How to Eat Healthy While Traveling
I’ll never forget the year that I did keto. I did lose a ton of weight and learned a lot about my own eating habits. My relationship with food did a 180 as well, but that’s all for another post. And while I no longer do the specialized diet, I became pretty good at learning how to eat healthy while traveling and on the road.
Whatever way of eating you’re doing these days or just trying to create new habits, one thing will always be the key to success. Being prepared. This doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in some of the tasty treats or you can only eat rabbit food while everyone around you is scarfing down the rich dishes on the manu. It’s just all about balance.
Having a solution is paramount when you’re faced with the trials and tribulations that come with staying healthy in a sea of carby snacks and processed foods.
Below are # Rules for eating healthy while on the road.
Rule #1 Pack Right for the Plane
It’s all fine and dandy with good intentions until we get on the plane and realize there’s nothing available to eat that doesn’t break all the rules. Or at least most of them. Super processed plastic cheeses. Multiple refined sugar snacks. And loads of salty carbs. In a pinch these will have to do. But planning ahead will get you off on the right track for your blissful vacation ahead.
The funny thing about airlines though, is that they don’t really care that much about food. Liquids, yes. But not food. I’ve started to bring full on meals with me and have never had a single issue before. I read about a guy once that always brings an entire pizza home from New York. Not a peep out of TSA. So use this to your advantage.
Of course, don’t be that person with the smelly tuna fish. Nobody likes that guy. But many people, myself included, pack a real lunch so we’re not stuck paying $20 for a soggy bland sandwich and a $9 water.
The trick is to pick up something the night before that will travel well. I’ve started ordering yummy sandwiches that are on the dry side (no condiments when made) and slip the lettuce and tomatoes in a baggy if needed. With some small condiment packets slipped into the wrapped sando and I’m good to go. A salad with dressing on the side works great as well. As long as the packaging is secure.
It’s also suggested to have a little stash of non-perishable snacks in your carry-on as well. I’ve done meat sticks, packets of nut butters, kale chips, seaweed snacks, etc. You’ll be glad you have something that’s within your wheelhouse of healthy habits so you feel like you are starting off to a good start.
Rule #2 Do Your Homework
First off, I did a lot of research before hitting the road with my new way of eating. After a while I definitely saw a pattern. Doing some homework on where you were going, popular ingredients and dishes, and what the locals ate, was great to know. It gives you a sense of comfort knowing what you are going to see a lot of and how to plan around that.
Also look into restaurants you want to try, their menus and popular dishes for the area you’re visiting. Look for what will fit well into your eating habits. Where you want your calories to go and whether they have healthy options.
Being a foodie, I love pregaming a menu anyways. So this was easy. It also gives you a chance to look more into the ingredients and give you an idea of how to plan your day.
Rule #3 It’s All About the Snacks
Now for some, you might be trying to curb your snacking. And yes, that is important. But this is different. This isn’t about not polishing off a bag of popcorn while lounging on the couch.
This is about keeping a handful of items at the ready so you aren’t starving and make bad decisions when you’re out and about or perusing the menu. No one goes to the grocery store hungry and comes out with a bag full of good ideas.
A great way to help this is to make your first stop, wherever you are staying, a grocery store or even a convenience store.
Oftentimes they will have bags of nuts, trail mix, jerky and dried fruit. If they have a refrigerated section even better. Maybe some deli meat for protein, cheese and a box of whole wheat crackers for quick snacks. Some small stores even have a tiny produce section where you can grab some apples or carrots. Maybe even some local fruit to try. Just make sure to wash it first, and you’re good to go.
There are usually always a few options that lean on the healthy-ish side in any store. You will be glad you grabbed something with a little more nutrition and substance instead of empty carbs and tons of sodium later. It might not be as fun as a bag of chips, but a few nuts and some cheese might be just the thing you need while you get ready so you don’t order everything off the menu.
Rule #4 Know Your Body’s Clock
Do you wake up ravenous or don’t even think about food till noon? Do you ask for the early bird special simply because you like dinner while it’s still light outside? It’s important to know your body’s clock when traveling. You don’t necessarily have to plan your entire trip around your eating habits but knowing when you tend to get peckish is key to your success. I loved reading this great post in bonappetit once, and it made me feel so much better. Apparently I wasn’t alone in wanting a 10:30 lunch!
True hunger cues are your body’s way of asking for energy. It doesn’t make sense to deny your body the energy it needs. Especially if you are traipsing around unfamiliar territory and going out for adventures when you’d normally be sitting in front of your computer.
Again, have a plan for those hunger pangs. If you know you’re going to be out on a boat snorkeling when you’d normally be eating breakfast, have a couple of snack bars at the ready. If the plan is to get lunch after, bring some fruit and nut butter with you to hold you over. This way you don’t go crazy and over order later. Or, for that matter, stuff yourself until you’re sick because you waited too long.
Rule #5 It’s All About Balance
Ok, this can be a tricky one. I mean, you are on vacation for pete’s sake. And when not to indulge a little, but while away from home, right? Well, you’re not totally wrong. But that doesn’t mean go crazy and throw all your hard work out the window.
The long game is about changing your eating habits so why not practice when away. Trying some of the local specials is part of the fun of traveling. Seeing other ways of life and cuisine is the point of exploring. It’s ok to get a taste of the city, just don’t eat the whole city.
A Few Hacks at the Restaurant for Practicing Balance
Since the majority of food consumed on vacation is in a restaurant it’s a good time to flex your will power. A great way to practice this is through sharing. If you’ve got a travel buddy, ask them if they’d be willing to share a few choices so you can try things but not get stuck with a whole plate of sugary carbs or a huge entree.
Or there is the 3 Bite Rule. The theory is that everything can be tasted completely with 3 bites. Giving you a good idea of the flavor but by the third bite it wont get any better and you’ve experienced it to its full capacity. Great for deserts but can be applied to pretty much anything.
Traveling solo? Oftentimes restaurants if asked can do half plates. Sometimes even for a little less than the cost of the full entree. Another trick is to ask the server to box half of it before it even comes to the table. If you don’t feel comfortable asking this, just ask for a box when it comes out and save the other half for later. Most of the time the server will understand you’re just portion controlling or think it’s for someone at home. They see it all the time. Don’t stress about it. It’s your food.
Rule #6 Do One or More of These When Ordering
- Don’t go crazy when ordering just because “you did a lot today”. People tend to be more active than usual while on vacation even when the goal is to relax. We walk more, do more activities, and eat/sleep at different times than normal. This is all a good thing, but not an excuse to go crazy with the calories because you burned more that afternoon.
Stick to practicing your wise decision making. After all, CICO is still the science behind losing weight. Let your body revel in its new active lifestyle and keep giving it the nutrition it needs. No need for the extra appetizer to keep it going.
- Try to throw in vegetables whenever you can. If you insist on ordering the extra appetizer, maybe make it a side of crispy brussel sprouts for the table. Or get the side salad instead of fries and ask a buddy for a few (see 3 bite rule above).
Oftentimes restaurant dishes are pretty heavy, focusing on the richer flavors and dense meat/cheese/carb aspects. If it does have a vegetable it’s a few broccoli spears or some sad lettuce with gross dressing. When you up the vegetable anty, it can add to your satiety without all the calories. It’ll still be delicious and keep you fuller longer.
- Before ordering, drink a glass of water. More often than not we are actually thirsty when we think we are hungry. By chugging a glass of water before taking a glance at the menu we are curbing the instinct to “fill the hole” by hydrating. This gives your brain and body a chance to make better decisions other than what looks the most filling on the menu (which are often the most calorie dense).
- Focus on fiber rich foods on the menu. These can help with digestion and keep you feeling fuller longer. In a good way. Instead of packing on the meat, cheese, and heavy pasta, you are giving your body the soluble fiber it needs for a happy gut and keeps your appetite at bay. It’s a win win
Rule #7 Listen to Your Body
One of the trickiest things about eating on the road or while adventuring around the world is learning when to indulge and when to listen to your body and take it easy. Eating three meals a day with each dish acting like it’s your last is a really bad idea. And yet, we do it all the time on vacation. When in Rome, right?
Wrong! Learning when to edit and eat a light meal or snack instead of a full on meal can do wonders for your body, your diet and your mind. This can be particularly tough when you’re traveling with others and it’s all about the food and meals. But it’s ok to opt out of an experience if you are just not hungry. If you had a huge breakfast and you’re feeling bloated, don’t try to stuff another massive lunch down. It’s not going to make you feel any better or even appreciate the restaurant that you really wanted to try.
Maybe sip on an iced tea so you don’t feel like you missed out on any good conversation. Or wander a few shops and get some alone time. Giving your body the rest it needs from digesting can make the entire trip better since you feel better.
And let’s not forget the mental anguish of eating too much. It can sabotage you from the inside out. You are robbing yourself of a great trip if you are tired and sluggish from all the heavy foods the whole time. Or feeling guilty. Just go easy on yourself and take a break. It’s important to enjoy your stay. If that’s what needs to be done in the moment to feel better, do it.
Rule #8 Throw a Probiotic Into the Mix
I learned this one first hand after a misguided shrimp festival in Spain. I hadn’t really taken probiotics seriously until then. But after my misadventure a sweet lady at the local “farmacia” insisted I needed some, I’m now a true believer. I take them with me any time I travel, near or far.
You don’t have to religiously take one already either. While it can be suggested, if you don’t normally have issues then it can just be a precautionary item in your travel bag. But trust me, you will be glad you have them if needed.
As many people know, introducing new foods, local water or just the stress of traveling, can wreak havoc on the body. And sometimes ruin your whole trip if you are not careful. By adding in a probiotic you’re giving your body a little boost it might need to keep the healthy gut flora active while combating new foods and organisms to the body that it might not be used to.
This can also keep you on track with a healthy way of eating. If you are not dealing with stomach issues, you’re less likely to make unhealthy decisions based on comfort food cravings or binge eating afterwards. This tip won’t break the internet while staying on track with healthy eating, but it’s a great secret weapon to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle while traveling.
Rule #9 Kitchenettes for the Win
So, if you’re only staying in a place for a couple of days you might not need to upgrade or look for a place with a kitchenette. Sometimes just a mini fridge can help you stay the course. But if you’re shacking up for 3-4 or more days, keep an eye out for a great place to stay that has a small kitchen or even just a microwave in the place. Airbnb’s are great for this. They usually come stocked with enough basics to get you through a meal without all the fuss.
If you really are serious about staying the course of healthy eating while traveling, sometimes a home cooked meal can be just the ticket. It goes back to rule #6 when a few simple meals can give your body the time and space it needs. Focusing on protein in the morning like a few home cooked eggs and some veggies helps get you through the day and some excursions. While the afternoon and evening is reserved to splurging on fun foods and drinks.
How about a quiet night in during your stay like I mention in my How to Make Weekend Getaway Feel Like Forever post? An easy meal and some Netflix can be the actual relaxing we all need when we feel constantly on the go during a vacation. And a break from all the calorie dense foods as well.
You get the point here. It doesn’t always have to be the most extravagant meal of the decade. Or the next 5 star Yelp restaurant on your list you have to try, for every mea while awayl. Sometimes it’s just a simple meal that you know how to make like the back of your hand and that your body loves, that will keep you on track.
And Last but Not Least, Rule # 10 Have Fun!
Relax, don’t take yourself too seriously. You are on vacation for heaven’s sake. You’re gonna make some decisions you are proud of. There will also be mistakes made. It’s fine, you’re human. Don’t beat yourself up too hard. What’s the point of rewarding yourself with some downtime and adventure if all you are thinking about is calories. I think we can all agree that’s not a healthy path to go down. You know what is a good path though? The path that leads to you booking your next flight. Whatever that may look like.
Check out a few of my other post for getting ready for long flight or what to do with yourself when you return.