The cover image of this article is me practicing after taking a yoga class…in Spanish…talk about accelerated learning!

Before I left to study abroad in Barcelona, Spain, people laughed when I said I was worried about staying healthy. I was told to eat all the paella, drink all the sangria, and enjoy my time abroad.

This sounds like an ideal scenario, except that I know how lethargic I start to feel after not eating much fresh food. I was used to cooking for myself in my apartment with familiar foods from Whole Foods that was conveniently at the end of my street. I was nervous I would not be able to restrain myself from eating paella everyday and skipping the gym.

Confirmed: The paella was AMAZING!

I, alongside those who doubted my healthy habits, was wrong.

Here’s my answers to your study-abroad fitness fears:

How am I going to workout?

The first week of my study abroad program, I joined a gym. It was a convenient 5-minute walk from my apartment and on my way home from school. It was the perfect location to help me make sure I was exercising at least four days a week.

I went on weekdays, but often skipped it on the weekends; I traveled a lot when I was abroad, so most of the time, I was unable to get to the gym Friday-Sunday. Occasionally, when I got home on Sundays, I would run down to the harbor and watch a dance group perform and run back. But the weekdays were more than enough to keep me fit.

When I was abroad, I started and finished Kayla Itsines BBG 1. It felt amazing to finally complete week 12. Heck, it felt good to pass week 5. It helped having a routine abroad that consisted of a lot of LISS via hikes and walking through the streets. Having a program to follow was very helpful because it gave me something to stick with, even with all of the excitement around me.

I appreciated having friends in my apartment and in my study abroad program who also belonged to the same gym as I did and who would go with me during the week. Friends are great motivators. I was able to stay disciplined, improve my health, and enjoy the experience of studying abroad.

Biking through Amsterdam to see the city and keep moving to stay warm!

What am I going to eat?

Here in America, we don’t have to think too much about what food we’re going to buy for the week. We know what we like, what brand to buy, and where to find it. This all changes when you go to a country that speaks a different language.

Lucky for me, I knew enough Spanish to read labels and find what I was looking for. This made it easy for me to try new foods during the week and cook local dishes with my roommates as well. The fact that I knew Spanish also helped because in my neighborhood in Barcelona, there was obvious price discrimination. If I walked into the convenience store to buy something, I would speak in Spanish and therefore, I would be charged less than my friends who walked in speaking English.

During the week, I would cook at home in our kitchen. You learn that it is possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle even when it would be so easy to empty your bank account at every savory restaurant in town. I ate a lot of ground turkey, pasta and vegetables. I packed a lot of protein bars and fruit in my backpack for snacks while I walked through the city to pass the time, and for lunch, I religiously ate a turkey grilled cheese. This made for easy grocery shopping.

La Boqueria, a large market on one of the main streets, La Rambla in Barcelona

When I would travel on the weekends, I would make sure to bring enough snacks. That way, I would not have to buy big, expensive meals at a sit down restaurant.

I ate a lot on the go and would sometimes eat food sold on the street. I learned about the traditional foods and never went hungry, all on a budget.

The key is not to deprive yourself: I still experienced all the great foods the country had to offer. But I would pick a couple of meals to splurge on over the weekend that allowed me to maintain a healthy(ish) diet and experience the local culture.

In some ways, experiencing the culture actually helped me stay healthy. We wanted to walk everywhere in the city we visited, so that we could absorb all of the sights. With that came all of the good food, too. My favorite place for cheap, fancy food was Prague in the Czech Republic. My favorite place for sweet, rich food was Florence, Italy. And my favorite place for any food, any time of day, was Barcelona, Spain (but I’m biased).

Brunch in Barcelona is to die for!

I learned that what it comes down to, no matter where you are in the world, is balance.

Every meal on the weekend cannot be a cheat meal; otherwise you come home from traveling feeling disgusting. But at the same time, that’s not to say you should avoid cheat meals. Cheat meals make you appreciate all kinds of food. It’s all about moderation.

I would make sure to try the signature dishes of wherever I traveled and I chose restaurants wisely so it was a combination of good food and easy on the wallet. Trying new things is the point of studying abroad! It just helps if you feel healthy, strong, and fit while exploring the world.

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