There are times when eating healthy at home can be a challenge, but for the most part you have got it figured out and do a pretty good job of keeping your refrigerator and pantry stocked with healthy staples. Sticking to your healthy eating plan is pretty doable until you hit the same roadblock every year…summer travel. The sun is shining, the breeze is warm and the relaxed atmosphere of the summer months has planted within you a hunger for a little summertime vacation. While maintaining your diet at home might be easy, taking it on the road is another thing altogether, and caving into junk food while traveling can not only put a damper on your fun, but also sabotage your long-term health goals.
I am the first to admit that exploring the local foods is one of my favorite parts about exploring the world, or even my hometown for that matter. There is no reason for you to not indulge in some local or even exotic flavors while enjoying your time away. The problem is more with the way that you nourish your body while you are actually traveling and with the quick snacks that you grab to satisfy your growing hunger until dinner time comes around. Making a big shift from your usual eating patterns can result in dips and spikes of your blood sugar levels which can make you cranky, fatigued and make traveling, whether by car, plane or boat, a miserable experience. Add to this that sudden changes in your diet can also cause digestive distress and poor food choices will leave you nutritionally void, and you suddenly have a recipe for a very unpleasant traveling experience.
You can’t bring your refrigerator with you, and you likely don’t have enough room to pack up your entire pantry. However, there are ways that you can maintain your healthy eating habits while traveling, without much fuss, effort or extra expense. So, before you head out on the wide-open road or print out your boarding pass, look at these tips for eating healthy and staying energized while traveling.
Traveling by Car
The day before you leave, take a few minutes and write out a list of roadside foods that are acceptable, those you will only eat in moderation and which ones are off limits. Also keep in mind the route you will be taking. Will you be stopping off in big cities, or will your route be mostly rural? This will help keep you on track and focused as you and your growing hunger peruse small town gas stations and convenience stores.
Avoid potato chips if you can. Not only are potato chips nutritionally void, empty calories, but the sodium in them is not compatible with car travel. Anyone who has driven for ten hours straight and stepped out to find that their ankles had doubled in size will tell you that sodium is not a traveler’s friend. They might be great for satisfying a craving, but they offer nothing for keeping your blood sugar level or satisfying your appetite. If you need a crunchy snack, opt for unsalted almonds instead.
Your options for eating healthy are only as good as the places you have decided to stop at. There is no shortage of fast food options on the road, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t search out a local café or deli that offers healthier choices. When faced with no other option, most fast food establishments offer menu items that are healthier choices than their standard fare. Resist the temptation of the double bacon burger and save that indulgence and the calories for a meal of higher quality once you reach your destination.
Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Becoming overly hungry and fixated on food can lead you to making poor food choices. Eat a small meal or snack at least every couple of hours while on the road. Pay attention to your hunger cues and stop to grab a bite to eat before you reach starvation mode.
Protein, protein and more protein. High quality protein in your friend while traveling. It will help to keep you energized, focused and satisfied.
Don’t neglect the value of staying hydrated. Drinking adequate amounts of water is important under normal circumstances, but even more so when you are traveling. Keep a bottle of fresh, cold water next to you all the time. If you aren’t pulling over at a rest stop at least once every two hours, you are not drinking enough.
Take advantage of bento boxes and snack totes designed for school lunches. They can help you portion out your snacks and meals perfectly, and they hold any leftovers nicely.
Of course, the best way to ensure that you eat healthy while traveling by car is to pack your own snacks. Non-perishable snacks are great options, but a small cooler makes packing refrigerated items possible as well. If you are using a cooler, keep a thermometer inside to make sure that the temperature stays below 40°F and check your ice or freezer packs every time that you open the cooler to make sure that they don’t need to be replaced. Limiting the number of times that you open the cooler will help to preserve the temperature inside. Here is a list of some of the best take-along snacks for your next road trip.
- Pack portable protein sources such as string cheese, hardboiled eggs, precooked chicken, beef jerky, cans of tuna and natural nut butter sandwiches made on sprouted grain bread.
- Sliced vegetables and hummus
- Mason jar salads
- Precut and washed fruits such as apple slices, grapes and melon balls which will not only satisfy your sweet tooth but help to keep you hydrated.
- Unsalted popcorn
- Raw or unsalted nuts and homemade trail mix
- High protein, high fiber homemade muffins
- Dried fruit
- Bottled smoothies
- Individual serving Greek yogurt cups
- Roasted chickpeas
- Dark chocolate covered fruit
Traveling by Plane
Yes, if you are on a longer flight, you will be offered one of the airline’s “delicious” meals. It is only one meal, and if it something that you enjoy, then go for it. However, if the idea of airline food makes you more nauseated than the turbulence, there are some work-arounds to eating healthy while traveling through the skies. You can pack a few snacks, or even a sandwich or salad in your carry-on bag. Just make sure that any liquid components are in approved, appropriately sized containers. If you have any questions about regulations, call your airline and ask ahead.
Packing your own snacks for a short plane trip might seem tedious and unnecessary, but having at least a little healthy nibble in your bag can save you from spending money on vending machines, snack shops and airport restaurants, should you get delayed at the airport or stuck on the runway for hours on end. This is especially valuable advice if you are traveling with little ones, with little tummies that need refueling on a more frequent basis.
It is a good idea to keep your neighbors in mind when packing snacks for the airport or air travel. Now is not the best time to enjoy foods that can be considered odiferous. When traveling by car, you have the option of rolling down the windows, or stopping for some fresh air and eating at a picnic table. There is no such luxury in crowded airports and tightly packed row seating. For example, roasted chickpeas are a great, nutritious snack. Just make sure that this batch is only lightly salted rather than heavily spiced and heavily scented.
Do a little research ahead of time so you know what precautions you need to take regarding food and water once you get to your destination. This is true even if you are traveling not that far from home. Issues with water supply seems to be an increasing issue even in well developed areas, so just take a moment and find out if there are any extra precautions you need to take.
Keep in mind that if you are traveling abroad, that there is more than just a language difference between you and the locals. Your gut bacteria naturally adapts to the foods you eat and your local water supply. Many a traveler has felt that the local water or street food vendors were safe because the locals had no problem with them, only to find themselves bedridden and confined to their hotel room for the duration of the trip. Stick to bottled water and follow the same practical food safety guidelines that you do at home. Don’t eat or drink anything from a vendor, or restaurant, that seems suspect in any way.
Take advantage of the mini refrigerator in your hotel room by keeping it stocked with healthy fruits, vegetables and protein options. This might be enough to stop you from ordering a pizza at 1:00 am or heading down to the lobby vending machine for a midday snack.
Remember to wash all your locally purchased produce before eating.
Speaking of washing, take the time to wash your hands before you put anything near your mouth. Traveling exposes you to more bacteria and viruses than normal, and it is extra important to wash your hands often. Sanitizer will work in a pinch, but good old-fashioned soap and water is best.
Allow yourself some indulgences, but don’t stray too far off path. New restaurants and exciting menus offer plenty of opportunities to stray. However, you should save the real indulgences for special occasions, such as the reservations that you needed to make a month in advance, or an iconic greasy spoon that you just couldn’t pass up, and stick to your regular eating habits the rest of the time.
Summertime brings the low-key atmosphere and beautiful weather that makes traveling, whether near or far, an irresistible prospect. Life is short, summer months and the season of perfect traveling weather are even shorter. If you have the opportunity to go out and explore the world around you, there is no reason that you shouldn’t take advantage of it. Keeping up with your healthy eating habits while traveling isn’t just about keeping a few extra pounds away. In the grand scheme of things, shedding a little bit of vacation weight isn’t a big deal. What is a big deal is enjoying your time away as much as possible, and to do that you need to fuel your body properly. Eating healthy while traveling will keep you healthy and give you the energy to enjoy every second of your vacation, whether it is at the beach a couple of hours down the road or the beach on the other side of the ocean, and leave you with great memories that will last a lifetime.