I have both read and heard a lot about people coming to America to travel - a country whose residents have the highest average caloric intake in the world - and gaining weight.
I was reflecting on this after a day in New York on my recent trip, where I had spent time between downtown and as high as 110th St (with spells on the subway, of course) and returned to my hostel with bleeding legs and unexplainedly filthy feet (I had had both shoes and socks on!).
I've always found travel anywhere to be great exercise.
I returned from my first two extended spells abroad when I was 19 and 22 (about 85 per cent of which took place on American soil) about as lean as I have ever been.
After I returned from my recent two-week East Coast work trip - which mirrored tourism in many ways, as I had to visit three or four places around Boston or New York, every day - I was exhausted in my bones.
The way I travel, and you may be different, walking is the central activity of every day. It is the way to soak up a city. I'm not an incessant planner when I'm in a new city. I like to have a general idea of different areas in my mind, and just stroll. Comfortable clothes, my backpack, sunglasses... and I can go all day.
When I'm somewhere alone, this has been the genesis for some of my most memorable days: a near lap of San Francisco I walked at 19, stopping in for a cigar and an impromptu $10 boat tour at Fisherman's Wharf; popping out for a stroll in Buenos Aires, and returning about 12 hours and as many kilometres later.
It is exhilarating being in a new city with time to kill. But it's good for you. You'll walk an hour and then sit a spell. The urge to explore comes back and you walk some more, and then repeat the previous step.
When I'm travelling, it is not unusual for me to walk over 10km in a day. On my recent epic in New York, I think that I almost cleared 15.
This behaviour runs counter to most of my everyday instincts.
Since LP came along, my routines have shifted. But our travelling styles meld well. I'm the contented ambler and she's the planner. But we each share the same love of walking as a primary mode of travel.
American cities can be a disincentive to this. I hold them in my mind as vast geographic expanses, and they usually offer up relatively efficient public transport systems. But this can be deceptive. New York is a surprisingly great walking city. If you're smartphone compatible, check the distances before hopping on the subway. You can often swap out a 15-minute trip underground for a relatively gentle 30-40 minute walk taking in the atmosphere of the place.
Twelve kilometres walking and a day spent on your feet is a far better workout than you'll get running for an hour or at the gym.
So consequently, following these walking epics, a cold beer and a cheeseburger have never felt more deserved.
There are other ancillary influences to this.
The second key to staying lean while travelling, in my case at least, is poverty. Or not poverty so much as a general awareness of making a certain amount of money last a certain amount of time. This can be a motivating factor for arranging to eat a cheaper meal that you cook yourself in a hostel, or maybe only eating out once a day, or just ordering one course, or forcing yourself not to flag down that taxi when every bone in your body screams otherwise.
Outside of time spent traveling, America is an indulgent place. The food portions, as we've discussed, are staggering. As a country, it has generally mastered the burger and several derivations of fast food.
In the weekend, returning from a day in Palo Alto, LP and I stopped for a drink in the Fillmore, and out of nowhere the smell of delicious French fries and greasy hamburger meat filled the air and every fibre of our being had to deny our instincts to eat whatever we were smelling right that second.
But America is also a surprisingly great place to eat cheaply and relatively healthily. Supermarkets like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods - which cater quality produce toward a younger shopper - have a good presence in most major cities. Each allows a traveller an affordable chance to shop for a day, or a single meal, and eat without clogging an artery.
(You'll spend a paycheck at Whole Foods if you shop for a week, but a meal won't hurt.)
So maybe I'm being contrarian, but I've always found being on the road in America to be good for my waistline. Everyday life? Not so much...
Who is with me?
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