I had the best intentions: I packed my protein powder; I brought my gym clothes (with the goal to run every day on the treadmill, where I was headed on vacation). I was determined—this time around—not to gain weight on my weeklong trip. I even avoided second and third helpings of the fresh, delicious blueberry crumble that was served.

Yet, I still came home three pounds heavier—and was a bit frustrated, to say the least. But I quickly realized two things. First, I’m not alone: 29% of travelers, like me, say they gain weight on vacations. And second, I did some things wrong that I’ve since learned from—and wanted to share these tips with you.

  1. Pack your sneakers—but don’t set rigid fitness goals. One of my own vacation mistakes was vowing to run every single day—something that’s just not realistic even in my day-to-day life. Having a must-do list is stressful, particularly at a time when you should be taking a break from strict routines. This may be why two-thirds of travelers say that exercising and eating healthy while on the road is stressful…because if you approach it like this, it is!

    Instead, commit just to moving every day♦ on vacation. It might be swimming, it might be golfing, it might be taking a walk at sunset after dinner. In fact, walking after a meal may also help reduce diabetes risk, according to a new study. The research, published in the journal Diabetes Care♦♦, found that a 15-minute walk—about half an hour after each meal—helped to reduce blood sugar. And walking after dinner showed even more benefits: it lowers blood sugar levels over night into the next day. Need some good trails to walk? Click on mapmywalk.com to find walking paths near you; there’s also a helpful app to load onto your Smartphone before you leave on vacation.

  2. Get to know your airport. Flying? You don’t need to sit outside your gate for hours waiting for your flight—or a connection. Get moving. San Francisco’s International Airport has a yoga room where you can stretch. Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport has a marked walking path (it’s 1.4 miles around)—as does Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, both of which are sponsored by the American Heart Association (startwalkingnow.org). Los Angeles International Airport has an 18-hole golf course. And the Fairmont Vancouver Airport has a full-service health club you can access for just $18 a day. Do a search of the airports you’ll be at to see if they have any get-healthy activities you can do.

  3. Skip calorie counting. This ranks up there (along with setting a strict exercise program) on the list of vacation don’ts. Instead, try this one simple eat-healthier tip: Just have a broth-based soup or salad before your main dinner course—every day. This is so easy to do—and ensures that you’re getting some extra nutrients, particularly if you opt for a soup like veggie-loaded gazpacho or a tossed green salad. Plus, it helps fill you up, say Penn State researchers♦♦♦, so you’re less likely to fill up on the breadbasket or with extra helpings of the main course (or dessert)—helping you lose weight.

  4. Take your multivitamin—every day. This helps ensure you continue to get the nutrients you need, no matter what you eat (or don’t). Try packing Centrum® Flavor Burst® Chews—in Mixed Fruit, Tropical Fruit, and Wild Grape. They’re chewable and convenient: they can be taken without food or water.

  5. Go ahead, eat that chocolate triple fudge ice cream. After all, this is vacation. The last thing you want to do is be nibbling on carrot sticks when you’re really craving ice cream. No, you don’t want to eat dessert after every meal (or have two or three helpings as I wanted to), but you also don’t want to deprive yourself. (This will set you up for feeling miserable—and possibly “bingeing” on a sweet treat once you do get your hands on it…a situation that will definitely set you up for weight gain.) Have what you’re craving, and move on.

This reminds me of a quote I have pasted up by my desk, one that I always have in the back of my mind as I travel through life: “If I had to live my life over, I’d…climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I’d eat more ice cream…I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daises.” It’s a good lesson for vacations—and for life. Because at the end of the day, if you put on a few pounds like I did, you’ll more than likely take them off once you get back into your day-to-day routine. Remember: Have fun, and be well!

♦ To prevent injury, be sure you check with your doctor before doing any exercise routine—on vacation or at home.

♦♦ Three 15-min Bouts of Moderate Postmeal Walking Significantly Improves 24-h Glycemic Control in Older People at Risk for Impaired Glucose Tolerance; Department of Exercise Science, The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, Washington, DC; Diabetes Care June 11, 2013;
http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2013/06/03/dc13-0084.abstract

♦♦♦ Salad and Satiety: Energy Density and Portion Size of a First-Course Salad Affect Energy Intake, Department of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA; J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 Oct; 104 (10): 1570-6.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15389416