15 Ways to Stay Healthy on Vacation
Last Updated: Apr 16, 2014
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Just because you’re on vacation, you don’t have to abandon your healthy eating plan, exercise or personal wellness. Staying healthy in a new place is an excellent way to get to know the local culture and people, according to Christine Fenner, creator of The Fit Traveler website, and Skuli Palmason, a personal trainer and creator of the Travel and Fitness blog. Scope out the places where locals work out, visit neighborhood farmers markets and meditate in beloved sacred places. If you stay flexible and open-minded, you’ll go from tourist to healthy world citizen. On the next slides, we offer some helpful tips.
START BEFORE YOU GET THERE
Traveling often involves sitting still for hours on long flights. You can keep your circulation moving by taking short walks in the aisle, says trainer Skuli Palmason. If you can’t walk, do seat exercises -- flex your toes, roll your ankles, squeeze your glutes, do calf raises -- every hour. “Not only does exercise reduce the risk of getting blood clots, but it also keeps you revitalized, hinders stiffness and keeps mental acuity high,” Palmason advises.
COMBAT JET LAG
If you’re traveling long distances, avoid jet lag by adjusting your sleep pattern gradually before you leave. If you’re flying east, go to sleep an hour before you normally would for a week before your departure, says personal trainer Skuli Palmason. If you’re flying west, move your bedtime an hour later. If it’s still daylight when you arrive at your destination, go outside, move around as much as you can and resist sleep until after dark. “The sun will tell your body to produce less sleep-inducing hormones, and your internal clock will adjust faster,” Palmason notes. It’s wise to acclimate your body to mealtimes at your destination as well. For example, if you arrive at noon, but your body clock is at 6 a.m., eat lunch and not breakfast.
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Airplanes are notorious for dry, stale air, which can cause headaches, dry mouth and dry skin, says travel and fitness blogger Skuli Palmason. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol on the plane -- it’s a diuretic and can make dehydration worse. Trainer Christine Fenner likes to bring a water bottle on her travels. “I can bring it through security empty and fill it up on the other side,” Fenner says. Drinking plenty of water can “give you energy, prevent headaches and alleviate constipation,” she notes. Research your destination to find out if the tap water is safe to drink, Palmason adds. If it’s not, be extra careful about the ice and liquids you consume.
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You never know when you might get a bad sunburn, a scraped knee or an upset stomach. Travel and fitness blogger Christine Fenner always packs a supply of medications and toiletries, including sunscreen, antacids and pain relievers. “I always bring a little bag of prunes or buy them at a local grocery store,” Fenner adds. “They’re natural constipation relievers.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges travelers to research the health conditions of their destinations. Depending on where you’re going, you may need to bring malaria pills, antihistamines, insect repellant or water-purification tablets. Remember to put prescribed medication in your carry-on and bring copies of the prescriptions with their generic names. The CDC also recommends checking with the U.S. Embassy or consulate at your destination to ensure that your medicines are allowed.
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While tour buses and taxis may be convenient, walking to the sights you plan to visit is even better, says trainer Skuli Palmason. “You save money and burn a few extra calories,” Palmason points out. “You might get lost, but you’ll see your destination in a whole different way than if you were driven everywhere.” Walking can also give you a deeper cultural experience and put you in contact with people and places you might miss in the isolation of a car. For an added challenge, bring a pedometer and push yourself to reach a daily step goal. However, exercise caution while walking around an unfamiliar city. Check with your hotel staff or a trusted local to make sure you don’t venture into an unsafe area, and carry appropriate maps, a cell phone or GPS and emergency contact information.
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Staying active on vacation is often incredibly easy since so many destinations offer physical activities. “Just do fun stuff! Climb that mountain, go on a bicycle tour, surf, swim, hike,” says trainer Skuli Palmason. Christine Fenner of The Fit Traveler website likes to start her visits with a morning run that combines sightseeing with exercise. “When I was in Louisville, Kentucky, I went for a run in the historic district. I went down all these streets that you couldn’t even drive down, and I got to see all the historic homes of Louisville,” Fenner recounts.
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FIND A GYM
There’s no reason to stop your workouts just because you’re away from home. Before you leave, research gyms at your destination and see if you can get a short-term pass. Your hometown gym may even belong to a national or international group that allows you entry into gyms around the world, says Christine Fenner. If you love taking a certain type of class, search for similar classes at your destination, she adds. “It might be hard to keep up a routine while you’re on holiday, but it’s much harder to resume your routine back home if you’ve done nothing but eat, drink and sleep,” trainer Skuli Palmason advises.
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CREATE A GYM
If going to a gym at your destination isn’t possible, create your own mini-gym in your hotel room. Trainer Skuli Palmason recommends packing resistance bands, a jump rope, water weights or other lightweight equipment. You can also find exercise videos on the Internet and work out in front of your computer or do sun salutations on a travel yoga mat. Step up your vacation by challenging yourself with set goals, such as performing strengthening exercises every other day, Palmason suggests.
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WORK OUT LIKE THE LOCALS
Engaging in physical activity while traveling is a great way to learn from locals, says blogger Christine Fenner. If you’re in Australia and you see a cricket game, chat with the players and ask if you can join, she suggests. If you’re in Wisconsin in the winter, try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. “Do something that scares you a little,” Fenner urges. “When I was in Australia, I tried abseiling where I rappelled down into a canyon.” Research your destination to see if you can join a local 5K. Training for it will keep you active all the way to race day, she adds. A local park can be an excellent place to find like-minded people working out, suggests trainer Skuli Palmason.
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BRING HEALTHY SNACKS
Packing healthy snacks for your vacation can be a lifesaver on long travel days, says trainer Skuli Palmason. Your favorite bag of nuts, seeds and dried fruits will give you plenty of energy when food options are sparse. Dried foods also last longer, he adds. If you want to snack on fresh food, consider bringing or buying a small portable cooler, suggests blogger Christine Fenner. While traveling through Australia, Fenner bought a cooler that she kept in her car stocked with yogurt and other healthy snacks. She added ice frequently to keep the food fresh.
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LIMIT DINING OUT
When vacationing, try to limit the number of times you eat out at restaurants, says blogger Christine Fenner. If your hotel has a refrigerator, buy yogurt or milk and cereal and make your own breakfasts. Grab a healthy lunch at a local grocery store or food stand, and then have a nice dinner out, Fenner suggests. “When I travel, I’ll go to a grocery store and grab stuff from the deli like premade salad, turkey, a loaf of bread and lettuce and tomatoes,” Fenner says. “I cut the food with my Swiss Army knife and have a picnic lunch. It’s a great way to eat healthier, and it helps the budget.” If it’s appropriate for your destination, consider packing camping equipment and roughing it for a few days – and cooking your own meals.
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One of the best cultural experiences is eating local delicacies or visiting a farmers market while on vacation. You’ll be supporting local growers and learning more about the destination. Don’t be afraid to try something new. “When I was traveling in the South, I bought okra at a farmers market,” says Christine Fenner. Trainer Skuli Palmason says when he travels, he always eats what the locals eat. “It’s much cheaper, much better food, and often healthier than [what you find in] the touristy restaurants,” Palmason notes. “I’ve never gotten sick from eating street food.”
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DRINK IN MODERATION
Alcohol is packed with empty calories that can add up if you’re drinking every day on vacation, says blogger Skuli Palmason. Often, the same people who drink a lot on vacation will also eat a lot, which can lead to more added pounds. “I’m not saying you should skip it altogether, just try to drink in moderation and not every night,” Palmason suggests. Drinking in moderation will also help you maintain the energy you need to exercise and be active. “Who wants to work out when they’re hung-over?” Palmason points out.
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REWARD YOURSELF WITH WELLNESS
You’ve taken care to eat well and stay active, so give yourself a reward that’s not only fun, but also can improve your well-being. Visit a day spa and get a massage, pedicure or facial. Or if your destination has it, travel to the local hot springs for a relaxing natural dip that will leave you feeling recharged and give you a new outlook. Research online message boards dedicated to visiting lesser-known hot springs around the world. Many cities also have websites that feature special offers or group deals for services such as massages that only locals know about.
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Eating right and exercising are important elements of a healthy vacation, but so is maintaining your spiritual and mental well-being, says Christine Fenner. She always brings her iPod on vacation, filled with soothing music and meditations. “You’ll always experience stress while traveling, whether it’s a bumpy airplane [ride] or just a bad day in general,” Fenner observes. Set aside time to breathe and relax, she advises. Research your destination to see if public tai chi or yoga classes are available, or consider visiting a house of worship. “If you’re in a city where there is a different prominent religion, go take a tour of a church, mosque or synagogue and learn about the religion,” Fenner suggests. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover how others find spiritual connections.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are you a master at maintaining good health while you’re traveling? How do you stay fit? We’d love to hear your ideas. Share your tips with fellow travelers in the comments below.
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