Long ago, on an “Aggie Girls” road trip to Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville, my 3 co-travelers and I were lamenting all the delicious high calorie food we were consuming as we ate our way across the South, and one of my friends made the statement that she never worried about gaining weight on vacation because she usually walked so much more than usual that she burned it all off. The rest of us nodded along in eager agreement, free to continue over indulging. We were in our late 20s on that trip and it was much, so much, easier to keep weight off then than it is now. These days, more than 20 years later, I gain a couple of pounds just reserving my plane tickets. I am not a “fitness guru” or expert of ANY kind when it comes to fitness, but a few struggles I’ve experienced in recent years have got me thinking about how the daily choices we make can either help or hinder our ability to enjoy vacations to the absolute fullest. Unlike when I was a young 20 something, my concerns are no longer focused on minimizing weight gain while on vacation, but more about being able to withstand a transatlantic flight, hike for miles, and climb staircases in buildings too historic to have elevators. I want to be able to ski all day long without my knees protesting too much! To accomplish this, there are certain things I do before and during any vacation, and all year long, to prepare.
Before You Go
When planning your next trip, decide what activities will be included and practice! I am embarrassed to admit that on more than one occasion, I have planned an active vacation only to regret that I didn’t do more leg work (before going downhill skiing), or kayaking (before a week long sea kayaking trip in Mexico), or stair climbing (before the 5th story walkup in Norway I had to get to at least twice a day for a week). On my trip last year to the Sea of Cortez there were opportunities to kayak, snorkel, and hike every day for 8 glorious days. The company with which I booked the trip, OARS, even has a page on their website that prescribes basic exercises to ensure that you are fit enough to fully enjoy this “once in a lifetime” trip. https://www.oars.com/before-you-go/espirito-santo-island-8-days/ In the weeks leading up to my trip, I followed their advice, somewhat… but there came a moment, when I was frantically swimming to catch up to a whale shark who was casually putting distance between us, sliding away into darkness in slow motion, when I wished I had followed their preparation instructions with just a little more dedication. Thankfully, I had a second chance to meet him, unexpectedly face-to-face this time, but then panicked and forgot to use the camera dangling from my wrist!
When packing, think about bringing your own food, or at least some healthy snacks to fuel all that activity. On my most recent trip that required international flight, I packed several protein bars and a big bag of raw almonds and carried them onto the plane with no problem. When choosing what snacks to bring, consider not only nutritional value, but whether you actually like them. If you bring snacks you won’t enjoy, no matter how healthful they may be, you’ll opt for candy bars at the airport or some other nutritionally empty choice.
Another thing to consider when packing, is of course, clothes and shoes, but specifically clothes and shoes that will lend themselves to your activity level. For more on great shoes for (active) travel, see my article, “My Favorite Travel Shoes for Any Destination”. In that article, I say you should only bring running shoes if you intend to go running. Be honest with yourself and by all means bring the shoes if running fits into your plans.
During Your Trip
At airports, try to stand and walk around as much as possible. Not only will you “get your steps in” and burn some extra calories, but your body will thank you when it has to squeeze into a claustrophic middle seat and not move for the next several hours!
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, look for opportunities (yes, opportunities!) to walk, bike, or otherwise get places under your own power whenever possible on vacation. Oh, there’s a double decker tour bus that will take you around the city? I can almost guarantee that there will also be a walking tour starting out somewhere near a visitor’s center, perhaps in the historic center of whatever city you are visiting. Just do a little research, on your smartphone, or in your dog-eared Frommer’s Guide (I’m dating myself, I know). Your hotel has an elevator? Great, but you could still take the stairs and burn a few more calories. I was recently in a hotel in an area where I didn’t think I should go outside alone after dark for a run, but the hotel’s 10 story stairwell provided me with a decently challenging workout! In your room, you could relax with a few easy yoga stretches. No matter the situation, try to think creatively and do the best you can with the resources at hand.
All the time!
Even if you don’t have a vacation scheduled, follow the Boy Scouts’ advice and “Be Prepared”! Cultivate a daily habit of some activity that you enjoy, even if it’s just taking your dogs on a longer than necessary walk after work! As always, consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. As I stated up front, I am no fitness expert, but a few of the activities I’ve tried to incorporate into my busy days are: morning yoga, running, walking (with and without dogs), swimming and mountain biking. I need variety to stay engaged so I just try to pick something that appeals to me in the moment and go with that. I have been reading lately, that, for women heading to middle age, strength training becomes key to weight management, as we tend to lose muscle mass as we age and that causes our metabolic rate to decrease. This is actually good news for me, because I am really so sick of cardio! Armed with that knowledge, I am committed to doing more resistance training and try to preserve as much muscle mass as possible.
In spite of our best efforts, sometimes age-related health conditions and their treatments can ground us and keep us close to home. High blood pressure and heart disease can make long flights challenging. Diabetes comes with dietary restrictions. Kidney disease and dialysis are most certainly restrictive. Even if you suffer from one of these conditions but are cleared to travel, the possibility of having a related medical emergency while in a foreign country can be frightening and a potential deterrent to even wanting to travel. A good diet and exercise, along with professional health care, can mitigate the effects of these sometimes debilitating illnesses. I am currently flirting with pre-hypertension, something that exercise and diet can thankfully still correct. I am committed to maintaining good health, since heart disease runs in my family, and the thought of ANYTHING preventing me from being able to travel independently and without limitations is one of the worst fates I can imagine. Some diagnoses are out of our control, but maintaining reasonably good health otherwise can help put you in a better position to combat the symptoms of many chronic illnesses.
I believe it’s important to prepare physically to have the most fun possible in life and especially on vacation. We save and dream about these trips for so long, please don’t set yourself up to have avoidable regrets. You don’t have to live at the gym to be vacation-ready, just take more walks, run some 5Ks, do some squats and lunges, whatever your ability level will allow. Even increasing flexibility and strength by a just little, or losing just a few pounds, makes EVERYTHING easier. You won’t regret it!