When I saw what I was getting myself into, my first instinct was to run in the other direction. I was intimidated by the ring and the sweat-drenched people working out to their fullest potential. I had signed up for the Muay Thai boxing camp in the hopes that it would fulfill some of the things I felt I was lacking in my digital nomad lifestyle.
What started as a six-month trip to South America in 2015 has since turned into an eight-year journey of working remotely and traveling the world. It was a dream at first, but after a few years I started lacking motivation with my job, I missed making long-term friends, and I had no work-life balance. I thought the boxing camp might change that and I also wanted to face some issues in my personal life that I’ve been ignoring while on the road.
Since my teens, I’ve struggled with disordered eating, a negative body image, and body dysmorphia. My life on the go meant that it was sometimes difficult to fit in workouts and eat healthy meals and over the years, my symptoms got worse. I felt intense shame, guilt, and anxiety about my body and decided to do something about it.
Signing up for a Muay Thai boxing camp was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as a digital nomad, but it was also one of the most physically and mentally challenging experiences of my life.
The Challenges of Working Remotely
While being a digital nomad has transformed my life for the better, the lifestyle does come with challenges. One of the hardest things to overcome is maintaining a work-life balance, especially when you have the freedom to set your own schedule. Without major discipline to overcome distractions—especially when paradise is right outside your door—just getting started is often the hardest part. At the same time, if you don’t set boundaries, you may find yourself working all hours of the day without any time spared to enjoy your surroundings.
It was in Thailand that I first discovered Muay Thai boxing camps and thought I’d give it a go since it would give my life the structure and balance that I was searching for. The boxing camp I attended in Koh Samui has since closed down because of the pandemic, but the setup is the same in most boxing camps you’ll find in Thailand. There are a variety of accommodations to suit every budget, and your stay includes a meal plan. Every day, you follow a strict schedule of workouts and rest periods.
I signed up for Muay Thai to find motivation in my work and came out with an improved body image and more confidence in my personal life. The structure helped me build better habits and I learned lessons that I think can apply to anyone who is working remotely and struggling to maintain work-life balance.
Keeping a Routine
Before I joined the camp, I woke up whenever I wanted to and had no set schedule. I figured that was one of the best perks of being able to set my own hours, but it wasn’t working for me. I had no stamina and felt out of shape, so I worried about how I would be able to keep up with the intense training sessions.
Every day always began with a light breakfast and a warm-up run on the beach. This was followed by my first session of the day, which included stretching, and cardio, and then went straight into shadowboxing, pad work, and sparring. After two hours of working out, we had a free period to rest and recuperate before lunch. In the afternoon, we had another two-hour training session. The first few days were a shock, and I genuinely thought about quitting. The workouts were exhausting and I was drained every day, but at the same time, everyone around me was consistently encouraging me to keep going.
To this day, I still maintain these routines. The camp gave me accountability, a trainer, and a schedule to keep me in check. Instead of looking at my phone doom-scrolling and checking emails first thing in the morning, my new habits of yoga and meditation help me prepare for the day. The only rule is that whatever I do to get my day started, it can’t be related to work.
Before traveling to Thailand for Muay Thai, I had difficulty drawing the line between work and my personal life and maintaining a regular day-to-day routine. Since I had complete flexibility in choosing my own hours, I never had a schedule that I was able to stick to. At camp though, my daily schedule was structured by an hour-by-hour program of training sessions, meals, breaks, and more training sessions, and then it was time to relax. After a few weeks of this regimen, keeping the routine became easier and I learned how to set boundaries between my work hours and my free time.
During each break, I could refocus and decompress which helped me realize how essential it was to establish downtime in my schedule. Before the camp, I would eat meals while working and feel guilty taking breaks but I learned that I’m actually more productive when I give myself time to pause and step away from my work.
One of the biggest challenges digital nomads face is that the lifestyle can be isolating at times. However, attending the Muay Thai boot camp, turned out to be a great way for me to meet other digital nomads and travelers—and the best part is that we were all united by similar interests and a common goal. In the camp, we instantly bonded over the difficulty of the workouts and unlike the people you meet in hostels and hotels, who are always coming and going, we spent a lot of time together every day. Those first few days in the camp were the beginning of what eventually became long-lasting friendships. There were plenty of opportunities outside of the ring with free time during meals and around the pool.
It was also during meal times, that started to look at food from another perspective. Instead of counting calories and looking at food as something I should restrict, I changed my relationship with food entirely and began eating more mindfully. To keep up with the strenuous workouts, I knew I needed to eat regular nutritious meals to give me energy. For the first time in a long time, I saw food the way it should be seen, as something positive that can fuel your body and be enjoyed at the same time.
I’ve never been much of a fitness fanatic, but attending the Thailand camp gave me the motivation to exercise. I realized that physical activity wasn’t just about getting into shape, but it made me more productive and happier overall. Now exercise is an integral part of my daily routine.
I thought about quitting on my very first day and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the two weeks, but I stuck it out and when the camp was over, I felt accomplished and proud of myself. By finishing something that scared me at first, I proved to myself that I can persevere through anything. I also gained self-confidence, but it wasn’t just about how I looked. The Muay Thai experience empowered me to know that I could endure a lot physically and get stronger. It was the first time in my life that I had worked out regularly and that shifted my negative thinking around my body. I looked at myself more kindly and positively and that was worth all the effort.
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