A friend of mine has become super consistent with her exercise and food habits. With an upcoming vacation, she asked me how she can maintain her new habits while away. It’s a great question.

If you are trying to make meaningful fitness changes in your life, a vacation can become a set back that takes you weeks or even months to recover from - especially if your healthy habits are new to you.

This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your break! In fact, I would argue that by enjoying vacation in moderation, you will actually be happier because you will have the break without totally falling off the wagon.

Here's the advice I shared with her split between nutrition and exercise.

Nutrition

Avoid treating every moment like a free-for-all

There is a difference between eating extravagant meals three times per day compared to once per day. A week-long vacation equates to 21 main meals. It’s easy to say, “I’m on vacation, I’ll eat whatever I want.” But that means 21 splurges versus seven.

Here’s some back-of-the-napkin estimation.

Eating whatever you want for three meals a day could easily lead to 1500-2000 extra calories per day. Splurging once per day could bring that down to ~500 calories. In a week, that’s potentially 14,000 extra calories compared to a 3500 calories surplus.

For my vacations, I aim to eat as simply and plainly as possible for breakfast and lunch and have fun with dinner. The point is you can enjoy yourself, not worry about it too much, but pace yourself.

Pack snacks

There will be so many moments when you are hungry and you don’t have a lot of options. Plus, whatever options you do have are likely expensive. Bring your favorite protein bars or jerky. If you are vegetarian, try the No Cow bars.

Save your treats for the exciting places

If you’re traveling, you’re spending days on the road or hours in an airport with only fast food to sustain you. Minimize the impact of this nutritional wasteland by choosing the most balanced and least caloric options. Treat yourself when you get to your destination and discover the homemade ice cream joint, local delicacy, or craft brewery.

Do some reconnaissance in advance

Check out the food options near your hotel and the places you will be visiting. If possible, review the nutrition facts online. Here is a list of healthier meal choices I use when on the road or ordering takeout.

Get a (empty) mini refrigerator in your hotel room.

A lot of hotels will provide an empty mini refrigerator for your room if you ask. This way you can keep fresh food like yogurts, cheese, etc. in your room. Not only will this cut down on expenses because you don’t have to eat an overpriced, boring hotel breakfast everyday, but you will also be able to master at least one meal everyday.

What might this look like in a day?

  • Breakfast: Spinach, Feta & Egg White Wrap with black coffee from Starbucks
  • Mid-Morning: Quest Bar
  • Lunch: Modified Cobb Salad (I’d remove bacon and cheese with dressing on the side)
  • Mid-Afternoon: Protein shake, yogurt, or apple and cheese.
  • Dinner: Steak with vegetables, a glass of wine and share a dessert

Exercise

Give yourself permission to take it easy. You might not have access to a gym or equipment. You might not have an extra hour to spare.

The intensity you know at home may not be there, but you can move everyday even in a small space without equipment.

There is nothing like a global pandemic shutting down the world, including my beloved gyms, to teach me that there is always a way to get a decent workout. One of my more humbling moments this year was doing a workout in a tiny motel room that pushed me to my max. I had only one dumbbell and an 8 x 4 foot patch of carpet between a bed and a wall.

The key on vacation is to find a balance between the excitement of being out of your daily routine while maintaining a few rituals so that a) you’ll feel better in general and b) getting back into your regular routine won’t be as hard because you won’t be starting from a week-long stretch of doing “nothing”.

What might this look like?

5 minutes of Pick-an-Exercise

Set a timer for 5 minutes (or more if you have it), pick one exercise (such as burpees or mountain climbers) and just work at it. You don’t have to go fast, but try to move consistently. Take short rest breaks if needed.

8-Minute Full Body Tabata

  • Burpees
  • Lunges

Do 20 seconds of burpees, rest for 10 seconds. Do 20 seconds of lunges, rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for a total of 8 rounds. If you have 16 minutes, repeat for a total of 16 rounds or add a second set with two more exercises. You could do this every day and switch out the movements.

10-Minute Cardio Circuit

  • 1 min of jumping jacks
  • 1 min of high knees
  • 1 min of walk out to plank (with a push up if you want)
  • 1 min of air squats
  • 1 minute of high low planks

If you have 10 minutes, do it twice. If you have 15, do it three times. If you have 20 minutes, do it four times.

The point with these mini-workouts is to maintain your commitment to working out regularly even when you are on vacation. If you do one of these options every day, when you get home it won’t seem as challenging to get back into the routine of working out because you will have maintained your daily winning streak.

It is 100 percent possible to go on vacation, enjoy yourself and not destroy your healthy habits. Choose to embrace a simple mindset that not every moment is a free-for-all and even five minutes of exercise a day will make a difference.