Interview: The Physicality of Travel

· 6 min read ·

James: Today’s interview touches on the a subject we’ve been hinting about (“Thirty One Things I Love”) for some time now — making the transition from our lives in the city, where we both were active within our respective gym communities and enjoyed the health benefits from weight training in particular as a part of our daily & weekly routines, to a routine that involved a ton of walking but not much else in the way of physical fitness … and what we learned about ourselves from that.

**But first! Sheila and I are excited to announce the formal launch of our Recipes section! We love sharing our food inspiration and classic go-to recipes for vegan, vegetarian, low FODMAP, gluten-free diets … and we’ll be adding more recipes in the near future.

Learning to play outside on the road, without making it mandatory
Learning to play outside on the road, without making it mandatory

Sheila, I’m thinking back to our time in Slovenia, especially the first few weeks in Ljubljana. Do you remember how we both struggled to deal with the rain that kept us mostly indoors?

Sheila: Absolutely! We imagined that Slovenia would offer some of our most active adventures — and we did have some! — but were surprised how much weather obstructed this. I should mention that, before starting our trip, we did mentally prepare for a shift in our fitness lifestyle. We knew it was unrealistic that we would have access to the same breadth of playgrounds (such as climbing gyms, weight rooms, and a car to get us to running trails) on the road. I think, even with the weather, we did a pretty good job getting creative.

James: Oh, definitely. We also started the trip off with a bang, immediately launching into a three day long packrafting trip on the Soča care of our friends at Kokopelli Packraft. After returning to Ljubljana, we were both definitely still dedicated to keeping active. We went on a few runs, but kept getting thwarted when we would try to go for long runs — either by rain or by body pain. We went climbing a few times, and had fun exploring the different climbing gyms that Ljubljana had to offer (like Plezalni center Ljubljana). We even made Špela’s flat into a makeshift workout studio during a day where it rained nearly 3 inches.

Sheila: Even still, we learned a lot about how travel can affect your energy levels and what it feels like transitioning off of a weight training routine… painful. On the side of energy levels, anyone who’s gone on a sightseeing-forward trip would attest to the fact that simply walking all day can be exhausting in ways you never imagined. Specifically in Paris, where we likely did the most walking, I remember coming home some days and literally collapsing onto the floor!
On the side of transitioning our fitness routine, it was fascinating seeing how our bodies adapted on the road. Within the first month of traveling, my body became stiffer and more sore than I had ever experienced. It was actually pretty wild, seeing as we were “working out” less but my muscles became more tense.

James: It’s funny — we have our own theories, but Sheila just said “I’m sure there’s a fitness professional who could explain this.” While we wait on the experts to weight in … I can only guess that the combination of flying, lack of sleep, and slowly transitioning off of weight training actually contributed to make the both of us more sore. Personally, I was exhausted for the first full week we were in Slovenia — which made the changes that we both started to experience that much more noticeable. We spent a lot of time talking about our bodies and noticing that our urges to exercise often seemed at odds with how we really felt; that we were wound up without the way we were used to exercising as an outlet. The importance of talking through this helped us both to deal with the changes.

Sheila: We agreed that it was important to keep ourselves immersed in the experience of travel and living in the countries we were short-term residing in, instead of trying to squeeze in an interesting workout each day. This meant that we had more active times — like Switzerland, where we hiked nearly every day — and less active times — like our travel days and our time in Barcelona, where it was so hot you would break a sweat simply standing up. If you are planning for a long trip, I recommend taking some time to think about what you want to prioritize in your experience, and to consider what you might do if your physical body needs an off day (like me) or if you might need more sleep in between adventures (like James). Also, proper footwear + a few travel hacks in your back pocket is key.

James: By the time we got to Switzerland, our commitment to having an authentic experience had begun to pay off. It had taken more than three weeks, but our bodies now seemed to know that we would be spending huge portions of the day moving. We both had a lot of energy and were starting to walk for hours on end. We were also sleeping really well, which made a big difference in how our heads popped off the pillow each day. As Sheila said, one thing that I quickly learned — though I was slow to act on — was the importance of proper footwear. As our daily walking mileage shot up, I noticed that increasingly my feet were the only thing that really bothered me, particularly in the mornings as we woke up. My arches became incredibly sore, and oftentimes waking up also meant stretching my feet out. I only wish that I hadn’t waited till after we returned to the States to buy a pair of Chacos — walking around in flip-flops for months on end is not something I recommend! Sheila, what about your famous travel hacks?

Sheila: Haha I don’t know about “famous” just yet! These things definitely helped me out:

  • Packing a hard shelled water bottle seemed cumbersome, however it offers an on-the-go tight muscle release. Next time you’re on a long car/plane/train ride (or even at your desk!) try slipping a hard water bottle under your leg around the top of your hamstring, and leave it for about 15 minutes. Take a moment to feel out the difference between your legs, then do the other one!
  • “Legs up the wall” is a pose I learned a while back in yoga and it’s a stellar way to release lactic acid and lower back pain after a long day of walking. If you’ve never done it before “Yoga with Adriene” has a great video on it.
  • Drinking TONS of water helps to stave off muscle cramping. Yes, this means being more strategic about where the next available restroom stop will be.
  • Carry a small hard ball like those from Tune Up Fitness. Again, when you’re “traveling light” this may seem excessive, but I would trade in one of my few shirts I carried for a therapy ball if I had to. There are so many things you can use them for, including rolling out your arch after a day of walking and even releasing your head, neck, and jaw.

James: All great tips. I learned so much from traveling with Sheila. Carrying a water bottle around wasn’t a part of my everyday carry, so to speak, until I watched her never leave the house without a water bottle. I also have used the hard water bottle trick both while on buses with Sheila in Europe, as well as on long car rides here since coming back, and I can absolutely say that it’s made a huge difference — I feel way less sore getting out of the car after having released my muscles during the drive.

Alright, it’s time to wrap up our weekly interview! Going back to our Recipe section’s release for a moment, and bringing it full circle — I’ve long believed that the real balance between fitness and health errs on the side of diet over exercise (in particular, I’ve seen how your aerobic level fitness can be maintained easily with an emphasis of 60% diet, 40% movement). Although we definitely observed changes in our physical bodies while on the road, we ate really well and developed a level of fitness that allowed us to walk for 10+ hours a day outside. Being open to big changes in our routine was challenging, but we both grew from this experience. In particular, identifying that we were both so much more than the exercise regimes that we both self-identified with (me: a climber that ran, Sheila: the consistent daily work-outer) allowed us to lead a full and rewarding life while abroad.

Swimming in Switzerland — a great, low-impact, activity that is popular in the area!
Swimming in Switzerland — a great, low-impact, activity that is popular in the area!
Checking out the bouldering scene in Europe
Checking out the bouldering scene in Europe

Adventure travel blog by James Simone & Sheila Murray. Travel along with them on their backpacking trip(s) as they actively explore the American West, Europe and beyond:

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