Couple sitting after hiking for healthy activity during a vacation

Staying Healthy on Vacation: 10 Tips

Published: April 2022

Ready to trade the daily grind for some downtime? Vacation awaits! You’ve got your bags packed (notably missing: an alarm clock) and to quote your email’s automatically generated replies: “I am out of office and unreachable this week.”  

Let the adventures begin…including the culinary ones! We only live once, after all, and sure, there’s a time in life for starting the day with a healthy smoothie or eating a simple vegan stew for lunch. And, there’s a time for indulging in beignets at a Paris café table, or drinking a few glasses of wine while dancing barefoot on a yacht off the coast of Greece. That time has (finally) arrived. Opa!

Except: are you worried about getting too carried away? If sticking to a healthy routine has been an important part of your life, you might wonder if your vacation will “undo” your progress.  The truth is, it can…but, it doesn’t have to.  

Here’s what you need to know about how leisure travel can impact your health—plus what you can do to make staying healthy on vacation part of your itinerary.

Will vacation make you gain weight?

Unfortunately, researchers following the weights of a group of leisure travelers found that indeed, among the majority, just a one-week vacation led to a weight gain of about a pound that had not been lost six weeks after their travels.

That being said: staying healthy on vacation is a very doable goal (here’s a hint: getting those steps in as you explore might help reduce weight gain!) and doesn’t mean you can’t also relax and enjoy your adventures away from home…including those unique foods.

How to eat healthy on vacation

When it comes to your food intake, staying healthy on vacation is as much about what’s going on in your mind as it is what’s being put on your plate. Your best bet is to have a healthy approach to food before you even book your tickets—it is not uncommon for people who follow the most restrictive eating plans (particularly all-or-nothing diets like intermittent fasting and keto) to feel compelled to indulge more when they feel the “floodgates are open” on a vacation. Keep an even keel at home and you won’t find yourself wanting to eat all the things while away.

This is one reason why we like the Mediterranean diet, which is built around delicious, nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, healthy fats (particularly olive oil) and some lean proteins, with an occasional glass of red wine. These foods aren’t usually too hard to find anywhere you go (especially if you actually take that trip to Greece!). (And they generally taste good, so you don’t feel “deprived” like you might on a more restrictive plan.)

So when you travel, continue to focus on these Mediterranean diet staples, but save room for the unique flavors that will allow you to truly immerse yourself in the experience of your destination.

A few other tips on how to eat healthy on vacation:

  • Satisfy your sweet or salty cravings with healthy options, so you’re less likely to overeat at your next meal.
  • Take the time to savor every bite and eat to satisfaction rather than trying to clean your plate—this is called “intuitive eating” and it really does help you to allow the experience of eating without craving more.
  • If you do eat more than you intended to, don’t beat yourself up! Speak to yourself kindly. Self-criticism actually can lead to weight gain.

What to eat on vacation: Sample menu

Obviously, what you eat on vacation will depend upon where you are going. Perhaps you’re visiting a foreign destination and want to “eat like a local”—indeed you should! But whatever’s on your menu, a good rule of thumb is to stick with healthy, filling foods most of the time, while leaving room for those tasty treats that are worth writing home about (or at least sharing on your Instagram feed!).

A sample vacation day menu might look like this:

  • Breakfast: Eggs or Greek yogurt, whole grain toast topped with a healthy fat like avocado, and fresh fruit. (Good options for Western travel destinations—when traveling elsewhere, just seek out protein, fiber and healthy fat.)
  • Lunch: A sandwich, soup or salad, or a protein with vegetables and rice.
  • Snack: Taste something unique to your destination, whether that’s Mexican street corn, Italian gelato or a Jamaican conch fritter…just be sure to eat slowly and stop eating when you’re full.
  • Dinner: A fabulous restaurant meal, maybe a cocktail or two, and, if you still have room, a dessert with two forks (to share!).

10 tips for staying healthy on vacation

Of course, what you eat is only a small part of what “staying healthy on vacation” really means. Here are additional tips for a fantastic adventure that won’t take you too far off track your health goals.

1. Have immune strength, will travel.

Leaving the cocoon of your everyday life means encountering all sorts of new immune challenges—from the airplane or rest stops and from other travelers and residents of the place you’re visiting (plus the microbes that you might encounter eating street food like tacos!). If you’re tired or rundown, it might be harder to support your immune health. That’s why eating all of those fruits and vegetables is so important when you’re traveling—the antioxidants and vitamins in these natural gems will keep you strong. Pack some zinc lozenges for extra immune reinforcement!

2. Keep your tummy happy

Eating new foods and consuming more than you normally do can lead to bloating and other types of indigestion, which can really put a damper on dinner plans! That’s why you don’t want to leave your probiotics at home. Additionally, a digestive support product like Bloat Relief is good to have in a pinch…or at least, when the waistline of your pants is giving your tummy a pinch!

3. Cheers to responsible alcohol consumption

If your beach getaway wouldn’t be the same without a pina colada, or you can’t imagine kicking off a vacation without a bottle of bubbly to share, by all means, open up a tab. But don’t overdo it. Just as a single vacation can lead to weight gain, even a week or so of drinking more than you usually do can impact your health. While moderate alcohol use might not carry the same health implications as long-term daily alcohol consumption, there’s always a safety concern when you drink past your limit (which may be especially dangerous if you’re in an unfamiliar place). Pro tip: liver health supplements are a good way to support your body’s natural detoxification process.

4. Water, water everywhere

Drinking enough water when you’re not traveling is easy—just keep a big bottle handy at your desk at work and be sure to refill it a couple extra times before and after you work out. In comparison, remembering to stay hydrated on vacation can be more difficult, but ironically, traveling is when you need the water the most. For one, just being on an airplane can dehydrate you. So can being in the sun. And, it’s especially important to get enough H20 if you drink alcohol and coffee, and if you’ve spent a lot of time in the sun (especially if you’ve been exercising…which you should!).

5. Stay active

Speaking of exercise, use your vacation as an opportunity to experience new forms of movement. Try some walking tours to get in some steps while taking in the sights. Go for a run through town. Hike the area trails. If you’re staying by water, stand up paddleboarding is a fun activity that challenges your core strength. If you love yoga or Pilates, try a local studio for some new takes on your usual moves. Don’t stress the language barriers – downward dog doesn’t need a translation, just go with the flow!

6. Stay energized

Your mind may be moving a million miles a minute, excited to take on every item on your ambitious itinerary. But travel can be exhausting, and you might just not have the energy you used to have when you were younger. Build downtime into your schedule to enjoy a nice tea or coffee break. While moderate caffeine consumption has been linked to health benefits, a NAD+ supplement is a great alternative if you want a caffeine-free option.

7. Keep your stress levels in check

In theory, a vacation should be relaxing. In practice? Travel delays, navigating airports, and catching trains can offer a whole world of stress…and so can travel companions who have no interest in your carefully planned itinerary (or have annoying habits that are making your shared hotel room anything but a peaceful sanctuary)! Make sure you take some time for self-care. That can mean meditating, a skincare ritual, enjoying a bath if your suite comes equipped with a luxurious whirlpool tub, and seeking out nutrients that help with stress response, including l-theanine. Another tip from the travel savvy – get a massage! Often, they are more economically priced than you would find at home.

8. Get enough sleep

It’s not uncommon to have trouble drifting off when you’re not in your own bed. Maybe you’re just excited about the plans for the next day, or perhaps you just can’t get comfortable. Melatonin can help you get the ZZZs you need and help you dial in your internal clock with the new time zone. A white noise machine can block out ambient sounds (including the snores of a travel companion) while the hotel’s blackout curtains will allow you to sleep late.

9. Protect your skin

Whether you’re on a cruise, in a city, or out in the country, you’ll probably be outdoors more often than usual. Make sure you wear protective clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat and by all means, don’t forget the sunscreen!

10. Make new personal connections

What do a romantic getaway, family vacation, and solo travel have in common? They are all opportunities to increase your “happy hormones,” those feel-good neurotransmitters we get from connecting with people we love, and befriending new people we may meet on the road. Having healthy levels of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and other compounds that mediate our mood can impact our physical as well as our mental well-being. Besides, what better “souvenir” can you take away from your vacation than meaningful memories that you share with other people?

References

By: Jorie Mark, Health & Wellness Editor

Jorie Mark earned an English degree from University of Pennsylvania before getting a master's degree in creative writing from American University. She is a content and social media expert with 20 years of experience in social media, editorial content, digital marketing, events, public relations and food and lifestyle writing. She is also a published author.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD