Traveling to the corners of the earth can cause some unwanted side effects, especially if you are doing incredible activities like running the monstrous rapids of the Grand Canyon in a sea kayak, hiking through the jungles of central america and living for months in the arctic paddling for your life away from polar bears and occasionally getting bitten by your dog sled team. Lucky for us, great lessons can be learned to help alleviate the effects of travel and Jaime Sharp, the Professional Adventure Traveler and Kayak Guide, is not afraid to tell us his secrets to managing his health while out in the world.
I have been following Jaime’s adventures for awhile and often stare at the beautiful polar bear photo that is hanging in my living room. A photo he took during a successful world first arctic expedition. I had been wanting to talk with him to learn his healthy travel habits. Fortunately, the stars aligned and I was able to interview Jaime. In person. On a hike. And in the dark. He dropped some serious knowledge on the subject of healthy travels. Note: Jaime is from New Zealand originally, so be sure to read this entire interview in a Kiwi accent…
JG: My first question for you is, would you rather be a pirate or a ninja?
JS: This is a very hard question, as a child ninjas were always one of my favorites, but as a person who lives the lifestyle I do, which is revolved around water, salt and a lot of boats, I guess “a pirate’s life for me” it is. “Bring me that horizon, yoho!”
JG : Would you mind starting off by explaining what you do and your lifestyle?
JS: Yeah, so this is rather a dynamic question really, made up of a lot of pieces. I am primarily working as an adventure tour guide, mostly as a sea kayak guide. But I also work as a raft guide, sailing instructor, run overland safari trips in Africa, have lead dog sledding trips, been a naturalist in the arctic, and even a kayak guide and zodiac driver in Antarctica. On top of this I also have a passion for photography and I am lucky to make a part of my living from this, which works well because I am going to amazing places anyway so I can take photos then sell them to support the trip. I am also working with outdoor gear companies as a consultant and media creator bringing in a little more pocket money as well.
JG: As this is a healthy travel blog, with all of your travels, what are a couple of tips for packing? Some key items you bring to insure your well-being on the road, in Antarctica, Belize or where ever you might be?
JS: I have a few specific items that I bring that help me stay fit and strong and healthy:
- Yoga Mat. I have a travel yoga mat that I carry with me. It is a multi-use tool that is super light, and it works really well as a mat to sit on in the field, protection for my mattress in the tent, and it can create more warmth or padding while kayaking by laying over seat or below my legs, insulating the kayak. But it is really great thing to have in my carry-on when I’m flying and am in transit in the waiting room. I can use that mat to do yoga and stretch, to avoid travel tension which can make me groggy and not sleep as well. It works my mind my body, mind, and spirit which is a huge part of keeping centered and keeping strong.
- Healthy Snacks. Others things I like to think about when packing for travel is good food. Not being at the mercy of the junk at the airports or airplanes. Sometimes you don’t even get food so you starve or just eat chocolate bars. One of my favorite products that I always bring along are Chapul Cricket Bars. They are made out of cricket flour, a sustainable protein source. They have your desired amounts of protein, fats, sugars, and are really tasty in four different great flavours (and no they don’t taste like crickets, not that many of us really know what they taste like). They are perfect for the adventure trips I do and perfect for flights.
- Smoothies. Fluids are harder. So I am always on the hunt for Jamba Juice or fruit and vegetable juice. Which you don’t always find, but are great to be targeting in the airports. When I can, I prep a smoothie and drink it in the security line which it is a really great way to start my travels. Another great thing to bring along is hydration and vitamin supplement like Emergen’C or Nuun Tabs. they are dry tabs or sachets, and help make drinking water in airports more palatable while giving you a boost.
JG: Once you are on your travels is there anything specific that you make sure you have?
JS: Yeah that’s a hard one. Food is a key aspect to being healthy but you can’t carry 2 months of healthy food supplies. Things I do like to carry with me that are manageable are:
- Probiotics. You have to make sure to get ones that don’t have to be refrigerated.
- Nutritional Luxury Foods. It can be helpful to have other little things that give you a boost. If I know I will be guiding or living in one spot for a while, I will put aside a good amount of weight in my check-in luggage to bring nutritional foods like chia and hemp seeds, almond butter, and quality maple syrup/sugar (Certainly a better sugar than anything I often find in third world countries).
JG: What is your philosophy while out in the field and can’t bring all your own food? What are some guidelines you follow that help you make healthy decisions?
JS: I guess over time you realize what you do and don’t want to eat, but when I am out on buses and traveling around, say in Southeast Asia, there is junk that is offered, but also really cool healthy real local fair that some people might be afraid of and is little bit more experimental, like green mango with chili peppers, or Kebabs made with what some may perceive as mystery meat. I think that this type of local fare is the best to eat as long as you are smart. Eat what the locals are eating. Most of the time in the developing countries they are eating the healthiest because they don’t have a choice. They are subsistence farming, they are eating fresh animals and vegetables that they grow. That is generally the kind of stuff I go for. There are McDonalds everywhere which have done well because everyone knows exactly what they are getting almost anywhere in the world, but I feel being braver to eat what locals are eating means you are eating healthier. It is a fine line however, you must be aware of where your water and ice come from, and make sure food is sanitary (well cleaned if uncooked and well cooked if cooked). As an adventure traveler, or hell just in life in general, you also have to look at the culinary and health aspects as an adventure too. Making risk management decisions with what you are eating, sometimes you lose. 95% of the time it’s great and then sometimes it doesn’t agree with you and maybe you get a bout of “Montezuma’s revenge” or similar. But the reality is that you get sick in life and you can’t avoid it completely. So carrying those probiotics is key, and maybe some broad spectrum antibiotics in case of bad scenarios (and I hold on to those for really bad scenarios).
I believe the key aspect in life, as well as nutrition is: stepping outside of your comfort zone. If you are stepping outside your comfort zone when you travel (like many of us love to do), then be prepared to step out to find nutrition and health.
Of course health is more than food, Its finding time to stretch, staying hydrated, getting good rest and sleep, thus not going out binge drinking everyday. I think travel is different for everyone, but when you travel it shouldn’t be just about debaucherous indulging. You are actually going to be enjoying your trip more if you are staying healthy, keeping fit, and not just sitting around eating crap and drinking too much.
JG: How do you find balance with travel? Fully experiencing the place you are in, but also finding balance?
JS: It’s tricky to balance the health nerd. When on an adventure there are times when you are in a place, like the Arctic. There aren’t fresh vegetables available, and your only options are tubs of butter, heavily salted foods, and high fat meat and fish, you know the things in the ‘health world’ that are seen often seen as ‘bad’, but in reality different situations call for different foods. And these foods are exactly what your body often needs in that climate, I still choose unprocessed foods first, e,g butter over processed margarine, and the rise in awareness of the Keto diet is prime example of this momentary diet change for periodic time frames.
It’s all about awareness, what is the climate you are in? What is your body going through? Etc… Then making good choices with that information. I am working at staying strong every day, even if it isn’t my favorite activity, it is all training for the next thing in life. Doing yoga and qigong everyday keeps me strong and balanced.
I am a big believer that delicious sugary, fatty food is not bad. As long as they are in moderation and made of real unprocessed ingredients. If you go to France, there is butter in everything. Italians the same. Many live a long time and are healthy. There is also not a guilt aspect in their cultures, unlike in the US. Food is enjoyment and nourishment to the mind not just the body.
Also healthiness is not just a physical appearance, it may be an aspect (in general if you are fit and strong you look fit and strong), but for me, when going to the Arctic, I need another layer of fat to keep me warm and give me stores to run on. Other times I go to tropics and need less fat so I don’t overheat. Basically in my mind, just because you have some fat on you and you can’t see your chiseled abs, it doesn’t mean you aren’t healthy. In your life you will go through chapters, seasons and your body will change to suit.
JG: While guiding especially in dangerous situations, mental focus and energy are important. Similarly for people who travel for work- they need their minds sharp. What do you do to keep your energy up and maintain mental focus throughout your travels?
JS: Hydration. Not drinking pop or artificial juices. Drinking water and electrolyte packets. Hydration is what your body runs on. This helps clarity of mind and strong body. It’s easy to neglect drinking at home and especially while traveling. It can be hard to lug water around or find it. I have a travel bag that can carry two 1 liter water bottles, I often get them to fill them up on the plane, or at airports, this way I can make sure to stay hydrated.
Also being comfortable with your strengths and mental fortitude. Some people will at first find travel really challenging and it will cause a lot of stress. This can create a downward spiral. Like an adventure sport, you want to condition before you travel, actually having a base fitness level means you deal with international travel and time changes better, especially if making time to stretch, eat well and stay hydrated. Hell, I choose to walk the stairs instead of take the escalators, this means I actually get some exercise which helps my body stay refreshed and less lethargic.
JG: How do you relieve stress while traveling and guiding?
JS: I make sure to set aside at least five minutes for yoga. I feel it is so important to create a peaceful moment at the beginning of the day, and even at the end of the day if there is time. I make a habit of giving myself at least 5 minutes a day no matter how busy I am, then often once I am doing it I get into it and go even longer, but if I don’t create this habit, I will often pass of the time for myself for doing things I think I should be doing. Make it a habit and you will find enjoyment in it every time and then wonder why you resist doing it.
We often go out and thrash our bodies and we push them really hard but often forget to nurture them. Especially our feet, they are always crammed into shoes and boots and dirty socks. So bringing products that help heal the parts of the body that I need, especially my feet and my hands. In a recent Arctic expedition in Svalbard, my hands were getting hit pretty hard being in the salt and cold and getting salt wounds. A nurturing balm really helps that situation, but also fresh water and soap are one of your best friends. So really washing your feet and hands well at least every other day. Helps counter fungal and bacterial infections and then supplementing with a healing balm. I use Green Goo, First Aid. It is all natural and healing. I used it while dog sledding and would get dog bites and it replaces about 25 different medical products. It’s antibiotic and anti-fungal. Another good thing to do on planes is to take off your shoes and let your feet breathe, they will be less smelly and sore if you do this. Perhaps even bring another pair of socks especially for the flight if you don’t like exposing your feet, that way they get a clean fresh world to expand and relax in.
Also I work in wet environments, I need ear drops to dry out my ears. I use a 50/50 solution of rubbing alcohol and apple cider vinegar and drop a few drops in. This helps kill bacteria, fungus and helps keep the ears dry.
Another great product, Gold Bond Powder, helps dry out feet, groin, and anywhere else that doesn’t get much air flow, which really helps keep everything healthy, this is key for me when working in the tropics.
People often laugh at me for this one, I work outside almost all the time, so sometimes just playing a computer game really helps me turn off my brain to get a little break. I struggled with this for a long time because it is seen as so negative in many circles, but I find it really helps me and I enjoy it. Don’t dismiss some indulgences as important ways that you de-stress.
JG: Anything else you want to share for travelers to get the most out of their adventures?
JS: Be open to what you find. Modern health can often be too narrow. Letting the place you are in and the activities you are doing help dictate. People get so privileged with life, where they can choose everything that they can eat, so when they travel they are challenged when certain things are not available. The unhealthy part is the guilt. Your body might struggle a bit adapting, but it is part of the adventure. Eat some pastries while you’re in France. Butter and sugar is good for you if minimally processed and in small amounts.
JG: Yeah, often the stress of trying to ‘eat healthy and perfect’ can counter eating healthy.
JS: I have found my balance and what works for me, as I am super active, obviously, and as most who know me, know I love ice cream and will eat a lot of it. But because I am so active, it doesn’t cause a problem for me. I am also aware about not eating ice cream loaded with high fructose corn syrup and is ideally organic. The first time I ate it in North America, I kept feeling sleepy and sick, but then I read the ingredients and it was full of crap. Now I read the ingredients, also don’t eat it (ice cream) everyday all year, though I certainly love to indulge when the time is right.
JG: So true reading the ingredients is key! Well thank you so much, Jaime! Lots of great healthy travel tips!!!
If you want to learn more about Jaime Sharp, follow his adventures, see amazing pictures, hear his crazy stories check out www.jaimesharp.com. Follow him on instagram @jaimesharp_adventures. And check out his really incredible photos from his Svalbard trip here.His group was the first and only group to circumnavigate this archipelago by kayak successfully!
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