How To Stay Fit and Maintain Healthy Habits on Vacation

Originally posted by Crystal on June 10, 2021

Updated with text on October 7,2021

Couple relaxing on a sandy tropical beach on vacation.

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If you’re getting ready for summer vacation and wondering how you can stay fit and maintain healthy habits on vacation, you’ve come to the right place. I’m a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach. These are the tried and true strategies I use to stay on track when I’m on vacation. Spoiler alert, depriving myself isn’t one of them.

I Know Where You’re Coming From

Summer is finally here, and I’m getting ready to head to the beach for some rest and relaxation. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say how good it feels to be making plans again. This past year has been especially tough for me physically. I was fresh out of rehab for a knee injury last year when COVID hit. I was weak, lacking in home gym equipment, and completely discouraged by how much my overall fitness level had dropped in just a short time . I’ve worked really hard over the past 6 months to get myself back to my pre-injury strength levels just in time for a summer full of travel plans. Yikes!

Whether you want to prevent bloat, avoid packing on a few unwanted pounds, or just maintain your momentum. I hear you! Like so many others, I want to enjoy myself without derailing my progress. Carving out vacation time is essential for our overall health and wellbeing. It’s a time to destress and connect with the world around us and the people we love. The truth is, we can stay on track and achieve that much-needed change of pace and fresh perspective. It’s all about balance, priorities, and remembering that the little things count.

First Things First: Use These Tips To Plan in Advance

Ask anyone who is passionate about health, and fitness and they’ll probably tell you that the secret sauce boils down to two things: your mindset and consistency over time. For me, a productive mindset means making my health a priority that and reminding myself that it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Being consistent (even with seemingly small things) really adds up over time and can prevent falling into the trap of taking one week off and really blowing it out only to find that the one week turns into weeks, months, or even years. As I found out first-hand this year, getting back on track can be a real uphill battle. If I make a plan, I am in control, and it puts me in a much better position for success. All of these strategies are easily doable and can be incorporated into a plan of action for just about any situation. While they may seem small, they prevent me from going completely off course and all of the guilt that comes with that. Yes, even trainers battle with those feelings from time to time, too!

Woman making a realistic plan to stay fit on vacation.

Make Sure Your Plan Is Realistic

Now that you’ve decided to make a plan, it’s important to ensure that it’s realistic. For example, if you know that you probably won’t have time for full workouts or access to equipment, plan accordingly. Or maybe you’re like me, and you want to indulge in the comfort foods that bring back so many great childhood memories when you visit your grandmother. Lemon Meringue pie is my absolute favorite! That’s okay, too. Plan accordingly. We’ll talk about striking a balance later (see tip #15). In other words, set yourself up for success by adhering to some of my top tips for staying in shape when you travel.

Here are my top tips for how to stay fit and maintain healthy habits on vacation…

These are things that I personally do to stay in shape and maintain my progress when I travel. Many of these are just good habits that you can work into your daily life. You’ll notice that I don’t deprive myself of anything. Unless we’re talking about an extended trip (more than a week), when I’m on vacation, I’m on vacation. I use my time off as a way to destress and reset mentally and physically. The goal is to return home refreshed, re-energized, and ready to pick up right where I left off.

1. Get in a few solid exercise sessions before you go.

I strength train 4 days per week on average. The week leading up to a vacation, I make sure I get in a few solid training sessions. If I have time, I’ll add finishers to the ends of my workouts or extra 30-minute cardio sessions on my off days. It can be tough to make it happen because I’m often scrambling to wrap things up at work, do laundry, pack, etc. But I find that making my workouts a priority heading into a break sets me up to make better choices while on vacay. This holds true for whatever you enjoy doing for physical activity and whatever the frequency. As tempting as it may be, try not to skip out on your exercise sessions the week before you go.

Woman packing fitness gear in suitcase to stay fit and maintain a healthy routine on vacation

2. Pack some workout gear.

Set yourself up for success and pack like you mean it. It will be tough to hit the gym or go for a run if you don’t have comfortable clothes and a pair of shoes in tow. If you plan on walking or engaging in activities that won’t break much of a sweat, the wear anywhere athleisure trend really comes in handy. You can work a little physical activity into your day, look stylish doing it, and you don’t even have to change clothes. Stretchy pants for the win!

For reference, here’s a rundown of the fitness gear I’m bringing on my upcoming 7-day vacay…

  • Pedometer
  • Cross Trainers
  • Socks
  • Sling Shot Hip Circle (I never leave home without it)
  • Travel Size Foam Roll and Lacrosse Ball for self-myofascial release
  • Mix and Match shorts/leggings and tops
  • Headphones

3. Drink plenty of water.

Drinking water cannot be understated. Proper hydration checks hunger, helps your metabolism, and keeps you regular, if you know what I mean. When I get to wherever I’m going, the first thing I do is figure out my water situation. You can either buy some bottled water or bring a reusable water bottle with you to fill on the go. How much water you need is highly individualized, and the more active you are, the more you sweat, the more you need. NASM published an excellent article on their blog about the importance of hydration with general guidelines for intake. You can find it here.

Tip: As a general rule, I try to avoid drinking my calories. If you have a hankering for a beverage that isn’t water, unsweet teas can really hit the spot.

"Rise and shine" message on a lightbox with notebook, glass of water, and fresh flowers on the bedside table.

4. Drink 16oz of water first thing.

Seriously, first thing. And before coffee. I know, I love my coffee, too. So I make sure I have some water on my nightstand as a reminder to drink it first. I notice a difference in my hunger and energy levels when I don’t do this.

5. Wear comfy shoes, walk more, and count your steps.

I love counting my steps. On days when I work, I aim for 12K minimum. On my days off, I try to squeeze in an extra 2-3k steps. When I achieve these goals regularly, my legs feel lighter and leaner, and I have more pep in my step. I really try to up my step game when I travel. Some destinations lend themselves well to walking, like Disney World. For other destinations, you may have to make a conscious effort. If you’re oceanside, take strolls on the beach. Walk stretches on the golf course instead of riding in the golf cart. If you’re in the city, opt for city walks instead of Uber, where you can. One of my absolute favorite things to do is to get up early and walk to a nearby coffee shop while the world is asleep. I tried this for the first time in New Orleans and I’ve been hooked ever since. It was the only time I was able to stop and really enjoy unobstructed views of the city.

Tip: You can use a fitness tracker device or app to track your steps, but I personally prefer a simple pedometer. Call me old fashioned, I prefer to be unplugged.

6. Create space in your days for short exercise sessions.

You don’t have to spend your vacation doing hours of formal exercise, but I’ll bet you can find 15-20 minutes here and there. Chances are that once you get started, you’ll end up doing more. Go for a run or use the rowing machine in the hotel gym. It will work wonders for your energy levels! I’m not much of a runner, but I have friends who swear by their morning run on vacation. There’s just something about being outdoors in a new environment that’s so invigorating.

If I’m on a more extended trip (5-7 days) and have access to a well- equipped gym, I’ll try to squeeze in a couple of 45-minute full-body strength training sessions. If I don’t have access to a gym and have plenty of space in my room, I’ll do bodyweight circuits. I always, always travel with at least one band. If nothing else, I stretch, do pushups, and glute activation in the morning. It’s important to be mindful of your fitness level. You don’t want to jump into anything strenuous that you’re not used to doing. Nobody wants to be sore or hurt on vacation.

Tip: Do a little research upfront so that you know what type of equipment and space you have access to. This will make your exercise sessions more efficient and worthwhile.

Joyful runner getting in her early morning city run.

7. Be an early bird.

As I’ve mentioned, mornings are a great time to squeeze in an exercise session. This is especially true if you’re traveling with family or friends who like to sleep in a little bit. You get some Me Time, and it doesn’t take away from time together. When I’m at home, I prefer to work out in the afternoon, but there is something to be said for getting it out of the way first thing. This is especially true when you’re traveling. Embrace the unexpected and spontaneous. That’s what vacations are for! The later you wait, the less likely you are to make time for it.

Leisure Equipment: Badminton rackets, flip flops and visors can help you be more active on vacation.

8. Try new active leisure activities.

One of the best ways to up your calorie burn is by being physically active while enjoying all that your destination has to offer. If your resort offers yoga on the beach, give it a try. Rent beach cruisers and explore the boardwalk. Go hiking, sailing, snorkeling, whatever floats your boat! You get extra credit for outdoor activities. Nothing refreshes the mind and restores the soul quite like a date with nature.

9. Moderate your alcohol consumption.

This almost goes without saying, but people tend to consume more alcohol in social settings or when they’re on vacation. I like to have a glass of wine with my dinner or a cocktail at happy hour, too. Just be mindful of consumption and don’t overdo it. Per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, drinking in moderation means no more than 2 drinks per day for males and 1 drink a day for females. The number of ounces in those drinks counts, too. You can refer to the CDC for a handy reference with graphics. Besides the obvious health benefits of moderating consumption or avoiding alcohol altogether, nothing ruins a vacation quite like the dreaded hangover. You can also impact your metabolism for days after by consuming too much.

Tip: I personally love to have a glass of Topo Chico with mint and lime or sparkling water with a splash of cranberry juice and lime during happy hours. It’s effervescent, refreshing, and in the right glassware, has a cocktail vibe. Ask the bartender to rim it with salt.

10. If you imbibe, skip the sugary drinks.

I’m from Texas, y’all, and I love tacos and a good frozen margarita. But did you know that a frozen margarita can set you back as many as 500 calories (or more)?! Ditto for that delicious Pina Colada. Skip the extra calories and sugar and opt for vodka, tequila, or gin with soda and lime/oranges instead. Or have a low-calorie light beer or a glass of dry red or white wine. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir , Tempranillo, or Brut Champagne are good choices. In fact, I usually bring my own so that I know I can get the good stuff. I’m a fan of Scout and Cellar. Such a fan, that I’m a consultant on the side just for fun. You can find out more here. Of course, if that margarita is calling your name, get it skinny and on the rocks.

Tip: Make your wine last longer by making a spritzer. Just add sparkling water and jazz it up with some fresh fruit.

Healthy snacks to help you stay fit and maintain healthy habits on vacation.

11. Prepare to snack smart.

When you’re in unfamiliar territory or on the go, it’s easy to find yourself going for long stretches without a balanced meal or lacking food options. Pack or pick up some healthy snacks that travel well.

My personal picks are…

  • Fresh, whole fruit like apples, oranges, and bananas
  • Nuts
  • Sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • Protein/Snack bars (I personally like Rx Bars. Having one of these with a cup of coffee is really great for satisfying the occasional sweet tooth, too)
  • Rice cakes or whole-grain crackers and single-serve packets of nut butter

12. Share food

Trying the local cuisine and spending time with my favorite people are the highlights of travel for me. So much so that most of the time, my vacations are planned around meals. One of the easiest ways to try all the things without overindulging is to share. Eat family-style: split a couple of appetizers and an entrée. Order that decadent dessert with four spoons. Take a queue from the Spaniards and opt for small plates and linger awhile. Sometimes the best way to sample the flavors on the menu is to try a few appetizers. I think this is one of the reasons why Ashlee and I travel so well together. We both have adventurous palettes, so it’s easy to share. Plus, when you share food, you’ll always have something fun to talk about.

13. Eat fresh. local fare and savor every bite.

Skip the fast foods and junk foods that you could get anywhere and save room for fresh, local fare if you can. And don’t forget to slow down and savor every bite. As they say, “when in Rome,” you’re on vacation after all.

14. Strike a balance.

I personally don’t like to count calories or macros when I’m on vacation because it’s nice to have a mental break. Even though I don’t meticulously track what I eat, I do try to make balanced choices. For example, suppose I know that I’m going out for a special dinner complete with pre-dinner cocktails, coffee and dessert. In that case, I’ll opt for a lighter breakfast and lunch centered around veggies and lean protein. I also try to drink plenty of water and move more on those days.

Tip: I have been tracking food for years, so I have gotten really good at eyeballing food portions. If you’re just starting out or counting calories and macros is helpful for you, there are many great fitness apps that make it easy to do on the go. I really like My Fitness Pal . You may not get an exact count if you eat out a lot but you can get close.

15. Keep things in perspective.

At the end of the day, you’re on vacation and it’s okay to enjoy yourself. That’s the point, right? After all, a little R&R is good for your health, too. If you indulge a little too much one day, don’t beat yourself up. Simply get back on track the next day. Even if you find yourself doing only half of what you planned to do, just showing up for yourself in small ways can help with motivation. I’m a big proponent of progress over perfection. When I’m on vacation, my goal is to maintain my hard earned progress without veering completely off course so that I can pick up where I left off when I return home. Fitness is a long game – it’s all about consistency over time.

16. Squeeze a workout in (even a short one) within the first few days after your vacay.

This tip might be the most important for me personally. I don’t sleep well when I travel, so I always seem to return exhausted and it takes me a week or so to snap out of it. I have found this to be true whether I’m returning from a short weekend getaway or a longer trip. It’s easy to allow a week to turn into months. If I can get a workout in within the first 48-72 hours of returning home from a vacation, I am more likely to avoid the post-vacation slide. Even just getting back on a walking schedule can work wonders.

Safe travels,

Do you have any tried and true strategies that you use stay on track when you’re on vacation? If so, drop us a line and share! If you incorporate some of my tips for staying fit on vacation into your travel planning, I’d love to hear how it went.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional.  The information I provide is based on my personal experience, and my experience as a Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach. To learn more, you can read my full website disclaimer here.