7 Tips to Eat and Stay Healthy on Vacation

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Eating healthy on vacation
Wellness Mama » Blog » Travel » 7 Tips to Eat and Stay Healthy on Vacation

Ahh, vacation. Just saying the word usually evokes visions of relaxing by the pool, drinks with tiny umbrellas, a plethora of succulent foods, building sandcastles, and a beach-ready body.

(At least it did before kids!)

While traveling somewhere new is (almost) always lots of fun, trying to eat healthy on vacation can be a challenge.

Staying Healthy on Vacation?

It’s funny, but rarely do you ever hear talk of post-vacation syndrome — you know, needing a vacation to recover from the vacation? Some of the symptoms are sunburned skin, chlorine-damaged hair, very little sleep, and ten extra pounds that magically appears.

Vacation is typically about indulgence and it can be very hard to pass up delicious brownie sundaes or deep-fried… well… ANYTHING. I’m not against the occasional treat but vacation can also turn into treat after treat after treat…

We’re only human, but for the most part we try to put good things into our bodies even on vacation. At the end of our hectic day real food helps our bodies to function properly and give us energy (and may also help protect skin from the sun).

I don’t know what it is about sleeping in a hotel room or condo, but somehow on vacation, it is easy to leave our rational, nutritionally savvy selves at home and replace them with wide-eyed tourists without any regard for healthy eating. With limited ability to cook and store food, convenience often wins. Plus there is often a tempting local cuisine to try! (My downfall: anything smothered in BBQ sauce).

After years of trial and error, I’ve found some tried-and-true tips that allow us to enjoy ourselves on vacation, without falling into overindulgence or a gluten-induced hangover.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan

My husband is fond of saying that “proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance” and never do I find this more true than in the kitchen!

Meal planning is the single best thing I do each week for my sanity and for our food budget. Since I started using this meal planner (the best one out there, period), I am able to plan seasonal meals in less than 5 minutes a week (and save money doing it). I use this system regularly at home, but realized that there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t use it on vacation too!

The beauty of meal planning is that my computer (and my phone with the app) go everywhere I go, so I have them when we travel too. I can plan around regional foods, like seafood while at the beach. I can also set the plan to skip certain meals that we plan to eat out so we buy only what we need without wasting anything or leaving food behind when we leave.

Most of the time when we travel, we drive to our destination, so I’ve also started pre-making as much of the food as possible. I batch cook and pre-make entire meals like casseroles, pre-cook meats, and make big batches of chicken salad so that I don’t have to cook much on vacation (which makes it an actual vacation for me!)

The pre-planning allows me to only bring what is needed and not have to pack things like spices and condiments since meals are pre-made.

2. Pack (Healthy) Snacks

Whether your destination is a short car ride or a 3-hour flight, having an arsenal of healthy, non-perishable snacks on hand can be the difference between processed airport (or gas station) food and a fresh alternative. Most hotels only offer continental breakfasts with highly processed foods (like cereal and pastries) and having better alternatives on hand saves time in the mornings and keeps us from feeling terrible.

These are some of the snacks I bring for the kids (or buy there) so we can eat healthy on vacation:

If we’re flying, I pack many of the same healthy snacks in my carry-on and make sure to boost our immune systems before the flight since we’re sure to be exposed to a lot.

3. Pretend You Are Eating at Home

For some reason, many people (me included in the past) feel like vacation is a time to completely disregard normal eating habits and budget constraints. For too long we spent enormous amounts of money eating processed foods at overpriced restaurants.

If I wouldn’t put it in my mouth at home, I probably shouldn’t put it in my mouth while in another state or country… but this is easier said than done.

Pre-making food helps a lot with this, since I don’t want to have food leftover that goes to waste. I also realized that much of the reason I like to eat out on vacation is that I want a break from cooking, so pre-making food helps with this as well. Most of all though, I just don’t think of vacation as a time to eat junk and mentally plan ahead of time to eat as we do normally (with occasional healthy treats).

If you’re really serious about your diet for health reasons, maybe even consider taking a staycation instead!

4. Skip the Sugar (or Limit to One a Day)

Though I think rules are important, it’s also important to know how to break or bend them without completely falling off track! If you are going to have a treat after a long day of sightseeing or laying on the beach, make an event out of it! Maybe it’s at the end of your trip or even in the middle, but pick one day where you plan on eating a special treat. Just don’t make it a regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner event the whole vacation and you’ll be OK!

I’ve also found that especially in summer months, I prefer a fresh smoothie (that may or may not also include rum) to any type of processed dessert anyway. If our family does go out for a special treat, we limit it to one meal.

5. Have a Picnic

Nothing says vacation like packing up a cooler or basket filled with delicious foods and copping a squat on a blanket overlooking a beautiful view. Instead of hitting up a local restaurant, go to a grocery store and have your kids help pick out what they’d like to eat (with your final approval of course). It will be just like eating at home, but in between yummy salads and sandwiches the kids can toss a football or play tag, all while soaking up some vitamin D.

6. Pack the Remedies

Unfortunately, bug bites, sunburns, and earaches can happen just as often on vacation (or even more often) than they do at home. I’ve learned the hard way the remedies I always need on vacation and now make sure to pack a small kit with all of these:

7. Don’t Stress

So you’ve fallen off the proverbial real food food wagon, filled with all its antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and proteins? Before you figure all is lost and take a running dive, face first, into the processed food cart, remember… Don’t stress! Just take stock of how your body is feeling and employ a few of these tricks to get back on track.

Remember, stress is the ultimate enemy and vacation is supposed to be a time to relax and rejuvenate. Don’t beat yourself (or your kids) up if you don’t adhere to your usual fantastic regimen. Just try to make the best food choices you can and above all ENJOY YOURSELF!

Do you have any tips to eating healthy on vacation?

This post was written and contributed by Nacia Walsh of NaciaWalsh.com.

7 Tips to Eat and Stay Healthy on Vacation

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


28 responses to “7 Tips to Eat and Stay Healthy on Vacation”

  1. Emily Avatar

    What if I am traveling where I can’t really eat the food because of safety reasons? What do you recommend bringing to supplement my diet while I’m away from healthy sources of food?

  2. Fanny Avatar

    It’s not just food that could cause you to pile on the pounds on holiday. You’ve got to consider what you’re drinking too. Of course, you’re allowed to relax and have a few drinks in the evenings. It’s about making smart choices. While a Pina Colada might have 490 calories, champagne contains around 84 calories =)

  3. Rachel Lewis Avatar
    Rachel Lewis

    I absolutely agree about learning how to break a rule here and then yet stay on track. Vacations are about letting loose and having fun, and while that doesn’t mean having to eat lots of stuff you’ll come to regret, it might mean enjoying a special meal or trying local delicacy, just don’t let it derail your efforts!

  4. Angela Avatar

    Great tips to keep in mind before I head out for my summer adventures! I definitely need to do a better job at planning ahead. I will be referring back to this. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Mary Avatar

    Hello, your stuff is very nice and i enjoy it. And it’s very true for children’s on vacation to stay healthy. Thanks for your guidance.

  6. Elizabeth Avatar

    I do pretty well on vacation. I know that dairy, grains and sugar make my skin break out and make me feel like crap. So it’s generally pretty easy to avoid them. I tend to snack less on vacation since we eat out more. It’s pretty easy to find a salad topped with protein just about anywhere. Not as clean as I would eat at home but still fine. I love coffee, so I always make sure to have some full fat coconut milk available to use as creamer. For car and plane rides, I make sure to have stuff packed. Coconut chips (without added sugar) are awesome because they hardly weigh anything and are very satisfying.

  7. Tanya S Avatar
    Tanya S

    When a home is focus on having less toxins through various sources…do you find that going on vacations sets your family’s health back a little (chorinated pool water, unfiltered water, chemical washed bedding, wifi/electric throughout hotels and museums, etc)…do you feel the get away itself balances out the all the “body exposures” (toxins) with the peace of mind of being away on a trip (relaxing) or does your body go through kind of a down transition from of those things it’s not really around? I’m just wondering…if you noticed a change…small example…we went to a dear friends recently and for the first time she 3 plug in air fresheners downstairs and as we visited and are lunch I could feel a light headache coming on from the strong smell.

  8. Alicia Avatar

    One thing I’m looking into is using small silicone cups/sippies in the car. We snack on the go so need access to water as we drive. (I haven’t found one I liked that is easy enough for daughter to use though.) I had been reading a lot lately about projectile risk in cars & my heavy water bottles are such a danger – I didn’t realize! Just wanted to pass that along!

  9. Annie Avatar

    Great advice. I am very encouraged to hear that you’re not perfect and that you, too, occasionally eat real vacation food. 🙂

  10. Tina Therese Englmayr Avatar
    Tina Therese Englmayr

    I am wondering if your children gets any reactions when they eat other kind of foods on vacation?
    My boys 5 and 7 have been on an healing program for about 4 years and can still not eat fruit or nuts without getting a reaction, and it can last for days. Dairy, grains or sugar would make them crazy (My oldest sons personality changes and my youngest gets very angry) so I could not cheat at all if we went on a vacation… So we nearly always stay at home..

  11. Kristine Avatar

    But what about the oatmeal? Aren’t oats grains? Shouldn’t we omit oats?
    I’m planning our vacation currently and I’m kind of confused about oats now…

  12. Jennifer Avatar

    We are going on vacation next week for a week…. my question is we have 5 children and I just found out I’m expecting number 6, YEA!! This is usually the time when my morning sickness kicks in with vengeance. I have been reading up on magnesium and bone broth and really kicked my eating into super food gear. Hoping to prepare my body for the changes occurring. I just didn’t know if you had any new tips on traveling with a large family and being pregnant. Thanks so much!

  13. Marty Avatar

    I try really hard to plan (as you said) i have my family eat exceptionally well the week before, encouraging the kids to understand that we are going to stock up on healthy energy to make the vacation more fun.  they seem to understand the theory that cars run on fuel and if you put bad fuel in them they don’t run well; food is fuel for us!  On the trip we decide as a family which meals we are going to cheat on so that our fuel does not go bad.  i really want my kids to understand that a healthy lifestyle is essential, i don’t want to emphasis the importance of fat or mommy is on a diet so i stick to food is fuel rather than food can be your worst enemy lol.

  14. Sebastian Moore Avatar
    Sebastian Moore

    I loved the idea of keeping a survival pack but I would like to ad few things that I usually keep. Having glucose powder always ready helps in boosting energy, it even helps when you don’t have water, so can be used an alternative. One thing which I never forgets is a pack of chocolates as it gives me sufficient calories for continued time. However not every one likes to keep chocolate due it being too sweet, you can use dark chocolates for that matter.

  15. Jen Avatar

    Funny, even when crappy food and desserts make us feel crappy, we still indulge on vacation!  Thanks for sharing some of the items you pack for snacks, I’m always looking for snack ideas.  The “free” breakfasts at a hotel seem like a good deal, but end up being sort of a nightmare.  Our last couple of vacations we have been able to rent a home and it’s so much easier to eat what we normally eat.  Great post!

  16. Joy Avatar

    Vacations are so hard… and it’s especially hard to say no to  3 year old! I pack snacks and try to order salads and fresh fruits but the drinks, french fries, ice cream or whatever is popular in that city also make their way onto our plates! And let’s not talk about the free buffets…

  17. Marta block Avatar
    Marta block

    Our #1 is to get a place that has a kitchen – that way breakfast is super easy & you can have lots of veggies for snacks & meals.  For a recent long plane trip, beef jerky, plantain chips, string cheese & trail mix were lifesavers! On the way home, I brought some hard-boiled eggs with us on the plane & that was a BIG mistake (the guy behind us asked his wife & daughter if they farted!)…lesson learned.  =)

  18. Sari Avatar

    FANTASTIC advice! I just poked fun at myself for eating like total crap about 2 weeks ago. I planned only our breakfasts so that was the only healthy thing we had lol. Great post!

    1. Nacia K. Walsh Avatar
      Nacia K. Walsh

      Its great that you are able to laugh at your crappy eating sometimes and hey at least you started out your day with a healthy meal!

  19. Nacia K. Walsh Avatar
    Nacia K. Walsh

    Thanks Erica! If you tend to snack a lot, like we do, eating 2 meals will certainly keep you full without spending all your money at restaurants. Great tip!

  20. Erica Avatar

    Very helpful, especially for one in the midst of planning a vacation as I am right now.  We also stick to two meals a day when on vacation with plenty of walking, walking, walking whether its along the beach or exploring the city.

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