I hope you've had a great holiday, and that Santa was good to you!
Did you take advantage of the holidays to taste every specialty under the sun? Did you then take it easy, lounging around lazily, gazing at palm fronds and watching the sunset? (I'm writing this as I watch the snow fall for the third day in a row on my old farmhouse in rural France...)
Wherever you are, staying fit on the road isn't always easy, especially when temptations come knocking during holiday seasons. But it can be done.
Since New year is a time for resolutions, why not add one to your list? I'll join you as you get fit while you travel.
Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #26
Staying Fit When You Travel
There are few better ways to get to know your surroundings than on foot. When I lived in Bangkok (in pre-Skytrain days) I would walk miles rather than sit in a taxi for hours waiting for a break in the traffic.
Use the stairs
My friends in Mozambique used to joke that it was faster to walk up than to take the elevator - because they broke down so often you'd end up stranded for hours. Having seen similar dodgy installations in a number of countries, I think using the stairs is a great alternative - and it'll keep you fit, too.
Visit high-altitude countries
I once spent a month in Addis Ababa (alt: 2355m) followed by a month in Asmara (alt: a hair lower at 2325m) - both are about 7600ft - and I've never been fitter. Back to Europe, my lungs were in such great shape I'd tear up six flights of stairs at a clip... unfortunately, that didn't last though...
Keep your backpack heavy
It may sound counterintuitive, but if you really travel light, adding a few rocks to your pack will keep your back muscled. Just one thing: make sure your backpack is adjusted perfectly. If not, you'll do yourself more harm than good. And if it gets too heavy - just dump the rocks and you'll feel light as a bird.
Join a gym
If you're staying in a city long enough, take out the cheapest membership around. Often you'll find prices ridiculously low, especially if your membership is for 'off' times, like mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
Pack resistance bands
In case you're not familiar with them, resistance bands are long, ultra-light elastics. You tie a loop at the end and slip your foot or hand through it. And pull. It works like a weight machine, but is somewhat lighter... Use it to stretch and strengthen your arms and legs anytime, anywhere. You'll also build up a fan club as people stop and stare.
Join a group
Walking along the beach in Recife one day I spotted a group of people doing exercises as the sun was coming up. Curious, I edged closer and was promptly invited to join in. Seems that the city subsidizes these communal classes, free and open to everyone. Or if you practise Tai Chi and happen to be in Asia, you've certainly seen hundreds practicing in city parks. Just stand at the edge and follow along. If you plan to return the next day, introduce yourself to the master.
Go to the park
Even if you're not looking for Tai Chi, most cities have some kind of green area in which you can don your headphones and power walk in a relatively pleasant environment (but make sure you choose a park known to be safe - you're pretty vulnerable barging around with your headphones!) Take your yoga mat and work out, or just use the park benches to stretch a bit. And...
Drink plenty of water
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, carry water with you and hydrate yourself. Just make sure the bottle is brand new, and that you've opened it yourself (or watched it be opened in front of you).
I can't count the number of times I've stayed in beach huts and gone into the water only to refresh myself or maybe dunk my head. But swimming? Lengths? Rarely. Yet there it is, the most perfect (at least in areas free of sharks, jellyfish and other nasty things, do check!) free gym in the world.
Watch your street food
Don't assume that because it isn't processed, it isn't fattening. Those deep-fried dumplings and baked empanadas can go straight to your hips, and in some countries they are awfully good, incredibly cheap, and devilishly 'more-ish'!
Climb a mountain
No, climbing Kili isn't something only others do. With a bit of training (not to mention the right equipment and maybe even a guide), you can too. You shouldn't have too hard a time finding rugged terrain, so look around as you travel and add the 'up' dimension to your left and right ones.
A bicycle. In many parts of the world, finding a bicycle is easier than finding a bus. Take advantage of these opportunities and discover the city as you pedal. In Vientiane a bicycle was my only mode of transport, although with the dusty roads I would have been better off with a mask too... still, at least my muscles got a workout.
Get steamed, get pummeled
Many countries have a tradition of massage, steam baths, hot springs, and other relaxing practices. These are often unbelievably cheap so find out what the health traditions are in your part of the world, and take full advantage of them.
Try local health care
Many cultures have healing practices and some of these don't have to be used only when you're sick - they can be preventive and aimed at sheer wellness. Why not try out some Ayurvedic medicine when in India, acupuncture in China, reflexology in Thailand, homeopathy in large parts of Europe... you get the picture. For me, staying well is every bit as important as staying fit!
What's New This Month on Women on the Road, the Website
Avoiding Jet Lag
What's in, what's out, and what works when you travel too quickly through multiple time zones.
Solo to Santiago
Women on the Road interviews Wilna Wilkinson, a solo pilgrim who takes on the Camino in winter - with a mission.
Carla King Interview
A travel writer, coach and motorcycle fanatic, Carla has ridden the breadth of countries as wildly different as China, the US, Europe, West Africa and India.
What Were Last Month's Most Popular Pages?
Travel Packing List
Cheap Ways to Travel
International Travel Nursing
Female Travel Companions
Free Travel Writing Course
Volunteer Work Overseas
Travel News From Across the Web
10 Best Things To Do in 2010: Lonely Planet
27 Travel Tips, also from Lonely Planet
For food lovers...
9 Useful Food Travel Links
A Guide to Eating Thali in India
Why British Food Isn't As Bad As You Think
Gourmet Worrier: Beautiful Barcelona
Fish Tails Fish Tales
...and lovers of other arts
Paris: Surprising Street Art
5 Reasons to Visit the British Museum
Art in Travel
Notes on Belgrade: Classical or Commie?
Santa Catarina: A Corner of Brazil
I Heart My City Oslo
Exploring the Patagonian Channels of Chile
What's Kazakhstan Really Like?
New Life in Ancient Peru
6 Things to do in Tokyo
How to Survive Istanbul's Grand Bazaar and Spice Markets
In Pictures: Floods in Venice
Free Travel Writing E-course
If you're in love with travel and feel compelled to write, you've probably thought of writing to pay for your travels. I've done it, and so have thousands of others.
Before you spend hundreds of dollars on a course (and there are some great ones out there) why not try out my seven-day Travel Writing Magician course to see what you think about travel writing?
I've designed this course for those of you who aren't quite sure about jumping right in yet - but who believe they have what it takes to try.
Find out about The Travel Writing Magician and get a taste of the travel writing profession, without having to pay a cent.
Cause of the Month
Women in Afghanistan: Are They Better Off Today?
The short answer? No.
By any standard, Afghan women live under terrible oppression.
Back in 1996, when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the impact on women was almost immediate: they began losing individuality and power, were no longer allowed to go out unaccompanied, or to work. Who can forget the television footage of women clad in burkas, being stoned to death for some imagined slight?
After the Taliban were ousted, women's rights seemed to flourish under a new constitution proclaiming equal rights. Images on CNN showed women shedding their burkas and attending schools, learning to read and write - and getting jobs. But that spring of freedom didn't last, the constitutional changes turned out to be hollow, and today Afghanistan's women are slipping back into the shadow of oppression, propelled by one of the most heinous anti-women laws in existence.
Known as the 'marital rape law' it basically allows men to beat up and starve their wives if they withhold sex, while severely curtailing all their other rights. Despite the outcry from the West, President Hamid Karzai adopted the law in what many think was a gesture designed to elicit electoral support from the country's ultra-conservatives.
Nothing will get better until women stop being treated as property, until they are no longer forced into marriage in childhood, or until they are no longer considered guilty when they are raped by their husband's male relatives. For those of us living in countries in which men are equal to women, this kind of life is unthinkable. It is also unacceptable.
To get involved or for more information:
Remember the Women?
Silence is Violence: a UN report on violence against women in Afghanistan
Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
The Plight of the Afghan Woman
November 2009 Press Conference: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
Next Month in Women on the Road NEWS?
How to Avoid the Typical Travel Mistakes Beginners Make
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Happy travels! Leyla