Updated: Sep 26, 2020
I've traveled a lot over the years. Many times for pleasure, but also often for work on a moment's notice. The struggle of eating healthy is real - even for the most adventurous, health-conscious foodies. I've found myself in the middle of a food emergency more than a few times, left to give in to my circumstances, and lack of a plan. Over time, I've found what works no matter what your "travel" looks like. I've learned what passes through airport security, what can sustain you through a 12 (or more) hour shift in a hospital, and what can get you through road trips, conferences, and sporting events when all the options around you leave you feeling like you have none that support your health goals.
I also get that often travel of any kind that takes us out of our normal environment can make it super tempting to go in on the "treat yo self" game. But the truth is, we have goals of eating healthy for a reason. Because food makes us feel stuff. At best it makes us feel vibrant, energetic, and youthful. It can also make us feel irritable, foggy, and bloated. The latter is no way to spend a vacation or even a day at work. By all means, if you're headed somewhere with world-renowned cheesecake or local cuisine, don't deprive yourself of a Bourdain-esque experience! But don't let the pitstop options be the pitfall to the all-to-common post-vacation blues & bloat.
Although it can be a challenge, with a little pre-planning and the tips I am about to share, you can make any circumstance one where you never feel stuck with an option that doesn't work for your values and enjoyment. I am a firm believer that eating healthy can be, and IS delicious and doable!
**Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links and I may earn a small commission when you purchase items through these links which is at no additional cost to you. I only share or promote products that I've actually used and feel may be beneficial to you.
Drinking plenty of water is essential for many bodily functions like digestion, circulation, nutrient transportation and absorption, energy levels, and temperature regulation. Airplane travel is notoriously dehydrating due to cabin pressure, air temperature, and low humidity. It's recommended to drink 8 ounces of water for every hour you spend in the air on top of the standard recommendation for daily water intake, which is 1/2 your body weight in ounces. Hot climates, exercise, and drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages also contribute to dehydration and you should step up your sipping game in those situations as well.
Carry a BPA-free water bottle with you everywhere you go! You can fill them up after going through airport security to last you through your flight and most restaurants or coffee shops don't mind filling them up for you either. I like using stainless steel bottles like the one listed below because it's eco-friendly and keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold for over 10 hours and they're super easy to clean. For backpacking I use this Platypus Gravity Works filter because you can use the clean reservoir as your main hydration bladder, saving you weight and time on the trail.
If you just don't like plain old water but want to avoid soda or other sugary drinks, bring your own tea bags with you, or single-serving packets of organic coffee. You can also add single-serve packets or tabs to your water bottle to add flavor, electrolytes, and even full servings of fruits & veggies like some of these:
Pack Your Bags and Your Snacks!
At hotels, airports, and convenience marts, you're not likely to find many nutritious options for yourself. Stocking up on some healthier options that you truly enjoy will leave you feeling satisfied without feeling like you're missing out. Some travel-friendly snack options could be:
Raw trail mix or granola
Apples and nut butter
Veggies and single-serve hummus or guacamole
Grass-fed or vegan jerky
Hard-boiled eggs (Costco has organic and pre-peeled ones!)
Energy balls or protein bars like Epic, Primal Kitchen, Emmy's Organics, or Larabars
Having healthy fats or proteins with each meal or snack will help keep you full longer if you're in a situation where you know your next meal won't be for a while. This is also helpful for hiking and backpacking to pack in more nutrients without adding weight to your pack. Thrive Market is a great place to grab some of these items at lower than grocery store prices, and you can also filter by many dietary preferences.
Speaking of backpacking.... I get a lot of questions on what kind of food I eat in the backcountry as many well-known freeze-dried or dehydrated meals are heavy on the preservatives and not so much on the nutrients. In addition to making some of my own meals and snacks, I have found a handful of great companies who are dedicated to making outdoor eating nutritious and sustainable with organic, plant-forward meals like Outdoor Herbivore, Wild Zora, Mary Jane's Farm Outpost, Patagonia Provisions, and Good to Go.
Pro Tip: Check out my newly launched snack box delivery service to have an organic, travel-inspired box o' treats sent to you before your next trip.... but really, why wait?! Check it out here!
You might also consider making yourself a meal ahead of time to eat on the plane, train, or in your car. If you're flying, just make sure all liquids and spreads are 3.4 oz or smaller and in a quart-sized container. If you're not keen on cooking you can find better options in the airport terminal or grocery stores that have a salad or hot food bar. Consider your mode of travel too. If you're road-tripping you'll have more options if you bring along a cooler to stash more perishable foods. But if you want to pack-n-go here's some inspiration:
Salad in a mason jar
Grain bowl with veggies (quinoa, brown rice, couscous, etc)
Overnight oats or chia seed pudding
Sandwiches or wraps
Have a "Food-tinerary"
Just like you have a plan for your accommodations and activities while traveling, have a fairly solid plan for your meals as well. Speaking of accommodations, let's start there. You might consider a vacation rental like Airbnb that has a kitchen. You might not be cooking 3 meals a day there, but you can start your day with a quality breakfast or wind down with a home-cooked meal in whatever unique digs you might find yourself in. If you're staying in a hotel, try to choose a room that has a mini-fridge or kitchenette. Pro tip: you can often request a mini-fridge if your room doesn't come with one.
Research the restaurant and grocery store options near where you will be staying. You can use search keywords suited to your lifestyle such as "organic", "health food store", "grass-fed", or "vegan" in Yelp or other search engines. Pro Tip: Make the grocery store your first stop as you approach your destination. That way you'll have meal and snack options on hand before you get caught up in the excitement of your trip.
When in Rome....
Eat as the Romans eat! Or wherever you might be. One of the best parts of traveling is getting to know the local culture and cuisine! Last year I spent a month in Panama studying to become a yoga instructor. The first week my partner and I stayed in an amazing Airbnb tucked away in the jungle. Instead of trying to find something reminiscent of home I opted to check out some local outdoor markets and stock up on local produce like rambutan and yucca and challenged myself to create some new recipes! Food is a source of community, celebration, and ritual that varies beautifully amongst families, regions, and countries. It feels like a truly special way to immerse yourself in a new environment, literally taking it in.
Support Your Digestion
It's fairly common for your digestive system to act a little differently when you're traveling. Things like changes in climate, soil characteristics, foods you aren't used to, and stress can all result in a change to our regular habits. Staying hydrated with plenty of water (be mindful of water quality) helps keeping things moving. If you're eating foods that are different from what you usually eat at home, taking a probiotic and digestive enzymes can give your digestive system a little assist with nutrients it's not used to. Magnesium is another supplement to bring with you. It helps with constipation and also helps you get a restful sleep, especially if you're changing time zones.
Travel More, Worry Less
Whatever you do, don't let stressing about making perfect choices take away from your experience. Stress is one of the biggest factors that can affect your digestive system, even more than an indulgent meal or three! So relax, embrace flexibility and freedom wherever your travel is taking you this time, and know that from now on you have the tools to make your trip just as nutritious and delicious as you choose it to be. Trust your gut and enjoy your next adventure!
Have more questions about how to eat healthy while traveling? Have some other insights or experiences of your own? Share 'em in the comments below!