Whether you’re traveling for business, relaxation, adventure or family fun, hitting the road doesn’t have to derail the progress you’ve made on your health and fitness journey. Staying on track can actually be quite easy if you go into the trip with a plan and are proactive about making good nutrition choices. Here are some tips to maintain good nutrition while traveling from a nutrition pro who is constantly on the go.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to pack your entire kitchen in your suitcase. While this doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice good nutrition choices, you should be flexible to avoid getting overwhelmed or disappointed. A “healthy at all costs” attitude isn’t the best approach for your health, mental happiness and the overall enjoyment of the trip. Focus on one or two nutrition goals instead of trying to maintain every aspect of your healthy eating routine.
For example, if extravagant dinners are on the agenda, focus your energy on researching restaurants you can enjoy without going overboard. If you’ve been on a healthy breakfast streak, keep it going by packing what you need for a nourishing morning meal or pick fresh, healthy items from the hotel’s breakfast buffet. Write down a few aspects of your nutrition habits and/or goals that are important to you and choose one or a few you feel confident you can manage while away.
We plan trips in so many ways, yet often overlook doing any planning when it comes to healthy habits. Instead of winging it and hoping for the best, a little prep work sets you up for success. Before traveling, add details to your itinerary that are related to maintaining the nutrition goals you defined. Take these simple steps to plan ahead:
- Open a map and make note of grocery stores within a mile walking radius (or close driving distance) where you can stock up on nourishing bites.
- Do a similar search for nearby restaurants that allow you to explore the local cuisine, but also meet your nutrition needs. Jot down a list of these places, along with menu choices you would feel good about.
- Call the hotel ahead of time and ask if your room includes a refrigerator, microwave or access to an outdoor grill. The answer dictates what foods you are able to bring with you or purchase after arriving.
- Do an online search to see if the area has any local health trends, companies, farmers markets and other food- or wellness-related events you could use to connect the culture with health as you travel.
Going somewhere new is fun and exciting but also requires the actual travel time to get there, which can be stressful, boring and last for hours. Kick your journey off on a healthy note by packing your own snacks so you’re not tempted to grab something unhealthy as a last resort. In addition to snacks, it’s always a great idea to bring reusable containers, cups and utensils to use throughout your trip.
If traveling by car, fill a cooler with any of the following healthy choices:
- Cut fruit or veggies
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Trail mix or energy bites
- Yogurt or cottage cheese
- Whole-grain crackers
If taking off by airplane, stash these TSA-approved bites in your carry-on:
- Protein bars
- Dried fruit
- Raw or lightly seasoned nuts and seeds
- Energy bites
- Grass-fed beef jerky
- Kale chips
- Individual nut butter or hummus packets with cut veggies
- Oatmeal cups (you can ask for hot water to fill the cups from your flight attendant)
- Prepared sandwiches
- Whole-grain crackers or popcorn
- Electrolyte drink mixes (just mix with cold water)
Traveling doesn’t have to mean eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Trips that are routine, such as business trips, might not spark the desire (or leave time) to explore new food options. Adventurous trips might start or end at hours that aren’t conducive to hitting a local restaurant. Situations like this are the perfect opportunity to get creative.
There are plenty of meals you can make in your hotel room. Choose recipes that require little equipment, are fairly easy to prepare and are not overly sensitive to less-than-ideal temperature control (mini-fridges are not the best for keeping delicate greens fresh!). To do this well, make a list of what your hotel room has (refrigerator, microwave, toaster, etc.), the tools you can pack, the meals you want to make (Just breakfast? Just dinner? Everything?), recipes you can easily construct and a grocery list to keep you in check.
Depending on luggage constraints and the duration of the trip, these items can come in super handy when cooking your own meals while traveling:
- Mini cutting board
- Small knife (Important note: Do not put a kitchen knife in your carry-on!)
- Milk frother
- Small blender or Blender Bottle
- Small rice cooker
- Baggies or food wrap
- Nut butter or hummus sandwiches
- Yogurt, fruit and granola bowls
- Overnight oats
- Tuna salad
- Snack plates (Think: cheese, olives, nuts, crackers, eggs)
- Legume or vegetable soup
- Microwave rice or quinoa pouch with frozen veggies and pre-cooked chicken
- Microwaved sweet potato with broccoli and hummus
- Frozen healthful meals (Wildscape, Amy’s, Luvo, Kashi and EVOL are all great options)
- Shelf-stable healthful meal pouches or packages
- Veggie burgers
Eating perfectly while traveling should never be the expectation, but you also don’t have to completely abandon your regular nutrition practices when you’re away from home. Going into the trip with a plan helps you enjoy yourself instead of leaving you feeling guilty, sluggish and burnt out.
In addition to an easy transition into and out of the trip, being proactive about your nutrition also helps you avoid bloating, gastric distress, moodiness and food anxiety that can accompany travel food situations. Start slowly with one nutrition goal and a few snacks to keep it simple. Every time you travel, aim to implement a bit more of a nutrition routine into your itinerary; the more you do them, these practices become less overwhelming and require less thought.
These tips will help you have a more positive travel experience by keeping a focus on your health and well-being. If you are a frequent traveler or have an upcoming trip that is causing you anxiety about food choices, don’t be afraid to reach out to a registered dietitian who can assist you in developing a personalized plan of action so you can be your most nutritious self wherever life takes you.