Raising a Traveling Tribe: Staying Fit Abroad

by Tina on January 13, 2014

in family, Raising a Traveling Tribe

Happy Monday to you and a warm welcome to all of you who are just joining us.  Thank you so much to all of you who watched our House Hunters International “Where are they now?” episode and reported back to let us know that you loved it.  We had a lot of fun making the episode and we promise to let you know if it goes online for those of you who live outside the US or do not have access to it.

traveling mama fitness

I have been thinking a lot about how to start this week.  January is the time when the most number of people sign up for gym memberships, so I am guessing that quite a few of you have thought about joining one (or maybe you have resolved to absolutely not frequent one!)  I have hesitated to write about fitness altogether, mainly because I have had three kids and it’s not like I’m a super skinny blond bombshell, but it’s January and the experiences I have had over the years trying to stay fit abroad have been nothing short of… well, let’s just say, it’s been interesting!

After arriving in Spain at 22 with a baby, I knew I wanted to join a gym but I was terrified that my Spanish skills would not be sufficient enough to get me through a class.  I waited six months until I found a friend who would go with me.  It was in the heat of July with temperatures easily over 100° F.  We waited until 5 in the evening, which meant it was still around 100°!  I hoped for air conditioning, which made my friend laugh, so I kept my hope for a fan to myself.  After arriving at the gym, my fears of language misinterpretations began to dissipate as my fear of suffocation increased wildly.  The room was concrete with two small windows, which could not be opened for fear of catching a cold.  (A cold?  Seriously?  I was worried about dying of the heat and my Spanish friends were worried that they might get a sore throat?!)  There were no fans for the same reason and the door remained shut throughout the workout.  I got closer to Jesus during that workout.  Too close.

When we moved to Morocco I was determined to stay fit.  Going to the gym was like therapy for me. It kept me sane and after moving to Africa, I was going to need all the help I could get!  So, I signed up to take my first class.  Much like Spain, it was tucked into a first floor of a dark, unlit building, except this time I was the only one there to take the class.  The instructor was late and after 15 minutes of being barked  at by the instructor who stood in front of my with her arms crossed and yelled at me in French (a language I do not speak) two more girls showed up for the class.  It would have been great, except they didn’t do most of the moves, and left 15 minutes before the class ended… which left me alone doing some really weird exercises that I had never seen before and doubt I ever will again.

So, obviously I didn’t go back to that gym!  But I still wanted to be fit.  It was a real struggle.  It was not appropriate or even safe for a woman to be out running on the streets, so I did my best with some videos at home.  Just before we moved I got so excited because a new gym was coming to town which offered my very favorite classes by Les Mills.  Even though I was leaving soon, I hoped to attend a few classes, so I went for a tour.  The Gym was gorgeous.  There was air conditioning (as in REAL air conditioning and not the kind where the room feels like the heat has been displaced momentarily only to return to it’s original position.)  I was hopeful.  Then I was escorted to the women’s side of the gym. Yes, folks.  The sexes were segregated.  The women’s side was very small with some nice equipment being held up by a few women dressed in sweatpants and head scarves.  There was a small closet like room with a few stationary cycles and that was about it.  Apparently the sauna was the appeal for the women’s side of the gym.  The guys; however, got a much bigger room and all of the “manly” classes such as Body Pump and Body Combat.  I cannot verify the information, though, because as a woman I was not allowed even a peek in.

When we moved to Denmark, I was, again, terrified to take classes in a completely foreign language, but I was determined because I was tired of having to use ridiculous amounts of Bounty Bars and Coke Zero to cope with life abroad.

I would love to be able to go more, but my experiences staying fit abroad have certainly made me more grateful for the gym I have here in Denmark, especially since it offers my favorite Les Mills classes.  It feels like a gift to me, especially after struggling through three years in Morocco where I had so little freedom and opportunity as a woman to stay fit.

As an expat, it can be a real challenge to cope with new cultural fitness norms.  The main thing is to keep trying and no matter what country you live in, find something that you enjoy.  Maybe your new country or town will offer an activity that you never even knew about and will absolutely love!

I bet some of you have had some pretty crazy experiences at gyms.  There certainly seems to be a “gym culture” all of it’s own no matter what country you live in!  So, tell me!  Do you have a funny story from trying to say fit?

Stay in touch!
Receive an update straight to your inbox every time I publish a new article.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Juliette January 13, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Hm, where to start? ;-) The water aerobics class that was basically a geriatric water aerobics class w/the instructor flirting too much w/the ladies? The gym with only group showers for the women (which was too much for somebody raised w/private showers)? The class and studio with no AC, no fans, and other patrons always closing the window for fear of a draft that would damage their kidneys? =D I have totally given up on the gym situation here.

Last year I discovered Fitness Blender, which is a free site w/hundreds of free videos w/no skeevy clothes and no obnoxious music. A husband/wife team (certified trainer & dietician, respectively) explain everything really well and you can search based on difficulty level, duration, type of exercise, and body region to work out. Most exercises use body weight for resistance, but many also require simple equipment. I also really like their workout plans (about $5). Of course the trick is to be motivated enough to do everything on your own, but at least you can pick your own music and shower at home!


Tina January 13, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Oh girl! I hear ya! I come home to shower because getting naked, even when it’s just a bunch of girls, is just too much for me! LOL! I’ll have to look into Fitness Blender as well. Thanks for the tip!


ISHTAR OLIVERA January 13, 2014 at 4:06 pm

oh my! It surely has been a challenge!
I find it challenging enough to go consistently at least 4-5 days a week!! even though i do LOVE the LES Mills classes!
my favorites Bump and combat! : )


Tina January 13, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Yes, with life so busy it is a challenge just to get there consistently, which is why I end up at the gym at 6:30am… No one else wants to meet with me then! LOL!


Myla January 13, 2014 at 5:24 pm

I had to smile to myself as I was reading your post. I spend summers at our cottage in France with my daughters and I often work out using American exercise DVDs. I tried the French ones but I found them not as strenuous and challenging as the American ones. I do remember back int the 90′s when I traveled in Asia and Europe and bringing light weights (3 lbs.) in my suitcase as I was not sure if there were gyms in places that I was visiting. Of course, we did not have to pay extra for heavier luggage back then…but still a rather crazy idea to be lugging your weights across the globe. I suppose I was really into exercising back then and gyms in the 90′s were not as ubiquitous as they are today.


Tina January 13, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Traveling with weights is definitely more of a challenge. I’m not sure if there is much interest, but perhaps we could have some more blog posts in the future about tips for staying fit while traveling?


Celena January 13, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Joining a running club (Denmark is fantastic for this- ie: Spartan) or a team sport is a great option for staying fit and meeting people. I met some lovely women playing indoor soccer and became more fit in the process :)


Celena January 13, 2014 at 7:35 pm

PS: I am an exercise physiologist (academic/clinician) if you ever have any questions…..


Tina January 13, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Awesome! Thank you! Ive heard often that running clubs in DK really are fantastic!


Alexandra January 13, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Your post brought back some great fitness memories. Gyms in France where the people would exercise in their best street clothes: tight jeans, metallic tights, sweaters (!), scarves…

Gyms in Italy where you had to arrive wearing one pair of shoes and exercise in a different pair of sneakers. That rule did make sense, though.

I would love to see more posts on keeping fit while travelling. I’ve tried to learn stretches and exercise moves that rely on my own resistance so that I can do them anywhere. Now, whether I actually make time to do them on the road is a different story… :)


Tina January 13, 2014 at 10:17 pm

Ha! I had forgotten about people working out in scarves. They did it in Spain, too! The gyms here are kind of similar about the shoes, too. It’s smart!

I’ll see what we can pull together for the future, but hear you about actually making time for exercise on the road. It’s tough for sure!


Cate February 26, 2014 at 4:40 am

I’m a keen (but crap) swimmer and I’m nervous about swimming when I move to Germany in July. What if there are so rules I don’t know about? Etiquette in the changing rooms? It’s a minefield!


Wrenaissance Art April 15, 2014 at 4:48 am

I lived in Norway for 6 years in the ’90s. Video workouts were a good supplement for walking, XC skiing and hiking. I also took African dance classes at the local international culture center. Collage Videos ( now they sell DVDs) has a great selection of workouts and were a standby resource for me.
One time I took a jazz class & the teacher smoked in the room through the whole class!
In the UK, I swam at the nearest council sports centre, where if you weren’t as fast as the others in the lane, you were liable to get your leg keyed (w/the locker key) to teach you a lesson as people passed you. Good times!
In Brazil, our apartment building had a tiny pool, 10m, where I swam laps while frigate birds & hang gliders floated overhead. I also biked on the beach Sunday mornings.
Some great memories!
Clicked to your website from Decor8–so fun to discover this blog.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: