Call it the Tapas and Wine Diet. Or maybe it’s the Stewed Chicken, Rice and Beer Diet. Whatever you call it, whenever we’ve put on backpacks to travel, we always lose weight.
Spain, the legendary land of salted pork, dark red wine, and deep fried tapas was no exception. After a month of traveling around Spain, Shannon and I both lost a noticeable amount of weight – somewhere between five and ten pounds each. We did it without trying. We did it without necessarily needing to. It’s just something that happens with this lifestyle. Maybe we should just call it a side benefit of living well.
In a previous post we discussed why fulltime travel is cheaper than staying at home. Now we’re going to explain why it’s better for your waistline too.
Fulltime travel is just like your favorite fad diet
The reason fad diets become fads is because they work. People really can lose weight eating nothing but bacon. But the reasons fad diets work usually have nothing to do with how the proponents of those diets claim they work. It’s not about the mix of fat or carbs you consume or whether those calories are swizzled through a straw made from endangered rhinoceros urethra.
The magic of all fad diets is that they get you to do something most of us rarely ever do. They trick us into changing our behavior, if only for a time. Few things in life change your dietary behavior more than sleeping in new locations nearly every day. Many of your old habits go out the window immediately. Not only is the cupboard bare (no raiding the fridge for a midnight pint of Ben and Jerry’s), but many of your fatal temptations may not even exist in your new location. It’s tough to scarf down a pan of brownies when there isn’t one for a thousand miles.
Long-term travel hits a re-set button on virtually everything we do. Our lives are taken off auto pilot and we’re suddenly forced to expend energy figuring out all the rudimentary aspects of our daily existence we normally sleepwalk through. Our old chain of bad behavior is broken. Other aspects of the traveling lifestyle help us replace those old habits with better ones.
Portion control by default
One of the reasons people eat too much is because there’s simply too much food around. And when given a giant plate of tasty food, most of us will continue stuffing our pie holes until our plate is clean. We often don’t even realize we’ve eaten too much until long after we’ve overeaten. What’s more, after being fed a steady diet of giant portions we come to think of over-consuming as normal. Eventually we expect to be fed like ducks destined for foie gras.
Most of the rest of the world doesn’t eat that way. If you’re traveling outside the States and make any effort to get away from the tourist areas you’ll find serving sizes considerably smaller than what you’re used to back home. What you’ll also find is that those serving sizes are perfectly adequate to fill your belly and keep you going throughout the day. After a while your concept of a normal portion shrinks, right along with your waistline.
Portion control or default
The other constraint on overeating while traveling is budgetary. And this is something that sets long-term travel apart from vacation travel. On vacation overindulgence is the name of the game. We remember being told by a tour operator on our honeymoon in Hawaii not to worry about cost, we could figure out how to pay for everything once we got back home. And to a certain extent that is true. While on vacation you can afford to indulge because those extra expenditures end pretty quickly.
Things are different with longer-term travel. How much we spend each day directly impacts how long we can afford to travel. A $50 dinner out for two done every day is an $18,000 annual expense. Dine out for breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack, too, and it’s easy to run up a $40,000 per year food bill.
For that reason we never eat at fancy restaurants. When we do eat out, we typically opt for small portions or share larger ones. Mostly we shop at markets and cook for ourselves whenever possible. Dietary decisions are economic decisions, and we control them accordingly.
The real hunter-gatherer diet
If there were a word to describe scavenging unfamiliar environments for three meals per day, every day of our lives, it might be Paleolithic. But unlike the diet of the same name, our routine actually requires us to hunt and gather food for every meal. It’s no exaggeration to say that we never know where our next meal is coming from. We have to find it. And without the benefit of a pantry we expend a surprisingly large amount of our daily effort scrounging for food.
When combined with the budgetary limitations listed above, finding something to fill our bellies is usually the most annoying part of every day. The easy options are always the most expensive (and usually the least nutritious, too). To ease the constant burden of finding food, we try to carry some with us whenever we’re out and about. And that means stocking up on items that travel well, such as seeds, nuts, and hardy fruits like apples. They’ve now become an essential staple of our diet.
Traveling is exercising
Seeing the world and sitting on your ass are pretty much mutually exclusive activities. You can’t explore medieval cities, see live volcanoes, peruse the world’s art collections, or get up close and personal with glaciers from the comfort of your couch. If you’re doing things like that regularly, you’re going to be getting plenty of exercise even if your itinerary purposely avoids visiting the inside of a gym.
And budget travel is exercising with weights
A typical travel day for us in Spain included two twenty-minute walks to and from a train station while carrying about forty pounds of gear. None of our hotels had bellmen. Most didn’t have elevators. And that often meant hefting our bags up four or five flights of stairs. Sometimes we’d do that routine three times in a week.
Is it any wonder we lost weight?