How to Get the Most Out of Your Vacation

Medical massage therapist Melissa Galli on vacation with her daughter Evelyn, playing with Gianni at Broadkill Beach, DE.

Though many of us don’t work 9-5 in an office any more, or are retired, there is still a great deal of value in packing a suitcase and heading out of town for a couple of weeks. Summer is vacation time.

Studies have shown that taking time away can have physical and mental health benefits. People who take vacations have lower stress, less risk of heart disease, a better outlook on life and more motivation to achieve goals. These benefits surely tip the scale in favor of taking a break from your daily routine. Research shows the even the planning of a vacation can boost your happiness. Some people experience an elevated mood up to eight weeks before the trip.

Vacations are perfect times to enjoy new experiences. It’s a good time to break no-longer-useful habits and inaugurate new ones. It’s also a great time be open to meeting new people and learning about a new environment. But not all trips turn out to be stress-free. Instead, vacations can become an adventure that makes you more tired and several pounds heavier than you were at the start of the trip.

It doesn’t have to be that way. A vacation doesn’t have to equate to eating and drinking your way to relaxation. You don’t have to throw your nutrition, exercise, and sleep routine out the window in order to have a good time. Just a little planning, thoughtfulness and reflection can make your next vacation the best ever, no matter where you go or who travels with you.

Some Tips

Leave your expectations at home. Expecting something specific to happen only sets you up for disappointment. Instead, be open to your experience and new ways of thinking and feeling.

Take slow, deep breaths anytime anxiety starts. Conscious breathing can help revitalize you, calm you and balance you. You can use this technique anywhere.

Start meditating. Just 10-20 minutes most days sitting quietly is enough to lower blood pressure and restore your energy. Vacations are a good time to start a new habit.

Give yourself a foot massage. One of the best ways to quickly and easily ground yourself is to rub oil or your favorite lotion onto your feet before you go to sleep. I do it every night. If you are there with a partner, exchange the foot rubs for added enjoyment.

Practice conscious consumption. Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Order what you will eat. Try to eat locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid piling food onto your plate at buffets (you can always go back).

Turn off the news, social media and alarm clocks.

Get quality sleep. Sleep until you wake up, then take your time getting out of bed.

Drink plenty of water. Eight glasses a day is not enough to stay hydrated if you are outside in the sun and/or if you are drinking alcohol. My rule of thumb is during the summer I always have my water with me. When I drink a glass of wine I also drink a glass of water.

Get moving. As a trainer, clients often complain that on vacation they didn’t do any exercise. Vacations are times to experiment with new ways of working out. I often try out a different kind of exercise class or sport when I’m away from home. When I visited my friend in southern California I went to a class that used inversion tables. It was very different being upside down but it was an effective core workout. While you may not want to head to a gym, you can walk along the beach, through a new town or a museum to get your blood flowing and body working.

Wash your hands often. It’s the most effective way to reduce your risk of catching any germs, bacteria or viruses hanging around. If you are staying in a hotel, bring your own pillow cases, take showers, not baths.

When I travel I always like to explore the less popular tourist sites where there are less crowds. When I want to go to the beach in the summer, I go north to Broadkill, Bowers or Fowler Beach instead of frequenting the more populated Rehoboth, Dewey or Lewes beaches. I’ve become adverse to crowds and traffic. If I want to hike at a beautiful state park, I choose Trapp Pond in the summer instead of the more popular Cape Henlopen.

Finally, chill. Stay cool. Unfamiliar territory, travel delays, traffic and being together 24/7 can create or exacerbate stress levels if you let them. Remember we all have the power to have a fun, relaxing time on vacation if we choose to. Stuff happens. Nothing’s perfect, but we don’t have to let affect us adversely.

For years I hadn’t taken a vacation. Because I owned a business and a dog, getting away required lots of money and planning. I recognized that taking a vacation would cause me more anxiety than staying home would, so I designed my day-to-day routine with pockets of breaks and stress-free activities so I didn’t feel as if I ‘needed’ to get away in order to get some rest.

I’m much wiser now and know the benefits of taking a vacation. I embrace the joy of traveling. I’m planning to take several short trips this year, excited to see friends in Nashville and Raleigh, two cities where I have never been.

Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 25 years. She focuses on non-traditional ways to stay healthy, get fit and get well. Please email her with questions or column suggestions at: