With the pandemic over – for many practical intents and purposes – travel is on the radar for many of us. If you’ve traveled by air recently, you are likely painfully aware of the (re)growing pains the industry is experiencing – staffing shortages, delayed or cancelled flights, astronomical fares, etc. And yet we persist in buying those tickets. We are ready to get back out there, to explore new places, to visit distant family, to check off those bucket list destinations. And travel can be a truly wonderful experience. Memories made on vacation can make you smile for years to come, and those new experiences are in some ways far more valuable than anything learned in the classroom.
But with these wonderful memories-in-the-making comes a certain amount of discomfort, of being stretched beyond your comfort zone, and it can be disconcerting to try to maintain your healthy habits in a foreign place. Foods you aren’t used to eating, neighborhoods you don’t know your way around, new beds you aren’t used to sleeping in…lots of small changes can wreak havoc on your healthy routines.
I am in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM advising against travel. Quite the contrary, I love to travel. I’m even writing this blog post while visiting Los Angeles for the first time for work (spoiler alert: LA is probably not the place for me). My favorite activity when I visit a new place is to go for a run to explore new areas. And while I’m not the most adventurous eater in the world – vegetarians are inherently limited in what they can try, after all - I do enjoy tasting local cuisines. However, like many of us, I struggle with sleep in a new place, and traveling – whether solo, with a friend, or with family and kids – can be stressful with all the unknowns and potential hiccups. With a little planning ahead and a few deep breaths, though, we can all make our Five for Life healthy habits work for us in a new location.
· Do your research – unless your thing really is trying anything and everything new and exotic, read up on the cuisine of your destination. Knowing what to expect can help you identify healthy options that are in line with your taste buds.
· That said, don’t be afraid of some new fruits and vegetables. For many of us, our weekly grocery shopping involves a list of staples, e.g. a bag of apples, some bananas, broccoli, carrots, etc. There’s nothing wrong with these foods, but if you are traveling outside the US, be prepared to be served produce that is not only fresher than what we get here (and, almost certainly, a lot smaller due to lack of HGH) but also not readily available at larger grocers at home. New foods can be daunting, but go on and try them – you might discover a new favorite that you can track down at your local ethnic grocer.
· Vary your miles. Depending on how packed your daily itinerary is – and how safe the area in which you are staying – it may not be possible to head out for your daily 5 mile run every morning. That’s ok! There are plenty of ways to get great exercise by taking advantage of what’s on offer. Long city walks, local hiking destinations, bike tours, horseback tours, water activities like surfing, kayaking, etc. – if your destination is even remotely geared toward tourists, chances are there are active vacation offerings to be found.
· Do as the locals do! Take a cue from local residents. Do most people enjoy long dinners outside in the evenings? Are the streets full of leisurely walkers in those hours of waning daylight? Do people seem to rise late and ease into the day? Many of us go on vacation hoping to even briefly escape the stresses of our hectic everyday lives, so why not take a page from the book of people who really know how to relax. Of course, that’s assuming you aren’t vacationing in midtown Manhattan or downtown Tokyo, in which case, book yourself a massage and keep the caffeine to a minimum 😉.
· Invest in nicer accommodation. You don’t have to break the bank on every vacation, but a cheap hotel will have cheap beds, and nothing ruins a good time quite like sleep deprivation.
· Get friendly with the locals. You don’t have to find your new best friend on vacation, but it is a basic truth that kindness toward others, especially without ulterior motive, can also improve your mood and boost your mental health. So pay it forward. Even if there’s a language barrier, smiling is universally understood.
· Make use of your downtime. I’m not suggesting you set an aggressive agenda of big-picture goals to be worked toward while on vacation, but that unusual quiet time may be a good opportunity to declutter your brain and give some thought to your longer-term goals and wishes. You may find it easier to see the big picture when the smaller, tedious stresses of daily life are out of the picture.
All of that said, it isn’t necessary to obsessively worry about replicating all of your healthy habits while on vacation. Vacation is, after all, a time to let go, relax, unwind, and pamper yourself. Indulge within reason and you may just come back feeling both refreshed and reenergized.