Stay Healthy on Vacation With This Simple Hack

Pull Ups On Boat

Vacation: a chance to relax, unwind… and completely fall off the “healthy living” wagon!

How is it that we can go months and months in perfect routine, dutifully eating healthy, never missing a workout, and staying on target, but a single week of vacation can be enough to throw us completely off balance and send us back to square one?

Sure, it’s one thing to try and stay on target while traveling for work (which we cover here), but it can be a completely different beast to tackle while we’re on vacation.

Late nights, early mornings, funky travel schedules, alcohol, and “once in a lifetime” moments all seem to take priority over healthy decisions.

And… the thing is… generally these things SHOULD take priority!  

Normally, a single bad meal or missed workout is not cause for alarm. However, when that one day of unhealthy decisions becomes 7-10 days of abnormal decisions, it can make it almost impossible to get back on track once we return home.

And soon enough, a week can very quickly turn into months of poor decision making.

Over the years of traveling, both for work and pleasure, I’ve devised a game that keeps me in shape, despite far too many late nights, eating off schedule, and missing workouts.

Here’s how I stay in shape while also enjoying the spoils of vacation and having fun.

The Vacation Workout Game

Steve boat

A few weeks back, when I spent seven days at sea with friends in Croatia, I knew I was going to be going out each night, drinking, and staying up far too late.  Sure, I could have “opted out” of those nights, gone to bed early, and dutifully got up to exercise each morning at 6 AM.  Instead, I chose to go to BED at 6 AM, stay up with new friends, and watch the sun rise.

So, instead of being forced to choose between skipping the fun stuff or skipping the workouts, I devised a game to allow me to have both.  This didn’t allow me to have workouts the same as when I was home, but as a result of doing SOME exercise, I maintained some momentum and got back on track easily when vacation was over.

Here’s the Vacation Workout Game. The guiding principle is that every “bad” action must be accompanied by a “good” reaction:

  1. For every adult beverage consumed, complete 10 push ups.  These push-ups can be done as you consume your drinks, before you drink, or the morning after.  It’s a rough morning when you have to do 100 push ups (in my case, on the deck of a wobbly boat) as a result of the night before, so be strategic!
  2. For every unhealthy meal consumed, complete 50 bodyweight squats.  My recommendation for this is to actually do your 50 squats BEFORE your meal, so your calories are at least partly going towards rebuilding muscle and replenishing glycogen stores. You can break this into however many sets or reps you need.
  3. Every time you walk past a low-hanging structure, complete five pull ups.  If you can’t do five pull ups, then do inverted rows whenever you have the chance to do so.
  4. Elevators don’t exist.  Whenever possible, use the stairs. Skip the elevator.
  5. If it’s within a mile, walk.  I love traveling to new cities, as its a chance to explore and get a ton of miles on my legs without it really feeling like exercise.

That’s it. Seriously.

My advice: GET EVERYBODY THAT’S TRAVELING WITH YOU IN ON IT.  They certainly don’t need to exercise with you (though they can), but tell them that you want their help in keeping you accountable. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, friends love to help make their friends “suffer” with exercise. Trust me, this can add to the fun of the vacation.

At first, my friends thought I was crazy, but by the end of the week they got really into it and were excited to make sure I completed my reps. “Steve, how many push ups are you behind now?” “Steve, don’t you owe us squats?”

Not only that, but I had people on other boats noticing my crazy morning (somewhat hungover) workout routine and ask me about it. When I told them the reasoning, they couldn’t help but chuckle and some even joined in!

No matter what, here’s the important thing: DO SOMETHING.  

We all know that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion (thanks Newton!). If you’ve been crushing your workouts before your vacation, do everything you can to tread water (thanks De La Soul!)

Minimize Diet Damage


Okay – you have the Vacation Workout Game under your belt. But just because we’ll be employing this trick doesn’t mean we need to COMPLETELY abandon our diet.

For some reason, as soon as we go on vacation, it’s like a flip gets switched.

We go from the Paleo Diet to pancakes and pizza, from water to margaritas and daiquiris, and from veggies and protein to lasagna and Haagen-Dazs.  We eat ourselves into a food coma, and end up with a food hangover that extends far beyond the end of our vacation.

Here are some tips to avoid destroying yourself (and your momentum) completely while on vacation:

  • Break the “Boom and Bust” Vacation Cycle.  Most people follow this cycle: starve yourself for weeks, eat NOTHING but “healthy” foods for weeks leading up to vacation (and be miserable)…and then go BUCK WILD while on vacation.  Return home feeling like garbage, abandon any sort of rational decision making, and stop “getting healthy.”

Here’s the truth: there is no “after,” and there is no “end.”  There’s only “During.”

  • Intermittent Fasting is your friend.  I love intermittent fasting while traveling and while I’m on vacation.  My friends look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I’m skipping breakfast, lunch, or dinner…but strategically skipping meals allows me to not go too overboard on calorie overload while on vacation. If you go crazy on one meal or one day, consider employing IF to help moderate your caloric intake over the whole trip.
  • Follow an unhealthy meal with a healthy one.  This is part of the Nerd Fitness “never two in a row” rule.  If you eat a bad meal, make the next one a healthy one…no exceptions!  Opt for the side salad instead of extra french fries. Get grilled chicken instead of breaded chicken.  Eat a healthy snack instead of more cookies and crackers.  The goal here isn’t to stay 100% on track, but rather to keep your momentum so it’s easier to get back on track at the end.
  • Load up on water.  Want to eat bad food but worried you’ll eat too much of it? Load up on water before you eat – it can help curb your appetite!
  • Drink your carbs. If you’re going to be drinking a lot on your vacation, don’t compound it with lots of carb heavy unhealthy foods. Instead, factor in the carb intake from drinking and be extra diligent with your food.  Easier said than done…but it can be done. And please, (obviously) drink responsibly.

Relax, Have Fun, Do Something


To recap, here’s your workout plan:

  • 10 push ups for every drink.
  • 50 squats for every bad meal.
  • 5 pull ups every time you pass something you can hang from.
  • Skip the elevator, skip the taxis whenever possible.

If you have friends that want to do it with you, great. If they don’t want to, ask them to keep you on track – don’t worry, they’ll LOVE reminding you in the morning you owe 50 push ups!

If you’re going to drink, try to minimize the damage by being smart in your beverage choice.

For your diet: If you end up eating like an idiot, who cares! Just make the NEXT meal non-idiotic 🙂  Make protein a focal point, and add a vegetable to the meal whenever you can.

The overall goal is to maintain momentum, and keep your mind thinking: “I am leveling up my life.”

Do something every day, and remember that every decision and every little thing counts.

What about you?  When you go on vacation, do you check out COMPLETELY? Do you try to keep exercising even though you’re “off?”

I’d love to hear your vacation “stay healthy” strategy.

Leave a comment and let’s hear it!



photo source: Doug Wheller: Sea Shell, Christian Senger: Alcohol

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    19 thoughts on “Stay Healthy on Vacation With This Simple Hack

    1. Vacation: So 1 time, I lost weight during my vacation week. We decided to make it chill vacation (aka nothing planned until noon or 1), so in the mornings we would chill either in the pool or near the basketball courts. We’re a competitive family, so for a whole week, it was basically racing each other in the pool for a crazy 3 hours. Plus, some evenings, we went on a bike trail, or simply long walks. Granted, my appetite was so large that week, because I was exerting myself so much, but it couldn’t have been too much… I actually lost a pound (even with apple pie/cake/restaurant) indulges.

    2. I love using vacation as a time to have the luxury to make better choices. This summer while I was on a cruise with my family, I enjoyed ordering healthy(er) breakfast to have sent to our stateroom every morning, getting up while the rest of my party was still asleep, and taking a low-impact morning group fitness class. I kept my scheduled workouts at the bare minimum to get me through my half marathon training, and all of my cross-training was loosey-goosey stretch or abs classes, but I was able to relish the fact that I didn’t have to rush anywhere after my workout was done. And then I was able to head back to my room, where a tray of egg whites and fresh fruit was waiting for me (without me having to prep ANYthing). It felt so great to be able to stay healthy in a way that didn’t require me to exert much effort, and I never felt like I was missing out on vacation.

    3. Great topic! I usually pick a place that requires a lot more walking than I usually do during the week so I get in exercise but I do damage the diet. You offer some fantastic suggestions I’ll try next time I go on vacation.

    4. What’s vacation? lol. Seriously I don’t think I’ve had a vacation in years.

      That said, I really like this plan. I do take short weekend trips fairly often, so I can use this during my short trips!

    5. Oh thank you. I’ve been trying to figure out how I was going to keep from going completely off into left field during a ten day once in a lifetime trip to BC and this at least gives me something I think I can do. Let’s face it, I’m at a sci-fi convention and I am fooling nobody into thinking I’m going to work out in the hotel gym. *laughing* Your timing is perfect. Rock on.

    6. I think this is great advice whether you are traveling or eating at home. It’s easy to get derailed from stress. I think IF and even your tip (I saw it somewhere awhile ago in one of your posts) to get your carbs below 100 per day to drop a few pounds are both ways to undo some of the damage.

    7. I know this goes against the grain here, but my strategy for surviving vacations is to not take them. I hate traveling. Did too much of it when I was I younger. If I live to 100 and never see an other airport I would be happy.

    8. Wow, good timing – I leave in 2 days for a week at a cabin. I was planning on bringing my weights(seriously, my hand dumbbells) so I could do my every other day routine, even if my eating is off. I am wondering, if I eat the good amounts of protein at my meals, will it be better when I have the junk/fun stuff during those same meals? Instead of avoiding the protein? Still plan to try the 6 hours between meals but it won’t be my schedule so that could be tougher. Would it be good/better/best or worse to do a full workout EVERY day for this week only since you suggest adding in all those extras when you overeat – what do you think? Staying 100% on it until the last minute and will be back on 100% as soon as I get back, – I lost 11# the first week – never ever lost that much in one week before and with working out with progressively heaving weights/reps each work out, wow, in only a few weeks, the change in body shape is amazing! With the 11# loss the first week, still
      able to lose 1# each week thereafter – which is fine with me as I am adding weight and reps to the work out each week, so know I am adding muscle, which I want!

    9. I can relate. Last vacation I took was backpacking, so I walked like crazy (destroyed a couple of sandals). Small workouts here and there too.

    10. Awesome stuff. I spent a few years travelling around the world like Steve and got frustrated without a gym but remembered pushups, chinups, hiking etc are all free. Another thing I did was looking into getting guest passes at any gym I could find depending on how long I would be in a certain city for and then hitting a whole body circuit to get everything in. It’s amazing how many places will give you a free trial.
      I also found myself inadvertently intermittent fasting because I was broke as hell most of the time!

    11. So I just got back off Honeymoon with my wife, first mistake was the fact it was all inclusive so that could have ended badly, however, we stuck to 2 meals a day, and I’d try and get some sort of meat, and if it was grilled then this was the choice with as much veg as I could fit on the plate (although the odd tike I did indulge in chips, but I was on holiday!)

      We kept the momentum going by hitting the gym every other day although it was hot and sweaty!

      I like the idea of push ups and also pull ups while you are walking.

      The biggest barrier we had was that you didn’t really want to leave the complex for walks or day trips cos you’d paid for all the food and drink up front and this is at odds with our normal holiday which involves going somewhere and pretty much walking everywhere we can to see as much as possible!

    12. I actually signed up to Nerd Fitness to get in shape before going on vacation. I’m a student from Britain, and my girlfriend and I saved for a year to go to Florida and see all the theme parks. I followed Paleo for 9 months pretty well (falling off the wagon here and there but always getting back on!), and felt pretty great by the time we went away in June. Over the course of the holiday I did pig out pretty badly, but due to the long days and the constant swimming/running around/walking, didn’t really add much weight. The damage was done when I got home; I continued to eat terribly, did hardly any exercise, and added a lot of weight. It’s only been over the last month that I’ve been able to start getting back on track, so this article is pretty pertinent!

    13. My husband and I tend to plan really active vacations – instead of lounging around at a resort, we’re spending the day exploring a new city on foot, or we’re out hiking or doing nature tours. It cancels out some of the rich restaurant dinners we’re enjoying. And as an added bonus, we’re way too tired to stay up drinking all night.

    14. I understand the entire point of this article and I am awed and impressed by it. Vacations are really hard to get by when it comes to fitness and maintaining our daily routine. The Workout game totally takes the trophy here because I seriously could never think of something of that sorts. I like to keep fit and have just started Yoga. However, with holidays around the corner I had been worried about how I would keep it going. This article has taken one burden off my shoulders and kudos to you for that.

    15. Sounds like a great plan to me. I’m going on a work-vacation next week, but there will be plenty of fun throughout – and while I’m planning to pack a cooler and have a couple of grocery store trips to be able to eat nice salads sometimes, I know I’ll get caught up in work and won’t always be able to make it out. I’ll at least get a ton of walking in!

    16. When you go from having healthy home cooked meals to eating out every day, you’re more likely to start consuming more than your healthy dose of salt, sugar and saturated fats. Help your body by starting your day with a glass of lukewarm water.


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