Research shows that most people gain weight over the holidays. Vacations aren’t far behind with that throw-dietary-caution-to-the-wind-and-indulge mentality. It can be tough to stay healthy when traveling.
Whether you’re taking a two-week Maui vacation or a multi-city European tour, traveling often means indulgences including decadent desserts and perhaps strong cocktails while avoiding your normal daily routine like going to the gym.
You’re likely aware of the aftermath. You return home and your slim-fitting jeans aren’t so slim, getting back into your workout routine feels like torture, and those cookies you brought back from that amazing Italian bakery are screaming your name in the cupboard around 11 p.m.
The key to prevent those dietary and overall-health disasters while you’re on vacation is to plan ahead. You don’t need to be overly regimented or deny yourself simple pleasures, but you also shouldn’t take a let-it-all-go perspective during your vacation.
“Health-related vacation outcome is significantly affected by the way an individual organizes his or her vacation,” researchers succinctly concluded in one study. You diligently plan every outfit you’ll wear on vacation — doesn’t your health deserve the same degree of attention?
“One reason most people don’t succeed in eating well is that they don’t plan their food day,” says Mark Hyman, MD, in Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?. “They plan their vacations, they plan their kitchen redesigns, but they don’t think ahead about what they’ll eat—and that’s a recipe for nutritional disaster.”
From the time you step outside your home and begin your vacation, you confront countless obstacles that jeopardize your health. In airports, you’ll find all sorts of sugary, processed foods at gift shops and kiosks. If you do find a semi-healthy restaurant, you’ll spend a small fortune.
Planes present their own obstacles. Poor cabin air quality, unhealthy food choices (if you even get those options in-flight), jet lag and other sleep disorders, and becoming dehydrated are just some of the issues you may encounter while traveling to your vacation destination.
Those repercussions add up. One study found dehydration during long-distance flights can create skin tightness and itchiness.
Fortunately, you’ve got plenty of healthy options that leave you feeling invigorated and energetic during your vacation.
Healthy Eating Tips When You Travel
Traveling often times means choosing unfamiliar restaurants that might have less-than-stellar food choices. You’re on vacation and you’ll probably want to sample your visiting region’s food. If you’re in Barcelona, you’ll probably want to try paella and maybe a glass of sangria.
The occasional splurge is fine. Eating healthy on vacation means you can occasionally let down your guard. Mostly, though, stick with a healthy food routine when traveling with these strategies.
Research menus for healthy food.
You can find an online menu for nearly any restaurant these days, and perusing ahead of time guarantees healthy eating options. (Your travel companions will also appreciate that you’ve taken one decision off their, uh, plate.) More places provide health-minded options these days and happily accommodate people with food sensitivities. You can also modify your meals to make eating out healthy. Ask for another green vegetable instead of the potato or to leave off croutons on your otherwise-healthy salad.
Bring your own.
Eating healthy on a budget is easy when you pack your own nutritious snacks and foods. Gas stations, airport kiosks, and other on-the-go foods are geared for convenience, not your health. Save time, money, and your wellbeing by bringing your own healthy foods. A healthy eating plan doesn’t need to be another large to-do on your vacation list when you pack your favorite healthy snacks and meals.
Water on vacation might mean swimming pools or beaches, but what you put in your body is crucial for health and wellbeing. Whether you’re on an eight-hour flight to Paris or a Honolulu open-bar cruise with your friends, chances are you aren’t drinking enough water, and the consequences can manifest with everything from headaches to fatigue. Travel with a canteen and keep it filled, starting at the airport. Many now have filtered water stations, as do most hotel gyms.
Be the influence you want to be on your kids.
Traveling with children and adolescents presents its own health challenges. “Put simply, children like what they know and they eat what they like,” researchers say. “From the very earliest age, children’s experiences with food influence both preferences and intake, and research suggests that the earlier and broader that experience, the healthier the child’s diet.” That means if you nose-dive into a plate of chili cheese fries, they’re likely to follow. Instead, opt for healthy food choices and sample kid-pleasing delicacies of the region you’re traveling. So if you’re in Italy, try a plate of broccoli rabe in garlic and olive oil.
Be aware of food sensitivities and other problem foods.
A little bit of gluten might seem innocuous, but its symptoms including headaches, fatigue, and skin itchiness can make an otherwise-perfect travel day misery. Letting your guard down a little with food shouldn’t mean compromising your health and peace of mind. If you have sensitivities to certain foods, remain aware where they might hide. Never assume; always ask in restaurants and with food vendors. Even if everyone else indulges, having a few bites isn’t worth ruining part of your vacation.
Studies show mindful eating can reduce impulsive food choices that lead to weight gain. If you’re in Paris and must have a macaroon, choose the best one, savor it slowly, and enjoy every bite. View that occasional indulgence as an almost-meditative experience and you’ll find a bliss sure to become a trip highlight.
Yes, you can eat healthy at fast food places.
Healthy fast food might sound like an oxymoron, but more places provide choices like fresh salads, grilled chicken, and grass-fed burgers. Simply order the burger or chicken breast bunless or “protein style” and it will arrive in a lettuce wrap rather than the bun. These options aren’t always ideal. Rather than throw all caution to the wind, do the best you can. That might mean pulling the bun off your burger or asking for mustard rather than sugar-laden ketchup.
Making Your Vacation Healthy Goes Beyond Food
Staying healthy during vacation goes beyond just what you eat. Shifting into relax mode might initially feel challenging, but one massive perk of traveling is to escape day-to-day life and minimize stress.
Yes, some trips can be stressful, such as visiting a country that doesn’t speak your native language or unfamiliar territory. But that’s also a good kind of stress that helps you grow and better understand the world around you.
Fully experiencing those moments that will create (hopefully) wonderful memories demands being fully present and feeling your best while you’re on vacation. These five strategies can optimize your experience and leave you feeling your best self during vacation.
You’re completely relaxed on the beach or at a coffee shop when you open your phone email and find an urgent text from a coworker or your boss. A major point of vacation is vacating routine life, yet many of us gravitate to familiar territory including laptops, phones, and tablets. Creating a technology-free vacation isn’t always possible, but find ways to minimize it. Pick out a real book at your library, check your email only once a day (and turn your “away” notifications on), breathe deeply, and realize all those demands will be waiting for you when you return. Stay in the moment and enjoy your vacation.
Build fitness into your vacations.
A few dedicated individuals seek out gyms wherever they travel. Most people don’t. Fortunately, you can create your own gym on the go. Warmer-weather travel especially makes fitness simple. Whenever possible, skip public transportation or cabs for biking or walking, which make great ways to explore new cities. Center your days on fitness-focused activities like hiking or swimming. If you’d rather work it and get on with your day, hotel stairs make a create way to get breathless and fit in very little time. Whatever you do, make it fun.
Find ways to remedy stress.
Yes, vacations can be stressful. Unfamiliar territory, travel delays, and traffic can create or exacerbate stress levels and even make you sick. Build the same de-stressors into your travel that you maintain at home. Natural stress relief might mean meditation, yoga, deep breathing, spiritual or uplifting reading, or spending solitary time in nature. Telling yourself you shouldn’t be stressed out on vacation can only make you more stressed.
Make sleep a priority.
You’ve got places to see and fitting in eight hours of sleep every night can impede on those plans. Do it anyway. Feeling well-rested will leave you more alert and less cranky the following day. Set a sleep curfew and keep to it. That might mean lights out (including for your kids) at 11 p.m. For jet lag and other sleep disturbances, our Sleep & Mood formula can ease you into slumber more effectively.
While you can’t anticipate everything that might go wrong on your vacation (that bee sting just came out of nowhere!), you can create buffers that minimize problems. Think ahead with healthy food but also potential emergencies that can arise during your trip. Sit down before your trip and think about a few vacation-common scenarios you can minimize or prevent. A few examples:
- Constipation can make an eight-hour flight miserable, so pack magnesium citrate and take 200–400 mg before bed. (Bonus: it will calm you and help you sleep better.)
- Getting sick can totally derail your vacation. Our Daily Defense can support a healthy immune system when you travel.
You can’t take every precaution when you travel, of course, and spontaneity is part of any vacation. But thinking ahead and creating an optimal food and lifestyle plan can make your next vacation eventful, insightful, and more enjoyable.
You can also use many of these strategies to transition back into real life. (Although sorry, we can’t reduce the number of emails in your inbox when you return!) Wherever you vacation this summer — and however you vacation, whether that means a deserted island or a bustling international city — have a happy, safe, enjoyable time!