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Tim Leffel has biked all over the world.

Travel Diets: The Backpacker Weight Loss Plan

"What did you notice first?" some friends and relatives would ask when I returned to the US from my year-long trips around the globe.

"There are a lot of really fat people here," I would respond. Not real positive, but it was the certainly the most obvious difference.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about the lengths some companies are going to with their architects in order to get us "knowledge economy" fat-butts to get some exercise during the day. They're putting parking lots as far away from the offices as they can, in order to make people walk further.

They're installing wide, well-lit stairways and slowing down the elevator speeds to prod people to use their legs.

One big company campuses with a cafeteria, the place where workers get their meal has been moved from the middle to a remote corner, making employees work off at least a little of that 1,000-calorie lunch. This is what it has come to: as a nation we're getting so fat that we have to be forced to keep ourselves from having a heart attack.

Anyone who is overweight already will do wonders for their body by traveling around the world.

Anyone who is a fitness nut will likely weigh the same or less when they return. Long-term travel is a painless weight-loss plan.

What do you do all day when you travel on the cheap? You walk, you swim, you hike, you bike, you lift weights (your backpack), and you walk some more. With this kind of lifestyle, Who needs a gym? Most travelers walk for miles on any typical day: looking around for a place to stay,
sightseeing, walking to and from restaurants and bars, running errands, shopping, and getting to the train or bus station. You walk because it's cheap, it's convenient, and in many cases, an adventure it itself.

Then there's the exercise you do for fun. You'll probably spend lots of time at beaches, swimming and snorkeling. There are volcanoes to hike, rivers to raft, mountain ranges to trek, temples to bike to. If you want, you can easily get into a pick-up game of basketball or soccer with the locals.

Then there's the food. Yes, in Eastern Europe the heavy food and inexpensive beer can be trouble, but in most of the world it's cheaper and easier to eat healthy than not. In most of Asia, the cuisine is based on rice, noodles, vegetables, seafood, tropical fruit, and chicken. Even if you pig out every meal, you're not likely to gain weight.

In Latin America you'll be eating the staples of tortillas, beans, chicken, and rice. Getting fat in Africa is something you would really have to work at. And unlike at home, you're not tempted by snacks in your pantry, night after night in front of the TV, and fast-food joints on every corner.

You'll also lose weight in some countries because you need to avoid eating meat. Once you see a butcher shop in some of these places, you'll know why. I lost 20 pounds (8 kilos) while I was eating vegetarian-only in India for 6 weeks and was looking thinner than I had since high school when I left. (Thankfully I was off to Turkey next, where they put meat in almost every dish.) Plus you can't always get three squares a day: on long bus or train rides, you have to settle for what's available when you stop.

None of this applies to a week-long vacation of course. A short break from work, with the leisure and hedonism that implies, isn't much help. It takes some time and movement to get the benefit. But when I think back on my three trips around the globe, I can picture very few overweight backpackers. Most of those had only been away for a month or less.

So don't let yourself get to the point where you need a slow elevator to force you into exercise. Hit the road instead -- it's a lot more fun than the gym anyway.


Tim Leffel




Tim Leffel has written several books on traveling well for less including The World's Cheapest Destinations, Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and Traveler's Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America (co-written with Rob Sangster). He also edits the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel. Visit our Tim Leffel Page with links to all his stories on GoNOMAD.




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