Is it possible to live healthfully while on vacation?

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Vacations and time away from day-to-day work can be rejuvenating to your mind and body. But if you are in the active process of a lifestyle change, vacations can be tricky to navigate.

New food environments, different food cues, different “tools” available for eating well, a new environment in which to exercise… all these new surroundings add in a new layer of challenge that need to be considered if you are actively working toward a lifestyle goal by changing your current food and exercise behaviours.

The specific lifestyle challenges you face will depend on the kind of vacation you take.


How living healthfully can be tricky while on vacation:

  • You may be navigating large food buffets, with a variety of multi-course foods. This is tricky because research has shown that when there is a large variety of foods presented, we are likely to eat more food.
  • You may be eating out at restaurants for all your meals. This is tricky because portion sizes served in restaurants are often larger, and research has consistently shown that we eat larger amounts of food when offered larger portions.
  • You may be cued to eat foods that you might not otherwise eat – like fruity cocktails before each meal or multi-course meals! Or decadent desserts after each meal. Visual cues of delectable foods, repeatedly shown, are difficult to manage.

  • You may have limited kitchen facilities. You may have limited/lack of fridge space in which to store perishable foods. You may have limited kitchen equipment with which to prepare foods.
  • You may want to exercise, but may be nervous about going for a run or walk in a different country.
  • You may want to exercise but find it over-whelming to exercise in the heat. And while you can get up early, you also want to enjoy catching up on sleep.


Should you even think about living healthfully while on vacation?

Your answer to this question highlights some of your beliefs about how food and exercise fit into vacations.

Some people believe that vacations are a time to let go of most of our commitments and get a break. After all, you’re on vacation! For people who are actively trying to create new lifestyle habits, this kind of belief makes it very difficult to maintain any kind of change in progress.

If you have been working on incorporating change into your lifestyle, then you go away, and relax your commitments, you are often back to habits that you are already routine for you – the ones you are trying to change. This results in you coming back from vacation feeling discouraged and like you are starting all over again. I have approached past vacations with this all-or-nothing mindset. And then felt like I had to work twice as hard to get back the progress I had made. The older I get, the harder it is.

A more in-between approach can also be considered. This approach allows you to “live a little”, enjoying a cocktail, a dessert, but in a more mindful, plan-ful way, rather than a disinhibited approach where you feel like you have lost all resolve toward your lifestyle goals. This is what I call the “what the hell” phenomenon.


How can you set yourself up to stay mostly aligned with your lifestyle goals?

1) Choose your accommodation with your lifestyle goals in mind.

  • If you are in the process of active change, consider your accommodation needs at the front-end of your vacation planning.
  • While planning your vacation, will your accommodations have cooking facilities (fridge, stove)? Or are you choosing an all-inclusive-type of vacation where all the meals and drinks are done for you? Even planning to do some of your own food preparation can help balance out your lifestyle, and allows you to have better influence on maintaining progress on parts of your lifestyle. And it is likely easier on your pocket book.
  • If you choose an all-inclusive vacation, a different set of planned strategies will be needed to manage the plethora of foods and drinks available.
  • I actively consider my lifestyle goals when I am selecting accommodation.

2) Pack with your lifestyle goals in mind.

  • Packing my running shoes and workout clothes are one of the first things I pack for vacation. Other equipment I like to pack include fitness videos and my Garmin vivo active watch which tracks my movement over the course of the day.
  • Vacations, where you have more flexibility and time, can be a great time to maintain or start on a new fitness routine.
  • For my summer, non-plane travel vacations, I have started packing my own chef’s knife so I know that I can prepare my food with a sharp and safe knife.

3) Build in active activities into your day.

  • Snorkel, rent a bike, go for a swim, go for a hike, go for a run, go for a walking tour. Active vacation activities are really fun!
  • I had a one day bike rental where I had a chance to do some biking. I went for 25 km – it was a glorious ride.

4) Save your appetite for fresh, local foods that are unique to the area you are visiting.

  • Depending where you go, you can enjoy fresh mango, fresh pineapple, local vegetables, fresh fish, locally produced coffee.
  • Give less focus and attention to the foods you can eat any  time while back at home.

Vacations are a great chance to try delicious local food:

Lobster devilled eggs.

Grilled pineapple with BBQ teriyaki-marinated chicken.

Local smoothies.

Pineapple salsa to go on sweet potato nachos.

I find it hard to manage unfamiliar food and exercise environments. However, with a little forethought, vacations can be enjoyable and a chance to maintain some progress on your lifestyle changes.

Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall MSc, RD Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian Calgary, AB.


  1. Beth says:

    Wonderful blog Kristyn.

  2. Kristyn Hall says:

    Wow, thank you Beth! I’d love to hear your opinion on this topic. Thanks for sharing your feedback!

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