There are many things that remind me that I’m back in America when I return from a trip abroad. These include yellow Crown Victoria cabs waiting to pick up weary travelers and soft sesame bagels with cream cheese. However, there is one thing that always tells me, without a doubt, that I’ve returned to America.
It’s everywhere: the rotund security guard at the flight gate, the triple-chinned customs official, that lady in the pink sweat-suit waddling over to Ben & Jerry’s. A Frenchman might return to Charles de Gaulle International, smell freshly baked French pastries, and get that distinct sensation that he has returned to the motherland. I get that same feeling when I witness someone devour two entire sleeves of oreos en route to baggage claim.
Our culture of supersized meals, cars, and desk-bound jobs has created a perfect storm of empty calories and sedentary lifestyles that make us lethargic and bloated. I know this because I was once like that – I speak from experience as a “former fat guy.” At times it almost feels like American society has been deliberately designed to create obstacles on our path to a lean and healthy body. As a consumer society, most of our recreational activities are consumption activities. Many people express dismay that they have to choose between a fit body and a “real social life.”
“Have some cake! Live a little, why don’t you?” I hear this all the time from people who regularly devour pizza and beer and somehow maintain that six-pack. It’s pretty difficult to process comments like that when I’m sticking to grilled chicken breast and broccoli all week just to break even.
It is always hard to get the initial momentum required for long term success. However, once people make significant progress, they are much more likely to stick to the track and reach their health and fitness goals. The Escape From America community often finds solutions to their problems by taking advantage of opportunities abroad. The same concept can certainly be applied to one’s health and fitness goals.
What if you could plan a budget trip to a paradise location and lose 20 pounds while doing it?
After finishing an intensive postgraduate engineering program in Beijing, I was in worse shape than I had ever been in my life. None of my clothes fit correctly and my skin looked awful. The combination of greasy late night eating, weekends of clubs and alcohol, and dense air pollution had taken their toll. After I finished this program I invested 1500 USD in a one month fitness immersion in Thailand. My goal was to drop 10 pounds while having the time of my life. My one-month Muay Thai kickboxing trip was a great investment because I exceeded my weight loss goals and recharged my body to take on the next challenge. In addition to this, I was able to get some great deals on a range of medical checkups and minor dermatological procedures in one of Thailand’s world class hospitals.
I was worried that I would enter the camp and be surrounded by professional fighters in a very intimidating environment. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a wide range of like-minded and international people at the camp, all with different goals. Some people were indeed professionals, but for the most part the other students were ordinary westerners who wanted to enjoy Thailand while getting fit. I was also surprised by the range of ages at the camp – I met two teenagers from Sweden on their gap year as well as Australian retirees looking for something active and fun to do.
Based on my experiences and that of other fitness travelers, I’ve designed a five-stage system for crafting such an experience.
1. Self Assessment and Goal Setting
Every fitness traveler will be entering this adventure with a different set of priorities and resources. We all, quite literally, come in all shapes and sizes. Our goal is to end up with a more flattering shape and size. The most pressing and immediate issues you will have to address are your budget and amount of time you can invest on this trip, as it will directly affect how far you can progress toward your goals.
- Determine how many weeks or months you can invest in this experience.
- Write down an estimate of the monthly budget you can afford to invest and the total amount of months you can spend on this vacation.
- You can expect substantial results (10 pounds) in a period of one month or a total transformation (30-40 pounds) in a period of three months.
Your ultimate goal on this trip is to lose between 10-30 pounds, improve your overall health profile, and preferably pick up a new skill or improve an old one.
2. Crafting Your Transformation Vacation
This is the fun part – choosing the trip upon which you will embark. Please note in advance that these activities all demand very different levels of physical exertion, which will affect your overall results. Intense cardio activities such as kickboxing and trekking will undoubtedly have a more dramatic effect on your physique than yoga or dance. Having said that, take a look at some of the examples below and see if any of them catch your eye:
- Muay Thai kickboxing camp in Thailand
- Trekking and expedition in Indonesia
- Pradal Serey kickboxing in Cambodia
- Shaolin Kung Fu school in China
- Golf tour in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand
- Bike tour of Vietnam
- Surfing in Australia
- Capoeira in Brazil
- Tango in Argentina
- Salsa in Colombia
- Yoga retreat in India
- Skiing and snowboarding in Austria
Above all else, the trip should be fun and unforgettable for you. In addition to propelling you towards your fitness goals, you should ideally pick up a new passion or reach a new level of mastery in one that you have always loved but have never truly dedicated yourself to.
Instead of cramming lots of destinations and activities into a short period of time, I suggest you pick one location and one activity and really commit to it for 1-3 months. The physical and psychological benefits you gain from this trip will be evident if you can do this. If you choose an activity at a “school” or “camp”, they will generally offer housing and a meal plan for a discounted price. I suggest you take this, as the housing is generally cheaper and the ingredients used in the meal plan take into account that you are engaging in physical activity.
This is certainly not true across the board, though, and those of you with more lavish tastes might prefer to live at luxury resorts. And why not? Feel free to spend money on spa treatments, massages, and detox programs. These should always be viewed as an investment in yourself instead of hedonistic consumption. Detox centers in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia and Latin America are a great way to flush out toxins and “reboot” your body. I’ve tried it and experienced significantly improved levels of energy, well-being, and skin quality. I recommend you do the same at the beginning of your fitness immersion trip.
3. Fitness Fuel
Fitness enthusiasts commonly say that great bodies are built in the kitchen, and not in the gym. This is certainly true – you should take this into account during your experience. Specify to the director of your program that you are seeking to improve your body profile on this trip and ask if he or she can help you create a custom meal plan. Creating and maintaining an attractive profile should not force us to resort to deprivation diets – learn what local meals and dishes are healthy and avoid sugar, saturated fats, and alcohol. Combined with your high levels of activity, this will likely be enough for you to reach your goals.
If you really can’t resist, take one night off per week and eat whatever you like – feast on pizza, pork, pastries, and whatever else you’ve had your eyes on. Contrary to what you might think, this will actually help boost your metabolism in addition to satisfying any cravings you have had.
4. Track Your Progress
The legendary Peter Drucker said it best himself: “What gets measured gets managed.” Take a “before” picture at the beginning of your trip from the front and side. Every week on the same day, take a similar picture and watch as your body profile becomes leaner and firmer. Make sure you also keep track of your weight and take weekly measurements of that as well, if possible. If you are pursuing your activity full-time every day and eating nutritious meals, you will like what you see. In addition to providing real time stats on your progress, this will serve as a strong visual motivator for when you return from your trip and want to continue your progress.
5. Maintenance and Conclusion
One of the main reasons that people fall off the fitness wagon so quickly is because they lack that initial burst of progress to keep them going. Exercise ends up feeling like a chore and people have a difficult time navigating all the obstacles in their way. Instead of fighting an uphill battle in the US, immerse yourself in a place that will provide you with everything you need to speed your progress and not challenge it. Once you accomplish this, you can focus on maintenance of your new physique.
The reason that a transformation vacation is so powerful is because, for a period of time, you are completely immersed in healing and improving your body. You will see rapid results and improve your health and fitness instead of deteriorating it. Moreover, it is entirely possible that you reach a new level of mastery of your activity and you are motivated to continue learning. Ultimately, fitness will be a continued but secondary positive effect of this new skill that you acquire. Since my own trip I’ve continued to benefit both physically and mentally from my practice of Muay Thai. It no longer feels like a chore but a privilege to hone my art.
Lean and healthy bodies are the result of our lifestyle and diet. Your own self-crafted transformation vacation will be a great long term investment in yourself. There’s no time better than right now to find a new calling and put yourself on the road to a life of sustainable healthy living.