No matter what kind of leisure plans you have this summer, beware of a common pitfall to most: adopting a “vacation mentality” for your nutrition and activity levels. Too many of us regard a vacation as an excuse to experience out-of-control eating, drinking, and inactivity. Or maybe you have the opposite problem: being so busy with sightseeing, shopping, etc., that you neglect to refuel your body properly or to rest.
The solution, of course, is a better mindset. Be as proactive with your health as you are with the other details of your trip. To start with, if you’re getting to your summer destination by car or bus, you might experience some additional challenges to your wellness routine. Here’s how a little prior preparation can save you from a lot of figurative heartache—not to mention literal heartburn and headache or other ills.
1. Start your trip—and each day of the vacation—with a healthful breakfast.
Whether you find yourself at a restaurant, at a hotel with a continental breakfast, or even at the food aisle of a gas station, avoid excess sugar, such as in muffins, pastries, sweet rolls, and bagels. High carbohydrate meals may improve your mood for a limited time, but lots of sugar can also make you feel sleepy. That’s not good if you’re the driver, but also not great if you want to enjoy the beautiful scenery or a swim.
When you order breakfast, choose an omelet filled with vegetables and a side of whole-wheat toast. Skip the greasy home fries. Oatmeal with fresh fruit or yogurt is another great option. Finding a local grocery store instead of a fast food restaurant will give you the best choices and probably will save you money as well.
2. Avoid common roadblocks to health by preparing ahead.
Driving yourself somewhere? Your map should contain more than just route numbers.
It’s difficult to resist the typical roadside fast food offerings: bags of chips, greasy fries, and lots of soda. Please remember that these foods are almost always full of bad fats, lots of calories, and not much nutrition. Plus, eating junk food for a couple of days can leave you feeling tired, irritable, and digestively challenged. Plan now to prevent these troubles.
- Know where and when you’ll stop for food breaks. (Hint: Open parks are better choices than fast-food parking lots or rest areas filled with nothing but rows of vending machines.)
- Pack food for meals and snacks. The best travel snacks are both healthful and nonperishable, such as trail mix, fruit, and cereals with low sugar content.
- Bring water and a cooler with bags of ice. Staying hydrated is especially important in the heat of summer. Don’t rely on being able to buy water along the way, either. You never know when a water fountain will be out of order or a vending machine will offer nothing but soda full of empty calories.
- Keep moving your body. Don’t be content to drive for hours and hours without a break. Not only is it draining, but it can also be dangerous as boredom sets in. Be sure to stretch and take a short walk periodically. (And don’t forget to stand up and walk around on airplane trips; that kind of sitting is no good for you, either.)
3. Eating nutritious meals on the road is challenging but doable.
If you’re traveling by bus, you won’t have as much control over when and where the break stops happen. But you’ll still have some choices you can make. When lunch and dinner on the road mean going to some kind of a restaurant, keep these tips in mind.
- Where to eat: Usually, driving just an extra minute or two from the highway gets you to better choices than the fast-food line-up right at each exit. Start your break with a brisk walk to a real restaurant. Full-service restaurants offer a wider array of healthful choices—or maybe you’ll even find a farmer’s market or a roadside stand of local produce. Keep an open mind and indulge in some new, local culinary experiences rather than the predictable (and less than healthful) McDonalds, Starbucks, etc.
- What to order: Restaurant portions are oversized these days. Consider ordering an appetizer and a salad (but beware of those taco salads with lots of ingredients and creamy salad dressings) or sharing an entrée. Look for vegetables because they have fiber and keep you feeling satisfied for longer. Beware of heavy foods or anything fried or greasy—they can make you feel tired. Pizza is a quick, popular choice. Make it a healthful one by declining the excess cheese and meat and adding mushrooms and vegetables plus a side salad. Dessert? Think fruit. (It is the summer after all.)
Sure, the extra details take some time to think about. But isn’t your continued wellness worth a little bit of special effort? Don’t let poor choices on the way to your destination set you up for feeling bad and undoing all the benefits of a break before you even have a chance to enjoy that time away.
If your vacation plans include travel by plane, you have a few additional unique challenges to consider.
Wishing you a safe, happy, and healthy end of summer.
P.S. In September, we’ll address some timely health and mindset issues and ways you can be empowered to be your own best healer that will help you get on track for the fall.