I have just returned from a vacation with my kids, and have been ruminating about how to keep healthy when you are on vacation, or when you travel frequently as I do for my job. To say it is easy is disingenuous, as you have to be careful and you need to be somewhat vigilant and moderate in most things. However you can maintain a healthy balance when you are on vacation, or when you travel, or even when you just go out for a meal. Here are my tips to maintaining your balance – both in eating and in exercise. (I apologize in advance if tips seems a little preachy, but it’s just my thoughts and what I do to keep fit and strong. As with anything, your mileage may vary.)
Exercising on the Road
The key, in my experience, is to maintain your exercise level. I will normally run every day, or at least every other, while I am away. I am normally active 5 or 6 times per week so going for a 30 to 45 minute run before my day starts really works for me. Most hotels have a gym with a treadmill, and while I personally loathe running via the infernal machine – I call them “gerbil runs” – it’s what is available to me in the winter. I prefer to run outdoors, frankly, but in winter that requires so much extra gear to take with me when I travel that I find it easier to just pack my lightest running clothes and run on the ‘mill.
In the warmer weather, I find it wonderful to explore both familiar and unfamiliar cities on a run. Most hotels will give you some preferred running routes – normally a 3 mile and a 5 mile route – and I will give special mention to the Westin Workout program, which (depending on the property) will provide you everything you need including trail routes and clothing. I have been lucky enough to sight-see in several cities just by lacing up my running shoes and heading out the door; it’s very therapeutic for the rigour of travel. However that is not always possible, and in fact not always preferable. If your hotel doesn’t have a gym you can use, ask at the desk – they often have a relationship with a local gym that you can use for free. Or ask your own gym, as they probably have a reciprocal arrangement with a gym in the city you are travelling to.
When you are on vacation, a true vacation with beaches and water and docks and sunshine and drinks served in coconuts with little umbrellas in them, you may not want to spend time in a gym – I certainly don’t! While I do take the opportunity for early morning runs some of that time, I think that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The greatest part of being fit, in my opinion, is being able to do pretty much anything you want to.. I am an avid lover of swimming and the water, and I absolutely love to scuba dive. Hiking, swimming, bike touring, walking tours – all those sorts of activities can really make a wonderful supplement to, and a fantastic break from, your normal workout routine and provide fantastic sights that you won’t see anywhere else. I recently went and did some fascinating (and easy) cave dives at Dudu Caves in the Dominican Republic, and I really have my fitness to thank for the ability to know that I could do it, and to know that I could concentrate on my skills without worrying about my strength or ability. Variety being the spice of life, it can also re-energize your regular work-out routine.
As a great example, on this most recent vacation my kids and I climbed the scenic lookout tower in Dorset, Ontario. When I got to the top, I got to admire the vista from the heart of Muskoka across the lakes and trees and cottages. All the other adults were huffing and puffing once they reached the top of the 142 metre structure, as I had been in the fall of 2009 when I climbed it last. This time, I did it without even breaking a sweat in the truest sense.
Getting and staying fit will lead to more “yeah, I can do that” moments, more amazing photographs from remote places, and more fantastic memories to take home. It is truly marvellous.
Eating on the Road
Watching what you are eating when you are travelling is an entirely different, and sometimes altogether much harder story. I’ve never watched The Biggest Loser, as I’ve mentioned before, but I’m told that after the show they do some advice and tips – including how to order food in most North American restaurants. That advice includes a lot of phrases like “grilled”, “broiled”, “poached (not in butter or cream)” and most importantly “on the side”. I echo that, and find that I often take longer with questions and my order than my dining companions – at least my first time there.
Most of the large chains, including the fast food chains of late, are trying to have healthier items on their menus – some more successfully than others. In my job, I dine out quite a lot, and it is often at one of several trendy, upscale chain restaurants. My approach is simple – generally a meal-sized salad, adding lean protein such as grilled chicken or grilled salmon, and unless it’s a vinaigrette, I ask for dressing on the side; I will often start with a non-cream based soup. The result is a remarkably filling meal, with an abundance of flavour and very fresh, vibrant ingredients; these often include fresh berries and some amazing goat or feta cheese. If you just can’t order a salad, ask for a steak – no sauces – with extra seasonal vegetables or a salad in place of the starch. Try and avoid the “signature” items as they tend to be fatter cuts of beef, or covered in rich flavourful sauces. And try to avoid hollandaise sauce – it is very rich, and often made way too far in advance for my food-safety comfort. Finally, watch out for Caesar salads – they are now often made from “creamy” Caesar dressing, and this is often as fattening as the richest of sauces, which is too bad because it truly is my favourite. Be sure to ask for this dressing on the side.
When on vacation in the tropic climes, it can be a lot more difficult. There are issues such as food safety in warmer areas (always wise to be somewhat careful of lettuce, tomatoes, and other foods with high water content that are served raw), although I know many people who will tell me I am wrong there. I tend to eat a lot of fruit, decent lean protein, and some starch. I’m a big lover of bean and rice dishes, so I tend to eat more of the local style foods when at a resort, and in most of the areas the seafood is quite good. If you can dig into the local food as much as you dig into the local culture, you’ll do just fine.
One of the big killers, especially at all-inclusive resorts, is the alcohol. Imbibe what you want, but if you are wanting to not have to work too much off when you get back, watch how much you drink. It will help you feel really well rested when you get back, and you won’t have to worry about how much extra weight you have put on because of the caloric impact and appetite stimulation effects of alcohol.
What I almost always steer clear of is dessert, unless it is mostly fresh fruit. That is a personal choice – I prefer to get my calorie load elsewhere – but it’s always been successful for me, and helps to keep my eating in check when I’m away. Having said that, it’s also your vacation. So, you may have to work a little bit harder, and dig a little bit deeper, when you get back. You still get to live, and love what you are doing, where you are, and what you are eating and drinking.
The End Goal
Ultimately, you want to stay healthy and you want to also have some fun while you are on the road. A lot of the tips might seem like you don’t get to have fun, go ahead and cut loose. Have fun. Let your hair down. Just remain a little vigilant and you will find that the results you worked so hard for (lets face it – everyone wants to look good on the beach) will be easy to maintain when you are away – and that means that you don’t have to punish yourself once you are back from your holiday.