A Van Life Couple Explains How To Stay Fit On The Road

vanlife fitness
Wandxr Bus

Spend any amount of time cruising Instagram influencers and you’ll end up incredibly jealous of these genetically and financially gifted vagabonds. They’re a rare breed for whom far-flung travels, five-star hotels, and six-pack abs all seem to come naturally. The truth, of course, is a little more complicated. Influencers work. That’s why we ask the travelers we interview how they manage to cover the costs of traversing the country or globe (we want to know how they pull it off!). They also work out. But as of yet, we haven’t delved into the diet and exercise routines of these always-stunningly-fit people.

Sure, their snaps might look like they’re gorging on pizza and serenely hiking to the next waterfall, but that’s not reality. In real life, people have to pay attention to what they eat and how physically active they are in order to remain in peak condition. Sorry to break the illusion, but that’s just how metabolisms work.

Staying fit can be hard on the road, but imagine how much more difficult it can be when you live in a VW Bus. For details on how van lifers keep it tight and right (and healthy), we reached out to Sabrina and Jimmy Horel, the couple behind the Wandxr Bus website. The pair met in California, where Sabrina approached Jimmy in a bar and told him he looked “cute.” The opinion was mutual, and he repaid the compliment. In no time they were traveling and married. The common bond that drew them together? A shared love of adventure.

Now, the duo lives in a blue 1973 VW Bus, both working online writing travel, lifestyle, and vegan content. They’re also both vocal advocates of health and wellness, so we knew they were perfect people to give us the rules for staying fit on the road.

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1. Lose Your Vacation Mindset

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Sabrina: There’s something that I call a “vacation mindset,” and I think it’s something you really have to get out of if you want to be healthy and active when you live in a van. Your whole life is basically a road trip. What you want to do is eat junk food at gas stations and fast food, and you don’t want to exercise; you want to just enjoy the moment, whatever it is that you’re doing. I think that’s something that we struggled with at the beginning and we realized that if we wanted to stay fit, we needed to really get out of that mindset and realize that every day we need to put effort into the food that we eat and the activities that we do.

We love to stay active, and I don’t mean love in the sense that we actually love it. I’m very lazy. I’m a very lazy person by nature, but we like the feeling of being active. It gets our adrenaline pumping. It gets dopamine flowing, and it just feels good to be active. The way that we do that is we go to the gym almost every day if we can if we’re in a city or anywhere that has a gym nearby. Otherwise, we like to go for runs or hikes. We play with the dogs. I do yoga. We go to a park every single day. We always go for a walk. It’s about keeping your blood flowing.

Jimmy: I like to have a body goal in my head. That helps me to really focus on my goals and reach them. I think that’s a tip I would give someone.

2. Exercise Efficiently

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Sabrina: We really rely on HIT (high-intensity training), which is time sensitive, interval training. The reason that we do this is that it’s a lot more efficient. It takes less time and your workouts are better. Basically, you go to the gym and instead of working out for an hour you do half hour workouts, but you take shorter breaks in between workouts. You really push yourself to get your heart pumping really, really high, and you work out for smaller periods of time.

We do both weight training and cardio. The time that we save makes it a lot more reasonable to schedule a window to work out every day. We don’t have two hours to give every day. Sometimes we’re driving for nine hours a day, and we’re just exhausted. Knowing that we can go to the gym for 30 minutes and it’s gonna be more effective than if we went for an hour or an hour and a half, makes it more reasonable for us to do that.

Sometimes, if we’re not able to go to the gym and we’re not able to go to shower we do HIT cardio which is just like 30-second bursts of running as fast as you can. There’s actual science behind this regarding how it’s more effective, and I think learning that really helped make a transition for us. It’s less of a commitment, but you get better results at the end of the day. What’s not to love?

3. Join A Gym

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Sabrina: I think you have to have a gym pass. When you live in a van, you need a place to shower obviously, unless your van has a shower. We have a solar shower that we use outside when we’re camping, but we only do it if we’re in places where we’re not going to be staying. We’re not gonna be parked on Venice Beach showering outside with our shower.

Jimmy: It’s a monthly expense, but at least you have a place to shower and a place to work out on the road.

Sabrina: You have to shower there anyway. You’re walking by the weight machines when you’re gonna go shower, and you almost feel guilty not working out. So, it pushes you a little bit, too.

4. But Don’t Let The Absence Of A Gym Throw You Off Your Game

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Sabrina: We go for walks, or we go for hikes up mountains. We make sure we’re staying active. Sometimes if we really feel like we need it, we’ll do workouts around the van.

Jimmy: We have those resistance bands that are super convenient to carry in a van instead of having big weights that are super heavy.

Sabrina: They work with your body, with your own body weight, and they’re still easy to store. They’re tiny. So, if we ever need that, we’ll do that too.

5. Cook As Much Of Your Food As You Can

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Sabrina: You definitely learn to work with the small space, and you find out what’s really important to have in a kitchen. Before, we had multiple pots and pans; now, we have one. You have just enough food to last you for how you’re gonna eat. You don’t have very many extra things. You have just enough to be happy and to eat a full diet.

Our fridge is a small fridge, but we can fit a week’s worth of food in there. We also have a pantry and a separate storage for snacks. We have a two-burner stove, which sometimes is hard when you’re used to a traditional four-burner stove, but you just work with it. Some things just take longer, but it’s worth it. You live in a van and get to see all these amazing places all day; the trade-off works. But, as far as diet, we still pretty much eat the same as we used to. There are obviously things we don’t buy. We used to eat a lot of frozen veggie meats, and now, we eat them occasionally, but we stick to more rich stuff like tofu or …

Jimmy: … whole and raw foods or more natural ingredients instead of processed food, which we’ve got to keep refrigerated.

Sabrina: It’s good we have that option of cooking our food. When we backpacked, it was always nice to stay in a hostel that had a kitchen as opposed to one that didn’t because then you still get to have that normal routine of making your food and knowing exactly what’s going into your meal. You save money, too. So, you’re saving money and you’re eating healthier foods than if you’re buying out every day, every meal and buying snacks at a gas station. You’re obviously going to be a lot less healthy that way.

6. Schedule Cheat Meals

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Sabrina: Eat cheat meals, for sanity and for pleasure. We’re equal partners in terms of the gym and eating. If you only eat healthy all the time, not only do you go crazy, but your body gets used to it; your metabolism will eventually slow down. When you have a cheat meal, you cycle your carbs and you cycle the number of calories; it actually shocks your body, so when you go back to eating the regular healthy routine, you lose more weight. It’s actually beneficial, and also, it’s an incentive to eat well and to work out knowing that you can still try all the interesting food everywhere you travel. Burgers, French fries, milkshakes, pancakes, etcetera. The rest of the time, we’re going to be eating healthy, hopefully. I think we’ve really reached our goals more than ever before.

Last week, we went to a place in Anaheim called the Healthy Junk. We had a buffalo chicken ranch burger. We also had a baked cheeseburger. Both came with a side of fries. We had a peanut butter cookie and some chocolate chip cookies and a slice of carrot cake and an Oreo milkshake and a juice (fruit juice that they make from the whole fruit).

Jimmy: It’s all plant-based, but it’s still not as healthy as we usually eat during the week.

Sabrina: Like right now, I literally just had a smoothie with coconut water, spinach, banana, some different fruits and chia seeds, hemp seeds, wheat grass powder. It actually was pretty good, you get used to eating healthy I think. Eating a cheat meal is totally different, a big paradox.

7. Be Accountable To Someone

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Sabrina: I think being in a relationship, like a van life couple, gives you an accountability partner. Before this, I knew how important it was to actually get to the gym and stay committed because everyone has those days that they don’t want to go. Now, the majority of the time I don’t want to go to the gym (which is weird because when I get there I love it), he pushes and vice versa. Sometimes, on the weekends, you have one cheat meal that turns into a cheat weekend. You appreciate the person who is there to tell you, “Hey, you wanna be eating healthy” and remind you of your goals. That’s something unique about having a relationship or even a friendship while traveling.

8. Take Advantage Of The Internet

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Sabrina: We look for new workouts and inspiration on the internet. Neither of us has ever had a trainer or any dietician. We are totally, completely self-taught, and everything came from the internet. I was actually a health coach in college, so everything we learned has come from the internet. Now, traveling on the road, it’s still the same way. We’re constantly looking for new meal ideas and new workouts because we get bored with our routine. We look for a new workout on YouTube. We look for things we can do without equipment. We like to watch fitness videos on YouTube. We also look on Pinterest for motivation.

Jimmy: Yeah, the internet for everything.

Sabrina: When you’re traveling, you’re on go. You don’t have somebody to guide you other than yourself, and the internet is limitless. You have unlimited resources. When you’re working out, you get bored; you don’t want to go to the gym again. If you look at somebody online, like an influencer who has body goals and different types of tips that they can share with you, you’re constantly learning new things and it keeps it exciting and fun.

9. Use Diet And Exercise To Stay Alert

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Sabrina: I don’t think people really realize it, but we say the driving alone is almost like a full-time job just the driving. It’s exhausting.

Jimmy: A lot of coffee and the diet really keep me motivated. The food I eat keeps my energy levels pretty high.

Sabrina: For me, I think knowing that I’m going to take a warm shower helps. We can be so tired and get to a city at 11:00 pm. We sleep at midnight, so 11 is late for us. I have two options. I can go inside and shower and then come back and sleep or I can go in and do a HIT workout for 30 minutes and then shower. It’s only really adding 30 minutes. I say, “Oh it’s not that bad, I’ll just do a little bit before I shower because I’m already going in there and I’m already showering anyway, why not?” That’s sort of the thing that motivates me when I’m tired.

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