The Hobo Guide to Staying Fit on the Road
F45 has reached religious status in Sydney. The Crossfit Lite gym has a “church” on every corner, and their Sunday morning mass comprises a 45-minute high-intensity functional workout, followed by an overpriced smashed avo toast brekky in activewear.
Meanwhile, you’re in rural Ethiopia, and the closest thing to smashed avo toast around here is fermented mystery meat, and your activewear was stolen off the line three hostels ago. Travel is your religion, so what does fitness mean to a hobo like you? You just want to stay functional enough to keep up with your adventures, avoid scurvy and look good in your undies.
You want to be fit-ish.
This is not a guide on how to lose 50 kilos or “get swole”, and it’s definitely not medical advice. This is a hobo-proof fitish-ness manual: practical anywhere, anytime, and independent of large amounts of motivation, talent, equipment or cash.
Sleepin’ ain’t easy when there’s a bunch of shirtless eastern European dudes in your dorm room loudly exchanging moonshine recipes or planning a heist – you can’t quite tell which (I largely rate hostels according to the Shirtless Eastern European Dude Instance, aka SEEDI, ratio). But focus on what you can control.
- Get earplugs!
- Go easy on the caffeine, sugar and alcohol before bed (you’ll still sleep, but these can disrupt your sleep quality)
- Don’t spend your last waking moments on Tinder. Unnatural light lowers sleep quality, so log off an hour before bed, or at least get a red light filter.
- Get an eye mask. I like the type that make you look like a shitty superhero with bulged-out eyes so that there’s no pressure on the eyelids.
- Have a pre-sleep routine: do the same things before bed most nights. Don’t skip brushing your teeth, you drunken fool.
The first rule of travel is “When in Rome”, so don’t not eat anything. Don’t be that guy in the Brazilian churrascaria who just orders a plate of lettuce. But also, never be the guy eating Macca’s in Thailand. You’re allowed to skip meals if it’s shitty food versus nothing. I don’t often fast deliberately, but I will if I’m already in the middle of an adventure. I call this accidental fasting: it’s like intermittent fasting, but more rockstar.
- Just eat good food most of the time. You know what good food is: whole, fresh, and your grandma could identify it on sight (For instance, TV Snacks is not a fucking food).
- Beer is the least healthy alcohol, so if you aren’t fussy, trade it for healthier poisons like spirits or red wine. I call this paleo drinking: it’s like paleo eating, but more rockstar.
- Use the dodgy hostel stove. This is called clean eating, which is a fancy way of saying “the cook didn’t add three cups of canola oil, MSG and ground spiders’ dicks to your dish without telling you”. You know what’s in your wok.
- Be a lazy chef: learn a couple of dishes that are the trifecta of easy-to-cook, healthy and delicious. Carry chilli in your backpack in case you get bored with your measly cooking rotation.
You’re already leading an active lifestyle. Sure, you’re hardly a Running Bare model when you’re sprinting to a connecting Flixbus wearing all your worldly possessions and your increasingly filthy transit pants — but you’re moving your body every day.
Still want to do a bit of actual capital-E exercise once a week? Find a good park (my favourite was a forest gym in the shadow of Ljubljana Castle, complete with a log pile in lieu of barbells — a bit more picturesque than your average F45, with less tech house). Run there to warm up.
High intensity is key. Exercise is more effective when it’s harder, plus it’s over faster, so you can get back to walking around looking at old buildings, playing Strip Uno in the common room, or whatever’s on your itinerary.
Strength exercises give you more bang for your buck than cardio. Skip vanity exercises like bicep curls and focus on the big four muscle groups: arms, legs, back and abdominals.
- Fewer, harder repetitions is better. Make it as hard as you can while still maintaining perfect form for eight reps.
- If an exercise is too hard or you’re injured, substitute an alternative.
- Do as many reps as possible (slowly, with good form).
- Move quickly between exercises. Rest minimally or do active resting (for example, jumping jacks) in between.
Too easy? The closer your hands are to each other, the harder. You could also raise your feet (find a bench or a slope)
Too hard? Put your knees down
Alternatives for arms: dips (find a bench), shoulder press (find a wall).
Legs: prison squats
Too easy? Box jumps (find a step) or add weight (find a brick)
Alternatives for legs: lunges, one-legged squats
The only exercise that requires equipment, namely something to pull up on. It’s usually easy to find a bar (or branch, bike stand, etc.). If not, look up the ‘superman’.
Too hard? Use a low bar so you can put your feet on the ground.
Abs: leg raises
Too easy? Hang from a bar instead of lying, or add a headstand to the middle of each rep.
Too hard? Sit-ups (touch your toes each rep).
Alternatives: Russian twists, bicycle crunches, mountain climbers.
Repeat the four as many times as you like. Don’t be afraid to just do one round for a few minutes if you’re low on time/energy. You still get a nice happiness boost from a short workout: endorphins are free, and safer than that pinger you found on the floor of the club near the stripper pole.
Cover by Guillaume Briard, inset by author