How to get healthy on your next vacation

This time of year, you’re probably dreaming about escaping fluorescent cube farm enslavement, fleeing the oncoming winter gloom and finding yourself under warm sunny skies, likely on the beach. We’re right there with you.

A vacation isn’t just a reward for months, even years of hard work. Tempting though it might be, it’s not just time to lay about like a beached whale, eat, drink and be merry. Instead, use your vacation time to hit the reset button on your body and soul, break bad habits and start healthy new ones. Below are some tips to make your next vacation more healthy and fun.

Recharge and reinvent yourself. If you’ve been sleep deprived from overwork, by all means get the rest you need to recharge on your vacation. We're huge fans of an afternoon nap. If you’re behind on exercise, use your vacation to start again, and create healthy new habits. If you’re traveling to a locale famous for wonderful, locally-grown fresh fruits, vegetables and even seafood, skip the burgers and savor the best fresh foods you can find. Upgrade your diet and use your vacation to start eating better. You’ll return home feeling worlds better and equipped with new healthy habits to help you going forward.

Earlier this year, we took a vacation to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. We never planned to sit on the beach with a Harlequin paperback novel – Kauai is simply too incredible for that. We used every day to its fullest, exploring the island’s incredible beauty and offerings. For example, we rose at 3 am early on our first morning (after a late night arrival) to join a photography class and capture a breathtaking sunrise on a dramatic, rocky shoreline. On that first full day, we found ourselves hiking under the solitude of a breathtaking tropical forest canopy. In less than 24 hours, we left the city blues behind and reset our bodies, minds and souls in a tranquil paradise.

Make your vacation time count. On subsequent days during our Kauai trip, we explored different beaches, rode horseback, took a kayak expedition and a helicopter tour to photograph Kauai’s famous waterfalls and Na Pali coast. We ran along Kauai’s incredible coastline. Swam and snorkeled. Biked through sugar cane fields and up forest trails. Worked out in an open air gym overlooking the ocean. Flew down a zipline. Bought incredible fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets. And we rose each day before dawn to catch every sunrise that we could. 

Bottom line: We didn’t waste a moment of our trip. Don’t get us wrong: it’s absolutely okay to take it easy for a day and enjoy the solitude, and you might not want to be as active as we were all the time. That said, planning ahead and making an active trip will leave you with no regrets and lots of memories.

Make exercise a key part of your vacation. Much of the time at home, we focus on convenience. On vacation, you have more control over your time. So instead of driving, consider walking or cycling to your destination. Use stairs instead of the elevator. Schedule time every day of your vacation to exercise – working out in the morning will make the day feel better. If you cheated at dinner the night before, consider doing 10 push-ups for every drink, 50 squats or 100 crunches for every big meal. Instead of feeling guilty about going off the wagon, do something about it!

No gym where you're staying? No problem! With the with the Seven-Minute Exercise program we blogged about previously, you can get a fantastic workout using your hotel room, rental home bedroom or any open space outdoors as your gym.  

Indulge in moderation. No vacation should be like a visit to boot camp. There’s no sense punishing yourself for eating something you might not at home, and no sense living a spartan lifestyle when everyone around you is having fun. When you’re on vacation, a special dessert or comfort food might be that much more tempting. The trick is following the 80-20 rule by focusing on eating right 80 percent of the time, and allowing 20 percent for an indulgence. Tempted by banana pancakes for breakfast? Go for it! Make your next meal a healthy one, and plan an exercise day to make use of that big breakfast. 

If you enjoy a rich meal, plan on taking a long walk after dinner to help burn it off. Don’t just mindlessly eat, but think about what you will be eating, and how you’ll address it. Before going out for a lavish meal, be sure to drink water and have a nutritious snack with protein and fiber. By arriving at your restaurant less hungry, you won’t be inclined to go crazy and fall off the wagon. 

Use common sense at the restaurant. When dining out on vacation, think ahead to avoid drowning in calories you’ll regret the next day. Some tips include:

  • Be the boss. Your waiter and chef are working for you, so be assertive when ordering. 
  • Plan your meal around your protein (entree), then consider what vegetable(s) to add to that. Doing this will help you skip starters that are often full of fat and calories.
  • Control your calories by requesting a half-order of your entree. Or sharing a dessert with your table.
  • Order dressing and sauces on the side to control what you eat.
  • Ask for olive oil and lemon or balsamic vinegar instead of a rich dressing.
  • Allow yourself one drink and then switch to water or tea.
  • Ask for fruit instead of fries. 
  • Eat simple. Request steamed, not fried or sautéed vegetables. If the menu calls for “in a cream sauce” “smothered in rich cheese” tell the waiter to cut that out. Hold the butter and skip extras your waiter might suggest.
  • Pass on bread. Tasty though it might be, bread adds a ton of carbs, especially at night.
  • Eat slowly and enjoy your meal. The slower your pace, the less you’ll eat. 

A good trick is to stop mid-way through your meal and wait 20 minutes. Your tummy needs that much time to tell your brain that it’s full. Taking time can save you a ton of needless calories. 

Make the night special. Nightlife can be fun. But you can’t soar with the eagles if you’re hooting with the owls every night. There’s more to a vacation than hitting the bars and clubs every night, and staying up late frequently will only make you more tired. And isn’t getting some rest one of the reasons for your vacation? 

In our case, because Kauai isn’t a nightlife destination, we used the time instead to take walks and look up at the night skies above, ablaze with countless stars, infinitely more than we could see almost anywhere else. Going to bed early is not something we do enough at home. The rewards of getting a good night’s sleep, eating well and rising early to greet the new day were immense. And enjoying our walks together under the stars with the tropic breeze is something we’ll never forget.

Heading home from a great vacation is always a bit wistful. You wish it would never end. It doesn’t have to. On your next getaway, hit the reset button. Plan on staying active every day, eating fresh and healthy. Put together an agenda to get outside, away from things you normally do at home to explore and discover your vacation destination’s natural beauty. With a few simple steps, you can use your next trip to create healthy habits you can follow after you return. If you do, your vacation will be forever.

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