The easiest way to drop a few kilos is to not realise you are doing it.
I’ve discovered the only way to get healthy while you’re on holiday is to do it unconsciously.
I don’t mean to get healthy while you’re unconscious, although that really would solve a lot of my problems. I mean to get healthy without ever realising you’re getting healthy. To attain all new levels of fitness and wellbeing without having planned to do so in the first place.
Otherwise, I’ve got no chance. I’m not the sort of person who derives a glow of achievement from working on my fitness. I get that from drinking. (Joking – kind of.)
In fact I’ve realised that my attitude towards being incredibly fit and healthy is the complete opposite to my attitude towards being incredibly drunk: I enjoy the result, but it’s absolutely no fun getting there. Being fit is great. Getting fit is not.
I will partake in fitness regimens grudgingly while I’m at home, because you kind of have to, but when I’m on holidays, I’m there for fun. I’m there to eat delicious food and drink nice wine and try things and do things without worrying too much about the consequences.
There are people who genuinely like the idea of going on a yoga retreat and surviving on raw carrot and green smoothies and calling it a holiday. There are people who will pay to detox in a beautiful foreign environment and think of it as fun. And that’s fine. But I’m not one of those people. So that’s why if I’m going to derive some sort of health advantage from travel, it has to be a side benefit. It has to be unconscious. And I’m pleased to say that it has happened.
I’ve lost weight on holidays. Probably my most successful weight-loss vacation was a trip to Peru during which I contracted some sort of virus and spent four or five days bed-ridden and sweaty. I shed about five kilograms on that trip – take that, paleo eaters. Although I wouldn’t recommend the experience to others.
My second most successful weight-loss trip was a three-month camping adventure through East Africa, where there just wasn’t much food available in the supermarkets. Result.
Some of my experiences have, however, been more enjoyable. I once signed on to do a two-week cycling trip from Hanoi to Luang Prabang, which in my mind was not going to be a health and wellness thing, but more a chance to see part of the world that I would have otherwise missed in a bus or a car.
You’re forced to settle back and notice your surroundings when you’re on a bike. You smell different smells, you see different sights. You move, quite often, at the same pace everyone else does.
I had a great time on that trip. I loved pedalling through the little villages and sending chickens squawking across the road. I loved the feeling of getting to the top of a hill and coasting down the other side. I loved the big bottle of Beerlao and the plate of noodles that I could get into at the end of every day.
In among all that fun I pretty much forgot to notice that I was cycling 70 kilometres every day. I finished up in Luang Prabang as fit and light as I had been for a good while, without knowing I’d done it. I’d drunk beer, I’d eaten noodles, and yet still I’d dropped pounds. Cycling for the win.
Hiking will do that as well, particularly at high altitude. Any time you’re in the mountains you’ll be working your body hard just by wandering around at normal pace. I’ve stumbled around La Paz in Bolivia, and puffed my way along mountain paths in Peru, and got fit just by getting from A to B. Instead of morning green smoothies I was having lunchtime beers and the gains were still there.
I’ve also had success in Japan, though that was simply by eating the food that everyone else eats. In Japan it’s easy to steer clear of fried things and go instead for raw, steamed or poached things. And they will actually taste good. Plus you’re still going out on the town and enjoying yourself and eating like a normal person, while avoiding the need for extra stretchy pants. Perfect.
The similar theme to the bulk of these experiences, of course, is enjoyment. Fun. If you think of “wellness” more in terms of “wellbeing”, if you consider your holiday an exercise in mental health and do the things you love, the things you know will make you feel good, then you’re bound to reap the benefits.
If a few of those benefits accidentally turn out to be physical, that’s all the better.
See also: The top 10 best travel packing tips