Long-term travelers often complain how tough it is to stay fit and healthy on the road. Working out becomes a struggle when you have to deal with humid weather conditions and poorly-paved sidewalks, yet rarely have access to gyms.
Combined with a less-than-healthy diet, poorly-stocked kitchens (if you have access to a kitchen at all), large portions in restaurants, and little knowledge of where to buy healthy food, it’s no wonder most people end up piling on the pounds.
On a recent trip home after more than four years of travel, I weighed myself for the first time since leaving and was shocked to discover I’d gained over 10 kilograms. Yikes.
It was time to do something about it.
The Fitbit Charge HR
The Fitbit Charge HR has been on the market for around six months and, despite holding off on buying because I really wanted the orange-colored model that Fitbit had been promising to release soon since January, I finally bit the bullet and got a purple one.
And then they released the orange model a few weeks later.
I’d like to take this moment to say what you’re probably all thinking: Yes, I was already losing by refusing to improve my fitness for six months until my color choice was available.
The Charge HR, like all Fitbits,is an activity tracker. You wear it on your wrist pretty much all the time, and it tracks all kind of interesting stats: the number of steps you take each day, how many floors you climb, calories burned, distance travelled, how long you sleep each night, and, for the Charge HR, your heart rate.
This model comes in five different colours (black, purple, blue, orange, and teal), two different sizes (small and large), and retails for $149.95.
I’ve been using mine for two months now, and I’m firmly a convert. Here’s why.
Setting it Up
Setting up the Charge HR was quick and easy, taking all of around five minutes.
Download the Fitbit app, sign up for an account, connect your Charge HR with the app, enter in a few details like your height and weight, and you’re all good to go.
What You Get
Included in the box is the Fitbit, a small dedicated charger that plugs into a USB port, and a tiny wireless dongle for syncing your data with your laptop. There’s nothing too bulky for travelers — and most of you will probably sync your device with your phone anyway, so you can leave the dongle behind.
The Fitbit App
The app is where Fitbit really shines. It’s simple to use, makes it easy to find out all of your stats in one place, and gamifies your fitness, which is perfect for someone as competitive as me.
Your Stats in One Place With Lots More to Explore
The home screen of the Fitbit app is where you can find out how you’re doing at a glance. A scrollable list shows your number of steps taken, resting heart rate for the day, how far you’ve walked, how many calories you’ve burned, the number of floors climbed and how many minutes you’ve been active for.
It also tracks how long you slept for the previous night, the number of calories you’ve consumed so far that day, and how many you have left to consume if you’ve set a weight loss target through the app. Phew!
You can also enter in details of additional non-walking exercise such as swimming or yoga, your current weight, and the amount of water you’ve drunk so far. You can also re-order these sections to see the stats you care about most at the top.
The numbers you see on the home screen start off coloured blue, switch to yellow when you hit a third of your goal, orange at two thirds, and green when you’re done.
This helps keep motivation high — if you check out your homescreen and see everything’s green but the amount of water you’ve drunk, for instance, it encourages you to get your ass into gear and drink until you hit your goal.
Clicking on each section gives even more details.
You can take, for example, a close-up look at your sleep quality to check out how many times you were restless during the night, or see how your heart rate has changed over your day.
Compete Against Your Friends for Extra Motivation
One of the main reasons why I opted for a Fitbit over anything else was because I know so many of my friends owned one. Knowing I could connect my Facebook or email account to the app and add them in was all the motivation I needed. I wanted to beat them all.
I’m incredibly competitive, and the leaderboard section of the app plays right into that. With a dozen of my friends as active Fitbit users, I suddenly had 11 people to compete against — and I was determined to win.
I began checking my app every few hours, and if I happened to discover I was only 1,000 steps away from overtaking a friend, I’d close my laptop and head outside for a quick walk.
The challenges section has also become a fun part of my life, especially with my family.
Hit the Challenges tab, and you’ll get four different options to play with as many of your friends as you choose: you can compete for the most steps over the course of a day, work week or weekend, or challenge everyone to hit their individual step goals each day, complete with cheers, taunts and messages.
I challenge all of my family members to a “Workweek Hustle” every week without fail, which is a fun way to get us all moving and helps keep us in touch. When I only get to see my family once a year, this provides a way to chat with everyone on a daily basis and taunt/cheer them on.
It Syncs With Other Apps
If you use Runkeeper to track your runs or My Fitness Pal to track your daily calorie intake, you can sync these with the Fitbit app to have even more data at your disposal. This is especially helpful if you’re all about tracking calories, as the My Fitness Pal food dictionary is far superior to Fitbit’s.
Calorie Counting Makes you Hyper-Aware of the Food You Consume
I’ve never counted calories before, but I figured why the hell not start, given I was spending every waking minute gawping at the leaderboard in the app?
While I was using my Fitbit in the UK, this was super-helpful and easy to use. There’s a barcode scanner for anything you buy at a grocery store, and the food dictionary covered pretty much everything you could buy/eat in the U.K.
While we’re talking about recording food, having a separate section of the app for noting down how much you’re drinking towards a target you set definitely helps keep you hydrated, especially if, like me, you always forget to drink water.
So we’ve established the app is pretty kickass. What about the Charge HR itself?
All Your Stats at a Glance
Unlike previous Fitbits, which showed your progress towards your step goal via a series of light-up dots on the band, the Charge HR has a proper screen that gives all your stats at the push of a button on the side.
You can change which stats it shows and the order they appear in — mine is currently set to: time, step count, heart rate, distance traveled, calories burned, and steps climbed — which is a quick and discreet way of checking how you’re doing. Much better than taking out your phone on a busy street to check, for example.
Their Warranty Service Is Great
My dad’s Fitbit broke recently and, as it was a gift from me, it was down to me to get a new one sorted. Much like Amazon’s amazing warranty for Kindles, there were absolutely no problems getting it replaced. I didn’t even have to return the broken one. I just had to send them a photo of his broken Fitbit and the new one arrived within a week.
Online, there are many reports of people having their Fitbit replaced when it was lost or stolen or they accidentally took it in the bath with them. It gives you peace of mind that pretty much whatever happens to it, you’ll be able to get your hands on a new one for free.
It’s worth mentioning that, as travellers, warranties can always get a bit complicated. If you’re travelling and moving every few days, you’ll struggle to provide an address to get the new one sent to. This isn’t really a Fitbit issue, though — just a my-life-is-complicated one.
The Battery Life Is Good-ish
My Charge HR lasts, on average, five days before it requires a charge — this isn’t as great as the competition. The Charge lasts seven days on average, and a Jawbone UP24 gives you 14 days.
It’s not too much of an issue to charge, though, as the Charge HR only needs around an hour at most to get to full. I put it on to charge whenever I get in the shower and it stays topped up indefinitely.
The Silent Alarm Will Make You Friends in Hostels
There’s nothing guaranteed to annoy your dormmates more than a loud alarm at four in the morning. Fortunately, the Charge HR has a silent alarm that vibrates on your wrist. It’s a much calmer way to wake up — I find noisy alarms stress me out — but it’s not so gentle you’d sleep through it.
Being able to set multiple alarms is a nice feature, too, and this is
the only one of the few activity trackers that allows you to do so.
The Strap Is Well-Designed
Finding a watch strap that makes me happy has always been a struggle. I have wrists the size of a child’s (so much so that the only watches I’ve found that fit me without me needing to drill extra holes into the strap are, in fact, children’s watches), so most straps are either too big for me or the end of the strap never stays in.
The Charge HR strap has a standard watch clasp that is far more secure than the one you’ll find on the Charge or Flex. There’s also a second, sliding clasp section to keep the end of the strap from flapping about. I love this feature!
It’s Actually Pretty Accurate
I found that the Charge HR was extremely accurate at counting my steps. Whenever I manually counted my paces, it would only be out by one or two on a walk of five hundred steps or so. It won’t be 100% precise, but it’s enough to give you a good, accurate idea of how much you’re walking each day.
The minor inaccuracies are also consistent, which means when you’re tracking your stats and competing against yourself, it’s all good.
When it comes to heart rate, the Charge HR is also surprisingly accurate. When measuring it against my pulse, it was never more than five beats out. You obviously won’t receive the level of accuracy that you would with a chest strap, but for a casual user, this is pretty great.
You Don’t Need to Switch on Sleep Tracking
A common complaint about previous Fitbits was the requirement that you push a button to notify the device that you’re about to start sleeping. It meant that unplanned naps often went unrecorded, and people generally forgot or couldn’t be bothered to put their device in sleep mode.
The Charge HR negates this and automatically detects sleep by using your heart rate and amount of movement as a guide. Obviously it’s kind of hard to test the accuracy of this, but it seems to get my nap and sleep times pretty accurate as far as I can tell.
It Makes You a Better Traveller
Or, at least, it makes me a better traveller.
As someone who works as they travel, I find myself spending far more time in front of a screen than I’m comfortable with. I’ll often forget to head outside and explore for more than just mealtimes, for days at a time.
My Charge HR has changed that, and has me moving every hour to get my steps up. A quick glance at the leaderboard and noticing I’m 3,000 steps behind my sister is all it takes for me to slam my laptop shut and hurry outside to explore a new neighbourhood.
It’s Not Waterproof
One of the big downsides to the Charge HR is that it’s not waterproof. You need to remember to take it off in the shower every morning and you definitely can’t take it swimming or to the beach. However, on the couple of instances I forgot to remove it and took it in the shower with me, there were no bad effects and it still functions perfectly fine.
It is said to be splashproof, sweatproof and rainproof, so wandering around in the monsoon season in South East Asia shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Irritation Could Be a Problem for Some
My skin is super sensitive to, well, pretty much everything, and I have occasionally ended up with an itchy rash while wearing my Charge HR. A lot of people have complained about irritation when wearing their Fitbit over the years, mostly because the company decided to put nickel in its bands.
That seems like a dumb thing to do, given that nickel is toxic to human skin.
Having said all that, Fitbit does recommend that you take breaks when wearing the band, as well as remembering to clean it every so often. You should wear it looser than you do a watch, which can take some getting used to, and switch it from one wrist to the other every now and then. Since doing this, I haven’t experienced any irritation.
The Screen Doesn’t Stay On for Very Long
When you push the button on the side to see your stats, there isn’t any way to keep the screen on for more than about two seconds. This makes it tough to keep constant track of your steps. If you want to make sure your heart rate is within a certain range, this would involve pressing the button every few seconds, which is frustrating.
The Screen Gets Scuffed Easily
For a $150 device, I expected the screen to be made of tougher stuff. After two months of full-time wear, my screen is pretty scuffed and all I’ve been doing is walking with it — no hiking, no rock climbing, or even wearing a sweater over it. I don’t know how it got so scratched, but it does seem to be a common complaint.
Although, let’s be honest, it’s a pretty small one, because it doesn’t affect how I see the screen and it’s not noticeable unless I look at it under a bright light at a certain angle. For the amount I paid, however, I expected something better.
Counting Calories Gets Tougher When You’re Traveling
Fitbit’s dictionary of food is limited to the following countries: Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Mexico, the UK, the US, China, and Korea. It’s therefore only really helpful if you’re traveling through those countries, have access to a kitchen and are primarily buying your food from supermarkets. When you’re traveling anywhere else, things start to get trickier.
Street food, for example, is tough to record — especially if you don’t know the name of the dish because you eat based on whatever looks good. Even restaurant dishes are a challenge, no matter which country you’re in. A workaround for this is a quick Google to see what the average calorie content of a dish is and to add it to the app manually.
A Dedicated Charging Cable Is a Pain in the Ass
As travellers, we carry more than enough cables as it is *cough* see the name of this site *cough*, so it’s frustrating that Fitbit opted to use a dedicated cable for the Charge HR. While the cable is small and won’t take up very much space at all, that also means it could easily get lost. Why not use a micro-USB instead? They’re a whole lot easier to replace.
I love, love, love my Charge HR and fully recommend it if you’re a lazy traveller who knows they need to get out more. The accuracy of tracking is good enough for a non-athlete who wants to gain an idea of how much exercise they’re getting and needs an added kick to motivate them to do so.
At $150, it’s good value against its competitors, and while it’s not waterproof and the battery life could be longer, neither of those things have proved to be a major problem. It gets a huge thumbs up from me!