Strategies for Healthy Eating While Traveling

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With the holidays rapidly approaching, travel is inevitable for many of us. And with travel we often feel stressed, out of our routines, and surrounded by a lack of healthy options.  There is certainly something to be said for going with the flow while on vacation or even traveling for work, but we also want to feel great. Who wants to be on vacation or be working out of town while simultaneously feeling like crap?  I sure don’t, and I don’t know many people who do.  The foundation for continuing our healthy habits essentially comes down to focusing on our “why” behind why we do what we do. For me, I want to maintain my healthy habits (for the most part) so that I’m able to show up fully emotionally and physically with my family and friends and to be able to partake in physical adventures. For those who travel for work, your “why” may be so you’re able to show up with your best performance and contribution, or perhaps it’s maintaining a stable foundation of feeling well while you’re out of your routine. Whatever our reasons, we need to become clear on them.

Once our foundations have been laid through becoming clear on why we want to maintain healthy habits, we can implement more tactical strategies.

1.     Do Your Research – Unless you’re traveling out of the country and you’ll really be immersing yourself in a new culture (which I fully support and abide by), then I highly recommend doing some research on healthy options near the location you’ll be staying or working.  I believe in leaving room for spontaneity and new experiences, including food, but also be prepared with healthy options.  I’m a huge fan of Whole Foods for prepared foods and hot bar items, so that’s typically the first place I look for. As a foodie, I also love trying unique places I can’t find anywhere else, so I will look at those second.  Some cities and town are more focused on healthy options than others, so the goal here is to simply do our best, not to be perfect.  Other great choices are chain restaurants with customizable options, like Chipotle. If the only reasonably close options are fast food restaurants, then you’ll know in advance that you may need to pack more snacks.

2.     All About the Snacks – before I leave on any trip, especially those on which I know healthy options won’t be readily available (i.e. small or remote towns, road trips), I make a run to the store and stock up on snacks I know will make me feel great, or at the very least won’t make me feel as awful as fast food will. Most snack items tend to be laden with sugar and fat while low on protein, and these don’t make me feel great in excess. Therefore, I focus on options with more protein with a few of the carb/fat laden choices mixed in.

3.     Structure Most of Your Meals – As I mentioned in point number one, I fully support being spontaneous, especially if the location, culture, or food is unique or special. However, using that as a reason to constantly eat things that will make us feel terrible doesn’t do us any favors. Especially if we’re traveling for an extended period of time. So, when eating out at restaurants, structure most of your meals similarly to how you do when you’re at home. For me, that means a serving of protein (usually meat), a vegetable, a starch, and I usually get my fat through the cooking oils and/or meat. This is especially true to restaurant meals, as then tend to be heavy handed with oils. There may not be options on the menu that are structured in this way, so asking for modifications will be required in that case. Creating structure around most of your meals (i.e. discipline) will actually create more freedom for you to make less healthy choices sporadically. Discipline equals freedom.

4.     Don’t Strive for Perfection – I can’t provide a detailed plan of eating for anyone, as that goes against what I believe is a healthy (physically and emotionally) and sustainable approach.  And I hope you’re not looking for one. Just as striving for “perfect eating,” back home will backfire, it also will while traveling. If anything, you need to give yourself even more leeway while on the road, not less.

Traveling isn’t always an enjoyable activity, usually when it’s being forced upon us for work (or perhaps family?), but we can always make the best of any situation. There’s no need to stress about eating perfectly or working out every day, but I do want you to put your well-being first. If your energy or mood start to tank, your sleep quality is declining, or you’re experiencing any other form of feeling unwell, then audit your food choices and see where you can make small improvements. Because it’s worth a little bit of extra effort to feel our best.