FEED ME FRIENDS: The Healthy Backpacker
FEED ME FRIENDS is a series of interviews, whereby I have the opportunity to share the stories of like-minded souls who inspire the socks off of me! Today I'm delighted to introduce to you Sian Kilgour, aka The Healthy Backpacker. Sian and I met on our sailing trip from Panama to Colombia late last year, and I instantly knew this girl was something special.
With a passion for living a nourishing life whilst on the road, Sian has documented her nutritious finds and experiences in an amazingly colourful Instagram account and blog. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle on the gringo trail is no easy feat, trust me. But this girl kills it! Meet Sian, The Healthy Backpacker…
Tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a 27 year old coconut addict from beautiful Melbourne in Australia and have been backpacking through Central and South America since June 2013. No matter how much I travel, Melbourne will always be my one true love and the place I call home. I'm a bit of a health nut and almost 100% vegetarian, though occasionally eat fish as I find vego options can be fairly limited while travelling, especially in Latin America. Back home, I'm a PR consultant though I'm not partial to defining people by their professions. I'm insanely passionate about the environment and human rights, and hope to one day be lucky enough to work these passions into my professional life. Although, there's always the dream of spending the rest of my days as The Healthy Backpacker, travelling the world in search of the perfect green smoothie or acai bowl!
What feeds you on a day to day basis?
Staying true to myself and my wellbeing each and every day. This can be quite a challenge while backpacking when many things are out of my direct control like the food I have access to and exercise options. While travelling, I feed my soul with outdoor adventures, beautiful beaches, nourishing fruit and vegetables, fresh coconut water, live music and, most importantly, staying in touch with my family and friends around the world. Skype dates are one of my favourite things and something I always make time for between sightseeing, hiking and making new travel buddies.
When did feeding your body with nourishing, whole food become a top priority in your life?
I have been really interested in health and nutrition since my teens, a little obsessively at times though I think I have almost found the perfect balance. I was always a regular at the gym and I absolutely love Bikram yoga, but was never very committed to a particular fitness goal. Unfortunately, I also partied a lot which kind of cancelled out the rest of my efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle.
A turning point came about two years ago when I decided to enter a 10 kilometre fun run. To some, 10 kilometres might not sound like much but I had never been a runner and wasn't even sure I could run 10 metres, let alone kilometres! I had entered the event with my workplace so there was no backing out or hiding. I had six months to prepare and knew I had to cut back on my drinking and other indulgences. Around this time Sarah Wilson, who I greatly admire, had just released her first I Quit Sugar e-book so I decided to give the whole quitting sugar thing a go. So I completely cut sugar out of my diet, dramatically scaled back my alcohol consumption and started jogging and running as much as I could.
Six months later I finished the 10km fun run in just over an hour and couldn't have been more surprised with my abilities or prouder of my determination. Since then my health and fitness has been a top priority although I have relaxed slightly with sugar while travelling and have been eating stacks of fruit to ensure I get all the nutrients I need. Fuelling my body correctly has made such an incredible impact on how I feel every day and I've been able to achieve things I never before thought possible.
How do you keep healthy whilst travelling?
I find it takes a lot of pre-planning and self control to ensure I don't find myself in a situation where I eat or drink something that isn't good for me, either because there's no other option or I feel socially obliged to. In my backpack I carry a plastic knife, spoon and vegetable peeler and I pick up healthy snacks like avocados, carrots, fruit and nuts whenever I can as you never know when you'll be stuck at a bus station with burgers and fries as your only lunch option.
I adore food and definitely agree that it is a huge part of experiencing different cultures so will occasionally treat myself to something that isn't exactly "clean". Luckily I have a very accommodating boyfriend who will eat most of something after I've just had a taste. There are also endless options to get your body moving while travelling which will usually more than make up for any deep fried local delicacy you may indulge in. I try to make sure I get involved in as many outdoor activities as possible - hiking, kayaking, swimming, surfing, the list goes on!
I also find no shame in being picky when in a local restaurant. I'm always more than happy to just ask for a plate of veggies, even at a tiny roadside comedor. Another thing I'm developing more and more confidence about is being the only backpacker in a hostel without a beer or cocktail in hand. I'm normally more than content with a soda water and lime juice and definitely feel better about it the next day. I do drink occasionally, though stick mainly to vodka and soda or red wine.
What are your staple must-haves on the road - what can't you live without?
It may seem crazy but I as I mentioned I travel with a vegetable peeler so that I can snack on carrots and other vegetables whenever I can get my hands on some. I started peeling carrots on an 18-hour bus journey the other day and definitely got some strange looks! Hand sanitiser, face wipes, a good moisturiser and dental floss are my only other real travel must-haves. I like to be able to freshen up in any situation, especially after hours on chicken buses or while in transit.
Can you tell us about a time on your trip when you felt absolute joy and/or a sense of achievement?
I've always suffered from altitude sickness and was very apprehensive about certain hikes on this trip where I knew I would be affected. After having a terrible time on the Inca Trail a few years ago, I was determined to be as prepared as possible this time by maintaining my fitness, taking the required medication and stocking up on coca tea. All my preparation paid off just before the new year when I successfully climbed up to Lake Churup in Huaraz, Peru at 4,450 metres above sea level without any issues at all! I was overcome with happiness at the top and the experience has given me the confidence to face more treks at even higher altitudes during the rest of my travels in South America.
What inspires you to do what you do?
I started The Healthy Backpacker for a couple of reasons. Primarily, I wanted to share my experience of trying to stay fit and healthy while travelling through Central and South America as a source of information and hopefully inspiration for fellow backpackers. Secondly, I needed a way to keep myself accountable and committed to my wellbeing which The Healthy Backpacker has definitely done. I really struggled sourcing healthy food options at the start of my trip, overwhelmed by the excessive deep frying and hidden sugars. I also found it hard to be a typical "backpacker" without drinking and eating whatever was put in front of me. Through starting The Healthy Backpacker I discovered an incredible online community who have been my source of inspiration and motivation during the past six months and I am proud to say that most of the time I succeed in staying true to myself and my wellbeing.
Can you share a favourite recipe with us?
My all-time favourite recipe is Sarah Wilson's IQS Coco-Nutty Granola. I eat this at all hours of the day - for breakfast with yoghurt, for dessert or just as an anytime snack. It's definitely something I've missed while backpacking and will be one of the first things I whip up when I get home. I cannot recommend Sarah Wilson's recipes enough!
Coco-Nutty Granola (Makes 5 cups)
Ingredients: 4-5 tablespoons coconut oil (or butter), melted 3 cups coconut flakes 2 tablespoons chia seeds 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional) 2 cups almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, pepitas (preferably activated ones), chopped roughly 3 tablespoons rice malt syrup (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 120 C. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, spread evenly on baking paper on a tray and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until golden, turning halfway.
2. When golden (the darker it is, the crunchier it is), remove and cool immediately to get it crispy.
Source: Sarah Wilson
My go-to backpacker recipe is just as simple and has been photographed in it's many forms a number of times on my blog. I've never really come up with a name for it before so let's just call it Latin American Avocado Mish-Mash. This meal is for when your hostel kitchen is poorly stocked so you can't really cook and fresh vegetables aren't readily available. Obviously fresh vegetables are preferable but sometimes canned vegetables from the supermarket are the only option. I generally have found avocados to be available and super tasty throughout Central and South America, with the exception of Nicaragua, but maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough.
Latin American Avocado Mish-Mash
Ingredients: One to two avocados, depending on size of the avocados and the hunger levels of the backpackers One can of chickpeas One can of lentils A selection of fresh or canned veggies, whichever is available (make sure to check the can's label for no added sugar!)
Optional extras: Slices of fresh mango Tinned fish Corn or flour tortillas
Method: 1. Peel and chop the veggies if you were lucky enough to buy fresh.
2. Drain the chickpeas, lentils and veg then pour into a bowl.
3. Chop up the avocado and add to the rest of the mix then go ahead and mash it up with a fork or whatever is handy.
4. Top with the sliced mango or tinned fish and serve straight up or with a side of tortillas.
Where can we learn more about you and The Healthy Backpacker?