three women on mountain
Photo by Tron Le

The DAO of Fitness on Vacations

How do you take your well deserved vacation and still stay on track for your fitness goals? The DAO guide follows.

Hack#1:  Frontload your fitness

Remember – you are on vacation, not your fitness goals.

Pack your workout routine as much as you can before the vacation. Even on the morning of the trip, I like to do a tough workout. It makes it easier to sleep on the plane. Pack easy to travel equipment like workout clothes, bands, and jump rope. I usually wear sneakers and yoga pants en route, leaving more room in suitcase and eliminating the possibility of forgetting athletic shoes.

If this doesn’t happen, you can do a quick workout in your hotel room after checking in. Most of the time, you will want to shower, so you might as well take 10 extra minutes and do a quick HIIT or even stretching to make up for all of that sitting. If there is a patio, that’s usually where I like to do my workouts, so I get to check out the view AND work out.

silhouette of person across gray clouds
You’ve got an hour before the flight, and now it’s been delayed. Walk it off! Photo by Artur Tumasjan

Hack #2: Start being active en route 

At the airport, train station, or any place of public transportation, use the areas as walkways. Give yourself plenty of time and try to avoid the shuttles, if possible. Once you are waiting at the gate, leave your bags with your travel companions and take a walk around the concourse.

Having these habits will “kickstart” your activity and make being active a habit. The key is staying on your feet instead of sitting down as much as possible. I almost never sit on those seats in the airport. If I am not walking, I am usually standing. If I get tired, I lean against  a wall. You will be sitting on a plane for hours, with no options to be active, so you have to “spend” your activity while you can!  

Hack #3 Have a game plan for the type of vacation

All-inclusive resorts or cruises are harder to stay active during because it lends to a “sit on the beach or by the pool” type of vacation at a resort. The same applies to a road trip with a lot of driving. When you are planning these vacations, you have to be aware of two main traps: 1) the unlimited food buffet available 24/7, and 2) a more sedentary existence. You have to be intentional about movement. Get familiar with the area and places to walk nearby. Scope out the hotel gym online ahead of time, or ask when you check in where it is and check it out. Most resorts have their own exercise classes on-site, like yoga. Many hotels also have complimentary gym passes, even if they don’t have a gym. You can also use the MindBody app to check out the local studio workout options. 

If you are relying on apps, you may want to download at least a few of the workouts. I have had situations especially abroad where the hotel wifi is slow and the app freezes on me.

Similarly, if you are going to a quaint city or to the mountains, it’s pretty likely that your spot won’t have a commercial gym. In that case, you can build the activity into sightseeing, with hikes and on-foot city tours. We talk more about this in the next tip. 

Hack #4:  Build activity into the vacation

THis is a pretty easy order when you are going to sprawling metropolitan areas like Paris, London, Athens, or Tokyo..In that instance, your best bet is to sight see on foot, instead of using trams, trolleys, or taxis. To some extent, you may have to rely on outside transportation, but with google maps you can figure out how far any given site is and decide when to walk. Build in touring a lot of sprawling attractions, like museums, gardens, and parks. 

A lot of cities, especially in Europe and Asia have LOTS of steps. Take advantage and run up and down them (I did this in Amalfi). You are surrounded by other American tourists and stick out like a sore thumb to the locals anyway, so it’s hard to make it much worse. 

Plan fun activities that involve an active element, like biking, kayaking, horseback riding, rollerblading, ziplining, or rock climbing. If you are near other notable cities, plan on taking a trip and exploring. 

If you aren’t into extreme sports, you can still find ways to be active. Make walking or exercising a habit that you can structure around another part of your vacation. For example, maybe you will plan on working out every morning before breakfast, just like you would do when you are going to work. Or, you can plan to take a walk after each meal. 

Hack #5: Maximize your down time

The nice thing about vacations is a lot of down time. There’s also a lot of waiting around, especially when you are with family or your partner. A lot of times, downtime will involve waiting for someone else to finish getting ready, or for room service, or just taking a break between sightseeing and dinner. You can build in ways to make the most of this by doing “NEAT” activities, or a 7-minute workout.  Here is a good site for sneaky ways to build in activity while waiting

Hack  #6: Shop ‘till you drop (you know you will anyway)

This relates to Hack #4, but the fun of a vacation is exploring things like local markets, boutiques, and specialty stores. Make it a point to wander and explore everywhere. You will be on your feet and so occupied with all the cool stuff you are potentially buying you won’t realize you are getting steps and burning major calories. 

Remember when we talked about NEAT, and how that’s responsible for even more calorie burn than intentional exercise? That’s where spontaneous movement comes into play. 

people walking on road near well-lit buildings
Especially in urban sprawl,you could be on foot exploring shops and cafes for hours. Photo by Jezael Melgoza

Hack #7: Use the 80/20 rule 

No matter how many clever ways you find to be active on your vacation, there’s always that time where you are so puzzled because it seemed like all you did was walk and then come home five pounds heavier. Without paying attention to diet, you can’t expect a successful vacation strategy. Vacations can definitely be tricky because you are off of your normal eating schedule, and so it might make perfect sense to have breakfast at 9, a snack at 11, lunch at 2, an ice cream at 3, a drink by the pool at 4 with some salty nuts, and so on. You definitely want to experience all that the location has to offer, but with some guardrails. I don’t put limits on what I can eat, but follow two major modifications: 

  1. I generally eat two meals a day – either breakfast and dinner or lunch and dinner. This naturally accounts for the fact that I am likely to eat bigger meals. Breakfast is usually a big buffet, so either wake up earlier to eat it or sleep in and just have lunch. Even with this modification, I probably still am eating more than I would if I was not on vacation. But that’s kind of the point. You just want to avoid a situation where you are eating 2 or 3 times the amount you would normally eat.
  2. Just like with my normal way of eating, I don’t rule out any foods. But I follow a “deferall” strategy. For example, if I pass by a gelateria or other attractive treat option during the afternoon, I ask myself if I have to have this right NOW.or can I wait. Usually, I can wait. Depending on how dinner goes, I may not want a whole ice cream to myself. I usually end up sharing one or having a few bites of a dessert instead. 
  3. If I buy street food or get gelato, I take advantage of being able to throw it into the trash or let my husband finish it after I have had enough bites to be satieted.
clear glass bottle beside clear drinking glass on yellow table
Rather than order another margarita, drink it halfway and then order a shot of tequila and sparkling water to top it off. Photo by Espolòn Tequila

Hack #8: Watch the liquids and condiments 

First, water should be your baseline. Drink a lot of water, especially because your attunement to how hydrated you are is skewed on vacation. For coffee drinks, unless you are ordering from a mainstream chain like Starnucks, you may not know what kind of milk they are using. I get espresso or an Americano, or coffee with cream on the side. For ordering salads, I normally just ask for oil and vinegar on the slide. Normally overseas, they have that on the table already. 

And by liquid, I mean booze. In fact, that’s one of the largest culprits for vacation weight gain.And you can see why. Here is a calorie chart for some of the most popular vacation drinks:

Margarita 274 
Daiquiri 220
Bloody Mary 180
Pina Colada 650
Mojito 242

 If you are going to drink on vacation, gravitate toward lower-calorie drinks like prosecco, red wine, or vodka soda. You probably will not be used to drinking every day, so do the same as with the dessert: defer. You don’t want to dehydrate yourself by day drinking – it’s not worth the way you will feel the next day. 

Hack #9 : Get into the local produce 

That’s one of the amazing things especially about a tropical or a coastal location – they have amazing fruit! Fruit is low in calories, and full of nutrients. I remember going to Amalfi and just eating whole lemons, they were so good. Go to a fruit market and get a bunch of fruit, so you can eat fruit for breakfast or as a snack. In the heat of the summer, you will also be more hydrated. It has the added benefit of the carbs that give you energy to walk and be active. Try to find out what produce is the most popular in the location and soon you will notice it’s everywhere. 

Hack#10 : Get back into your routine ASAP when you get home

Don’t you notice a lot of times you come back from vacation feeling LESS rested than when you left? That’s normal – in fact this study by the University of Georgia found that weight gain associated with vacation was partly due to a decrease in physical activity weeks after the vacation. It’s not going to be your finest hour, but just some light cardio will help you sweat off and shake off the gross plane film (it takes more than one shower for me!). You will feel more energized and more motivated to go back to a healthy wait of eating. Definitely don’t restrict to compensate for any perceived overeating while you were on vacay – go back to your regular routine, eat lots of fibrous fruits, and drink lots of water with lemon to get your system back into gear. 


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