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Active Vacations: Another Small Step To Good Health

August 2008

Karen Ensle EdD., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

What is an Active Vacation? It is a vacation that includes physical activities like surfing or tennis lessons, fishing trips or time at a water park. It might include walking tours, visits to museums, zoos, scuba diving, mountain biking, inline skating or skate boarding. Other activities in the winter might include skiing, sleigh riding, or ice skating. Each day would include an activity where the family is “moving and staying healthy”.
For trips to a big city, an active day could include walking tours, visits to museums and zoos. Some families like to camp which is affordable and allows lots of nature walks in national and local parks and recreation areas.

Step 1: Check Your Budget and Choose a Destination

The adults need to decide on the vacation budget and come up with a couple of trip ideas. Then the family needs to discuss various options. Take a look at maps, pictures of possible destinations and then vote on the trip destination. Try visiting travel websites to pick a trip that is appropriate for kids and adults. Maybe you pick a car trip or a family cruise which is self-contained with plenty to do. The only downside of cruising is the amount of food served round the clock. Pick a “healthy cruise” with plenty of activity for adults and kids. Ask about the pools, climbing walls, classes and other activities. Make sure the cruise has activities for all age groups.

Step 2: Get the Family Involved in the Plan

Once the plan is set, let the kids help map out the trip. Some may enjoy going on-line to find out more about the destination.. Another way to involve kids is to put each one in charge of some aspect of the trip. Is there a natural photographer in the family? Ask that child to take pictures and create a scrapbook when everyone's back home. Or maybe one another, likes maps. Kids also can help guide the adults by using maps in museums, zoos, or amusement parks. School-age kids might like having a travel journal to record memories in words and pictures.

Step 3: Enjoy the Time Free of Electronics

Leave the electronic games, TV and blackberries at home---or allow them only during a specific time each day. Vacations are time to relax and unwind. Detach from cell phones, computers and e-mail for the duration of the trip. Play travel games, listen to local radio stations and plan on taking breaks from long car trips. Stop at a park for a stretch break. Visit historical sites, or just stop at a rest stop and take a quick walk or play a game of catch to use up some of the pent up energy.

Make sure you pack a healthy lunch and healthy snacks to keep everyone from getting too hungry during the ride or flight. We all feel better when we try to keep to our usual routine. Make sure lunch and snacks include fruit, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and plenty of water to drink. Avoid carbonated, sweet beverages, fried foods and value meals. If you are stuck waiting in an airport, use the downtime to take walks in the terminal and find the activity center for kids. Make sure kids bring some games, books, paper and crayons to keep them busy..

Step 4: Be Flexible and Enjoy the Active Time Together

The key to having a good time on vacation is to be able to relax and be flexible. Routines are different on vacations and can really throw kids for a loop. Keep everyone well-informed of the upcoming activities and what the daily schedule includes. Don’t forget to ask kids what their favorite part of the day was. Then discuss the next day’s schedule. Children feel better when they know what is planned for the next day.