In March 2017, I decided to throw a grenade right in the middle of my just-fine life. I was offered the opportunity to travel the world for a year via Remote Year. The program allows location-independent professionals to live in up to 12 international cities, one month at a time. Though I had a well-paying full-time gig I loved, an apartment in New York’s East Village and truly, the dearest friends of all, I wasn’t happy. Or rather, I wasn’t fulfilled—and I knew that I was growing eerily close to being stagnant. So, I quit my job, went freelance full-time, and signed on the dotted line.
On a sunny afternoon in late July of that same year, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket and I didn’t return to the U.S. until this past November.
I have a plethora of incredible stories that span six continents and I made the kind of friends I know I’ll have for life. I could talk about how it turned my world upside down, made me stronger and more confident, humble and a bonafide citizen of the planet. The 15-month whirlwind spanning 21 countries gave me the single-best year of my 30 years to date. And it also gave me some extra weight.
It’s true. I gained one pound for each month I was gone. I expected and, frankly, fretted over the fact that I would pack on weight while traveling. Especially since I ate super-clean and worked out six days a week before I left. But, when you’re tasting your way through cultures, bonding with your travel buddies over jugs of wine in the sea, getting up at 5 a.m. to see a sunrise over an ancient mountain and managing to also work, fitness and nutrition don’t exactly come first.
The Weight and Travel Connection
Though multi-month traveling is different than a relaxing, gluttonous vacation, new foods, frequent flights, chaotic sleep schedules, and jet lag all pose a threat to health. Considering I moved cities every 28 to 35 days for the first 12 months, and then even faster for three months, nutritionist and professor Keith-Thomas Ayoob isn’t surprised my energy levels and overall vitality took a hit.
“It’s plausible that the longer you disrupt your sleep patterns, daily routines, and body rhythms, the fewer calories you burn when you’re awake,” he explains. “Also, you’re not getting your usual amount of exercise and you’re often eating in restaurants frequently, with less access to low-calorie foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Many people report weight gain after a vacation because they forego self-imposed monitoring and use it as a break. Multiply that by 15 months and that has a cost to it.”
I don’t regret any of those meals, but by the time my last week of jet-setting in London arrived, I couldn’t stomach the idea of another bite. In fact, at one point, my closest friend on the trip and I stared blankly at one another at a fancy high tea with biscuits, champagne, cakes, and petite sandwiches and game-planned how we were going to get back on track once we landed back stateside. It felt a lot like talking dirty over such decadent dishes most would salivate over. For us, though, we had been going all-out for hundreds of days, and our bodies craved—and demanded—a break.
Getting Back on Track
Fast forward a month later, and I’m in full-on recovery mode.
After my mom picked me up from the airport on November 11, we celebrated my return with a stop at my favorite Mexican restaurant, including two margaritas. That was the end of the indulgence. Since then, I’ve developed a strategy to organize and prioritize my health again. Here’s how I’m doing it:
Cleaning up my diet with Whole30.
It’s no secret I’m a big believer in Whole30. I first did one round in 2014 when I realized I was taking an antacid after each meal to aid digestion. After those first 30 days, I discovered a dairy and gluten sensitivity, so, for the next three years, I mostly cut those two out of my diet. A year after my first Whole30 experience, I had dropped nearly 30 pounds, and I felt better than ever.
My travels made it close to impossible to resist dairy and gluten, though. I couldn’t turn down pastel de nadas in Portugal, empanadas in Argentina, or churros in Mexico. Unsurprisingly, I came back to America with a bloated tummy, a thicker waistline, and jeans that no longer buttoned. I’m currently on week three of Whole30, and I have to say: it’s the easiest experience I’ve ever had with it. I don’t crave any of the ‘bad’ foods because I’m focused on how this healthier diet is making me feel. My energy is up, my bloat is disappearing, and, yes, my jeans are fitting more comfortably.
Working out daily.
I’ll be moving back to New York City soon, but, before then, I’m catching up with my family in North Carolina. The town is quite small. For context, the closest grocery store is 20 minutes away. This makes my options for fitness limited, to say the least. So I’m tackling an active lifestyle in a few creative ways.
First, I use Aaptiv for boxing. There isn’t a studio here to fulfill my affection for a jab-cross-hook routine, but my dad does have a heavy bag at home. Aaptiv allows me to fit in my favorite workout anywhere, anytime no matter what. It takes away the stress of exercising and also gives men an outlet to relieve stress. I also joined a brand-new local CrossFit gym and my muscles are—slowly—remembering what it feels like to be challenged again. I’m up to lifting 30 pounds easily and swinging a 45-pound kettlebell, and each small victory feels like a step in the right direction.
I’m taking vitamins.
This past April, my 57-year-old mother hiked Machu Picchu with me in Peru. It was incredible to see her reach the top of the mountain, Huayna Picchu. She’s always been my health guru and inspiration. So it didn’t take long for her to remind me that it was time to start taking my vitamins again. I focus on only taking vitamins made with natural ingredients and no additives. So I stocked up on Garden of Life varieties. I’m also trying to get my hair and skin in order so I’m taking Perfectil supplements, too. Probiotics are a big priority for me, too. The extra hand in digestion is essential for me to feel my best.
I have a routine.
I’ve worked from some of my beautiful workspaces in the world—overlooking the mountains in Colombia, a pool in Thailand—but when you’re in a city with a population of less than 10,000, options are limited. In an effort to regulate my schedule again, I wake up when my mom does for work, have a Whole30-approved breakfast, and drive 20 minutes across the North Carolina/Georgia border to the lone coffee shop in town. With one comfy couch and many tables, I stay here on task until they close at 3 p.m. Then, I head home, cook dinner for the fam, make sure I work up a sweat, and try to tuck myself in at a reasonable hour. This simple shift alone has given me mental clarity and energy, as well as a seriously improved mood.
I’m nice to myself.
Sure, I’d love to lose all of this weight right now, but much like it took time to gain it, I remind myself that it will take time to lose it. Among the many lessons traveling taught me, one of the most essential is how to relax. Things tend to go awry during travel, but no matter what, things worked out. The more time I spent fretting or worrying, the less I lived fully in the moment, treasuring the daily gifts the universe—and all of its inspiring people—gave me.
The same is true when I’m not moving every other day. Even if it’s snuggling with my pup who missed me or going for a walk with my mom who I missed, I know I’ll get back to my ideal weight soon enough. Right now, I’m focused on how my body feels and relishing in the post-travel moments of quiet. The happiness I feel is more important than any number of passport stamps or pounds on a scale.