Food is an invitation into a culture. As a result, food is often an integral part of travel. When you visit a new country, trying local cuisine is not only common, but usually one of the staple activities. This is why most people find it hard to keep to their health and fitness program while traveling—they eat too much. That, coupled with loss in control over your schedule and lack of access to workout facilities, makes it seem nearly impossible to avoid weight gain while exploring the world.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are six tips to stick to your fitness goals while enjoying your travels—good food and all.
1. Eat Less Frequently
Fundamentally, weight gain can be boiled down to eating more calories than you’re burning. If you want to avoid weight gain, you simply need to eat less. It will be hard to keep track of how many calories you’re consuming when you don’t know what’s in a dish, how it’s prepared, or any other number of relevant details about the food you’re consuming. However, one strategy you can easily implement, despite imperfect information, is to eat fewer meals throughout the day.
When I travel, I typically eat only two meals a day, usually breakfast and dinner. (Occasionally I will skip breakfast in favor of lunch.) Skipping a meal allows me extra calories at the other two meals, reducing the chances that I will overeat by the day’s end. By eating less frequently throughout the day, I am affording myself more wiggle room with my calorie expenditure during the times I am eating. Bring on all the goodies!
While traveling to Barcelona I used this strategy by consuming a pastry for breakfast and a large dinner in the evening, followed up by gelato for dessert (of course!). By avoiding food throughout the day, I was able to enjoy whatever I wanted at dinner without gaining a pound over the duration of my ten-day trip. (Skipping food in the day is easier than it seems because you’ll be preoccupied with activities.)
2. Be Picky About Food Selections
I have a general rule while traveling: I will not eat food I can easily get back home. Remember, food is an invitation into a culture. I want to experience the flavors and foods specific to the region I am visiting. By being more selective with my food choices, I am saving calories for genuine culinary experiences and reducing the chances of over-consumption.
Avoid eating foods just because they’re there. For example, if I order a sandwich that comes with French fries, I’m not going to eat the fries. Why? Unless it’s some special recipe, I know I can get fries at any restaurant back home. Those fries will not add to my experience in this country. I don’t need to eat them just because they’re on my plate. If you have trouble avoiding the temptation of the food in front of you, ask the server to hold the fries. Restaurants are increasingly used to smaller orders and unusual requests.
3. Stay Hydrated
For several reasons traveling will quickly lead to dehydration, and one major symptom of dehydration is increased fatigue. Naturally, when you’re tired and don’t have immediate access to sleep, you turn to food for an energy pick-me-up. Additionally, people often mistake thirst for hunger. If you fall prey to dehydration it is a recipe for consuming more food than you need throughout the day.
To avoid this, make sure to prioritize water consumption. Carry a bottle with you during the day. Purchase water bottles whenever you get the chance. It’s important to make sure you are always consuming water to stay hydrated, especially if you’re traveling in a region with a hot climate.
4. Exercise First Thing In The Morning
Exercising during your trip can help burn some of the calories you’re consuming. However, exercise while traveling can get tricky. Between the reduced control over your schedule and potential lack of access to workout facilities, it can seem impossible to fit in a workout during your trip. If you’re going to exercise, do it first thing in the morning. This allows you to complete it when you know you have the time (before everyone else is awake), and before you get engrossed in (or fatigued from) the day’s activities.
Additionally, exercise can help you feel better during your trip, which will encourage you to naturally gravitate toward healthier food options. If you lack access to a gym, a simple bodyweight circuit can get the heart pumping, muscles burning, and be completed right in your hotel room. Also, running or walking is a great way to explore the city. Personally, I make it a goal to run in every city that I visit. It’s a bonus if I get lost. (It just means more exploration for me!)
5. Incorporate Physical Activity Into Your Day
Even if you can’t bring yourself to do formal exercise during your trip, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to stay active. I always recommend incorporating physical activity into your day, and this can be done very simply in two ways:
1) Participate in physically demanding excursions.
This could include snorkeling, hiking, or taking a bike tour, to name a few. While snorkeling in Cozumel, we were swimming in the open ocean for over an hour. That’s one heck of a workout!
2) Walk as your main source of transportation whenever possible.
I try to minimize the use of taxis and public transportation while visiting a new city. Not only does walking allow you to see more of the city up close, but you will easily expend hundreds of extra calories that will only add to your buffer come dinner time. While traveling Spain I averaged about eight miles a day just walking between activities. Those extra calories burned certainly helped me prevent any weight gain during my trip!
6. Maintenance, Not Progress
The biggest piece of advice I can give for enjoying your vacation without losing sight of your fitness goals is to properly define what your goals are during travel. Can you travel and make progress toward your weight loss or muscle building? Sure, but it’s going to require sacrificing time to put toward exercise, as well as saying no to foods you may really want to try and can’t get anywhere else. While making progress during vacation is possible, it’s not usually going to make for the most memorable trip.
Maintaining the progress you’ve already made at home, however, is a much more realistic goal. Instead of worrying about your next workout or the effects of that dessert you just ate, think of vacation as a time to hit the pause button on your fitness routine. This doesn’t mean cutting loose and losing the progress you’ve already made. It does mean, however, that you are merely trying to return home in the same shape you left in.
Being in maintenance mode offers several benefits while traveling, such as more leniency in calorie intake and the option to skip a workout here or there. Vacations are infrequent treats, so take the time to enjoy the benefits of the hard work you put in at home. Once you return to your normal schedule you can resume chasing those ambitious fitness goals.
Traveling is an exciting adventure full of good food and a lifetime of unforgettable memories. Following this advice will not only help you maintain your fitness while abroad, but can also enhance your overall experience. Food is an invitation into a culture, and that’s one party I want to be at.
Alex McBrairty is an award-winning personal trainer and online fitness coach. Alex blends fitness and psychology to help men and women to master their mindset, discover their inner awesome, and live their best life. Connect with Alex! Join his Free Facebook Community: The “Living My Best Life” Experiment, visit his website, or follow him on IG @_ATeamFit_