With the world slowly opening back up, and Memorial Day (and summer!) coming up soon, more and more of my clients are traveling. As someone who traveled frequently before, taking my first plane ride in 15 months this past weekend (for my niece’s high school graduation!) felt surreal, and I had to dust off the cobwebs of the healthy habits that make me feel best while traveling. I’ve compiled all my best tips here. Brush up before you take your next trip, so you come back feeling rested, refreshed, and healthier than ever, rather than feeling like you have to “start all over” upon returning. Here’s how to stay healthy while traveling!
Preparing for the trip
- Choose healthy accommodations. I always look for a hotel with either a gym or a nearby space to hike, walk, or run, because I’m very unlikely to drive somewhere specifically to work out while traveling – I want to get it in quickly to save time for other activities. I also prefer a hotel room with a mini-fridge so I can stock up on some healthy items (more on that below). In fact, this past weekend, I stayed at a hotel a few blocks away from my sister and her husband, just so I could be nearer to the trails, have a hotel gym, and have a mini-fridge in my room! (It was cheaper, too – healthy accommodations don’t have to be expensive!).
- Scope out some healthy restaurants in advance. Do you know that awkward time when everyone is hungry between activities on a trip, and no one knows where to go, and everyone keeps saying “I don’t care, whatever you want” … and then you end up overhungry, driving through McDonald’s, which no one wanted in the first place? Yeah, this is my worst nightmare 😉. I always like to scope out 3-4 restaurants with healthy options in advance. If someone else on the trip has a strong preference for a specific different restaurant, I can find healthy items anywhere (see below), but in the “I don’t care” situation, I’m equipped with healthy options to make the decision easier on everyone.
- Plan your workouts. If you know your body needs a break from your regular, intense exercise routine, then feel free to skip it on vacation guilt-free. But if you know you’d feel better with some movement, schedule it in advance! I schedule all my workouts, at home or on vacation, but on vacation, I try to make them either more fun or shorter! If there’s something fun to do (e.g., a nearby gorgeous hike, a new running trail, a popular fitness class I want to try, a lake to kayak on, or anything else!), I’ll build that into my itinerary; if not, or if the schedule is jammed with other activities, I’ll preplan a 30-minute HIIT workout that I can complete in the hotel gym.
Kick off the trip with healthy transit
- Pack heavy for car trips. I drive to Colorado (a 13-hour drive) at least twice per year, and if you’ve ever made the Dallas to Colorado drive, you know that there is a whole lot of nothing, besides Dairy Queen, Sonic, and some hit-or-miss gas stations, along the way. Neither Sonic nor DQ have salads (and I’m long past my Blizzard-as-meal days!), and I don’t want to rely on the “luck” that the gas station might have an apple or a pack of hardboiled eggs, so I pack all my food for the entire trip with me. I’ll generally pack a smoothie for breakfast (easy to sip and drive), a healthy wrap on a Siete tortilla with a veggie pack for lunch, and a salad with whatever leftovers need to be cleared out of the fridge for dinner. For snacks, I’ll bring a lineup like this:
- An extra veggie pack (bag of raw vegetables like celery, carrots, cucumbers, mini peppers, snap peas, jicama, broccolini, etc.) or two … munching on extra veggies is the least of my concerns!
- Dry roasted edamame or a serving of Lesser Evil popcorn for something crunchy
- Some blueberries or an apple for some healthier sweetness
- Turkey jerky like Chomps for extra protein
- A healthier protein bar like No Cow if I need more to tide me over
- Olive packets for some healthy fat
- A square or two of dark chocolate, individually wrapped for portion control, for a treat
- Plan to hydrate well on plane trips. If you’re ever bloated, puffy, or constipated during travel, it’s likely because you got dehydrated on the plane (that and the inflammatory food you might have been eating!). Planes are kept at 10-15% humidity, which is three times drier than the Sahara Desert! This means you’ll lose a lot of fluids just by breathing on the plane. I try to bring two liters of water on any flight (longer if it’s intercontinental) and guzzle it down to prevent dehydration! I might also bring some of the above snacks, although for shorter flights I actually think it’s beneficial to give your digestive system a rest while in the air … sorry to be gross, but undigested food in your GI tract can cause gas at any time, and the pressure changes of flying can cause this to wreak havoc on your system!
- Get as active as possible in transit. When driving, I use every stopping opportunity (and there are a lot, since I drink so much water!) to either do 100 jumping jacks, 50 squats, 30 push-ups, or run a mile. Yes, this takes slightly longer (although I can do 100 jumping jacks in less than 2 minutes, so it’s not that much time), but it’s SO worth it to stay naturally awake and energized, and not let your body get too tight while driving all day. On planes, it’s harder, of course, but I try to stretch a bit while in seat, and if I stand up to use the restroom (which is a sure bet), I’ll spend an extra few minutes stretching in the back.
Enjoy yourself mindfully during the trip
- Choose your non-negotiables. Look, the entire point of your trip is likely not to eat as cleanly as humanly possible, and I think that’s great! I can think of no reason to be overly restrictive or feel like your health goals are standing in the way of your enjoyment. That said, I also think there are some non-negotiables that won’t detract from your enjoyment but will add significantly to the way you feel. For me, those non-negotiables are usually 100 ounces of water each day, some kind of movement (either a specific workout or lots of walking while sightseeing), a minimal morning routine (see this post for how I adjust) and at least 3 servings of vegetables per day (at home I average 8-10 servings daily, so this is really a low level for me!). Your non-negotiables might be completely different, which is fine, but I encourage you to think of them in advance and find a way to stick to them. You’ll feel so much better!
- Enjoy what’s important to you without throwing in the towel. If you’re going to Paris, I’d hate for you not to try the specialty croissant. Headed to Octoberfest? I’d hate for you to not enjoy the beer. If you’re going to New Orleans, I’d hate for you to not try a beignet. You get the point. Enjoy what you want! That said, the mentality that most people adopt is, “it’s vacation, anything goes!” This sounds healthy, but often leads us to eat ALL. THE. THINGS, whether we truly want them or not. Have you ever said something like, “it’s vacation? Might as well get donuts for breakfast?” even if you know you’d feel better with a veggie omelet and some fruit? And then, at the end of the vacation, you feel bloated, exhausted, and uncomfortable? Yeah … not worth it. In order to not throw in the towel, I recommend one of two strategies to clients.
- Follow the BDD Rule. Think about your choices of bread (bread, pasta, breaded items, etc.), drink (alcoholic or sugary drinks), and dessert. At a normal meal, choose one; a special occasion, choose two; a super special occasion like the one meal out at the best restaurant on vacation or your birthday, choose all three!
- Count “extras” for the day. An extra is just what it sounds … extra food, above and beyond what is physically health-promoting (sometimes these are mentally healthy foods, and that’s awesome!). These include things like alcoholic beverages, chips, fried foods, sweets, and more. I do not think zero is a reasonable number on vacation! But maybe you set a goal for yourself of having five per day (or 2, or 10 … whatever fits your starting place and goals) and use this goal as a way to choose what’s really important to you, without throwing in the towel.
- Focus on destressing. Stress does crazy things to our bodies, and vacation is often a great time to unwind a bit. Have you ever gone on vacation, loosened the reins a bit on your food but not thrown in the towel, and come back to find you’ve lost a few pounds? I have, and many of my clients have, too. This is likely due to the reduction in inflammation from stress. I know how hard it is to disconnect from work, but the effort truly does pay off. You deserve a break, and your brain and body need the break. Enjoy!
Recommit on the way home
- Focus on the future. Whatever happened on vacation, it’s over when you’re on your way home! Recommit as soon as possible, so you don’t fall prey to letting the vacation mentality bleed over into the next week … and then the next … and then the next. Sign up for a Monday morning workout, or journal about your health goals, or just state mentally that you’re recommitted. Whatever it means to you, the present is all you can control, and the future is all you can plan for!
- If possible, give yourself a reset day. Whenever possible, I’ll arrive home Saturday evening, giving myself Sunday to do laundry, get groceries, do my food prep, and get mentally refocused for the upcoming week. If that’s not possible, sometimes I’ll even block off a few hours on Monday morning to get it done!
- Get your meal plan done before you arrive home. When I’m flying, and the pilot or flight crew announces that electronics need to be stowed for descent, I get out my pen and PEPPER Planner and do my meal plan. Having that “trigger” ensures that I’ll do it every time. If I’m driving, I think about it mentally and plan some meals I want to make, and then write them down as soon as I arrive. But if you commit to giving it thought before you walk in the door to your home, you’ll be less likely to let the to-do list get in your way of this critical habit!
Now it’s your turn … Will you be traveling soon? Where will you go? Which of these (or other!) tips will you use?