Traveling to new or beloved destinations to celebrate the holidays are, for many, the best times of the year. They can also be tricky times to stay healthy. The shift in temperature and daylight hours combined with seasonal, processed calorie bombs and travel that is a germaphobe’s nightmare can really take a toll on our physical and mental health. The result: we can get stuck in one funky-funk.
While we should obviously enjoy these festive experiences to the fullest, returning to reality can feel sluggish and just plain rough. Here are some tricks to stay healthy(ish) whether traveling or at home for the holidays, so you can return to normal life feeling rested and restored!
Pack Travel Snacks
Do not try and rely on the airport or your destination to have what you need or the time to shop for snacks. Being prepared before you leave prevents the rounds of apologies later after hungry spirals into hangry (and do the same for your return trip home). Snack right with natural foods like nuts, fruits (non-squishy, like apples), kale chips, even yogurt or canned tuna, and you’ll arrive nice and full instead of groggy and cranky. If buying packaged food, peep the nutritional info and make sure it’s made of natural ingredients you can pronounce! Also, don’t forget your reusable water bottle to stay hydrated.
Holidays and vacations are perfect opportunities to spend time with loved ones and enjoy the scenery — only if you steer clear of checking your phone or laptop and *hopefully* stay away from doing work. Apple devices now tell you how much time you’re spending on screen, with details like how often you pick it up. Try a “no phone” day on your vacay, and you’ll realize just how often you reach for it.
If you’re traveling for the holidays somewhere chilly, we recommend snuggling up next to a warm fire, under a blanket, with a crisp breeze coming in from the window as you juggle a hot drink and a good book. Our favorite in recent years: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Step into her world — you’ll look up hours later realizing you haven’t checked your phone.
Mental Health Recharge
This is so important, and not always possible to do in our daily lives. Hanging with great people, relaxing, and reconnecting, can charge up your heart and mind like you wouldn’t believe. So can opening your eyes and mind to a new worldview while traveling. Employ your five senses by talking with locals and listening to the notes of the language, by smelling the air, tasting their foods, reaching out and touching to learn how the walls, the sand, the earth feels, and slowing to take mental pictures as your head whips around looking. These sensations are what stay with you — I recommend writing in a travel journal while these experiences are still fresh in your mind.
Prioritize You — and Yes, You Can Say No
Of course, if you have some not ideal relationships at your destination, being sure to take time for yourself and recognizing your needs is so important, too. This is your vacation after all. Take a bath, read a book, light a candle. Inhale, exhale. Sleep in! Also, you will likely see those relatives or friends you haven’t seen in a while. If there is something you have been wanting to maturely discuss in person, with empathy, now could be the time, versus the susceptibility of your meaning getting lost in translation if you discuss on your phone.
Being giving and selfless is a pillar of the holidays — have you ever seen It’s a Wonderful Life!? — but knowing when to say no can be equally important. Ask yourself, do I really want to do that? Do I really want to eat that? Do I need a moment to myself? You do not have to eat a plate of every food made, for example, but can politely take some of each and try a bite. You are a grown-ass person, and can feel confident in your choices.
Don’t beat yourself up for enjoying that amazing meal and indulging, especially if you’re traveling to a foodie destination. Try for the majority of your food to still be semi-healthy, though. Aim to keep vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and some fruits incorporated into your meals. Plus, starting the day off right with a healthy, filling breakfast helps. At the end of the day, your vacation is what you make of it. Listen to your body and eat what you crave and want. If you want a full green salad, go for it! If you want chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast do it! Our tip: if you’re traveling abroad, make sure to try new cuisines. We truly believe this is of a form of self-care, so give that escargot a try once in for all.
However, if you want to be for mindful with your eating while you travel, you’re in luck. There’s plenty of science to back up mindful eating, check out this handy infographic here, a detailed one here, and one by the Washington Post here. Mindful eating means being consciously aware of what you’re consuming, aka slowing down and appreciating your food. So instead of mindlessly bingeing while distracted by scrolling on your phone or watching TV, you become aware of how you feel and when you’re full.
If Not the Gym, Take a Walk
If you want to rest, do not feel pressured to stick to an invigorating workout schedule. Take the time to let your body recuperate. Try to get outside and take a walk if the gym isn’t calling your name. A leisurely stroll through your surroundings does wonders, especially if you are on vacation and MUST explore. Get into nature, or skip the cars or subways and use a map. Walking is the best tool for learning your way around, while also soaking up that Vitamin D!
If you can get your heart rate up, though, you will feel less schlumpy at the end of your trip. Try something new! Some people love booty/resistance bands for their easy transportation and use, but running on the beach, basics like planks with mountain climbers, pushups, lunges, or squats are great, quick alternatives to your usual workouts to shock the muscles. However, if going to the gym at 6 am every morning is crucial to keeping you sane, you do you!
It is crucial, however, to stay hydrated since you’re off of your usual routine, not to mention all the imbibing you’ll likely do with wine and holiday-themed cocktails. Speaking of which: clear liquor is the best, including for hangovers — try the classic vodka soda with a lime. For wine, the dryer it is, the less sugar it contains. (If not, there’s always supplements to help those nasty next-day feels.) Being dehydrated can deepen jet lag, and busy days make drinking water a hard habit to remember.
While the sun setting earlier can definitely trip you up so you feel like you’re the human version of Eeyore, don’t think of sleep as the enemy! Traveling in trains, planes, and/or automobiles in addition to sleeping in beds that are not your own can make you restless, and begin a brutal sleep cycle. Melatonin and magnesium are also great to help you get a good night’s rest, including during long travel.
Try some tricks to settle into slumber that work for you, like putting your phone away, getting to a good, snuggly temperature, lighting a candle, and deep, slow breaths. Lack of rest leads to crankiness that can ruin your time exploring a new place or with fellow holiday celebrators. Just don’t try counting sheep — that works for no one, not even sheep.
Feature image via Victoria Morris