Vacation Without Overindulging or Overspending

Why It Matters:

  • Enjoying a vacation likely involves sampling the local cuisine, but you can still make nutritious choices that fit within your budget.
  • Healthy snacking options in the car or on a plane get your vacation eating plan off to the right start.
  • Physical activity during a trip can help counter indulgent meals.

American Heart Association tkc.profilePicture Written by: American Heart Association
July 17, 2018

4 Min readClock Icon

Eating different foods and trying new experiences is part of the fun on vacation. But there are ways you can make the most of your trip without overindulging or overspending.

Mapping out a plan can keep you on a healthy eating path and control your travel budget. A few specific strategies will help.

On the road, or in the air – choose snacks wisely

If you’re driving to your vacation destination, pack a bag of healthy snacks so you’re less likely to grab a candy bar or a hot dog during a gas station stop.

Bring along nuts, seeds , or raisins. Just be sure to keep portions small at about one ounce each to limit the calories, recommends Miami-based dietician, author and nutrition consultant Claudia Gonzalez, MS, RDN.

A piece of fruit or some raw vegetables are other healthy, economical snacking options. Nutrition bars are another option, but be sure to select ones with no more than 120 calories each. Buying them at home before your trip will likely give you more selection and better prices.

To avoid overpriced airport food, again consider bringing nuts, dried fruits , or veggie dips such as hummus. (Make sure the containers are under 3.4 ounces to meet Transportation Security Administration liquid rules.)

Consider taking other light foods with you if you’ll be flying at meal time so that you don’t simply buy what’s on board because you’re hungry. It’s rare that an in - flight snack box is filled with items that you like, and it’s a waste of money to buy something you don’t like or won’t enjoy.

Some options include hard fruits such as apples with packaged nut butter, peeled hard-boiled eggs, or instant oatmeal in a jar – just ask for a cup of hot water from the flight attendant. Don’t forget a spoon.

Also, remember, water is your friend, especially on a lengthy flight.

Purchase a large bottle of water once you get past security or bring a reusable bottle to fill up with water at the airport. That will give you plenty to drink to combat dry conditions and dehydration. It will also help you avoid the empty calories and added costs of sugary sodas.

If you order a beer, wine, or mixed drink during the flight, try to drink one or two eight-ounce cups of water per alcoholic beverage to guard against dehydration and to limit alcohol intake, Gonzalez says.

Once you’re at your hotel, avoid the mini-bar in the room at all costs because those costs come with hefty markups. Plus, the food choices typically aren’t nutritious.

Gonzalez noted that you can ask the hotel to remove foods from your mini-fridge. It will reduce temptation and allow you to use it for your own snacks or drinks.

If there’s a microwave in your room, pop some popcorn and eat a small portion for a healthier snack.

Restaurant Roadmap

Dining out on vacation is almost a certainty if you are staying in a place without a kitchen, and it’s a good way to enjoy the local cuisine, possibly tasting food you’ve never eaten.

“The challenge is to eat healthy. You don’t have to diet. You want to try new foods,” Gonzalez says.

But start off slow. Choose a soup or salad or share an appetizer with a travel partner.

“Usually, small portions work really well,” Gonzalez says, explaining that it can take 20 to 30 minutes to begin feeling full. Try not to order too many items at the start of the meal. “The brain takes time for you to know you are eating.”

After some time has passed, and you start to get an idea of the restaurant’s portion size and your hunger, think about what other dishes on the menu you may want to sample. Remember to include vegetables.

If you crave a dessert, enjoying just one is OK. Sharing it is better. Or, you don’t have to finish the one that you do order. In the case that you do indulge, remember every meal shouldn’t be followed by dessert since it adds up on the check and your waistline.

Cruises and all-inclusive resorts sometimes provide so many buffets and desserts that it’s easy to overeat. Gonzalez’s advice?

“Be careful,” she warns. “If you have to start loosening your pants or your blouse, that’s a sign. The body is telling you: You overdid it.”

Get physical - and know your body

If you are on a sedentary vacation, be conscious of that when dining and order accordingly. Many vacations, however, include plenty of opportunity to exercise.

Physical activity can offset extra eating and drinking on vacation. Walking is perhaps the most economical and the most common way to stay active. Walking is also a great way to see the sights, whether hiking in the countryside or checking out a big city.

“You’re having fun. It’s even good for your mind,” Gonzalez says, adding that being outdoors and exercising can help you sleep better, too.

You may even want to consider planning a vacation geared around physical activity, such as hiking, golfing or swimming.

It’s important during a vacation to be mindful of any existing health conditions. Whether you have diabetes, high blood pressure or a delicate gastrointestinal system, remember to respect how certain foods, salt, alcohol or an unusual eating schedule can impact you. A medical condition doesn’t go away just because you left home.

Finally, know yourself and how you respond emotionally if you overindulge so you don’t put yourself or others in a sour mood, Gonzalez suggests.

“If you know you’re going to feel guilty by doing something, then don’t do it,” she says. “We tend to know what is healthy.”

This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.


Things to Consider:

  • Pack small portions of nuts and raisins for your car or plane travel so you can easily bypass overpriced and nutritiously suspect gas station snacks and airplane food.
  • Try not to eat dessert at every meal. When you do, remember you don’t have to finish it.
  • Keep existing health conditions in mind when you are selecting food on vacation.

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