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Can a Wellness Traveler Navigate a Challenging Trip?
Can you make-over a vacation to focus on health? One of the biggest points I make with The Travel Diet is that any menu can be tweaked, and any vacation can be a wellness trip depending on what you choose to do. That basic truth was recently tested during my Viking River Cruise through Eastern Europe.
I knew going in that river cruising was a slower pace than I was used to, and that the average Viking cruiser was over 20 years older than I am. I was prepared for that. I was not prepared for no gym, a challenging menu, and ports where being active was hard.
Could I find a way to make even this situation work, or would I return home carrying the dreaded 10 lbs. of fat as my souvenir? ?
I’m happy (relieved) to report that I managed to leave the extra pounds in Europe and came home weighing the same as I left, but it wasn’t easy. Here’s how I navigated a vacation that made wellness a challenge.
Exercise on board: The only formal exercise on my ship was a walking track. Walking in circles gets a bit boring, even when you’re floating by pretty scenery. I did it a few times and invariably would quit well before I even reached the mile mark. So my friend came up with a better circuit. We’d walk the entire length of the ship, head downstairs at one end, walk below the sun deck and then come up the stairs on the opposite side and do it all over again. One day we did this for two hours, which sounds terrible and would have been without the fun conversation between us. We also did some yoga moves, core work and stretching on deck. Add in push-ups and dips using the bed in the cabin and we even managed to get in some body weight exercises. If I were to do it again, I’d also make sure to pack a rubber band to get more resistance training in.
Shore Excursions: It’s great that Viking includes shore excursions in the price of its cruises, but most are larger bus tours with a bit of walking the only exercise. Because this was a river cruise, the places we visited were small and really didn’t have a lot of other options to do on the fly. In hindsight, I would have arranged private transport to take us to places with great hiking or other outdoor adventures. But we did what we could. In Vidin, Bulgaria my friend and I went out on our own and walked all over the town, explored a Jewish temple that was in ruins and joined some kids playing on the playground. Whenever we could we walked, whether it was shopping in Belgrade or choosing to walk back to the ship instead of hopping in a cab after a day of sightseeing. I’m always amazed how simply moving is enough to keep the pounds away. You don’t have to go all out, you just have to MOVE.
Food: I find that any restaurant can be healthy if you know what healthy is and you’re able to make minor modifications. The shipboard dining proved to be my biggest food challenge ever on the road. Part of the problem I think was cultural. The Eastern European wait staff clearly wasn’t used to dealing with someone who wanted to have food cooked in light oil, sauces on the side or the vegetables from dish A served with dish B. Explaining what I wanted took some doing, but I found that always sitting at the same table, and thereby getting the same waiter, helped as the cruise went along. He learned my quirks and I think eventually was just amused by what I might order.
Also, talking to the Maître’d made a big difference. When he learned I had dietary restrictions and a desire to eat lighter food, he offered to have chef make something special. The result was shrimp and scallops that weren’t swimming in oil. Lesson learned. If I had simply talked to the manager at the start I could have been eating healthier all along at lunch and dinner. Breakfast was my favorite meal onboard with a buffet where I could get egg white omelets, fruit and cottage cheese or yogurt.
Having done a lot of ocean cruising, I was used to a ship where food was available 24 hours a day. I eat small meals throughout the day, so having constant access to food is a good thing for me. However, on the Viking cruise there was no all day buffet and no room service. In the morning they put out muffins and pastry and in the afternoon, cookies and that was it for snacks. Obviously, not healthy choices. I did bring some powerbars with me, but I would have brought more healthy snacks if I had known that a smaller ship has less food service. The lesson here was that I should have done more research before I went and planned better.
Overall: While not every trip is a wellness trip, I still maintain that you can incorporate some element of fitness and healthy eating into any vacation…some trips are just more challenging than others. What I learned on my cruise was that more research into what the ship offered and did not offer would have made things easier. Also, more extensive research about the ports would have allowed me to arrange activities that were more fitness and outdoor oriented. The point being if you aren’t using a travel agent, you need to be your own agent to ensure you have the kind of experience you want to have.