Losing Weight After a Year of Travel

February 1, 2012

So we got a little fat.

It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose. Eating in restaurants every day, drinking more than we normally do and trying all sorts of foodie delights across four continents certainly doesn’t help one’s waistline. And who wants to miss out on any of this stuff when they’re travelling.


One week into our 2011 travels in Auckland – we were pretty fit.

We actually did pretty well the first four months. New Zealand and Chile were places where we were hiking long distances at least once a week on average and staying pretty active the rest of the time. Then Argentina came along. Steak dinners, red wine, pizza, ham and cheese sandwiches and medialunas were the staple diet there. Bolivia was healthier and then we had a few bouts of food poisoning in Peru to get us back to normal. Colombia began the decline with its delicious food and craft beer. We were much less active in Europe with our long hikes becoming fewer and fewer. Then winter hit and it was all over, even in the Middle East where the food was sublime.

The places that really killed us: Argentina, Ireland, UK, Austria, Turkey, Germany and Jordan. Not that we’re complaining too much. And may I add airports and flights? Lack of sleep and overeating in transit are incredibly damaging to one’s figure.

So now we’re finished with full-time travel and back to a slightly more normal routine, though sitting around looking for overseas work and not being able to exercise in the Australian heat isn’t helping. But we do have a plan: Operation Rewind, where we will attempt to turn the clock back one year to our fitter selves.

Pigging out in Jordan eleven months later. Notice the same shirts but a much tighter fit.

How will we achieve this? Everyone knows crash diets don’t work so we just have to take it slow and get it off the healthier way. We have a three step plan:

1. Eat healthy.

We’re eliminating fattening foods from our diet and sticking to vegetables, fruit, lean meats and whole grains. We won’t be eating processed foods, red meat, fried foods, fast food, snack foods and refined carbohydrates. In the past it has helped to have one “free day” to keep us from losing our minds (and we’ve found that we don’t usually eat that much on the free day because we’ve been so good all week).

2. Curb alcohol.

We usually stick to beer and wine but even these drinks have around 200 calories per beverage, which adds up quickly when you’re having one or two a day, three or four times a week. We’ll be cutting out alcohol except for once a week when we have a social event. Life doesn’t stop just because you’re dieting.

3. Exercise.

We hate gyms so for us this means getting active outdoors. Unfortunately we’re in very hot weather at the moment and our one hour racewalking at the beach three times a week has been difficult to keep up with. Sometimes it’s still 32-34 degrees C at 7pm and that makes it hard to get a walk in before dark. We’re going to have to start getting up early in the mornings to walk if the weather keeps it up.

Unfortunately this is not a post containing a magic formula to help others lose weight post-travel but I thought I’d share our battle with you. John’s goal is to lose 15-20 kilograms and I need to lose around five to get back to our pre-travel weights. We’ll keep you posted on the progress.

In the meantime, help us out: do you have any tips for losing weight, keeping it off or preventing travel weight gain in the first place? Do you tend to lose or gain weight when you travel?


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  1. Comment by Gillian @OneGiantStep

    Gillian @OneGiantStep Reply February 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    We gained weight too! I had heard of plenty of travellers coming back skinnier than when they left, and I was hopeful…but now – I was 10 pounds heavier. We found that just getting back into our regular eating and moving routing got rid of it quick enough. Good Luck!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      I’ve always heard lots of other travellers saying they lost weight as well. We’re very healthy when we’re not travelling so I think the change in diet is the cause for us. I guess I’d rather be healthy at home and put it on when travelling rather than the other way around! Thanks, Gillian =)

  2. Comment by Turkey's For Life

    Turkey's For Life Reply February 2, 2012 at 12:21 am

    We gain weight every summer (when all of our Turkish friends are losing weight) because we have friends over from the UK and they’re all in beer and food mode. We lose the weight in winter when we start training to take part in a run. That’s an idea for you! ;) In the last 2 years, we’ve done the Istanbul 15k and marathon and the Antalya 10k…and then summer comes again. :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      Wow – that’s fantastic! While I can’t see us doing it, the runs are an excellent idea. Gives you a goal to strive for. I’ll keep it in mind – perhaps we could start with an easy fun run or something, haha =)

  3. Comment by Shane

    Shane Reply February 2, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Argentina did it for me. I used to be a stick until our RTW trip but at least on returning to normal life the weight disappeared. Now I’ve hit that age (combined with giving up cigars) where weight doesn’t shift so easily, countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are a thorough danger to the waistline. Even so with all the walking, mountain trekking and heavy pack hauling I still feel fitter on returning home from a trip.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:21 pm

      Ahhh – isn’t the food in those countries divine? The problem there is the portions – a typical meal means half a dozen mezze dishes before the mains even come out. Too much! But you can’t say no or you’ll offend people.

  4. Comment by Andrew

    Andrew Reply February 2, 2012 at 2:53 am

    I used to actually lose weight when I traveled. The first year in Germany was good. Then I started settling into the life and the bread and beer increased. Then I got lazy and started eating out more.

    My plan is to take food for lunch instead of buying out. This saves money as well. Cutting things three ways instead of 2 decreases portions. I stopped caffeine, which helps with the sugar intake as well. Though I would love to, no way I think to completely cut the refined carbs. But limit definitely. The beer will be a problem, but working on that too. If I ever can get early enough to do yoga again I will. At one point i was doing only 10minutes every morning and it helped. Now I am lucky to get to work on time.

    Good luck to you.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Thanks so much, Andrew! We plan to start yoga at our next location because a friend recommended that it will help with some chronic upper back pain that John has. We plan to try for a baby later on this year as well so I’d like to do yoga for pregnancy as well.

      Packing a lunch is a great tip. John used to always do that for work pre-RTW. I agree that decreasing portion size is good too. Best of luck with your weight-loss plans as well! =)

  5. Comment by Katie

    Katie Reply February 2, 2012 at 12:17 am

    I gained weight my first few months on the road – even though I was walking a ton, I’m a runner and was used to running 20-30 miles a week and doing strength and yoga workouts regularly back home. By the end of my 3rd month I was feeling pretty crappy about myself (and how tight everything was fitting!) and resolved to eat better and start working out. I travel with a resistance band and I’ve come up with a 45 minute workout combining strength and some kickboxing moves (for aerobics) that I can do in a hotel room or when I have a private room in a hostel (haven’t yet tried it out in a hostel dorm – have a feeling I’d get some weird looks!). Now at the end of month 5 I think I am back to about where I was weight-wise when I started.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm

      The resistance band is an excellent idea! Easy to pack and use whenever you have time. That’s so great that it helped you get the weight you gained off – thanks so much for sharing your tip =)

  6. Comment by Ian [EagerExistence]

    Ian [EagerExistence] Reply February 2, 2012 at 12:55 am

    I’ve got the same problem after a year in Europe. I already curbed the alcohol beginning 2012 too.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      It’s such a shame that alcohol has so many calories! And the body processes the alcohol first so the rest of your meal just gets stored as fat. Unfair! =)

  7. Comment by Annie - FootTracker

    Annie - FootTracker Reply February 2, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Oh, I gained quite some weight after the winter Japan trip. Since then I have succumbed to exercise informal on TV  , and started doing that “brazil butt lift” work out for a week now …needless to say, its killing me so far XD

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      I’m terrible when it comes to exercising – I can only handle walking fast or hiking outdoors. I think I know which workout you’re referring to – all the rage everywhere now!

  8. Comment by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply February 2, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I hear ya! Both my husband and I have packed on about 20 pounds since we finished our big bike tour 10 months ago. We seriously need to do something about this! We’re hoping hiking 500 miles this summer will help, but my goal is to get some of it off before then!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      Wow – 500 miles!!? That sounds like a fantastic adventure – and will surely cause you to lose weight. Good luck with it! =)

  9. Comment by Sophie

    Sophie Reply February 2, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    I tend to lose weight when I travel solo. There’s so much I want to do when I manage to get out for a bit on my own, I usually end up skipping lots of meals. Also, at home, chocolate is my nemesis, but they’re never as good in other countries (except Switzerland), so less of a problem :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm

      I’m sure I put on way more weight travelling with John because men tend to eat so much more than women. I’m definitely more disciplined when I’m on my own – not his fault – I have no self-control! =) I used to like chocolate but I’ve completely lost my sweet tooth in the last couple of years, which will definitely help with getting the weight off. Savouries kill me though!

  10. Comment by Erin

    Erin Reply February 2, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    It’s starting for me, and I’ve only just begun my trip!! I thought I’d lose weight in China because I’d have less access to my comfort foods, however I have found them. Plus, much of Chinese “meat” is fat (that’s what they like!) and everything is cooked in oil. Detrimental to diet. 

    You should try swimming!!! Talk about a serious work out! And it might even sound inviting since you’re suffering from the heat! That’s my summer go-to! :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:07 pm

      When I lived in Singapore for a few months I lost so much weight because I hated the taste of their bread and chocolate – like there were preservatives in them because of the humidity or something. I would have thought China would be the same! Can’t believe they eat so much fat…I always thought the food there would be so healthy – my father’s wife is Chinese and everything she cooks is ridiculously healthy. Interesting to learn that!

      And I love swimming – we don’t have access to a pool unless we go to the public one though. I’m too afraid of sharks and rip currents to go in the ocean in Australia, isn’t that a shame?

    • Comment by Erin

      Erin February 4, 2012 at 5:34 pm

      Yes! Bread and chocolate are not the same AT ALL. However, there are a lot of American fast food chains, which I would never eat at in America, but get drawn to in China when I just can’t eat anymore rice. So shameful, I know, especially considering how much good food there is!

      Maybe she makes higher quality food then what is usually served in my neighborhood. However, most of my Chinese friends say that Chinese people like eating fat- the more the better when it comes to meat, which is something I just can’t get used to!

  11. Comment by Sabrina

    Sabrina Reply February 2, 2012 at 7:35 am

    I hear you! I always gain weight even on trips that are just 2-4 weeks. I’ve been able to curb that on my last trip by running every few days (actually just putting a post together about that) in some pretty cool locations. I’m not that much into running, but it turns out it’s the only thing I can do easily on extended trips, so I started forcing myself at home about once a week. And now… I don’t hate it anymore :) Good luck on losing the weight!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      Thanks, Sabrina! It’s good to hear that you no longer hate running! I struggle with it but probably should get into it. Usually I just walk super-fast – I think it’s ok because your heart rate goes up but we always go for at least an hour because it doesn’t burn as many calories as running.

    • Comment by Sabrina

      Sabrina February 4, 2012 at 2:56 am

      Oh, I still struggle with it quite a bit on some days :) I try to do a lot of walking as well when we’re sightseeing. Every bit helps, right? And if that means I can eat more without a bad conscience, even better.

  12. Comment by Anji

    Anji Reply February 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Opeartion Rewind- nice way to put it! When I was travelling around Italy I put on solid weight from eating all the pasta and pizza and icecreams and focaccia and breads etc…! It’s incredible to eat, perhaps one of my favorite hobbies ;)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Eating is definitely a favourite hobby of mine, haha – we didn’t even go to Italy last year but that is definitely a place where it’s a pleasure to pile on the pounds, I agree! =)

  13. Comment by Laurel

    Laurel Reply February 3, 2012 at 5:19 am

    I hear you.  I always have the “I’m on vacation” attitude so am much more lax in my food choices when traveling.  I still think you both look great though!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      Thanks, Laurel! We’re certainly not so overweight that it’s a health concern but few of our pre-travel pants fit so unless we want to start buying a whole new wardrobe, we’re going to have to do something =)

  14. Comment by Amanda Williams

    Amanda Williams Reply February 3, 2012 at 10:00 am

    But do you regret any of that great food you ate?  ;)

    Nice tips, though. Most of them are so simple. But it’s definitely difficult to follow them when you’re in “vacation mode.”

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      Nope – we don’t regret one bite! =) I agree – too hard to stick to a diet when we’re on the move.

  15. Comment by Andi Perullo

    Andi Perullo Reply February 3, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Haha what’s my excuse if I only travel about once every couple of months!?! I think you both look gorgeous no matter what weight you are! :) But I think cutting out alcohol and carbs makes a HUGE difference.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks, Andi! You’re so lucky that you’re so tall!!!!! =)

  16. Comment by Andrea and John

    Andrea and John Reply February 3, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    I would put on so much weight in India, haha – I ADORE the food. I’ve always thought that any bacteria there would come from contact with utensils rather than the actual food – I thought the gee they cook with (did I spell that right) kills everything? Anyway – so glad to hear you rarely got sick!

  17. Comment by Ali

    Ali Reply February 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I need to do this too! Good luck!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      Thanks so much, Ali! =)

  18. Comment by Anonymous

    Anonymous Reply February 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    I hear ya!  I did great my first 5 months of travel… then I got to Buenos Aires and settled in.  Those damn Portenos have an unhealthy lifestyle ;-)  

    Now I’m back to following my normal routine, which is #1, #2, and #3.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      You’re such a fit person – I wish I was as active!!! Yes the Portenos are unhealthy but you’d never really know from looking at them! What’s their stay-skinny secret?

  19. Comment by Jeremy Branham

    Jeremy Branham Reply February 3, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    After traveling for that long, flying and airports, and some of the foods in those countries, I can totally understand gaining a few pounds.  I like your tips for getting back into shape.  Eating healthy is very important and something I need to do a better job of doing.  Like you, I ABHOR the gym – I like to get out and be active.  It’s just not as easy to do these days.  I am committed to getting in better shape this year as well so good luck to all of us! :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Thanks, Jeremy! Good luck to you too – it’s really hard to stay focussed when there is so much temptation around…

  20. Comment by Nomadic Samuel

    Nomadic Samuel Reply February 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    I gained a few pounds on my most recent backpacking journey, as well.  It was easy enough to lose though once I got back into a regular exercise routine and controlled my diet a bit more :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      I can already notice an improvement after eight weeks not on the road without doing too much extra exercise – I need to push myself that little bit harder to get back to what I looked like before leaving, though.

  21. Comment by emilyinchile

    emilyinchile Reply February 5, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    I can definitely see how traveling would take its toll – I don’t really tend to either gain or lose very easily, but Rodolfo always comes back from the US and UK a few kilos heavier since we do a lot of socializing around food and eating things that we can’t have back in Chile. Good luck with the weight loss!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 6, 2012 at 11:07 am

      Thanks, Emily! =)

  22. Comment by Kathy

    Kathy Reply February 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Stop with the word DIET! You’re realigning your eating habits! Above all, don’t guilt yourselves and savor everything you put in your mouths….

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 9, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      Thanks for the inspiration, Kathy! =)

  23. Comment by Christy & Scott

    Christy & Scott Reply February 12, 2012 at 7:41 am

    I think cutting out alcohol is a great idea. I’ve been doing the same… well, mostly. I also make sure I do some form of exercise at least 6 days a week. I like to break it up and not do the same exercise every day. One or two days a week I’ll speed walk on the beach or jog, I’ll surf as many days as possible and the other days I’ll do yoga or pilates. Pilates is great for toning without getting bulky. I actually usually lose weight while traveling because we are constantly walking, surfing, or hiking. Then I can eat whatever I want. :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 12, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Wow – I think I need a trainer, haha! If I could get into a program like this I’d be in so much better shape but I’d need someone kicking my butt to do 6 days a week =)

  24. Comment by GRRRL TRAVELER

    GRRRL TRAVELER Reply February 14, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    haha… entertaining post and sorry about the extra “fun”. I’ve actually had the fortune of losing weight w/ travel only cause I’m a vegetarian and can’t eat most foods, don’t like oily or creamy foods and walk to get around. I really make it a point to do more walking than riding, if I can. And then, if I have a single room, I sometimes do a Bollywood dance workout– shhhh! But now that I’m not backpacking, I’ve been gaining all my weight back, despite gym efforts. =(  Good luck!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 15, 2012 at 2:29 am

      A Bollywood dance workout!? Teach me!!! =)

  25. Comment by DavenDeb

    DavenDeb Reply February 18, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I can definitely relate. Our weight fluctuates a lot these days. We find that spending hours a day in front of the computer isn’t helping either. We’ve been on a lifestyle change ourselves and are trying to get ourselves back to our slim selves. Travel definitely takes it toll on the waistline. Good luck! Warm weather helps a lot. 

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 18, 2012 at 11:00 am

      Thanks, guys – we’re moving to Norway, haha, so I guess the warm weather will be over. I agree that the computer is a killer…

  26. Comment by Erin in Costa Rica

    Erin in Costa Rica Reply February 20, 2012 at 4:13 am

    ugh. I’m struggling with this in a slightly different way. I used to play tennis almost every day and that was how I stayed fit. I also ran with my dog. Well, my dog has hip problems and can’t run anymore and you have to be a billionaire to play tennis regularly in Costa Rica, so I’m at a loss. I am 5 minutes away from joining a gym, but I hate gyms! They are so boring! I need mental stimulation! 
    I’ve played tennis in ~40 degree heat before and it’s doable if you drink a lot of water. Maybe you two could try that? It’s so much fun that you forget the heat. In fact, the heat helps you get in the zone and play better. 

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      That’s ashame – why is it so expensive to play tennis there? Lack of courts? Club fees?
      I think I’d pass out if I did any exercise in 40 degree heat, haha…
      I love tennis but haven’t played since I was little…
      We’re going ok with our plan so far – John has lost 1.5 kgs in the first week so he’s excited.
      Thanks for the tip though, Erin – I feel your pain on hating gyms!!

    • Comment by Erin in Costa Rica

      Erin in Costa Rica March 9, 2012 at 2:10 am

      Costa Rica has almost-free courts provided by the government, but they are all cracked and you can only play for an hour at a time. You also have to sign up weeks in advance, so there is never a sunny afternoon where you can just decide to go play tennis. UNLESS you pay thousands a month to join a country club. Glad your plan is working :)

  27. Comment by Meg at LandingStanding

    Meg at LandingStanding Reply February 20, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Goodluck!  I am a month and half into my RTW trip with my husband and we are currently in Argentina – This place is so deadly! I may be doing the same thing you two are doing when the trip is over with.  I am excited to see how it progresses for you!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John February 20, 2012 at 11:38 pm

      Thanks, Meg! Haha – Argentina was a killer as I said – are you sick of steak, empanadas and ham and cheese sandwiches yet? So far we’re going ok – John lost 1.5 kgs over the last week. Much more to go though. At least the beer in Argentina is yummy (but that doesn’t help the waistline either). Try not to think about it too much and just enjoy =)

  28. Comment by Lisa

    Lisa Reply April 1, 2012 at 2:07 am

    I completely understand, when I moved to Germany and began traveling around Europe I gained as well. Like you I wanted to try everything. While living back in the states in Florida where the heat is intense I had to go to the gym. Walking is great, but not in the heat. Where are you looking to live an as expat? I wish you success on your next adventure.

  29. Comment by McCool Travel

    McCool Travel Reply May 4, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Great stuff!

    I have been on both sides: lost weight and gained weight while traveling.

    I currently am running a series of posts on McCoolTravel.com about the “Road Trip Diet.” Plenty of tips for losing weight on the road and at home.

    Best wishes!

    • Comment by inspiringtravellers

      inspiringtravellers May 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      Nice! Great idea for a post series…

      I’ve gone both ways as well. We did a lot of beer sampling last year, which I think contributed to our waistlines. It’s been a couple of months since this post and I’m happy to report that John is halfway to his goal and I’ve achieved mine completely. Just getting back in a normal routine has done wonders =)

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