Healthy Living

Gym tips when traveling abroad

Of course, your vacation to a foreign country may consist of laying by the pool, ordering fruity drinks with umbrellas that you start consuming at a strange volume by 10 am, and strategizing your day around how you can be first in line at the shrimp cocktail station at your hotel’s all-you-can-eat buffet. But sometimes – just every once and a while – you may want to actually exercise while on vacation.

I’m just half joking, of course, as many of you are true workout soldiers and keep your fitness regimen going – or even pick it up – when you’re traveling and vacationing far from home. I’ve actually lived overseas as an expat since 2011, often residing in places where others come from the U.S. for vacation, and I’m actually really impressed by the level of dedication, discipline, and even athleticism of my U.S. compatriots (and especially Canadians!).

Even though you’re in paradise and it would be easy to slag off for a week, you’re waking up early to run on the beach, doing yoga, surfing, and even dancing all night long!

Ok, so sometimes for us big boys with bad knees and backs, lifting weights or hitting an indoor gym is a better option (or during the rainy season). In fact, there are a wide variety of gyms you’ll find abroad as you travel, but almost none of them look and feel (and smell) exactly like your gym back home. So, I thought I’d give you some general tips and information.

Ups and downs
There are usually two kinds of gyms: little local places, which are cheap but dirty, have old equipment and probably don’t even have aircon in the tropics, and the fancy or upscale gyms, which are nicer but expensive even by our western standards. If you know me by now, then you already know that I’m always hanging out at the grimy local spots!

The best way to hit the gym is to click the “Gym” filter when you’re searching for hotels and stay at a place that offers a nice and serviceable workout area included in the price.

Bring your own towel
Don’t expect the gym to have nice, clean towels for you to use. I always grab a smaller and even big bath towel from my hotel and bring them in a backpack to stay dry.

Hand sanitizer
It also can be unfathomably filthy at some local style rough gyms, where they literally never wash anything. Load up on hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes before, during, and after use. Never use shared gym boxing gloves, and don’t touch your eyes or mouth with your nasty gym hands!

Don’t expect etiquette
Don’t take it personally if someone sits on a bench that you were using, picks up your weight, or generally violates U.S. gym etiquette – they probably didn’t even know they were doing something wrong in your eyes, and may even be doing so just for the chance to say hi to you!

Facebook pages good for info
Gyms abroad have horrible (or nonexistent ) web pages, but they always have pretty decent Facebook pages, so that’s a great place to search, get a map, or find other info.

Lots of water
They usually have water or Gatorade for sale, but some of them may not. Bring your own water bottle just in case, and you can usually fill it up in their cooler if need be, but NEVER drink the tap water.

Toilet paper
I also carry around wet wipes with me because many gyms or public restrooms abroad in poor countries don’t have toilet paper! I know, nasty!

Golds Gym $20
They do have some modern U.S.-style gym franchises around, such as Golds. However, they also charge exorbitant fees like $20 just for day use.

Don’t trust the machines
I was using an incline weight bench at a decent hotel gym the other day and the pin popped out mid-set, sending the bench crashing down to a level position. Luckily, I held onto the dumbells but they did a number on my shoulders and neck. Don’t assume that equipment will be safe – always be extra cautious.

Kilos, not lbs
Remember that in just about all of the world outside of the U.S., they use the metric system. So, expect to see weights and machines listing kilograms, not pounds. If you’re not good at the conversion, just double the weight and add on 1/5th more, since the conversion is 2.2 lbs to every kilo.

Bring your own music
You may get some amazing and fun, upbeat music playing at your gym abroad (like in the Philippines) or it may be annoying techno beats (Thailand), or other strange choices. Bring your own music!

Take photos with the staff or others
Have fun at your new gym by taking a few photos, showing interest in the place, and talking to some of the regulars. I’ve met so many lifelong friends just by chatting at the gym in foreign countries! You can even ask to take a photo with them – a fun travel souvenir – and post it on the gym’s Facebook page along with a great review. You’ll definitely be welcomed back warmly the second day you go there or when you come back to visit again!

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Norm Schriever is a blogger, Amazon best-sellling author, cultural mad scientist, and enemy of the comfort zone. His work appears in the Huffington Post,, Good Morning America, The Anderson Cooper Show on CNN, NBC, MSN, Yahoo,, and media all around the world.
Norm grew up in Connecticut and graduated from the University of Connecticut, where he was never accused of overstudying. After expatriating to Costa Rica in 2011, he started traveling the world and documenting what he saw. He now lives in Southeast Asia, writing his heart out and working with local charities.

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