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.


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