Vacations are a time to rest, rejuvenate and explore -- a time for travelers to experience the sights, sounds and culture of the town they are visiting without the stresses of everyday life. For many people, trips can also provide a unique opportunity to indulge in all kinds of amazing local cuisines and drinks. Unfortunately, while travelers typically look forward to the culinary joys of a vacation, they also worry about balancing all that fun with a healthy lifestyle.
The good news is that there are some fun and simple tricks that can make a big difference in finding the right balance. So read on, and let the mind be just as relaxed as the body, while having a guilt-free vacation.
Healthy habits can be part of the joy of travel whether you're exploring the hustle and bustle of a big city or stomping through the lush forests of a remote village. By making just a few adjustments to your travel itinerary, you can indulge in the pleasures of your destination while keeping your well-being on the agenda as well - no matter where you are in the world.
- Use the best (free) transportation you have available: your feet. Not only will you save money by avoiding the subway and taxi lines, you'll also be able to explore the city you're visiting in a more authentic way, like the locals do. Many destinations around the world offer free, locally-guided walking tours and apps that combine sightseeing and a low-impact workout in the same activity.
- Be sure to take the stairs whenever possible -- in your hotel or the museums you visit -- to get those legs moving. Turn this activity into a game and you can easily keep the kids entertained and active as well. Have them take a guess at how many stairs they will climb and then count as you move along.
- Take advantage of the sunshine. Beautiful weather will not only force you to spend your vacation outdoors and only use the hotel for sleeping, but it will boost your mood tremendously which will naturally make you want to be more active.
- Many hotels and cities offer courtesy bicycles for guests and tourists, so be sure to ask around or check the fine print of what's available when you arrive. If not in the nearby vicinity of your hotel, chances are good that a bicycle rental shop is within walking distance -- just ask around! The success of Paris Vélib has U.S. cities like Chicago, Denver, Des Moines, Miami Beach and Minneapolis participating in a similar city sponsored bike sharing programs since last year. Boston, New York and San Francisco have announced they will follow suit this year.
- Lastly, never forget to wear sunscreen no matter the outdoor activity. Look for travel-sized containers that you can take with you anywhere and reapply throughout the day to keep your skin healthy as well.
- Part of the joy of experiencing any new destination is trying the food, so feel free to partake in the local cuisine, but do it in a smart way. Instead of buying packaged snacks from the corner stores, check out the local farmer's markets and broaden your palate through the different fruits, veggies and natural sweet treats that are offered from the region. At the end of 2011, there were 7,175 local farmers markets across the United States and counting. Be sure to check the National Farmers Market Directory to find a local farmers market in the destination you plan to travel to.
- Another way to remove unhealthy temptations is to have the hotel remove and stash away the snacks and sodas in your hotel room minibar. Once you get into the room, you can replace them with your own healthier options from the local vendors and markets. This not only saves you money but also saves you hundreds of calories.
- When you arrive to your hotel or resort, be sure to ask for extras or upgrades that can help make healthy eating a more positive experience. These can include a room upgrade with a kitchenette to allow you to cook up some local groceries and save money on food -- or a free morning fruit basket to start your day off right.
- Lastly, you can also stay hydrated on the cheap by carrying reusable water bottles that can be refilled easily at any fountain, rather than dolling out money for soft drinks each day.
- Wherever you go, it's easy to take the gym with you, but without all the equipment. A couple small additions to your suitcase will keep your exercise routine on track. For example, pack ultra-light gear such as a workout band or wrist and ankle weights, which can easily be used to create a workout regime on any day during your vacation.
- Before you even leave for your trip, mentally prepare yourself to squeeze in a 30-minute workout daily, whether it's first thing in the morning or before you go to bed at night. This will make your mini-workouts seem less like a chore and just part of your vacation.
- Your iPhone or MP3 player isn't just for getting calls or playing music. Download apps with stretching or walking exercises or even 15-minute workout downloads that help add a bit more structure to your on-the-go exercising.
- Put on your running shoes and explore the area with a nice jog or brisk walk, or take in nature's beauty while mountain biking, hiking, or rock climbing in your destination. Alternatively, bring your yoga mat and take in some hymns on the beach.
- Ask for access to the hotel gym or swimming pool, and sign up for free aerobics or yoga classes that are offered either where you are staying or at a nearby local community center. Also check into the local running or cycling groups and join them for a ride or a run, and get to know some locals.
- Constantly checking mobile devices keeps your mind far from your vacation. Tablets, laptops and mobile phones all make it easier to stay connected while away from home, but the body and mind need to relax fully to reap the benefits of a vacation, and the only way to do this is to disconnect from technology.
- You know your workload at the office best, so try to schedule your vacation during a slow period so you can allow yourself to shut down your phone and email. If you go on vacation during a busy time, you will worry about what's going on in the office instead of focusing on the fun.
- Take a two-week or 10-day vacation. It takes a person three to four days to unwind fully, so if you only have three to four days left, you won't achieve the mental reset that was probably a big reason why you took the vacation in the first place.
- Disconnecting also means unplugging from everything at late-night, including activities. There's no hope for completely recharging your energy level unless you get some well-deserved Z's.
Remember, enjoying a good vacation can have lasting effects on your life long after you've returned home. Good getaways promote creativity and help us think about new ways to do things in our regular lives, whether that's personal or professional. So be sure to truly get the most out of your trips by finding the right balance of fun for both the body and mind.
-- L. Jasmine Kim is the general manager at Travel-Ticker.com, an online inspirational travel website that negotiates deals with multiple hotels, airlines, cruises and other travel partners. Viewers can sign up for its weekly newsletter that says it offers the best deals according to individual interests.