Sorry all for the repeated hiatuses! I’ve been traveling a lot the past month and a half, and it’s been a little challenging to be on my cooking and foodie game when I’m constantly on the go. But it seems like the perfect time to talk about how to eat when you’re away from home, and how to stay healthy in a plane, train, or automobile, or in a hotel without a kitchen. Eating healthy – especially when you’re making a lifestyle change – is challenging enough as it is! And then you throw in complications of fellow travelers with different tastes and diets, inconsistent eating schedules, and constant opportunities to eat out? Seems impossible. BUT I’ve honed in on a few techniques that make it much easier to stress less and focus on the travel experience.
- Control less, experience more.
As someone who’s been known in the past to obsess about counting macros and calories, and who typically has a very sensitive stomach ready to go haywire (HELLO, DAIRY AND FRIED FOOD!), I used to try to control every meal when I would travel. Although I assumed having strict control over what I ate would make me feel more relaxed, it actually stressed me out more! And I felt like I was constantly missing out on cultural culinary icons because they were “unhealthy.” Once I realized that I wanted to thoroughly enjoy a new culture when I traveled, I also realized that meant enjoying that culture’s cuisine. Let’s call it… Food FOMO. What I do, is research the “must-eats” of wherever I’m traveling, and where to find the best ones. for example, you can’t find a better pannekoeken (that’s a Dutch pancake famous in Amsterdam) than at the Pancake Bakery. And I know that no trip to NOLA is complete without beignets at Café du Monde. I eat the lemon meringue macarons at Macarons de Caroline in Aix-en-Provence. And don’t judge, but I LOVE the Dole pineapple whip at Disney World. I know I’m experiencing the best of a culture, and feel no guilt about it (Unless you eat the Nathan’s hot dog at Coney Island…). If you do this, you maintain mental health, and can stress less about your diet.
If your travel destination does not include any “must-eats,” and you prefer to maintain your healthy-eating lifestyle, there are apps you can download that can direct you to healthy/vegetarian/vegan options in your area! My favorite app is called HappyCow, and I use it to find restaurants with all-vegan menus or just vegan/vegetarian options if I’m not with an all-vegan party. It’s great for eliminating the stress of showing up at a restaurant and not being able to find something that won’t cause intestinal distress.
2. Scope out menus beforehand. And know the safe and danger words.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself staring at a menu covered in cheesy, meaty dishes, completely lost and confused, and EVERYONE at the table is ready to order except you. That, my friends, is not a fun situation. Fortunately, it can be avoided. You can do one of two things. Either look at a restaurant’s menu before you get there so you already know what to order and what modifications to make if necessary; OR you rely on fairly universal safe-bet dishes. Most restaurants do NOT want to make you sick, fun fact. So if you make it clear that you have an allergy or intolerance that would cause you to leave the restaurant in discomfort, most places will help you out. Sometimes they can prepare something special for you. Or if you’re like me, and don’t like asking for special accommodations, look for items on the menu that include the safe words: grilled, baked, steamed, or fresh/seasonal. Avoid the danger words: fried, crispy, in a sauce, or creamy. A lot of these imply cooking techniques that include many unnecessary calories. And you don’t need them to enjoy food at a restaurant!
3. Always travel stocked with the goods.
If you know me well, you know I always have a bar or pack of nut butter in my purse. And for good reason! I never know when I’ll be hungry, with no plan to eat for several hours; or when I’m stuck on a moving vehicle with no other option but the complimentary bag of sodium-y, sugary snacks. So I’ve learned that having a quick snack with a balance of fat, carbs, and protein is NEVER a bad plan. This is where personal preference comes in, because while whey or soy protein may work for you, it does NOT work for me; so my options need to be free of those items. Here are some of my go-to items:
Larabars – These are my go-to energy bar when I need a quick boost of carbs, but also some fat for sustained energy. They’re made from dates and nuts, with some other ingredients to differentiate flavors. About the cleanest, transportable energy you can get. My favorite flavors are banana chocolate chip, pineapple upside down cake, peanut butter and jelly, and lemon bar.
GoMacro bars – I use these for more sustained energy, since they’re higher in fat and protein. They’re lower in sugar than your typical bar too. I like the high-protein ones because I know I’m getting more nutritional bang for my buck. Favorites: banana/almond butter and peanut butter.
Bobo’s Oat Bars – I pack a lot of these if I know I’m going to be walking/hiking a ton. They’re a lot higher in calories than I usually go for (two servings in a bar for about 370 total), but the main ingredient is oats, which are great for time-released, sustained energy. I eat them for dessert too! They’re AMAZING warmed up. I love the cranberry orange, lemon poppy seed, and the banana chocolate chip.
Justin’s nut butter packets – I literally can’t go anywhere without peanut butter. Justin’s isn’t my all-time favorite brand, but I love that they make pouches of nut butter I can carry wherever I go. My go-to, on-the-run breakfast is a pack of peanut or almond butter with a banana. Bananas are the easiest fruit to find because they’re in season year-round and super inexpensive. Apples are also a great option.
Purely Elizabeth oatmeal containers – I usually throw these in for the occasional, “my stomach has had enough traveling” meals. It’s an easy-on-the-stomach option with added nutrients from the amaranth, quinoa, and chia. So you get some more protein and fat than your typical oatmeal cup. They’re also free of added sugars, so no blood sugar spikes.
Blue Diamond low sodium sea salt almonds – I don’t know why, but this specific variety of almond is ADDICTIVE. And low in sodium? I’ll take it. Eating high sodium foods when you’re traveling is not a smart move, because you’ll get dehydrated faster. Which brings me to number 4…
4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Although seeing new places and doing new things can be exciting, you must not forget to stay hydrated! When I travel, I’m constantly on the move and exerting energy, which means my body needs water to keep things – nutrients, muscles, blood – moving too! I ALWAYS have a refillable water bottle on hand, and I’m constantly drinking from it. Without drinking water, you’re more likely to get worn down faster. And if you’re traveling somewhere with a different altitude, temperature, or humidity than what you’re used to at home you need that extra water even more!
5. Stay clean and keep your immunity up.
I’m a firm believer in strengthening your immune system by exposure. It should come as no surprise that if you’re exposed to germs earlier on, you’ll develop those antibodies earlier too, and you’re less likely to get sick. HOWEVER. There are good and bad ways to expose yourself to germs. Obviously you should be smart about germs (i.e. Don’t put your face against the subway pole, and don’t put your fingers in your mouth…), but you shouldn’t worry about exposure too much. We’re exposed to germs on a daily basis, in the most common of ways. I make sure to give myself an immunity boost by carrying the following things in my suitcase:
Emergen-C – These suckers have a boatload of vitamins and minerals for immunity and energy, like Vitamins B, C, and D, plus added electrolytes. I take it like a shot every morning.
Hand sanitizer bottles – This is self-explanatory. Use them.
Tissues – Moving between climates has its difficulties. Mine? Seasonal allergies and animals. Which leaves me with sneezing fits and a runny nose. Nobody wants to see that, so I carry tissues in case I’m sensitive to whatever environment I’m in. You never know.
6. Walk as much as possible.
In my opinion, the best way to explore a new place is to simply go outside and get exploring! It’s easy to get caught up with the biggest tourist attractions of a city or the most famous sites and museums, but I’ve found that I connect more with a city when I find the cute little coffee shop on a corner, or a quiet spot in the park where I can read a book and people-watch. Not to sound cheesy, but it’s the little parts of a city that allow me to make a connection with it. My strategy is that I pick a few attractions to visit, but fill the in-between time with exploring on my own. I get in a lot of walking and don’t worry about holing myself in the hotel gym, and I get to see more of a city.
7. Travel to be active
Do some research on any activities (heavy on the active here) in the area that may be particular to that location. As a Coloradan, most people come here to visit and see the mountains, so hiking, biking, and camping is a must. Fortunately, you can hit two birds with one stone by seeing the sights, and staying on the move too! One of my favorite ways to do this was renting bikes in Amsterdam, so you can see as much of the city as possible, and keep moving!
As a runner, this is easy, because I can try to find running routes ahead of time, pack my Asics, and go out exploring. I get my exercise in, feel better throughout my vacation, and see more of the location by default. One of the most amazing places to run and explore was in Washington, DC. My routine route was the National Mall, and I could get my miles in, but also see the monuments and any branching neighborhoods in the metro area.
Another way to exercise while traveling that I’ve recently discovered is scoping out the group workout studios in the city. Some of them have first-class or first-week free, so you can sign up for when you’re visiting and try something new! It’s also a great way to get a feel for the people living in the city, and how they exercise! I’m a Pure Barre and Barre3 addict, so when I was in New York, I spent the morning taking a class at the Barre3 in West Village, because why not? You don’t see as much of the city you’re visiting if you go this way, but I think it shakes it up a lot, and you may get to try something you’ve never done before!
Traveling used to make me really nervous, because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stick to my healthy routine, or I would feel ill the whole time; but now that I stick to these techniques, I can let loose a little, enjoy the city, and still maintain my healthy habits! I focus more on enjoying myself and the local food, and exercising, not to check a box, but to enjoy a new location and culture. After all, traveling is supposed to be a fun adventure, so stress less and get moving!