Eating healthy on vacation: 7 tips that don't involve skipping dessert

How to eat well without sacrificing any delicious food.

Caroline Roberts Digital Editorial Intern
Caroline Roberts writes articles and notifications for CNET. She studies English at Cal Poly, and loves philosophy, Karl the Fog and a strong cup of black coffee.
Caroline Roberts
5 min read
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A vacation is amazing for your mind, body and soul -- but sometimes not so great for your wallet and sugar intake. Taking a week off of work can feel like a free pass to indulge in all the food you possibly can, but by the time you're back at the office the damage to your bank account and waistline can be terrifying. 

Luckily, you can actually eat healthy(ish) on vacation while still having fun -- and you don't even have to skip dessert. I'll tell you everything you need to know in order to live your best life on vacation and feel better while doing so.

1. Be smart on the airplane


Bringing your own snacks onto the airplane will save you a lot of money and calories.

I often get extremely bored on airplanes and start snacking because I have nothing else to do. But, airplane food is overpriced and usually loaded with salt, so stuffing yourself on the flight will just start your vacation off on a bad note.

Instead, skip the $16 bags of Chex Mix at the airport newsstand and eat a prepacked snack. But please, for everybody's sake, don't bring hard-boiled eggs or tuna into a cramped cabin. Suitable options include homemade trail mix, a turkey sandwich, fruit, dark chocolate, a grilled chicken wrap or quinoa and bean salad. Remember that if you bring something like yogurt or salad dressing, TSA will consider it a liquid -- so pack less than 3.4 ounces of it. 

2. Use your hotel to your advantage

If you're staying at a hotel that offers a complimentary continental breakfast, you're in luck. Choose foods low in sugar to avoid an afternoon energy crash -- unfortunately, that means skipping those fluffy Belgian waffles. Cheerios, yogurt and fruit, and whole wheat bread with peanut butter are all good choices that will sustain you throughout the day.

Try to grab a couple extra pieces of fruit to snack on throughout the day, or even make yourself a PB&J sandwich to stick in your pocket. That way, you can avoid spending extra money on unnecessary and unhealthy snacks.

If you're staying at an Airbnb or a swanky hotel with a kitchen, you're in even better shape. Stock up on eggs, sausages, whole grain toast and fresh fruit to store for simple breakfasts. Eating a nutritious meal first thing in the morning will keep you feeling great throughout the day and more likely to continue making healthy choices.

3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate


Always make sure your body is getting the water it needs.

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Sometimes when I travel, the disruption in my daily routine makes me forget to drink water. Vacations are a perfect recipe for dehydration -- a decrease in water intake combined with extra walking, rich food and hot sun is sure to leave you feeling lethargic and confused. Plus, we often confuse dehydration with hunger, so you might be eating unnecessary food when your body really wants a tall glass of water.

To stave off dehydration, carry a reusable water bottle with you and try to refill it a couple times throughout the day. Order water instead of soda at restaurants to save money and excess sugar, and alternate alcoholic drinks with a glass of water if you choose to imbibe. At the end of the day, your body and wallet will thank you.

4. Mind the appetizers


If you're in Italy, certainly don't skip the bruschetta. 

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Unless the restaurant serves the best damn olive oil and bread you've ever tasted, steer clear of basic appetizers you can order at restaurants near home. 

Try to order dishes native to the country you're in -- it'll likely be the best version you've ever tasted. If you're vacationing in Italy, don't skip the bruschetta. But, instead of everybody ordering their own premeal snack, split each dish with one or two other people. You'll need to save room for the main dish and dessert. 

5. Order desserts family style

Don't worry -- I'm not going to tell you to skip the desserts while on vacation. I couldn't give advice I won't follow myself. However, many restaurant dessert portions are gargantuan, and that much sugar might just leave you feeling jittery and uncomfortable. 

Instead, choose two or three of the best-looking desserts, and order them with several spoons. Everybody at the table gets to try all of the delicious options, and no one is left with a stomach ache. And the same rule for appetizers applies -- skip the Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream. I'm almost certain they sell that at a grocery store near you.

6. Walk instead of taking a cab

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With the rise of Uber and other ride-sharing services, transportation is much cheaper than it used to be. Still, it's extra money you don't necessarily need to be spending. If you're able to and the destination is close enough, consider using your own two feet to get there -- just make sure to wear comfortable shoes.

Walking around helps you get in your exercise without hitting the gym, and also burns off some of the calories from all the delicious food you've been eating. Hopefully you aren't checking the scale on vacation, but staying active will lessen the damage you might see when you get home.

7. Don't cram your schedule

Have you ever been on a vacation with an itinerary packed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.? Nobody wants to miss out on seeing the sights in an exotic place, but a busy schedule is more likely to stress you out. And, if you're anything like me, all that stress and frustration from rushing place to place will make you mindlessly shove down all the food you can. 

Try to cut your schedule down enough to give yourself some breathing room. If you're an introvert, make sure you leave space for some alone time to recharge. Delineate clear times of the day that are meant for mealtimes, and remove distractions when it's time to eat. You shouldn't be using your phone at the dinner table anyways.

When you take time to relax and savor your food, you eat more mindfully, and generally only take in the nutrition your body can handle. This will help you from eating unnecessary calories and spending extra money on food you don't really want anyway.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.