It’s a common story: You wake up before dawn, rush to the airport and arrive with only a few minutes to spare before boarding. Glancing around, you realize many breakfast options aren’t available. You think to yourself, a bagel sounds really delicious right about now. After all, it is vacation! Unfortunately, the bagel leaves you feeling bloated, foggy and fatigued. You forgot to grab a snack, so you eat the free ones the flight attendant gives you. When you finally check into your hotel, you’re tired and starving and there’s no way you want to go to the gym. Instead, you head straight to the hotel bar for some comfort food. The cycle continues and upon returning home you realize you gained a few pounds and feel worse than when you left.
Whether you are traveling for work or fun, it is tempting to also take a vacation from a healthy diet and exercise routine. Eating at airports can seem daunting when the choices for packaged snacks or processed and fast foods are numerous. In a similar way, traveling in your car leaves you at the mercy of the road. Sometimes there aren’t many healthy options along the route. However, just because you are not in your normal routine, doesn’t mean you have to eat foods that leave you feeling fatigued and bloated (or worse)!
The “I can eat whatever, I’m on vacation or I’m traveling for work” attitude results in extra weight and inflammation that is never desired and can last longer than expected. On the bright side, there are quite a few simple and easy ways to ensure you eat nutritious foods and fit in a good sweat while traveling.
The single best strategy to eating healthy while traveling is to plan ahead.
Skip spending a small fortune at the airport and pack your own lunch and dinner. Depending on the length of your trip, you could even pack breakfast lunch, and snacks for all your days away! You’ll save a lot of money this way. At the very least, packing your flight meal ahead of time eliminates the stress of finding food at the airport. Plus you can skip that $14 day-old salad!
If you’re worried about the NSA tossing out your packed food, don’t be. Most people don’t realize that food is allowed in your suitcase and to be brought through airport security. You should have no problem as long as you aren’t bringing on fluids greater than 3.4 ounces. If you are really concerned about bringing on a lot of food, you can bring one meal and some snacks with you on the flight and then check your bag packed with the rest of the food. Packing a shoulder cooler with gel ice packs should also be fine, but if you are uncomfortable with ice pack idea, then grab some ice from a drink machine once you are in the terminal. You can absolutely bring a steel or glass water bottle through security; just make sure it is empty. Then find a restaurant or the food court where you can fill it up. Lastly, don’t forget to bring some utensils.
Pack ahead and set your intention
Book a hotel room with a mini-fridge or even better, a small kitchen area. Or book an AirBnB with a full kitchen and stove. Before you get to your destination, ask the hotel to empty out the mini-bar in your room. If your room doesn’t have a fridge, the hotel might be willing to move one into your room upon request. If not, you can buy a styrofoam cooler for a few dollars and use ice to keep everything cool.
If you aren’t able to pack meals ahead of time, make sure you book a hotel that is close to a grocery store. Making healthy choices is easier and cheaper when they are within walking distance. Before you get to the store, plan out some easy meals ahead of time.
If you’re in the car, it’s even easier. Pack a cooler ahead of time. If you can’t pack a cooler and need to stop for food instead, don’t limit your options to fast food. Take advantage of Google and yelp and find a healthy restaurant by searching terms like “organic” or “gluten-free”, “grass-fed”, or “vegetarian”. Another idea is to stop at a supermarket where you can pick up salads and quality meat for lunch (instead of that drive through burger).
If you travel by car often, look into buying an electric cooler, which plugs into your car. If not, a cooler with ice packs should still keep foods cool. You can always stop for ice along the way.
Make a clear decision in your mind to not eat the foods that you know are bad for you or that will make you sick. By making the decision ahead of time, you greatly cut back on the likelihood of cheating.
Eat real food! Always choose nutrient dense food over packaged, empty calories. Avoid drinking too many alcoholic drinks. Don’t eat two cheat meals in a row.
Bulk up on healthy snacks for your cooler. Ideas include: cut vegetables like cucumbers, celery, peppers, and carrots. Individual packets of hummus and/or guacamole to go with your vegetables will last longer than bigger containers. Bake a few sweet potatoes ahead of time and mix them with almond butter (delicious)! Don’t forget to add in some bags of raw unsalted nuts, like walnuts, cashews, or almonds. Hard boiled and peeled eggs are a great source of protein if you do not have a sensitivity to them. Eating fresh fruit increases your vitamin, fiber, and antioxidant levels. Don’t forget pre-made salads. Make your own healthy trail mix with nuts and seeds. Individual packets of walnut, coconut, cashew or almond butter are a convenient way to get in good fat to keep you fuller, longer.
Foods to avoid include fast foods, fried foods, simple carbohydrates, high processed meats, artificial cheeses, sweetened drinks, sodas, refined grains, baked desserts or sugar items, labels that read heavy with chemicals or partially hydrogenated oils. Make sure your plastic containers are BPA free.
Aim to eat 4-5 small meals throughout the day
Eat meals with plenty of protein so that you maintain stable blood sugar levels. Eating only one big meal a day will cause you to feel sluggish and also send the wrong signals to your brain, causing the calories to be more likely stored as fat. Skipping meals will make you hungrier and more likely to fill up on sugary, fatty, or salty food later on. Instead, eat every 2-3 hours.
Eating out at restaurants can still be healthy
Don’t miss out on discovering the cuisines that area has to offer. Order a piece of meat, fish, or chicken, with 2 sides of baked or roasted vegetables or salad instead of that extra carbohydrate. Many ethnic foods such as Mediterranean, Indian, and Japanese are healthier options. If you’re driving, forget rest stop restaurants or chains unless you really have to stop there. If you do, order a salad.
Drink lots of water
Drinking adequate water is one of the most important habits you can form for yourself. Traveling makes us prone to dehydration. Remembering that water bottle before your flight or car trip is crucial. Water flushes out toxins, prevents dehydration, improves mood, improves skin and organ function, and circulates nutrients. Also, make sure you are drinking water with electrolytes (minerals), as electrolytes are crucial in keeping you hydrated. Airplane air is much drier than the typical air we breathe. Not only will dehydration make you fatigued, but it can also make you overeat. Instead, make sure you are drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your flight. Buy gallon water jugs at the grocery store to use to fill up your bottles; it will save you money and seeing them in your room is a good reminder to keep drinking.
Check for deals in your area
Research Trip Advisor, Groupon or LivingSocial, for local restaurants with healthy options. Yelp is another fantastic tool. Food tripping is a helpful iPhone app that shows you local farmers’ markets, juice spots and healthy eateries.
No excuse to not exercise
In a similar way, leaving your gym clothes and running shoes at home can seem easier than trying to fit them in both your suitcase and your schedule. Unfortunately, neglecting nutrition and exercise while traveling can have poor implications for your health, especially if you travel often.
There are many reasons why traveling can disrupt one’s fitness habits. Often times, you sleep less and therefore you are feeling tired. You have less time and your schedule is disrupted. You don’t have your usual gym or equipment or workout class. Recognizing these issues and setting your mind to avoid or overcome them can help you to actually lose weight instead of packing it on during your trip.
- Make daily exercise a part of who you are. Think of daily exercise as loving and respecting yourself and your body. After all, your body is the only one you’ve got.
- Prioritize exercising at least 30 minutes a day, 60 minutes is even better. Include your workout in your daily itinerary.
- Leave room in your suitcase for sneakers and workout clothes. Pack a jump rope.
- If your flight is delayed take a walk around the airport.
- Once you get to your destination, explore the city by foot. Walk as much as you can.
- Stick to the 2-day rule. Never go more than 2 days in a row without exercising.
- Search around for free first time passes to try at local gyms.
- Check out local fitness class deals. A lot of fitness studios or gyms will offer complimentary first classes. Don’t forget Groupon and Living Social.
- Try a new type of fitness class.
- Try a new activity: horseback riding, paddle boarding, wind surfing, canoeing, to name a few. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to try something new is healthy for both your body and your spirit.
- Workout in the morning. You will feel great once it’s done and then it’s not hanging over your head the rest of the day. Plus, working out in the morning on an empty stomach (water is fine, of course) increases growth hormone and your metabolism more than working out later post-meals.
- Hike! Research hiking or walking trails before your trip. This is a great way to get your intake of Vitamin D while also being able to explore the scenic outdoors.
- Find a fun activity native to the place you’re visiting. It’s a great way to meet new people and stay active.
- Rent a bike. If you’re in Europe, consider BikeTours.com for guided and self-guided tours. You’ll achieve all day exercise while cycling along beautiful scenic routes. If you prefer jogging, look into:
- Set workout goals and track your progress.
- Check out the hotel gym or do body weight exercises in your room. Complete a few rounds of pushups, planks, lunges, burpees and sit-ups to get your heart rate up and your body sweating.
- Looking for new workouts? Download a fitness app on your iPhone or stream a workout to your phone from YouTube.
- If you are on a long car trip, make sure to stop at least one time a day for a break and to exercise. Find a local park or new area you can explore.
Most importantly, don’t stress if you slip. Stress inhibits proper digestion and food absorption. Not to mention, it’s not fair on your human self. Enjoy your vacation! If you are traveling for work, try and find time to relax and appreciate where you are traveling as well. With that being said, the better you eat and keep to a healthy exercise routine, the better you will feel and the more you will be able to enjoy traveling.
Dr. Cait Barbiero is a Naturopathic doctor at: ProNatural Physicians in Berlin, CT. She offers an individualized, holistic approach to patient care. The powerful answers and solutions Naturopathic medicine provides changed her life and inspired her to obtain her medical degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. She has a special interest in treating women’s health concerns, gastrointestinal conditions, autoimmune and skin disease, anxiety, depression and insomnia. High quality supplements, botanicals, nutrition, detox, homeopathy, and mental-emotional therapies are used to restore health. Her goal with every patient is to heal, inspire, and empower.