Eat healthy and stay active on the road

Looking to shed pounds this vacation? Consider a little less time lounging by the pool and do something active istead.Scott Audette / AP file
/ Source: Independent Traveler

Without access to their local supermarket or their favorite Pilates DVD, travelers often find themselves subsisting on greasy fast food and abandoning their usual exercise routines to sit for long hours on planes or buses. Vegetarian, organic, low carb, low cal, low fat — no matter what diet you're on, there's a good chance that it went down the tubes on your last vacation.

But just because you're hitting the road doesn't mean you should leave all your healthy habits at home. Believe it or not, it's possible to eat well on a cross-country road trip, to stay active without access to a gym, and even to go on a cruise without gaining 5 or 10 pounds. Read on for tips on eating healthy and staying active no matter what kind of trip you have planned.

On a plane
There's no more captive audience than a plane full of air travelers, particularly those on long international flights. But just because you're stuck on a plane doesn't mean you're stuck eating the congealed meat and starchy sides the airlines call food. (That's if your airline serves meals at all — check out Which Airlines Still Serve Meals? to learn more.)

Your first line of defense against unhealthy airline menus is to bring what food you can from home. Recent changes to the TSA security rules prohibit passengers from taking liquids and gels in excess of three ounces through airport security checkpoints, but solid snacks like bananas, apples, trail mix, nuts, carrot and celery sticks, and energy bars should pass muster. Pack a few of these in your carry-on and you can skip the salty snacks served on the plane.

Once you've passed through security, anything you purchase at the airport may be brought with you on your flight — so this is your chance to stock up on bottled water and buy a salad or grilled sandwich to eat instead of dinner on the plane. Luckily for health-conscious travelers, airports have begun adding more healthy dining options to their standard array of fast food, according to a recent survey by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Susan Levin, a PCRM dietician, recommends seeking out vegetarian dishes that are "low in fat and high in fiber" — like a bean burrito or a veggie sandwich.

In flight, skip the alcohol and soft drinks -- both can dehydrate you. Water is always your best bet for staying hydrated and sticking to your diet.

At the hotel
When choosing a hotel, look for one that offers a fitness center or pool — and then use these features once you get there! Many major booking sites, including Travelocity and Orbitz, allow you to customize your search to show only hotels that offer these amenities.

If your hotel doesn't have a gym, why not bring your own? We don't advise trying to squeeze a set of dumbbells into your suitcase, but it's easy enough to pack a resistance band or to download an exercise program onto your MP3 player so that you can work out in your room. (iTRAIN is one of several companies providing downloadable workouts.) As a lower-tech option, you can always jog in place in front of the TV for half an hour, make your own exercise routine of jumping jacks and squats, or do some early-morning stretches or stomach crunches before heading out for the day.

You may also want to consider booking a hotel room with a kitchenette or even renting a house or apartment so that you can do your own cooking. This will save you money on food and give you more control over your diet. If you choose to eat at the hotel instead, be sure to take a careful look at what kind of dining options are available. Loews Hotels recently announced that it would be eliminating all artificial trans fats from restaurants, room service, banquet functions and minibars by June 1, 2007, while Omni aims to do the same by the end of March.

At sea
Cruise ships have a well-deserved reputation as bastions of gluttony, with food, food and more food available all day long from breakfast to the midnight buffet. Luckily, amid all the pizza, creamy pastas and self-serve ice cream, most cruise lines also offer lighter and healthier options with reduced fat, sodium and/or carbs. For example, Carnival has a fleetwide "spa menu," while Princess offers "spa options" in its main dining rooms for cruisers watching their diets. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean has vowed to eliminate trans fats from all its menus by the end of 2007.

Along with overeating, cruisers have also traditionally faced the temptation to laze around by the pool instead of staying active — but on today's ships, there's no reason not to exercise if you have the motivation. Nearly all modern vessels have a gym and jogging track at the bare minimum, and most also offer a number of fitness classes (yoga, aerobics, etc.) that passengers can take thoughout their cruise.

Newer ships, particularly those in the Royal Caribbean fleet, have everything from ice skating rinks and rock-climbing walls to bowling alleys and boxing rings. But here's perhaps the simplest way to get in a little extra exercise: don't take the elevator. Most modern-day mega-ships have so many decks that jogging up or down the stairs every time you need to get somewhere will easily help you burn a few extra calories.

Off the ship, choose active shore excursions — like hiking or kayaking around a Caribbean island rather than touring it by motorcoach, or snorkeling instead of lying on the beach all day. Do enough physical activity during the day, and maybe, just maybe, you can treat yourself one night at the midnight buffet!

At your destination
The possibilities for active getaways around the world are almost limitless — think skiing in the Alps, horseback riding in Montana or canoeing down the Amazon River. But even if you're not up for that much outdoor adventure, there's a lot more you can do than just sit on a bus and passively take in the scenery.

For example, you can see Europe by bike with BikeToursDirect, which offers both guided and self-guided tours through 30 countries, including Italy, France, Austria and Portugal. You'll cycle along scenic river banks, past vineyards and through medieval towns, combining all-day exercise with a more intimate look at the European countryside than you could ever get from the seat of a motorcoach.

A similar opportunity is available for joggers in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas with American Running Guides and NYC RUN. Personalized routes take runners through Greenwich Village, across the Golden Gate Bridge or through Red Rock Canyon (a 15-mile drive outside Las Vegas), to name just a few. Jogging routes in more cities are on the way, including Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

Jogging and biking aside, you can't go wrong with good, old-fashioned walking. There's no better way to experience a city than on foot, so take time to walk between major attractions rather than jumping on a bus or a subway; you'll experience the flavor of different neighborhoods and be able to duck into any cafe or shop that strikes your fancy along the way.

A note on eating internationally
We've mentioned salads as a great healthy option when you're on the road, but if you're in a developing country where your risk of food- or water-borne illness is high, you'll want to pass on raw fruits and vegetables. Instead, try to find dishes that feature cooked vegetables, and make sure they're served piping hot. Similarly, while water remains your healthiest beverage option, you'll want to be sure that your drinking supply is safe, particularly if you're traveling in a third world country. For more information, check out Food Safety and Drinking Water Safety.

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