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Seven tips for a healthy family vacation

While vacations are an opportunity to escape the stresses of everyday life, they should never be an escape from a healthy lifestyle. Whether you're planning an adventure in the great outdoors, a visit to the big city or a simple family reunion, consider these seven tips for building memories while maintaining your family's well-being.

Include physical activities everyone can enjoy. A healthy lifestyle includes positive relationships with those you love. Physical play is a great way to reconnect with your family.

  • Research your destination to find out what activities are available. Then allow every family member to participate while planning your trip. Put the outings everyone agrees on at the top of your to-do list.

  • Bike riding, horseback riding or hiking are activities nearly everyone can do to build strong memories. Consider taking walking sightseeing tours. Or find a park where you can fly a kite or play Frisbee.

  • Tip: Don't forget your camera. Try to capture moments you'd like to include in a scrapbook or memory book. Avoid posed pictures in front of the places you're visiting. Get candid shots of the fun times you're sharing.

Eat healthy. Vacations are not a license to indulge in unhealthy splurges. Resist the urge to supersize your meals or cater to every whim your sweet tooth dreams up. Maintaining a healthy diet will give you more energy to enjoy your vacation.

  • Sample the local cuisine. Foods made from fresh ingredients help you experience the local culture — and stay on your health regimen.

  • Fill small, zip-top bags with raisins, dry cereal, carrots, pretzels, nuts or granola bars for between-meal munching. If you have healthy alternatives, you won't be tempted to buy sugar- and calorie-laden snacks.

  • Tip: Eat smaller meals, with only one big meal a day. Or consider sharing large entrées with someone else in the family. You'll be able to sample more variety of foods without overeating.

Stay hydrated. Dehydration can aggravate altitude sickness, motion sickness and jet lag. It can also cause headaches, dizziness and tiredness. Drink plenty of water, especially in warm weather or when you're physically active.

  • When you're involved in especially strenuous activity, sports drinks can be a good alternative to water, but watch the carbs and sugar.

  • Be careful of drinks that have diuretic qualities such as colas, coffee, tea and other caffeinated drinks. They may quench your thirst, but they won't rehydrate you.

  • Did you know? Water is a natural appetite suppressant. When your stomach is full — whether with food or with water — it sends signals to the brain that it is satisfied. So drinking plenty of water could help you resist the urge to overeat.

Protect your skin. Outdoor fun is more enjoyable if you aren't suffering from sunburn. These suggestions can help protect your skin from sun damage:

  • Wear sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays. Apply it properly, thoroughly and regularly, even on cloudy days.

  • Protect your skin with a hat, long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.

  • Limit exposure to very reflective surfaces such as sand, water, tile and buildings. These surfaces can increase the risk of a burn or significant skin damage.

  • Be careful of the hours you spend in the sun. Limit exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest.

  • Tip: If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun's rays are very intense. At that point, seek shade or get indoors.

Play it safe. Avoid making your trip memorable by spending it in the emergency room. Never take a vacation from safety.

  • Always wear a seat belt. Don't forget to take your child's car seat or booster seat.

  • Watch your children at all times, especially around water and during activities where they could be hurt.

  • Use appropriate safety gear during recreation. Use life jackets and goggles when you're on or near the water. Wear bike helmets and knee pads as needed. Pack long pants and enclosed shoes for horseback riding.

  • Tip: Pack an extra suitcase with your personal safety gear. You'll be certain to have what you need. And you'll be more comfortable using your own gear.

Plan some downtime. Don't try to cram so much into your vacation that you aren't able to rest. Vacations are as much about renewal as they are about family fun.

  • Plan siesta time during the hours when the sun is high.

  • Use downtime to keep a journal of your trip. Or save a little time each day for making a scrapbook of that day's activities. Include photos and mementos, as well as stories about what was said or done throughout the day.

  • Play a board game together or open a new deck of cards. Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to relax. Downtime doesn't have to be boring.

  • Tip: The changes in routine that accompany travel can make it difficult to relax. Try to keep your schedule as normal as possible and get plenty of sleep.

Take along a "vacation kit." Inevitably health needs will arise when you're away from home. Pack a small bag or box with medical supplies and medications you and your family use regularly. Similar to a first-aid kit, the vacation kit can be customized for your particular destination and activities.

  • Include prescription and over-the-counter medications your family uses regularly: inhalers, allergy medication, over-the-counter pain reliever, motion sickness medication and medications for stomach upset.

  • Include items that may be useful for your destination: sunscreen, aloe vera, insect repellant, hand sanitizer.

  • Tip: Make sure to take along your health insurance card and a written copy of your children's medical history. It would also be helpful to have your doctor's name and contact information.

Total health includes physical, mental and spiritual well-being. This year, don't take a vacation from common sense. Plan an escape that will refresh your body and renew your spirit. Maintain your healthy lifestyle, and enjoy your vacation all the more.

GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention welcomes the opportunity to share this general information. However, this article is not intended to be relied upon as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.