Travel Fitness: Colorado Highs, Holland Lows

We all know the type. Those pesky people at youth hostels with the hiking poles, fancy backpacks, and firm calve muscles. Those Adonises of adventure travel which we all (or is it just me?) secretly want to be.

My first foray with fitness was at my local YMCA in high school. I began taking yoga classes at age 15 with my mom, and as cliché as it sounds, I “started getting really in touch with my body,” thus turning my baby fat into toned abs and strong bicep muscles. Oh the time when I had time! A time which sadly passed when I entered my freshman year of college and immediately ate my way through the freshman 15 as soon as I possibly could.

I, like most young women, have participated in quite the roller coaster ride of body shaming, body envy, and then, everyone’s favorite, the a-ha moments of body positivity. A mindset where I can finally cut through the crap repeated to us, and instead, learn to appreciate the benefits of my own unique body and embrace a healthy lifestyle which includes both regular exercise, and also, a good dose of fatty foods (in moderation).

Eating bread in Paris, a past time, and a passion.

As I have said before, and as bears repeating again, travel is one of the most rewarding spaces to push yourself as a human being, and pushing oneself physically while abroad can be both incredibly rewarding and incredibly challenging. Within the last year, I have had experiences that ran the gamut from outdoors-woman rising star, to bed-ridden tissue monster.

While working on a ranch in rural Colorado last summer, I marveled at how quickly my body could feel fit and healthy in the right environment. My job as a housekeeper was physically strenuous, involving me carrying two vacuum cleaners up and down a hill on a daily basis. On my time off, I, like everyone else, would go hiking in the beautiful mountains surrounding the ranch, go for walks along the stream which connected to the Rio Grande, kayak in the little lake at the edge of the property, work out at the gym, or bathe in the hot springs. The food was plentiful and fresh, the air was crisp and free of urban pollutants, and the water I washed my face with was cool and refreshing.

I went from huffing and puffing and farting and wheezing and blushing my way through altitude sickness climbing one of the most strenuous upward treks during my first week at the ranch, to voluntarily hiking a 16 mile trail BY MYSELF at the end of the summer. I was still one of the worst hikers on the ranch, but I had improved tremendously!

Tan and wearing hiking boots. I even have the camelback.

After I departed the ranch, I went to the Netherlands to study abroad for 4 months. I swore to myself that I would maintain the level of fitness that I had achieved in Colorado, but it didn’t quite work out like that. Everything was so expensive. I couldn’t afford gym membership, I could only afford french fries, and what type of cultural immersion would it really be if I didn’t ask for extra mayonnaise on the side? Not only was it expensive, it was also cold! As a native Floridian, I experienced the tendency towards hibernation which comes with the advent of perpetually gray days and the need to put on 7 layers before going out to the corner store.

I pushed on, forcing myself to walk around Den Haag in my unfashionable American shoes and bike around on my unfashionable Dutch bike (I was told a pink and purple cruiser would be less likely to get stolen). I found a bikram yoga studio that would let me take classes for free if I cleaned the studio for them on Wednesday nights. As fall turned to winter, I had of course lost all of my tan, all of my tone, and also almost all of my will to move out of bed. I figured it was because I was a super wimp when it came to Holland’s cold weather, but after 4 months of a perpetual runny nose and sore throat, I came back to Florida to find out I had mono the whole time! Not such a wimp after all!

From Amsterdam: With Mono. Who would have thought I should have been bed ridden this whole time, I looked so good?

In my back to back travels through Colorado and Holland, I attempted to emulate and achieve what those other, fitter backpackers that I always admired had. But at the end of the day, I learned that I don’t have what they have, and instead I have something much better: my own body and my own will. A body which I can both train and rest to suit the passing seasons of my life, and the differing landscapes which I find myself lucky enough to end up in.


13 thoughts on “Travel Fitness: Colorado Highs, Holland Lows

  1. Enjoyed reading this! I too have ranged on the travel fitness spectrum (and I have also spent time abroad with mono, haha) and you’re right – different places and different parts of your life call for different things. Sometimes it’s hiking that mountain and sometimes it’s relaxing with not-very-healthy food and drinks. Healthy is also about how you feel. 🙂

  2. Yes! Glad to hear that you enjoyed reading and that you’ve had a similar experience/thought process! I’ve found that traveling is a very embodied experience that gets you thinking about your relationship with your own body more than you normally would, so you learn a lot about what healthy means to you. And traveling with mono- not very fun, is it? haha 😀

  3. I had this exact same experience when I went from a south/central America trip involving hiking, surfing and sunbathing to montreal, new York and then on to Oktoberfest in Germany which involved stuffing my face with as much food as possible while sitting in restaurants and bars drinking beer. I went from the fit little hiking pole totting traveller to the over indulgent, chubby tourist. Still had the time of my life however and wouldn’t change a bit…

    1. Wow that sounds like an amazing trip! How long was it for? The trip I mentioned in the story was for 8 months, 3 in Colorado, 4 in Holland, and 1 in Morocco. When I was in Holland I took a trip to Oktoberfest too and had the time of my life! I’m planning on writing a story about my adventures there relatively soon. 😀

      1. I spent 1 month in sth America (peru and Bolivia), 4 months in central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua, costa rica, panama), 1 week in Montreal, 2 weeks in NYC and then 2 weeks in Germany with a short stay in Salzburg. Im definitely keen to get back to Oktoberfest sometime within the next couple of years, at least while my liver can still handle a beating.
        Look forward to reading about your time there!

      2. Yes me too, a good dose of debauchery every once in a while is good for the heart, not so much everything else. Cool trip!

  4. Totally understand you! Traveling changes everything you are used to… when Im at home I always go to the gym the same time and day and go running with my dog…When I travel, I try to keep that…maybe it works on the first or second day, after that, its only eating and enjoying the places, at the end, I can always go back to gym when I come back home 😀

    1. Yeah exactly, I think for me part of the wanderlust involves a breaking up of routine, then you see what is actually meaningful to your life. The hardest thing for me to get back to after my 8 month trip was cooking again haha! I still eat out so much more now after my trip then before, it’s one of the pleasures of life I can’t resist.

      1. hahahaha I also love eating out!! Unfortunately is also a little expensive to do it all the time here in Europe, so me and my hubby enjoy cooking a lot, when we are not too lazy after work hahaha 😀 and breaking the routine is always a good idea, often we need see our lives from a different angle! 😀

  5. Nice post. You were right to find some yoga in the Netherlands. I miss the sun here in Warsaw (being from Florida too)! Even if you were ill, I’m sure there was some overall tiredness from lack of sun. Exercise and activity is the best cure for that!

    1. Yes, agreed! My natural resting state is to be busy and I like it that way so I think that’s a crucial element in wellness. I think next time I’ll just bite the bullet and invest in a gym membership. Exercise is a cure all.

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