Nutrition Articles

The Healthy Vacation Guide

Eat and Exercise the Right Way, Away From Home

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Vacation season is here! You deserve a break, after spending the last few months becoming a fitter, healthier you, right? While vacation is a time to relax and take a break from work, stress, and the usual routine, it shouldn’t be a break from your healthy habits.

With a little planning, you can enjoy your vacation and still maintain your current weight and fitness level. Whatever your plans – a family road trip, a tropical cruise, a sightseeing tour, or relaxing on the beach – you can avoid packing on those dreaded vacation pounds by packing some healthy foods and workout gear instead.

Roadies
If you’re traveling by car, you’ve already spent a lot of time planning your course. We all want to make good time, but it’s also important to schedule several breaks into your itinerary, especially if you have kids:
  • Pack a cooler full of healthy snacks, and even complete meals. Chopped veggies, fresh fruits, bottled water and juice, low-fat yogurt, peanut butter sandwiches, popcorn and pretzels make easy travel fare.
  • Don’t skip meals, and try not to go more than 4 or 5 hours without eating. Being famished at mealtime may hinder your ability to make healthy choices and trigger overeating. Plus, constant energy levels will keep you alert at the wheel.
  • Avoid eating full meals in the car. Take time to stop, relax and enjoy your meal. This way, you can pay closer attention to your hunger and satiety signals.
  • Plan exercise and stretching breaks as well. Just three 10-minute pit stops add up to 30 minutes of activity. Go for a quick jog or walk, stretch and run around with the kids. Back in the car, you’ll be more alert and energetic.
  • Avoid coffee and caffeinated drinks. While they do give you a short energy burst, the drop when caffeine wears off can make you even more tired. For stable energy levels, drink plenty of water and eat healthy, whole foods that keep blood sugar levels from spiking and dropping.
  • Be wary of fast food and roadside restaurants. If you have no other options, choose the healthiest possible items and keep portion sizes small. One way to avoid excess calories and fat is to hold the mayo, special sauces, cheese and dressings. Also opt for non-breaded items and kid-sized portions. Read up on more "menu watch words" here.

Frequent Flyers
Despite appearances – a plethora of fast foods, snacks and lots of sitting around – flights and airports offer plenty of nutritious food and opportunity for activity, if you know where to look:
  • Try to eat a healthy meal before you arrive. You’ll be less likely to munch on high-calorie snacks just because they’re around or you’re bored.
  • If eating in an airport, it’s worth it to spend the time searching out healthy foods. Look for salads, fresh fruit, vegetable-based soups and baked chicken.
  • While trekking through the airport, take every opportunity for extra movement. Use the stairs, pass on the people movers and carry your own luggage.
  • Instead of sitting around before boarding the plane, use the time to walk. You’ll arrive early enough to fit in 15-20 minutes of walking, so take advantage of it. After all, you’re about to sit for an entire flight.
  • Call the airline 48 hours in advance to see if a meal is offered. Typical in-flight dinners can have as many calories (over 1,000) as a fast food meal, and even more fat! Special order a diabetic, low-fat, vegetarian, child, or religious meal. Or, pack your own lunch to ensure you get exactly what you want.
  • Flying can easily dehydrate you, so drink plenty of water. Drinking one glass per hour in flight will ward off dehydration and jetlag.
  • It’s okay to get up and walk through the aisles a few times when you are feeling antsy during a long flight.
Cruise Control
 Cruises offer so many opportunities for fun and exploring. But they are also known for their rich, gourmet food that is available round the clock. You don’t have to totally deprive yourself to stay in shape. Moderation, along with participation in the many opportunities that cruises offer for fitness, will keep you sailing smoothly:
  • At buffets, fill your plate only once. Load 50% of your plate with vegetables and choose small portions of other foods you want to try.
  • If you splurge and eat a rich meal, try to balance it out with a healthy, vegetable meal. Eat lighter the rest of the day.
  • If ordering dessert, don’t make it a daily habit. And when you do, split it with someone else.
  • Most cruises offer a healthier "spa menu." Order from this when you can. And, when ordering at any meal, be very specific about what you do and do not want. You can omit ingredients and specify how you want something to be cooked (steamed instead of fried).
  • Plan for fitness every day. Cruises usually offer complete gyms, aerobics classes, trainers, running tracks and pools. Go dancing in the disco in the evening and play plenty of beach games when docked. Take a morning walk around the track while enjoying the sights and fresh air.

Staying Inn Shape 
As the demand for healthy eating and exercising rises, hotels are responding to their guests. There’s no reason not to work out or eat right just because you’re away from home. Calling ahead and working with the concierge will help you find all the things you need to make your vacation a healthy one:
  • When checking in, refuse the mini-bar key. Not only are the prices outrageous, but the choices are not the healthiest. Instead, find a nearby health food store or grocery and stock up on good-for-you snacks. If your room/floor has a fridge or microwave, you can also get enough foods to prepare healthy meals. If a coffee maker is all you get, buy instant soups or oatmeal and prepare them with the hot water.
  • If ordering room service, be specific about what you want, whether or not it is on the menu. Most places will accommodate your healthy requests and substitutions.
  • Before leaving home, find out what fitness opportunities the hotel offers. While most will have a pool, others may offer tennis, walking paths, bike rentals and full gyms. Then, pack the appropriate clothes, shoes and gear.
  • If your hotel does not have a gym, ask if they are affiliated with a nearby local gym. Many will offer day passes at a discount for hotel guests.
  • Ask the concierge about healthy restaurants, markets, parks, trails and maps.
  • Design your own hotel room workout. All you need to pack is some lightweight, cheap equipment: resistance bands, a jump rope and a sticky mat. Most bands will come with illustrated exercises. You can also do push-ups, crunches, lunges, squats and triceps dips on a chair.
Remember to pack walking shoes, a swimsuit, exercise equipment and loose, comfortable clothing. And with all that time in the sun, don’t forget shades, a hat and plenty of sunscreen.

It’s worth the time it takes to plan ahead for a healthy trip, but be realistic. You probably won’t lose weight on vacation, but maintenance is possible. Remember, vacation (like exercise) should be fun! Try new things, sightsee on foot, go rock climbing or surfing, and definitely enjoy the good food without total deprivation. Being healthy is a lifestyle, not a quick fix. So, follow these tips to return home with plenty of memories and souvenirs, not extra pounds. 

This article has been reviewed by Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietician

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Member Comments

  • I agree with the negative comments on air travel-these days it's stressful. Old enough to remember so much better. It was actually fun getting there. Today we have an old dog and the travel we do is by car so he can be with him. I'm allergic to so many things we always pack a cooler or two. That way we don't have to worry about restaurant choices and we almost always split meals. Vacation for us means exploring and these days due to other limitations it's on foot - but it's always fun and still educational.
  • I will undoubtedly try the local ice cream and sweet treats, which will be bad, but I'm not big on beef and pork and dumplings which are local regulars in Prague, so I'll have to see what else I can eat. I'm taking my ipad with some workout videos on and my bluetooth headphones, so hopefully I'll be able to still get in some exercise in the bathroom in the mornings!
  • Love the Cruise Control info. Will be going on a cruse in June so was very happy to see this blog.
  • CAMPKODIAK
    We plan our vacation around activities we can do there. We rent bicycles for the week and leave the car at the condo as much as possible -- stock up on local and fresh fruits/veggies at the store.
  • Helpful tips! Air travel is so degrading these days that I feel like stress eating, so it is car camping or bust for me. I spend quite a bit of time planning what to pack into my car.
  • I found a travel yoga mat, only 700g and folds, so brought with me for the first time on hol. Perfect for ironing the kinks out after a long flight and a long drive, wish I'd done it sooner!

    My husband tends to 'borrow' my motivation on hol, which means neither of us slack off and we fit in an hour a day for a run and shower each day - it's great, and getting home feeling more rested AND fitter (and slimmer) after a hol is a real joy. It just takes prioritising your health as part of the gift you give yourself on hol, an indulgence we don't always have time for at home.

    I'm not th only one, a friend confided she and her husband hit the hotel running machines first thing, and she finds it sets them up for an enjoyable, energy filled guilt free day after that. It's easier to move than to starve...
  • Great useful tips even for taking weekend daylong excursions.
  • I don't fear gaining a little on vacation, I fear gaining a lot. So while I'm on vacation I set my calories to maintenance mode and try to not go over by much. My goal is to be able to lose whatever I gain the following week. I try to keep the damage to something I can easily undo.
  • Take the stairs, always.
    Walk the halls. Hotels have long halls.
    Definitely stock your own fridge. Get some pre-made meals and heat in microwave if you need to.
  • Vacations are the best, for I always lose weight. Especially cruises. There are so many walking tours as a side line, plus it's swim suit time. don't want to not fit in a suit.
    The European trips , so much walking, never have to worry.
    But over here in everyday weeks, thats more of a challenge.
    I try to get in a jog or 2,3 mile walk every morning, that helps, even if the rest of the day is hectic and can't fit in to much more exercise. I have found nice brisk walking to be so energizing and sets me up for the rest of the day.
  • my experience has always been weight loss on holiday - eating only once or twice a day, and doing a lot more exercising - walking - sight seeing, etc.
    too bad i am not always on vacation - i would have NO weight problem
  • For the last couple of trips that we have taken I have made sure to get a room with a mini frig and microwave. Then I go to the grocery store and pick out a few healthy things that I can easily prepare. As I eat six mini meals each day, this has really helped me stay on track. I also carry some fruit and pre-measured bags of nuts so that I am prepared for whatever might happen.

About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.