Dietitian-Approved Tips For Feeling Your Best While On Vacation!

Nutrition and Diet

Travelling is definitely at the top of my list of favourite things to do. Camping, road trips, or getting away from the freezing temperatures in Winnipeg for a hot holiday, going on vacation is the best.

Vacation & Routines

Some of my trips are super active like heading out for a weekend of hiking. Others, like laying on a beach in Mexico for a week drinking cocktails can leave me feeling a little…meh. Relaxed – yes, but certainly not my healthiest.

As much fun as travelling is, when we’re out of our normal routines, our healthy habits can take a hit. Whether it’s digestive issues (heartburn, nausea, bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea, constipation), fatigue, migraines, or poor sleep – travelling can be tough on our bodies if we aren’t mindful of our choices. Since there is nothing worse than spending your precious vacation time on the toilet, or coming back feeling like you need another week off from work to recover – I’ve put together a list of my top strategies for staying healthy and feeling your best when you travel!

1. Food Intolerances, Allergies, or Sensitivities Don’t Take Vacations

Lactose intolerant? Have a digestive disorder like IBS? Do fried foods make acid reflux rear its ugly head?

Unfortunately, these things don’t just go away when we travel. You’ll probably thank yourself later if you avoid your known trigger foods as much as possible, and spend your vacation time having fun rather than running to the bathroom or dealing with heartburn pain. If poor food choices while travelling cause a flare-up in your symptoms, it can also be a really long and frustrating road to feeling good again once you return home. Sometimes in the fun of being on vacation we tell ourselves it’s ok to let loose on our dietary needs a bit, but if it’s going to interfere with enjoying your holiday is it really worth it?

Do Your Research

If you’re visiting a place with an unfamiliar food scene, do a little research beforehand to get an idea of what type of local dishes you can safely eat and tolerate. Learn what ingredients are part of the local cuisine that you might need to avoid so you can ask for them to be skipped. Learn how to say simple phrases like these in the local language if needed to avoid confusion and mishaps. A little extra effort beforehand can certainly be worthwhile if it means getting the most out of your vacation!

Remember: Most countries have their own set of food labelling rules. If you aren’t sure about what’s in a food product or dish served at a restaurant, it’s best to avoid it.

2. Stay Hydrated

This should be a no-brainer, but remembering to drink enough water can be challenging on the best of days. If we’re travelling in climates that are much warmer than our own, or in places where safe drinking water isn’t as readily accessible, it can be even tougher to get enough fluids in. Dehydration can cause minor symptoms like fatigue, headaches, constipation, or weakness, but in more serious circumstances severe dehydration can be a major health problem. Particularly, if alcoholic beverages are part of the mix! Not something you want to deal with while on vacation.

During flights, the air on planes tends to be very dry, and those wee little cups of water they provide just won’t cut it! Most airports also have limits on how much liquid you can bring past security, so even before you board your flight you’ve probably gone a few hours without much to drink.

I always bring an empty reusable water bottle with me in my carry-on. If it’s empty you can bring it past security without issue, and it’s usually easy to find a spot to fill it up as you’re killing time before your flight. It’s much more cost-effective than having to buy bottled water from the airport and having your reusable bottle handy on your trip is great too for heading out on hikes or just hanging by the pool!

3. Plan Active Activities While Travelling

Maybe there’s some great hiking in the area you’ll be visiting, or instead of a bus tour your can book a walking or biking tour. Or maybe a yoga class on the beach is more your style. No matter what type of movement feels good to you, staying active even while on vacation is great for reducing stress, helping to alleviate constipation, and improving sleep quality while away from home.

Most hotels these days have gyms or fitness centres, but why not see the sights AND get your workout done all in one go? Most of us would rather not waste our precious vacation time cooped up in a hotel gym, so instead of booking time to be on the treadmill, get out and do something active and adventurous!

Plan ahead! Before your trip, research active things to do in the area and make sure you bring the right gear. Running/hiking shoes, workout clothing and a water bottle are all a must. If other larger pieces of equipment (like skis, tennis rackets, or snorkelling gear) is required, most places will have rentals available.  

4. Pack Your Own Snacks

Unless you’re cycling across the country or touring around by canoe, travelling is a pretty sedentary activity. Sitting at the airport, sitting on the plane, sitting in the car. The quick/convenient food options that are available while travelling tend to be not-so-nutritious, or insanely overpriced. If you’ve ever paid $10 for a lame airport salad you know what I’m talking about.

Some easy snack ideas for your carry-on or car trip vacation:

  • Roasted chickpeas or edamame beans. Nutritious and versatile these are one of my favourite on-the-go snacks because they don’t need to be kept cold and are a great source of protein and fibre.
  • Energy bars. Look for ones with short ingredient lists that contain mostly recognizable ingredients. If you have some time to prep before traveling you can also make your own! (Find my fave no-bake protein bite recipe, here.) Just be sure they’re the kind that don’t need any refrigeration.
  • Dry Cereal. The mini boxes are awesome for traveling, or you can portion your own into containers or baggies in 3/4 cup servings. Choose cereals that are made with whole grains and are low in added sugars like shredded wheat or bran cereals.
  • Almonds, pistachios, or other nuts. Nuts are a win/win because they’ve got protein, fibre, and healthy fats to keep you full for a few hours. The pre-portioned packs are nice and convenient, or portion out our own into small bags of 10-15 nuts each.
  • Homemade trail mix. One of my favourite snacks to take on the road is a homemade trail mix. My secret ingredient is all bran buds which provide a great source of fibre and a nice balance to the calorie-dense nuts and seeds.

Here’s how to make it:

  • 2 cups all-bran buds
  • 1 cup almonds or peanuts, or a combination of the two.
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup dried fruit (I like cranberries, but use what you like!)
  • Optional: 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or M&Ms.

Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Portion out into 1/2 cup servings.

5. Be A Mindful Eater on Vacation

Almost anywhere you eat while on holidays, you can bet that the portion size you’re going to be served is more than you would typically eat at home. All-inclusive resorts with the endless buffets and snack bars can be a surefire way to encourage overeating and ignore our body’s hunger and satiety cues. Most tourist-y places also serve up interesting you-can-only-get-it-here food attractions that are usually delicious, but gigantic.

Mindful Eating

Practice some mindful eating strategies to get the most enjoyment out of your food, while avoiding overeating.

  • At the buffet, choose only your favourite foods. I like to take a look at all of the different buffet options before I take grab a plate and dive in. If I’m not sure whether or not I’ll like something, I take a tiny sample of it to try. If it’s good, I can always go back for more.
  • Use the hunger scale to gauge hunger and fullness. Imagine your hunger on a scale of 1-10. 1 Is the absolute hungriest you’ve ever been, 10 is the absolute fullest you’ve ever been. Try to avoid eating beyond a 6 on the hunger scale. You should feel satisfied with your meal, but not like you’re going to burst.
  • Slow down and pay attention to your food. When we eat too quickly, our hunger and satiety signals get all out of whack. It takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to tell our brains that we’re full, so eating more slowly can help us recognize those cues before we go past the point of fullness.
  • Sharing is Caring! If you’re travelling with friends or family, split a meal or dessert so you can get a taste of all the goodness without winding up feeling too full.

6. Be Smart About Boozing

Headache, nausea, tummy troubles, and fatigue are just some of the nasty side effects of imbibing. While most of the symptoms we feel when we’re hungover stems from dehydration, alcohol can irritate the lining of our stomach, which can lead to heartburn, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Not fun! Drinking excessively also means you’re less likely to get up for some early morning hiking and sightseeing.

Unfortunately, the only tried and true method to eliminate hangovers is to just drink less, but if you are going to have a few (or more!) here are some tips:

  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach, but avoid over-doing it. Overeating can also trigger a lot of GI symptoms like heartburn and abdominal pain. Try to find the right balance for your gut!
  • Avoid excess sugar. Added sugars can be a trigger for IBS-symptoms (think cramps, bloating, diarrhea). Stick to what you know you can easily tolerate.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage. You’ll thank yourself in the morning!

Alcohol (and the mixers that go along with it) can contribute a whole lot of extra calories to our day. Some cocktails can contain over 500 calories each! My advice? If you’re only going to have one or two drinks in an evening, pick a drink that you can take your time finishing, like a glass of red wine. If you’re planning to go all out on the other hand, keep the bevy choice to something low-cal, like hard liquor with calorie-free mixers (like vodka with soda water and a squeeze of lime).

The Bottom Line

The reality is, some of us are more sensitive than others when it comes to changes in our regular routine. If you struggle with a digestive disorder sometimes even the smallest change in your diet/exercise/sleep/stress management routine can stir up symptoms. But, if we plan ahead and put a little extra effort into our diet and exercise habits while travelling, we can enjoy our vacation from start to finish while feeling our best!

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