Travel is good for the soul, but it can be pretty taxing on the body. Poor food choices when you're away and out of your normal routine can leave you feeling bloated and lethargic — definitely not ideal when you're trying to enjoy your trip.
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And there's research pointing to some unsavory long-term effects of leaving your healthy habits at home: Adults who take a one- to three-week vacation gain an average of nearly one pound during their trips, per a March 2016 study in Physiology & Behavior.
Whether you're jet-setting across the globe or packing the car for a road trip, here are some smart tips on how to eat healthy on vacation, so you can feel your best and easily get back to your healthy routine once you return.
1. Skipping Meals
You might forget to eat on vacation because you're too caught up relaxing on a beautiful beach, sightseeing or embarking on other exciting adventures. But skipping meals can cause your blood sugar to drop and set you up for unhealthy eating throughout the rest of the day.
Eating a healthy breakfast when you travel can be particularly important (unless you typically practice a specific, consistent eating schedule such as intermittent fasting). "Do some reconnaissance to get to know your hotel's breakfast options before you arrive," Monica Auslander Moreno, RDN, a Miami-based dietitian, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "If there's a buffet, don't count on it having healthy fare."
No good options? Moreno recommends packing (or stopping by a grocery or convenience store to purchase) the following healthy breakfast items:
- Apples, bananas, oranges
- Single-serving nut butter packets
- Instant oatmeal packets or cups
- Protein bars that are low in sugar, high in fiber and only have a few ingredients
- Organic milk boxes for kids that don't require refrigeration until they are opened
Read more: How Bad Is It Really to Skip Breakfast?
Mindful snacking is another smart option if you have to miss meals, according to Michele Sidorenkov, RDN, a trained chef and dietitian. "Have high-fiber and high-protein snacks on hand that you can easily carry throughout the day — like a nut bar or low-sodium beef jerky," she tells LIVESTRONG.com.
2. Not Drinking Enough Water
It's also easy to forget to drink water when you're running around, but staying hydrated is crucial for staying healthy and feeling your best.
In fact, water has so many health benefits — it can do everything from helping nutrients and oxygen reach your cells to removing waste from your body to regulating your body temperature and balancing your electrolytes, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Plus, water is calorie-free, helps fill you up and is even linked to aiding weight loss.
So, how can make sure you're drinking enough H2O on your trip? "Bring your own reusable water bottle and refill it frequently," Moreno says. "And, if water seems mundane or not exciting enough when you're out, order a club soda with lemon or lime."
3. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Vacation can throw your sleep routine out of whack due to the time change, loud noises at your hotel or simply not being accustomed to sleeping in a new place.
That's unfortunate because sleep deprivation can cause a person to eat an average of 385 extra calories the next day, according to a meta-analysis of 11 studies published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Here's a smart tip to get better sleep while you're away: "My biggest issues with sleep in hotel rooms are actually not enough pillows and the frigid air conditioner," Moreno says, "So I call ahead and ask for extra pillows, and I pack pajamas suitable for an arctic adventure."
In other words, do whatever it takes for you to be as comfortable as possible when you're away. And, of course, try to practice good sleep hygiene just as you would at home, including minimizing screen time before bed.
4. Drinking More Alcohol Than You Normally Do
When you're on vacation, it's typical to feel like you should be drinking and celebrating because you have less responsibility the following day.
"People are more likely to drink more throughout the day, like mimosas with brunch, a beer at the pool, a few glasses of wine with lunch and dinner," Sidorenkov says. "You might not be buzzed at any point throughout the day but looking back, you might have consumed five or six cocktails and it all adds up."
"If you love cocktails and all of a sudden switch to wine to save on calories, you might have a bigger hangover the next day because that isn't something you typically drink."
But you don't have to avoid drinking altogether. Absolutely enjoy yourself, says Sidorenkov, although she recommends opting for lower-calorie alcoholic drinks — such as a vodka with soda water and lime — over high-calorie mixed drinks with juices, syrups, and sweeteners.
That said, of course, always stick with what you know. "If you love cocktails and all of a sudden switch to wine to save on calories, you might have a bigger hangover the next day because that isn't something you typically drink," she says.
And if you do decide to drink, always pair your cocktail with a glass of water to pace yourself and minimize those next-day head-throbbing effects.
5. Overindulging All Day, Every Day
Many cruise ships and resorts offer all-inclusive deals, which can mean endless buffets, unlimited beverages and late-night room service.
And while it can be physically and mentally healthy to practice the 80/20 rule (eating nutritiously 80 percent of the time and giving into the occasional indulgence during the remaining 20 percent), that rule can easily get stretched to the max while on vacation.
Sidorenkov's advice is to really enjoy what you are eating instead of mindlessly snacking away. "Slow down and pay attention to all of the flavors, smells and textures of this one potentially 'binge-worthy' item," she says. "You'll feel more satisfied, even when eating less."
6. Eating the Wrong Foods at the Airport
Healthy eating doesn't start or end once you land. Grabbing a snack or a meal at the airport is unavoidable for most travelers — however, some choices are better than others.
"Foods that are higher in protein and fiber keep you fuller for a longer period of time, which helps stabilize your appetite and blood sugars," Sidorenkov says. She recommends choosing nutrient-dense, filling foods such as a whole-wheat turkey wrap or a hummus-and-veggie cup instead of juice or a bag of chips to keep the snack cravings at bay.
Those nutrient-dense foods might be a bit higher in calories, but they will be working throughout the day to keep your hunger cravings under control.
The bottom line about eating on vacation: Practice moderation while still giving yourself shameless permission to indulge now and then in foods and beverages — especially new ones! — you know you'll enjoy. You're on vacation, after all.