to the nearby town of Selcuk, Turkey. Walk, walk, walk.
We stayed in apartments throughout Europe, and in addition to giving you more space vs. a hotel, you also have your own kitchen in which to prepare meals. You will likely cook with less salt and less fat than what you will find in a restaurant meal, and you will save a ton of money. If you're travelling with your children, have them help prepare the food and make it a family affair and teachable moment. That being said, there were times when we just couldn't resist a night on the town.
One thing we really cut down on was snacking. Mid day snacking, late night snacking, bad food snacking. This is not to say we didn't have a bag of chips here and there, but we significantly curtailed our bad-calorie input. Bad calories have a tendency to weigh you down physically and mentally, so the more you can avoid them, the better off you will feel. Being on the road with a food hangover, be it when your bus blows a tire in the middle of India or you're climbing those never-ending stairs to the cupola in Florence, is no fun at all.
Having a more active day will often result in a less active night. And getting a good night's sleep is critical to being your best self in any circumstances. Travelling with children certainly encourages good sleep habits, as you will be home earlier in the evening, and less likely to be dragging yourself out of a bar at 7 a.m. on Khao San Road.
If you want to be a little more hard-core, you could always do pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, rudimentary squats, or search out a gym, but we found that our overall fitness level was never better than it was in the middle of that trip. Much of that was due to walking and climbing everywhere, hauling our own backpacks, eating and sleeping well, and being together as a family. No other workout required (being with my family was not a workout! It added to the overall sense of well-being).