Embracing Balance on Your Summer Holidays

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Recently, I received a message on Instagram about ideas for healthy snacks while travelling. The person who got in touch was heading away on a Europe-wide trip, and was feeling a bit nervous about the upcoming lack of normal routine they would face in terms of food choices and opportunities to exercise, particularly given the limited gym access they would have while away. My response was to of course, give the person snack ideas I love to take with me when away, but the mention of anxiety stuck with me. And as is usually the case when a thought gets stuck in my head, I decided to write about it.

With summer finally here, many of you reading may be heading away on holidays abroad at some stage over the next couple of months. I personally recently went to Portugal and Denmark on two separate trips over the last 2 weeks, and LOVED both trips. For probably the first time in a long time, I’m wasn’t anxious, stressed or worried about what and where I would eat and exercise on my travels. In the past, when booking holidays I would have looked for hotels with gyms, or Air B&B locations close to fitness centres, to ensure I didn’t miss a session while away. To anyone reading this who does so, I’m not knocking that – you do you. But for me, it was a holiday detail I used to be far too fixated on, and one I placed too high on the priority list.

Can holidays and trips abroad throw us out of our normal food and fitness routine? Of course! We are experiencing new cities and places within new countries, new cultures, new foods, new sights to see – all of these things are fresh and to be discovered, and represent a break from our usual daily lives. But most of all, holidays move us outside of our comfort zone – we may not speak the same language as those in the places where we stay, we don’t know the geography of the area well, we may not have tried the local delicacies, and we definitely don’t usually know the public transport systems! This is exciting, but also can be a bit unnerving, and if you are quite set and comfortable in your current routine, it can provoke anxiety and stress.

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But here’s the thing. Holidays and travel, both short and longer-term, are not, generally forever (unless of course your career or current day job necessitates it, but let’s recognise that as the exception, not the rule usually). Holidays are an opportunity – to jump out of your comfort zone, embrace the unknowns, and ultimately, make some serious memories that become part of the fabric of your life. What I’ve realised, FINALLY, is that in the grand scheme of life:

  • Being out of your normal healthy eating and exercise habits for a short period while on holidays or travelling, really isn’t a big deal when you consider the bigger long-term picture of life as a whole
  • In fact, it is in my opinion HEALTHIER to explore, see new parts of the world, dive into new cuisines and cultural experiences, and open your mind as a result 

So with those two thoughts, I’m going to share three little take home messages that I tell myself these days to help me embrace balance on my holidays.

Nutrition

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I’m a firm believer that we need to move away from ‘good versus bad‘ and ‘black and white‘ thinking about food. Unless you stole it, no food is inherently bad. Instead, it’s a lot more helpful and informative to look at the nutrient density (i.e. the quality) of foods – options like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains are very nutrient dense for example, while products that are highly processed, such as biscuits or soft drinks typically are nutrient sparse. With this in mind, while the same healthy eating guidelines apply whether we are at home or abroad, when on holidays I also firmly believe that we should embrace the new food environment we find ourselves in. For example, when I told people I was heading to Cascais and Lisbon in Portugal last week, and I was told that the ‘Pastel de nata’, Portugese custard tarts, are a must-try, and so I did! The following week I went to Copenhagen in Denmark, and I made sure to try (among the many delicacies there!) the ‘Smorrebrod‘, an open-face sandwich which consists of a slice of rye bread, fish or meat, vegetables, and sauce on top. Two very different choices, the latter more nutrient dense than the former, but either way, both parts of the cuisine culture of where I’m visiting.

As an aside, I do think it’s a great idea to pack decent nutritious snacks for when on holidays, especially if your trip is quite active. I love homemade snacks but of course they can be hard to make and access when away. So my personal favourites to pack in my suitcase include – Origins Protein Bars (Irish company), KIND Snack bars, Good 4 U Nutrition snack packs of seeds/beans/dried fruit, bags of raw mixed nuts and dried fruit, hummus with veggie sticks and snacks from the Nakd brand!

Bottom line: Try not to over-analyse the food choices you make on holidays. More than likely, you’re there for a good short time, not a long time, and I know I would regret NOT giving new foods a go while abroad, more than I would not choosing the so-called ‘healthier’ option. As they say – ‘When in Rome‘!

Movement 

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Whether you’re a gym bunny, a runner, a hiker, walker, swimmer, cyclist, dancer – all regular exercise routines can be thrown out of sync on holidays. Let’s not freak out about that. Instead, focus on the two major benefits of this – one, that you get to have some DOWNTIME and rest, and two, that you may get to try NEW forms of movement in your new environment. As is the case with food, holidays are a time for your body to have rest if needed (and trust me, we might need it more than we think we do). But they’re also a time to explore somewhere that is usually entirely new – what better excuse to BE active? For example, I love city breaks, because I can explore a new location on foot, and do active tours such as bike and walking tours, as well as using ‘hop-on, hop-off’ bus tours to get around bigger cities. It’s also a great idea to look into what the top ten tourist sights and activities are where you’re headed, as you can plan out an active day of exploring using this list to build your map of action. Again, bikes can be an ideal way to get around this – I rented a bike in Copenhagen and it was an amazing experience. Another idea is if you’re heading to a place close to a pool or beach, get out for a swim, or coastal walks!

If your hotel, hostel or Air B&B isn’t linked to a gym facility and that’s freaking you out, try to fight that feeling. Working out on holiday is a personal choice – I do enjoy a gym session and/or run on holidays as its usually not rushed the way it might be when I’m fitting it into a working day. But its no longer an essential must-have for my trips. There are so many ways to be active outside of a gym, and regardless, we’re talking short-term life experiences gang.

Bottom line: Just as we should in our day to day lives at home, try to build activity into your day while on holidays. Explore your new environment on foot if possible, and/or rent a bike! Try active tours too. Embrace new ways to exercise when away – go for a swim, ride a bike to visit somewhere (I’ll never forget cycling the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco!)

Prioritise Being Present

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I’ll keep this one short and sweet gang. With smartphone technology and social media an increasingly large part of our lives, we have to work harder than ever to maintain healthy balanced responsible boundaries with it. This is especially true for holidays. Anyone who has visited major (and minor) tourist locations in the past few years will I’m sure have seen a selfie stick waved about, and queues of people taking photographs on their phones of popular tourist sights. Capturing photos to have as memory prompts for after our travels is totally understandable, and I do this myself. But I think we really need to stick to that being of our reason to use our smartphones while on holiday – okay, and Google maps too if we get lost! Take your head out of your phone on your next trip. Be present. Look UP, and SEE your new surroundings. Photograph what you want to (if allowed of course!), but remember, you don’t have to share your experience with the world the second you snap that picture. Forget about nailing the perfect shot for Instagram – instead, live in your imperfect experience to build a happy complete memory of your trip with those you’re with. Give them the full of your time and attention that they deserve 100 times more than your phone does.

On my travels over the past two weeks, I used my phone for it’s camera, and to only check my emails and social media a handful of times during the day (my aim was 3 max – it varied day to day!). I don’t think I nailed that challenge, but the point is making the effort to try, really hard. I was away with close family and friends and I wanted to be in the moment of those experiences as much as possible, especially before I move West in July.

Bottom line: Embrace the present moment on your holidays, and forget capturing the picture perfect moment for a social media post.

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And that gang, is a wrap! I hope you enjoyed this article, and with it I’m signing out for two weeks while away. I’ll be posting on my Instagram if I feel like I have content of value to share, but if I don’t, then I won’t. We all need regular breaks from technology and I’m excited for mine. I hope anyone reading this with holidays coming up has a wonderful time, and as requested I will share my favourite spots from Cascais, Lisbon and Copenhagen in blog articles when I’m home! I’ll also have to start a Galway guide too after I move! As always, leave a comment, drop me an email, or a message on Instagram if you want to get in touch – you know where to find me, @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook!

Ciara 🙂 x

 

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