How I Maintained a Healthy Lifestyle Abroad

breakfast dinner fitness lunch travel vegetarian

I’ve never been a huge fan of Chef Boyardee, but on my first trip abroad I thought I was brilliant for stuffing my duffle bag with canned ravioli. Terrified of throwing away my money at expensive Swiss restaurants, I lugged those cold, mushy (and heavy) squares all over Lucerne in hopes that they would sustain me. Thankfully, during my four months studying abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, I quickly learned that I didn’t have to eat like a preschooler. It took a bit of trial and error, but it wasn’t long until I became pretty good at both purchasing and preparing cheap and healthy meals everywhere in Europe. If you’re about to set off on an adventure overseas (whether it be 4 days, 4 weeks, or 4 months) and are looking to stay in shape and keep a balanced diet, allow me to save you a bit of time and frustration. In this blog post, I share how I purchased my groceries, prepared my meals, designed a workout regimen, and chowed down on weekend getaways in a way that kept me healthy, happy, and strong.

What Did I Buy at the Grocery Store?

If you think shopping at Whole Foods is expensive, trying pushing a shopping cart around a Swiss grocery store- even that costs you money. Despite shopping at a “budget-friendly” store, I still had to fork out more than 10 bucks for a pound of chicken! I was happy to have a few vegetarian recipes up my sleeve, because Switzerland basically sat me down and said, "You're too poor to be an omnivore." I only bought groceries for weekdays, because I traveled on the weekends. Here are the staples I found to be filling, nutritious, and affordable enough to fit into my $20 weekly budget:

Produce: Carrots, potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, bell peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, celery, salad mix, apples, and bananas

Dairy, Meat, and Eggs: Milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, canned tuna, and tofu

Dry Goods/Misc: Coffee beans, whole wheat bread, oats, brown rice, muesli, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, pasta, almonds, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, jam, peanut butter (they have it in Switzerland!), and chocolate (dark chocolate bars for less than a Swiss franc? YEAH GIRL).

What Did I Typically Eat on a School Day?

Overnight oats or muesli + a banana + coffee
-Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
-Grains (usually rice) + lentils or beans + a hard-boiled egg
+ an apple + carrots or cucumbers
-Salad dressed with olive oil/balsamic vinegar + tuna
-Veggie stir fry + tofu or a fried egg + rice
-Rice + beans + a fried egg
-Cheesy rice + tuna + broccoli
-Pasta + olive oil + beans + veggies
-Apples + peanut butter
-Yogurt + muesli
-Sliced carrots
-Sliced cucumbers
-Celery sticks
-Dark chocolate

How Did I Exercise?

Anyone who knows me knows that I genuinely love to exercise, and it doesn’t really matter in what way. Weight-lifting, HIIT routines, distance running, sports, hiking, yoga, random dancing- you name it! I got to do a bit of everything while in Switzerland, but I consistently relied on running, HIIT cardio, lifting weights, and walking for those sweet sweet endorphins.

Running: I only enjoy running when it’s outdoors and in an area that’s either new to me or has beautiful scenery. Switzerland was like, "Girl, I gotchu." I lived in downtown Geneva, and I LOVED being able to come home from school, throw on my running shoes, and just take off. Lake Geneva was less than 10 minutes away, and I felt like I could go forever running next to the water. My runs would range from 2 to 6 miles, depending on how I was feeling. Please note that I made safety a priority by always running in areas with lots of pedestrians, carrying my phone with me, and letting my friends know where I was going and for how long I would be gone.

HIIT cardio: 15-20 minutes is all you really need for these heart-pumping routines, and you can do them anywhere with a flat surface and wiggle-room. My go-to routine was 3 rounds of 5 different exercises: 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off with a 1-2 minute rest between rounds. These exercises were usually a combination of:

-Squat jumps
-Jumping jacks
-Push ups
-Mountain climbers
-Anything else that made my lungs feel like tiny little raisins

 Lifting weights: In high school I loved learning the basics of weightlifting, and continued to pursue #thegains throughout college. There are so many benefits to this form of exercise, and I was PUMPED when I found out that my university had a gym. I made it a goal to visit at least twice a week, and did all the basic exercises I was used to doing in the states: squats, deadlifts, bench press, lat pulldowns, etc.

Walking: I walked SO MUCH while abroad, and I loved it! Because I didn’t have a car, it became one of my main modes of transportation. I walked to the grocery store, the train station, the coffee shop, the park, etc. Walking was especially common during weekend trips, as well. Walking doesn’t even feel like exercise when everything is new and you want to see it all.

(Pro tip! I purchased a subscription with Spotify Premium (using the student discount) so that I could listen to my favorite workout playlists without Wifi. This came in handy not only for exercise, but also travel!)


Eating While Traveling

During my semester abroad, I usually spent my Friday mornings on a plane or train to somewhere new. It was FREAKING AWESOME. If you have any desire to travel, do what you can to save up and get yourself on that plane, girl! Along with Switzerland, some of my destinations included: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, England, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. On those weekend trips, I was definitely more relaxed about eating a healthy diet. Food is such a huge part of culture, so why would I want to miss out?

What I Ate for Breakfast: Most of the hostels I stayed in were surprisingly nice, and some even offered a complimentary breakfast buffet. Because I was usually walking well over 15,000 steps each day, I chose breakfasts that I know would keep me full and satisfied. This usually meant some sort of whole grain paired with a source of protein and fat, fruit, and coffee. For example:

-Oatmeal + a hard-boiled egg + an orange
-Whole wheat toast + peanut butter + a banana
-Cereal + milk or yogurt + an apple

What I Ate for Lunch/Dinner: My favorite place to grab a meal was a grocery store or a market, especially for lunch. No matter what country I was in, I could usually find a pre-made sandwich for cheap, an apple, some baby carrots, and BOOM: I had myself an affordable and nutritious lunch. If at a restaurant, I looked forward to choosing something notorious for where we were: schnitzel, fish and chips, pizza- you get the idea. These were by no means the "healthiest" of meals, but it really didn’t bother me. They were delicious, and were part of the whole experience of being in a new country. Besides, in my world, moderation is key, and "all foods fit."

What I Ate for Snacks: Again, grocery stores really came in clutch while I was abroad. I was able to find fresh fruits, granola bars, and nuts for totally affordable prices. These usually did a good job holding me over until my next meal. Of course, I also loved sampling foods unique to the country I was visiting. In Paris, for example, I ate a crepe by the Eiffel Tower (because I LIVE for cliches). 

Alcohol? I can honestly say that I had a great time in Europe without (hardly) any alcohol. Why? A huge reason is that adult beverages simply make me gag. Even on my 21st birthday, my roommate had to finish my drink for me. Alcohol is not my cup of tea, but I don’t condemn anyone for choosing to drink. If you are planning on drinking while abroad, my only advice is to drink in moderation.

Like most students who study abroad, I came to Switzerland with a desire to experience different places and cultures. I also wanted to maintain a balanced lifestyle that would allow me to eat well, exercise, and try new cuisines. What worked best for me was preparing nutritious foods throughout the week, trying new foods on the weekends, and staying active with lots of walking and a consistent workout schedule. After four months, I returned home feeling awesome both on the outside, and the inside.

Have you ever been abroad? What have you found helps you stay healthy overseas? Leave a comment below!

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  • Susan Foote on

    Really enjoyed reading your Posts. Warren & I enjoyed traveling and living aboard. We did so much walking and enjoying the sites, and loved trying the foods of the region, never had to worry about my weight, in those days. As we age our metabolism slows down and healthy food is so important and exercise, to maintain our health, best as possible. Thanks for your encouragement.

  • Bobbi Albano on

    Three years ago, I took a trip to Belize and while there – like you – I did A LOT of walking, and you are right! Walking in another country is not difficult at all! With so many different sights to see, I could put away 3 miles without realizing it! As far as eating, I, too, tried all the local fares. In Belize, some common dishes included plantains, rice and chicken. I found that folks over there ate much healthier than at home, so it was not difficult at all to maintain a healthy diet :) Great story, I enjoyed the read very much!

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