Vacation and travel is tricky business for someone looking to live a healthy lifestyle. While your time away is meant to be a break from your regular daily restrictions, most of us would rather not return home with extra luggage around our waists.
So how do you find the balance?
In my experience, despite eating slightly worse on vacation than I do at home, weight gain is pretty easy (even fun) to avoid. In fact, the more extended my break, the more likely I am to actually lose weight during my vacation. And it doesn't require any sacrifices in relaxation or enjoyment.
Here are my tricks for staying thin while traveling.
You can't expect to eat like a saint during your entire vacation, and I would argue that you shouldn't even try. But don't sweat it; if you follow the rest of the advice below, there should be plenty of room for fun and indulgence in your travels.
2. Eat before heading to the airport.
Airport food is horrid, and the food on flight is even worse. Even if you're rushing around packing before your trip, budget time for a healthy meal as close to takeoff as possible. If your flight is less than six hours long, you can probably get through it without eating (or finishing) whatever the airline is serving. Also consider packing nuts or fruit in your carry-on luggage for an in-flight snack. But don't forget to eat it before getting off the plane if you're heading somewhere with agricultural restrictions.
3. Bring sturdy shoes and shorts.
When you're active your body can be very forgiving with an occasional dessert or heavier meal. To encourage yourself to get moving on your trip, bring a pair of older running shoes. Though these will allow you to use the hotel gym if necessary, they're even more useful for longer hikes and walks where you can explore the local scenery. Your shoes might get destroyed in the process, so you probably don't want to bring your newest pair.
4. Do stuff.
Chilling on the beach is awesome, but don't spend all your time lounging around. Vacation settings tend to be filled with fun activities that can be surprisingly effective at burning calories. For instance, I wouldn't have expected an hour on a jet ski to be particularly strenuous (and it was crazy fun), but the next day I had aches in muscles that felt like they hadn't been used in years. Have some fun and earn yourself some extra calories in the evening. Hikes, sports, and even sunset strolls are likely to be more activity than you'd be getting in front of the TV at home.
5. Take advantage of traditional, local specialties.
The big, sugary waffles and French toast can be tempting, but you can get stuff like that anywhere. Traditional foods tend to have long local histories and therefore have fewer processed ingredients than usual indulgent foods. Explore the regional culture and look for foods that emphasize fresh, local ingredients.
6. Eat small portions.
When you're not in your hometown, you're likely to be eating every single meal in a restaurant, and restaurant portions are huge. While on vacation, get in the habit of not finishing your food. Eat half your sandwich, split entrees with your travel partner and order meals off the appetizer menu. Desserts are often less tasty than you'd expect, so limiting these to a few bites (assume you're getting 50-100 calories per bite) can help tremendously. Trust me, you won't go hungry.
7. Watch your drinking.
If you're anything like me, vacations mean lots of drinking, and it often starts very early in the day. Therefore, to avoid overdoing it, you need to monitor yourself by spacing out your drinks as much as possible and making sure you get plenty of water. Get in the habit of making every second or third drink a water or sparkling water with citrus. This will both slow you down and keep you hydrated, encouraging fewer hangovers and more fun all around.
8. Watch your sugar.
When ordering drinks and food on vacation, a little sugar every now and then won't kill you -- particularly if you're very active. But if you're having three or more drinks per day, margaritas, mojitos and beer are probably not the best choices. I recommend finding a drink or two that you're happy drinking that has relatively low sugar. I'm partial to Salty Dogs (vodka and grapefruit juice with a salted rim), which have no added sugar and natural fruit juice. I also enjoy champagne, but find whatever works for you.
Avoid foods with honey or sugar-based glazes (teriyaki, BBQ, honey-based salad dressings, etc.) and again, eat desserts in sample mode.
9. Aim for eating healthful-ish twice per day.
Even on vacation, you're probably only going to face one heavy, not-so-healthy meal per day. The rest of the time it's a good idea to eat as healthfully as possible. Local foods can be helpful for this (e.g., the poke in Hawaii is very healthful and tasty), but even simple salads, fish tacos, fruit plates, oatmeal, etc. can be useful when you just need a few calories to get by until the next meal.
Vacations are for enjoyment, but you don't need to gain weight in the process.
What are your tricks for eating healthfully on vacation?
A version of this post was originally published at Summer Tomato, where you can find more healthy eating tips.