The 5 Biggest Barriers to Staying Healthy and Fit as a Digital Nomad

This post will show you the 5 most common pitfalls and challenges you can expect as a digital nomad…and how to overcome them!

~ working and traveling full-time is an incredible and rewarding experience and figuring out how to stay fit, healthy, and happy while on this journey will help you to enjoy this crazy and amazing ride to the fullest ~

What is Physical Wellness?

Physical Wellness is taking care of our bodies for ideal health and functionality. Physical Wellness combines a number of individual elements that must be cared for together and in balance, to ensure a fit and healthy individual. These elements are physical activity, nutrition, hydration, stress control, recovery, and mental well-being.

Why is it so Dang Hard to Maintain Physical Wellness while Being A Digital Nomad?

After polling over 200 digital nomads – who have been full-time traveling anywhere between 3 months and 5 years – about the single biggest challenge they faced when trying to maintain their physical wellness while abroad, and after spending a full year abroad with Remote Year myself (15 countries in 12 months); 

The top 5 answers were:

  1. Access: having a lack of general access to affordable or quality gyms, equipment, trainers, running space, kitchens, local markets, etc
  2. Accountability: often the biggest issue in health and fitness is getting yourself to just friggin’ do the work. This is exponentially harder when traveling the world because of all the other super cool and exciting things you are doing
  3. Consistency: having a lack of consistency in gyms, equipment, trainers, running space, kitchens, local markets, etc
  4. Time: not having the time to bother with health and fitness.  With working, exploring new spaces, side trips, focusing on personal and professional growth, and socially connecting with locals and your fellow nomads, who has time for physical wellness
  5. Choices: not knowing what choices you should and can make, especially when abroad, where the options keep changing. It is also being presented with limited options or a lack of choice. These are especially significant when it comes to food choices

Soooo…. when trying to stay healthy and fit while abroad:

  1. you need to be able to access the equipment, space, programs, food sources, etc., that you need,
  2. ​what you can access needs to be consistent,
  3. you need to do something to help keep you accountable,
  4. ​​you need to make time but have a plan that doesn’t take much time, and
  5. you need to know what to do.

So What Could You Do?

“F it!” I’ll just worry about it when I’m done traveling”

You could do this, and you may truly be OK with a little (or a lot) of weight gain.  However, this can affect your time abroad because you will experience a lack of energy, which will be magnified due to the constant mental and physical stress obtained via the stimulation and engagement you will experience while traveling the world.  

Additionally, your immune system will suffer from the poor nutrition, lack of movement, and increased mental and physical stressors placed on your body. This too will be magnified by all the foreign items your immune system will have to deal with when constantly changing locations, food types, cleanliness, water purity, etc.  Feeling sick more often wile abroad will cause you to miss out on many things and create some pretty miserable travel situations

Monthly Membership to Gym in each Location & ​Traditional Meal Plan style Nutrition

Gym:
This too can work.  However, what happens when you are in country for 5 weeks?  4 week gym membership and then one week off?  What about if you take a side trip for a long weekend or even a full week.  Do you not workout when you are gone?  What happens if you go somewhere for just 2-weeks and a gym only offers a month membership (not uncommon)? Do you not join a gym at all?  

Let’s assume you do stay in country or a full month every time, with no side trips.  Well, it is one more thing you have to do each month. Figure out laundry, grocery store, restaurants, currency, location, workspace, and now a gym. Unless you are aggressively on top of it, you may not find a gym for a few days.  Next thing you know, a week has gone by and you have yet to sign up for a gym. On top of that, you are in a gym…do you have a fitness program to do while in said gym?

Nutrition:
You could try to follow a meal plan but you might not have a kitchen or access to the food your plan calls for.  You may have both but all the same issues as the gym above… what happens when you are only traveling to a place for a week, or two weeks? It doesn’t make sense to get a bunch of groceries, so do you just take the days off?

Workout App

This is not a bad idea.  They are accessible on your phone or mobile device, typically involve no equipment, easy and cheap to do anywhere, etc.  They are not necessarily written with a big picture in mind and, with the limitation of bodyweight only exercises, they are going to be limited in the results they can offer.  However, what they do offer may be enough for some people.  If so, they are a great option.

However, this does not take into account the nutrition, sleep, recovery, and hydration side of things.  You will need a separate plan of attack for this.

Wing It

Unless you have a plan, the temptations abroad to skip a workout, eat ALL the food, or drink a 1 euro bottle of wine every night are really high. If you don’t have a real plan, you won’t know how to shift when a curveball is inevitably thrown at you.

So What Do I Suggest?

  1. Access & Consistency
    • While traveling, I found that the only way to ensure easy access and consistency wherever I went, was to bring it all with me. Unfortunately, with a 23KG checked bag limit, it is hard to bring your own dumbbells, treadmills, blenders, or personal trainers. You can, however, bring (1) a handful of easy to pack power bands for resistance training and 1 jump rope, (2) a workout program that is designed to be done in limited space (3) a knowledge of proper food choices and strategies that you can apply both in a kitchen and during a street food outing, (4) an online trainer, capable to being a coach in your corner no matter where you are in the world
  2. Accountability
    • There are many ways to maintain accountability and what works will really depend on you. You could set up daily reminders in your calendar to tell you to do stuff. You could have a fitness tracking software that reminds you via email of your workout. You can have a community of fit friends that encourage you to push through.  You can have a reminder note card taped to your bathroom window.  You can use the STICKK app to monetarily incentivize you. Etc. Do whatever works, but the trick, especially while abroad, is 
      1. Make the task you are trying to accomplish both reasonable yet challenging (Tiny Habits), 
      2. Pre-plan out how you will accomplish you nutrition or fitness goals ahead of time so you can make sure that you understand the personal, social, and structural barriers that may be present and how you can remove them.
      3. Track your compliance.
    • Understand WHY, truly why, you want to do this health and/or fitness task. Own that why. Then grit your teeth and get it done. 
  3. Time
    • I guarantee you have some amount of time. You may not know it the day of but if you look at your calendar for the next week, you will find options. It may not be 2 hours a day, 7 days a week but you have some time. It might only be 15 min in the morning before a shower and work. It may be an hour a day but only at 6AM or 8PM. It may be a 30 min lunch break. It may be an hour but only 2 or 3 times per week. The trick is to pre-plan it, stick it in your calendar and own it. When you pre-plan you will find time that you will not know exists the day of. How to do it? Sunday night, take a look at your calendar and see what is scheduled.
      • Then at a time you think you can workout – before you pencil in the workout – make an educated guess on which times will likely get overtaken by something else planned during the week. 6PM workouts typically get interrupted by happy hour or drinks. 7AM on Saturday only works if you don’t go out Friday night. Etc. Once you figured out when you can workout. Determine how long your workout can be.
      • Review the results and make sure it is reasonable. Ask yourself, “on a scale of 1 to 10, how confident am I that I will do this”? If it is not a 9 or a 10, what alteration should you make to get to a 9 or 10 confidence?
      • Stick it in your calendar and do it. BONUS – If you have a coach, ask them to help you craft workouts or active activities that will fit the schedule & time you have available​
    • You can do the same for nutrition.  Incorporate food availability, kitchen size, scheduled events, predictable yet unscheduled outings, and food storage space into your assessment.
  4. Choices
    • The trick here is to first have a base of knowledge about what choices you should make. Knowing what portions of what types of foods to eat and where you can get them is key. With a constantly changing environment, you can’t rely on a step-by-step meal plan that just gives you recipes because you don’t always know what food is available where you are and what kitchen supplies you have to even prepare it.
    • Once you have a level of education about proper choices, then you can also help make better decisions even when faced with non-ideal options. Understand that health runs on a continuum (unhealthy <————> healthy). So just because a choice is not the healthiest choice, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a healthier choice. Having basic nutritional knowledge will help you to know what those healthier choices are. Additionally, added knowledge will allow you to be a bit creative and create even healthier options that you would not normally know were available

Wow, That is a Lot to Consider

It is a lot to consider, and you won’t get it perfect in the beginning.  It took me quite some time to develop a strategy that works.  The key is to have a game plan and not be afraid to change it.

What if You Don’t Really Want to Figure this Out or You Have No Clue Where to Begin?

No worries.  If interested, you can work with me and my company Flex Fitness OT.  I developed a physical wellness practice-based curriculum while I was a digital nomad specifically for digital nomads.  It is called the Nomadic Physical Wellness System. Essentially, through constant testing, evaluations and tweaking during my own nomadic journey, I have figured out all the above for you.

For Example:

  • I use resistance power bands to create a gym in your backpack.  They weight only 2KG, fit in less than 2L of bag space, and cost less than $100 for a full set.  With them, you can remove the need for a gym, your equipment is consistent wherever you go, and you always have access to them.  
  • The programs are designed to be performed in less than 10 square feet of space, so you can literally do them anywhere (an apartment in Cambodia, a park in Peru, a roof in Portugal, a squash court in Malaysia, whatever). The programs also have a big picture design, to make you more physically able in general.
  • I offer a practice-based curriculum with 24 skills, introduced over 1 year, combined with tracking, accountability, and education tools to provide you with an easy to follow plan so you can succeed wherever you are.  These skills are designed with the knowledge of what your year abroad will entail.  They include fitness, nutrition, sleep, hydration, mindfulness, and more.

Get Started Today and let Flex Fitness OT help you stay fit so you can experience the world!


Want to Learn More?

If you have any questions related to Flex Fitness OT or in regard to physical wellness in general, feel free to email me at coachjosh@flexfitnessot.com.

OR

Subscribe to the Flex Fitness OT Newsletter … and just for subscribing, you will receive 12 Audio & Music Guided Workouts you can do anywhere…for FREE!

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One thought on “The 5 Biggest Barriers to Staying Healthy and Fit as a Digital Nomad

  1. Great post and definitely some legitimacy to what other DN’s are saying. As someone who has been traveling full time for the last year and a half, this is definitely a big struggle between work, fun and maintaining my fitness. Nice one!

    Like

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