One of the most amazing parts of traveling is trying the unique delicacies a destination has to offer -- in fact, culinary travel is the next big thing. Whether you're enjoying fine cuisine at a five-star restaurant; taking a cooking class; or sampling snacks from a street vendor, exploring the world with your tastebuds can make traveling healthfully a real challenge. While you may have good intentions to stick to your health and fitness goals, it also feels sinful not to indulge in unique treats when visiting a far-off place. How can you skip a juicy steak in Argentina? Or pass on fried chicken in Charleston? Croissants in Paris? Pasta in Italy? I consider a restrictive diet while traveling to be criminal activity. When in Rome, right?
Being a travel writer, I'm blessed with the opportunity to travel often to many magnificent locales. Part of the job is trying the best restaurants, bakeries and bars that a city has to offer (all in the name of research, of course). I have learned that if there is to be any hope of feeling healthy (i.e., happy and energetic) and fitting into the same wardrobe when I return, I have to strike some sort of balance. So I've compiled a few tips and tricks that are relatively painless that will help you to maintain a reasonably healthy lifestyle while still managing to enjoy yourself on vacation.
1. Get in Shape Before You Go
Even though you may be in a frenzied rush trying to plan and pack for your vacation, keep up that regular workout routine and healthy lifestyle before you leave. Starting a vacation off on the right foot can inspire healthier choices. It also offers a little leeway to indulge in those unique goodies and not feel as guilty (or as uncomfortable in your skinny jeans). Plus, who doesn't want to look fabulous in vacation photos?
2. Snack Attack
Don't waste your first vacation splurges on a snack attack at the airport or the packaged snacks on the airplane. If you're going to indulge, do you really want it to be on something you purchased at an airport newsstand? If you know your airport terminal doesn't offer healthy options, pack healthy snacks that will tide you over until you reach your destination. Fresh veggies and hummus, raw nuts, almond butter and crackers, or organic popcorn are great for salt cravings. Arrive at your destination ready for the good stuff.
3. Start the Day with a Burst of Exercise
Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that you hit the gym for your usual sweat session, but doing some light stretching and 15 minutes of exercise in your hotel room will give your metabolism a boost without sacrificing too much time away from your sightseeing schedule. Do exercises that give you a big bang for your buck: a non-stop circuit of push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, lunges and squats do the trick for me, but go with what works best for your fitness goals.
4. Fruit and Fiber
Start the day off with fiber to keep things -- err -- regular, for lack of a more poetic phrase. Most hotels offer apples, bananas and oatmeal, which are filled with lots of fiber-y goodness. Not getting enough fiber can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. Not ideal under any circumstances -- especially for a beach vacation!
5. Opt for Walking
Walking is usually what saves my behind (literally) on vacations. Opt for walking tours if they are available and weather permits. This is the easiest way to blast fat and counteract the extra calories you may be ingesting. Walking can also save you money and is the best way to get to know a city. If you need to take a cab, have it drop you a short distance from your final destination so you can squeeze in some extra sightseeing and cardio.
6. Stay Hydrated
A cardinal rule to maintain health is to stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches or dizziness -- none of which you want on your vacation. An unfortunate consequence of staying adequately hydrated is the need for frequent bathroom stops, which can become somewhat of a nuisance while traveling. Try to time drinking water with when you know you'll be near a restroom, like just before a lunch or dinner reservation. That way you won't be frantically searching for a sympathetic merchant to let you use their restroom -- who hasn't been there?
7. Indulge Only When Something Is Truly Worth It
So many times people clean their plates even when the food is only mediocre. It may seem obvious, but don't finish something if it's just okay. When you order those truly indulgent items, after a few bites, ask yourself -- is this delicious? If the answer is yes, then go to town and eat until your heart's content. Often, though, if you take a moment's pause, you may realize that what you're eating isn't worth the extra calories. When that's the case, put your fork down until you find something splurge worthy.
8. Skip the Bread (Except in France or Italy)
We Americans tend to mindlessly eat an entire bread basket before their meal arrives simply because it's in front of us. I follow rule number seven in all major carbohydrate decisions -- if it's incredible and freshly baked, go for the rolls! However, if it's something you would find in the bread basket at your local pub, save your calories!
9. Good Cop/Bad Cop
Sometimes there are things on the menu that are must-tries. Say deep-fried lobster ? Or a donut burger? When that's the case, you can salvage your waistline by splitting with someone. Ordering one over-the-top dish along with a healthier option can instantly cut the splurge in half! This way you get to try what you want without completely blowing your calorie budget.
10. Take It to the Club
If you're like me, you probably like to throw a few cocktails back while on vacation. But calories from alcohol can really take a toll on your waistline -- and how you feel the next morning, especially if you're imbibing sugary goodness in margaritas or mojitos. To remedy this, consider going out to dance with the locals. Try your toes at tango or fist pump at a rave -- whatever the city's nightlife calls for. You'll not only see a new side of the culture, but you'll torch loads of calories.
Armed with these little tricks up your sleeve, it will be easy to make it through your vacation with minimal damage to your fitness goals. Now if only surviving the long flight in economy could be this simple. Check out our tips to make coach seem more like first class!
And remember, a healthy traveler is a happy one!