The Art of Healthy Backpacking II: Fitness

I’ve travelled quite a bit over the past few years. My trips have been mainly party oriented with virtually no thought of fitness…. then comes the plane trip home and I think “Oh shit, I’ve got some work to do.” On my latest trip, however (8 months in South America), I began to ask questions as to WHY I/we completely abandon any idea of fitness when going abroad. I mean, just because we’re not at home, does this mean that we have to completely forget about things that make us feel good?!? Surely there’s a middle ground….

The following post details some workouts that I did on a pretty regular basis. I’ve taken them into the wilderness of the Amazon, the Beaches of Rio, the thin air of Cusco and the metropolis of Buenos Aires. All very cool places, and all vastly different. Still though, I was able to get good workouts in without any equipment, and so can you!

Movement 1: Squat

Key Muscle Groups: Legs & Core.

Level 1: Air Squat

Level 2: Backpacker Squat*

Movement 2: Push

Key Muscle Groups: Chest, Shoulders & Core

Level 1: Standard Pushup

Level 2: Backpacker Pushup*

Level 3: Handstand Pushup

Movement 3: Pull

Key Muscle Groups: Arms, Back, Core

Level 1:Assisted Pullup

Level 2: Pullup

Level 3: Backpacker Pullup*

Movement 4: Plank

Key Muscle Groups: Core (keep your six pack)

Level 1: Standard plank

Level 2: Plank Variations

* “Backpacker” exercises are performed with your backpack strapped firmly to your back.

Workout 1: Fat Burning Workout

Perform a circuit with all exercises, starting with 10 reps for each exercise, then 9 reps, then 8 and so on.

10 x squats, 10 x pushups, 10 x pullups, 30 seconds plank
9 x squats, 9 x pushups, 9 x pullups, 30 seconds plank
8 x squats, 8 x pushups, 8 x pullups, 30 seconds plank.

Perform this circuit until you get down to 1 rep for each exercise, with limited rest in between.

Workout 2: Muscle Gain Workout

Get into ‘eccentric movements’ by keeping the ‘push’ part of the exercise as normal, but the descend stage as slow as possible.

Squat: 4 seconds descend, 0.5 second ascend.
Pushup: 4 second descend, 0.5 second ascend.
Pullup: 4 second descend, 0.5 second ascend.

Perform 3 sets with 10 reps of each exercise with 1 – 2 minutes rest inbetween. Performing these eccentric movements will lengthen the muscles to a greater extent, causing more muscle tear (a good thing), and subsequent growth. Don’t be surprised if you’re sore the next day, this is just your body telling you that it wants to grow, so you need to feed it!
Actually Doing It

Tip 1
Go Walkabout My best tip for the backpacker workouts is to go exploring to a beach, trek or nature reserve, having a light run here, then fitting your workouts inbetween. You’re far better off in doing this than smashing pushups in the hostel dorm room – you’ll find some useful equipment to use (platforms, tree branches, terrains) and get a free exploring session in. Almost all cities have gym stations set up in parks, and the more rural areas require a little creativity which just adds to the experience.

Tip 2
Be creative! Don’t get stuck at the hostel bar, making excuses for why you can’t work out. Accept that all of the equipment you need is your body, and the rest that you can find is a credit to your creativity!

Tip 3
Have fun! These workouts should not be results oriented. Traveling can be demanding on the body, so we must free ourselves from the fitness machine mentality that we’re fixated by. Just focus on getting some fresh air in, enjoying a different environment, and feeling the positive energy that exercise brings.

So don’t sell yourself short on your next trip! Don’t be afraid to get out there, explore and feel good about your body.

Healthy Travels!


And here’s me at Copacabana, Rio! What a great place for a gym!?!

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