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Healthy Family Travel: The No-Fail Guide

April 24, 2014

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I’ve done a decent amount of traveling lately. Nowhere extremely exotic or incredibly interesting, but I’ve found myself on the subway gallivanting around NYC, a plane en route to Florida, and the Amtrak to upstate New York more frequently than normal. One of my favorite parts of traveling is the people watching. No matter where I go, it’s truly fascinating to just sit back, relax, and watch the people go by. I always wonder about each person’s story: Where are they from? How did they get there? Where are they going?

As the scope of my Health Coaching practice broadens and I deepen my understanding of healthy living, I am in a constant state of shock as I watch the choices people make while traveling—especially families.  I can only imagine how difficult and expensive it can be to not only travel with a family but also nourish them with healthy food along the way. I’m only now realizing how lucky I was that when my family packed up the car for a road trip, our Igloo cooler was filled with healthy and satisfying snacks and lunches. 

At the time, I hated that we brought our food with us to the water park, and wished that we were eating the fried concessions like the rest of the families. Looking in the rearview mirror , I am eternally grateful, and hope to carry these practices with me when I have a family of my own.  For now though, I incorporate it into my own travel by bringing snacks with me and fitting in physical activity when I can.

I know that healthy travel can be more difficult when you’re traveling with a partner, and even more challenging with children, but it is possible.  Here are 7 tips to make your next family trip fun and healthy, both for your body and your mind:

1. Look for accommodations with a kitchen. Whenever possible, seek out hotels with a kitchen, or even a small fridge where you can store fresh snacks and meals. This is especially important if you’re planning to be away for longer than a weekend. If you’re heading somewhere for a week or more or have a large family, consider renting a small house instead of getting hotel rooms.  Not only is this often cheaper than a hotel, but it also allows you more flexibility with meals. Airbnb provides a lot of great hotel alternatives. 

2. First stop, grocery shop. While you’re doing research on things to do in the area and restaurants to checkout, note the nearest grocery store and plan on doing a quick shop right when you arrive. You can pick up fresh fruit and snacks to have on hand, and food to cook full meals if you have access to a kitchen.  If you rented house with a full kitchen, plan for half of your meals to be cooked there and half at fun local restaurants.

3. Brown bag it. As we all know,the local gas station and tourist traps do not expose our families to the healthiest options. Avoid the vending machine and french fries by packing your cooler with portable snacks and meals. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Snacks: fresh fruit with peanut butter; celery and almond butter; corn tortilla chips and salsa; carrots and hummus; trail mix; pickles; dried fruit; and cheese and crackers. Make a variation of these bars ahead of time for a snack that will last you all vacation!
  • Quick & Easy Lunches: whole wheat pasta salad or another of your favorite grains like quinoa; peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread; and roasted veggie pitas and wraps.
  • Sweet Treats: dark chocolate; fresh berries with yogurt and granola; and healthy homemade cookies.

 4. Stay Active. We often feel drained, groggy, and low energy after traveling.  While it’s important to take the time to relax and decompress, keeping your family’s energy up by engaging in physical activities can not only give you more energy but also increase the quality family time. No matter where you go, there’s always something you could do to stay active as a family. Take the family out for a great hike, hit the slides at the local water park, bring a ball and mitt or a Frisbee to the local park, find kayak or canoe rentals, or walk around the zoo for an afternoon.

 5. Check your technology at the door. Set ground rules for the use of electronic devices.  We spend all day, every day plugged into technology. As a whole, we as a society need to unplug, and as adults we set the example.   Let your children check their email in the morning and reply to text messages before dinner and before bed, but make it clear that family time is just that and should be free of electronics.  The whole family will feel more relaxed and ready to go back to real life after an electronic-free vacation.

 6. Family book club. Before you leave for vacation, survey your family to see what type of book everyone would be interested in reading, and use vacation as a time to read as a family.  You’ll create conversations and dialogue that might not otherwise exist – even for the introverted adolescent.

 7. Take some alone time. Being on a family vacation doesn’t mean that you have to spend every moment together. Just as you need some space and quiet time at home, everyone needs a little bit of personal space on vacation.

As you can see, staying healthy on vacation isn’t just about your food choices.  Feeling stable financially, letting go of the outside world, and focusing on the moment you’re in all play a crucial role in a great vacation. And remember, everything in moderation—even moderation. While a healthy vacation is important, it’s also healthy to let go, relax, and indulge a little bit.

How do you stay healthy when you travel? Tell us your strategies in the comment section below!