Can you eat healthy on vacation? Is it even worth trying?

Can you eat healthy on vacation?

The short answer is, “no.”

Of course, it can be done. It can be done at great expense and hassle, shopping for groceries instead of eating out – this becomes more difficult if you’re staying in a hotel without benefit of cooking apparatus or refrigerator – not drinking alcohol, upsetting your fellow vacationers in the process by appearing holier than thou.

While I don’t think you can truly eat healthy on vacation, I do think you can vacation and still be healthy. Or at least healthy-ish.

I love vacations and traveling and I live a healthy lifestyle. They are not mutually exclusive.

I do not, however, treat vacations or travel as an opportunity for bacchanal. I do not leave my healthy lifestyle at the state line, taking any opportunity to travel as an excuse for reckless, consequence-free food and alcohol binges.

I think one of the biggest scams of the modern heath and fitness industry is the idea of “cheat days” or “cheat meals” – the notion that you can be on your best eating behavior for six days and on the seventh day, go nuts without repercussion.


If your cheat meal is half a deep dish pizza, three IPAs and a brownie sundae, that can erase an entire good week of eating. Worse yet, if you have a cheat “day” and throw pancakes with syrup, margaritas and french fries, you’re going backward due to one bad day, not forward due to six good.

On vacation, I seek balance. I recognize that I won’t eat as clean as I do at home. That’s OK. At the same time, I recognize I can’t eat whatever I want and look the way I want. What I’m trying to do is “keep it on the rails,” as I say.

Here are simple strategies I use to while on vacation to do that:

  • My biggest challenge when trying to eat right is portion control. I like to eat and when I do, I like to eat a lot. I’ve heard of people who, when eating out, cut their entree in half as soon as it hits the table, eating half and taking the other half home as leftovers. Smart. Restaurants are the single greatest obstacle to eating healthy on the road. From portion size to all the sugar, salt and butter – much of which you don’t even realize is there – it’s virtually impossible to eat healthy when you’re eating out. Cutting the portion size in half from the outset is a good start. This gives you the added benefit of being able to eat the other half for breakfast or lunch the next day, thereby cutting your costs. Here’s another common sense philosophy to portion size I use: you should never eat so much at any one meal that you couldn’t immediately leave the table and comfortably run a mile. You can eat just about anything, as long as you don’t eat too much of it, you’ll be OK for a week.
Poblano pepper at Lupe Tortilla
Poblano pepper at Lupe Tortilla in College Station, TX. (Photo Credit Chadd Scott / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)
  • My No. 1 rule for “keeping it on the rails” while on vacation is to eat early. I used to be bad about packing so much into my vacation days that I wasn’t sitting down to dinner until after 8:00, eating a big meal around 9:00 because I’d skipped lunch to keep exploring, then being asleep around 10:00 because I was wiped. Terrible. Drinking makes this worse. If you must eat bad or eat big and drink, at least do so early and give your body time to digest the meal. Make sure your last meal is consumed at least two hours prior to going to bed.
Sandwich and fondue at Vintner Wine Market NYC.
Sandwich and fondue at Vintner Wine Market NYC. (Photo Credit Chadd Scott / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)
  • Anyone who’s ever lost a lot of weight, I’ll bet you one strategy they used to do so was to stop drinking calories. There are few ways to pick up more empty calories faster than by drinking alcohol – I won’t even get into full calorie soda which may be the worst dietary habit anyone can have, vacationing or not. I try limiting myself to one alcoholic beverage at lunch and one at dinner. When we go to breweries, we’ve started sharing flights instead of sampling three or four full-size beers. If we particularly like one, we can share it after, but more often than not, splitting four or five, five ounce pours makes us both perfectly happy and slices our caloric intake.
Nachos at Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant in Breckenridge.
Nachos at Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant in Breckenridge. (Photo Credit Chadd Scott / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)
  • Avoid the slippery slope. If you have a bad meal or a bad day of eating on vacation, and you will, don’t say “F it” and throw in the towel on trying to be good for the remainder of the day or vacation. If your dietary train runs off the rails, put it back on for the next meal.
Fried green tomatoes and crab cake on Kiawah Island.
Fried green tomatoes and crab cake on Kiawah Island. (Photo Credit Chadd Scott / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)
  • Protein bars, fruit, snacks, etc. can replace a meal for me. Not so for Kristi, but they get us by in a pinch and at least take the edge off so that when we do eat, we aren’t famished and inclined to overeat.
Pastry case at in Whistler. (Photo Credit Chadd Scott / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)
  • Try eating at least one meal “in.” Again, this is tough in a hotel setting, but with some planning, we can generally eat a healthier breakfast of eggs or fruit, nuts, cheese, oatmeal – something better than pancakes or eggs Benedict.

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