9 Nutrition Tips to for a Healthier Vacation

by Jennifer Maas

You have your non-refundable resort reservations set. You purchased your airline tickets off Expedia three months ago. And you bought four swimsuits for the price of one when it was still snowing. But now that your vacation is actually upon you, you may realize you haven't given a lot of thought to your nutritional needs.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure you've done your research and made comprehensive Foursquare lists of every place that has the "best [insert regional food here]" that you want to try at your destination. And that's the way it should be, because who wants to deprive themselves of anything their hard earned vacation has to offer?

But before you put your vacation blinders on, it's a good idea to give a passing thought to little things you can do to keep your nutritional needs met, while still having a great time. After all, vacations don't last forever, and when you get home you don't want to have a run-down body as a souvenir.

1. Limit Your Intake of Drinks With Umbrellas

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Here you are, finally installed in a lounge chair on an island in the sun, and you are ready for a beachy cocktail. You should definitely have it, but try not to order the sweetest beverage on the menu. Drinks with those enticing little umbrellas are usually much higher in sugar than other drinks (that's why they taste better, duh) and much more caloric. Since counting calories is the last think anyone wants to do on vacation, try substituting wine or beer for the fruitier drinks half the time. And if that feels too restricting, consider banning just piña coladas — one is the caloric equivalent of a 9 oz. steak.

2. Eat What and When You Really Want To

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You know how "eating when you're bored" is often the reason given for all the mindless munching people do? Turns out we mindlessly consume food when were having fun too. When you're on vacation, there are dozens of opportunities a day to eat, especially if you're on a cruise or have an all-inclusive package at a resort. It seems like food is everywhere, from the endless buffets, to the swim-up bar that serves nachos, to the 24-hour room service, and the free snacks that just seem to be magically sitting on every surface — not to mention the eating you do at actual meals in restaurants.

But before you dig in, take a second to think about whether you're actually hungry and whether you'd be eating those nachos if they weren't just there. And try not to frame it in terms of weight and calories but rather enjoyment: The best reason not to mindlessly snack is to avoid feeling stuffed and uncomfortable all day, and so you'll have room for the food you're most excited to eat.

3. Don't Have a Starve and Splurge Mentality

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Thinking that if you only have a fruit plate at breakfast — when they have crazy-good looking banana nut pancakes that you really want to try — you get the "reward" of a bottomless brownie sundae later is not going to make your vacation eating any healthier. Why? Because if you eat nothing all day in preparation to eat an entire goblet-sized sundae, you will probably be so ravenous that you are capable of eating an entire goblet-sized sundae. And that will only make you feel miserable.

So why not have what you want at every meal, but just eat a smaller portion? If you order that stack of banana nut pancakes, chances are that you will not be able to eat them all, and someone else at the table would love to share them with you. So you can have half the stack (which will probably equal out to what a "normal" stack would be) and that fruit plate. Approach all of your meals like this, and you can eat what you want without having to "be good" so you can "splurge."

4. Walk in the Early Morning or Late at Night

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As much as vacations are supposed to be about relaxing, there always seem to be endless activities from the time you wake up till the time you go to sleep. The one problem with these activities is that they tend to be fairly sedentary — lying on the beach with a drink in your hand, sitting on a tour bus, watching a show, you get the idea. So how are you supposed to get any exercise?

Don't expect yourself to keep up with any normal workout routines, unless of course you are staying in a resort with a gym and you can pull yourself out of that giant pillow of a bed to get to that gym. It's probably more realistic to take time for a short walk once a day, most likely in the morning before breakfast or at night after dinner. It's certainly not hot yoga, but it doesn't need to be. It is still exercise that your body will thank you for and an excellent way to clear your head and really appreciate your getaway too.

5. Head to a Grocery Store or Market Early in Your Trip

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A common tip to for staying healthy while on vacation is to bring snacks from home so that you have "healthy options" to eat throughout your trip. Well that's good advice in theory, but it isn't that practical. For one, you can't bring anything fresh or that needs to be refrigerated because, how are you gonna get it there? So what you end up with are a dozen tiny 100-calorie packs that you will end up going through in the first two days and that had next no nutritional content to begin with.

A better idea is to try and go to a grocery store near your hotel, resort, or beach house within your first day of vacation. There is usually somewhere near any vacation destination, because the locals have to get groceries somewhere. So get over there early and load up on a few things. Look for fruits, vegetables, and fresh snacks that you actually consume on a regular basis at home. Are you really going to dig into papayas and guava if someone else isn't cutting and serving them to you? Probably not.

6. Stay Hydrated

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It seems like we are constantly being told we don't drink enough water, and the fact that water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight is always being thrown at you without anyone explaining what that actually means, let alone how much you really need to drink. The reason there is no consistent answer to that question is that how much water one needs is based on a lot of factors specific to each person. Your sex, how much you weigh, and how active you are all come into play when talking about water consumption.

When you're on vacation, there are even more factors than usual, as both being in the heat and alcohol consumption can dehydrate you. And dehydration can lead to heat stroke, which is life threatening. So you know you need to drink water, the question is just how much? Well, The Institute of Medicine determined that the adequate intake (AI) for the average, healthy adult woman living in a temperate climate is 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day. Notice that's beverages, not just water, because all fluids count toward the daily total. And in that case, this can easily be accomplished by drinking a couple glasses with each meal and a few more throughout the day for good measure when in the heat.

7. Check Out the Menu In Advance

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This one is usually something you've already done if you're a foodie or just excited about a particular restaurant you're headed to during your stay. But if you're not accustomed to doing this, it's actually a great way to make better choices about what you want to eat. It's just like the idea behind not going to the grocery store when you're hungry.

When you go out to eat you're hungry, excited, and can become overwhelmed by your options. Deciding in that moment can lead you to make some poor decisions, like picking a bacon cheeseburger or some less than creative twist on a Caesar salad. Don't waste your night out. Plan ahead so you know what they make best and what you're excited about. You don't want to spend the evening eating something sub-par while your friend devours the most delicious dish you've ever seen.

8. Limit Your Fast Food Intake

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This builds on the last tip. If you've done your research and know there are better things to be had on your trip than a McDouble, why would you even go through a drive-thru? Sure, you may have to turn to fast food in an airport or road stop on your way to your destination, but try to limit your Happy Meal intake strictly to those instances. And make healthy choices when you can. If the airport convenience store sells hummus and pretzel packs, get those. You have so many delicious vacation meals ahead — what do you need a hot dog and Doritos for?

9. Don't Beat Yourself Up

Remember that this is your hard-earned vacation — you deserve a break from self criticism. Choose the healthiest food you can with the goal of feeling good throughout your trip, but know that consuming a few less-than-nutritious meals will not damage your body. Now go enjoy the beach!

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