The Fulltime Travel Weight Loss Miracle

The Fulltime Travel Weight Loss Miracle

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 Stairs of Girona, Spain

Shannon hits the Stair Master

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. 

Wine and Tapas in Madrid

Diet food

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.

Lucys Taqueria Hilo, HI

Are you really going to eat a baby-sized burrito all by yourself?

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

Nuts and Fruit


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

Kayak Durango, Lower Animas River, CO

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?


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15 Comments on “The Fulltime Travel Weight Loss Miracle”

  1. JC Hammond June 4, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    Reblogged this on Wellness Wizardy and commented:
    Now this is a diet I could stick to! Just wish I could afford to go on it.


  2. Evelyn LaTorre June 4, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    I also think the quality of the food, fresh with no additives, keeps the food one does eat from sticking to you.


    • Brian June 4, 2014 at 9:45 am #

      We’ve really noticed an increase in the quality of foods here in Europe (or maybe it’s just our imagination) – the grapefruit in Spain were like candy, run-of-the-mill grocery store chicken is more tender, etc. I’ve also noticed that the delicious-when-fresh French baguettes have a half-life of about three hours, which I guess is why you see people carrying them all the time.


  3. highland hind June 4, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve never been as slim or well-toned as at the end of the Camino de Santiago, which included regular chocolate croissants and at least a half bottle of red every day!


  4. vannillarock June 4, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    OMG the baby-sized burrito is too funny, and in the south west true! great post.


    • Brian June 4, 2014 at 9:48 am #

      That burrito is served up at Lucy’s Taqueria in Hilo, HI. We didn’t order it but even there regular burrito is meal enough for two (at least these two.)


  5. nigemate June 4, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    Great post! We find exactly the same when on an extended camping/road trip – much the same reasons: more effort to make meals (building a fire each night for a start, sitting around which red wine tastes divine); sight-seeing = more exercise than sitting at a desk; setting up and breaking camp each day. The pounds just fall away, and we have an awesome time doing it!


    • Brian June 4, 2014 at 9:57 am #

      “The pounds just fall away, and we have an awesome time doing it!”

      If that’s not a “weight loss miracle” I don’t know what is. If we could put this in pill-form we’d be billionaires.


  6. Kim Bouchard June 4, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    Thanks for giving me another reason to be totally jealous of you two 😉


    • Shannon June 4, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

      Kim, come meet us on the road. I miss you!


  7. Chuck & Lori June 4, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Hey Brian, you know of course I lost 80 pounds a couple of years back…here’s my before-and-after pics:

    ALL diets work by cutting calories, and NO diet will work that doesn’t bring caloric intake below caloric expenditure. It’s truly that simple, yet it took me half my life to figure it out. Fad diets only work by making this reality more palatable to our fat and sugar-loving taste buds. For more details on how I did it:

    Now having gained 12 to 15 or so of those 80 pounds back over the winter (owing to a decrease in activity from breaking my rib and my son’s wedding–unrelated events, LOL), I’m sooo looking forward to hitting the road next week and proving your fulltime-travel-healthy-lifestyle theories correct! Also looking forward to catching up with you guys!

    Great post, thanks 🙂

    -Chuck & Lori


    • Brian June 5, 2014 at 2:18 am #

      Ah, yes, the Iron Law of weight loss: Calories In < Calories Out. I almost included it in the post but for some reason did not. And your story is especially inspiring, considering how much you needed to cut back.

      Looking forward to meeting up with you guys too, and the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town as well.


  8. Les Petits Pas de Juls June 5, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    lucky you! even if I’m travelling almost full time too, I don’t feel or look like I’ve lost any weight… So in love am I with food that I eat very often and even though I walk all the time, it’s not nearly enough!

    Enjoy while it lasts! 😉


  9. suziejprince June 14, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    We absolutely found this too. I was “back to normal” after just days in the UK and the US when I stopped moving do much and started eating out again. I’m searching for a way to keep that “diet” while at home.



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