When it comes to eating healthy while traveling—the struggle is real.
The good news is, whether you’re traveling for work, vacation, or out of the country, there are some simple, yet effective strategies that will help you continue to eat healthy while traveling in order to maintain balance and reduce stress.
Through much trial and error, I’ve figured out what needs to be done before leaving, how to prepare, and what to do during the trip to make eating healthy simple and easy. I know exactly what can and can’t make it through airport security, what tools are helpful to pack, and all the right places to go.
Because your “travel” may look different depending on the destination, you might choose to adapt these strategies for eating healthy while traveling based on whether you’ll be flying, road tripping, taking the bus… or doing all three. (And if that’s the case… bless your heart.)
How to Eat Healthy While Traveling: Pre-Trip
A little planning can go a long way when it come to eating healthy while traveling.
Before you leave, have the decision made about what foods are a big “no-no” for you, and what foods you’re willing to “slide” on. For me, a no-no is gluten because I’m sensitive to that. My “slides” are items fried like sweet potato fries. When you do that, you’ll spare yourself the stressful mental banter when opportunities arise, and lessen your chances of experiencing any post-consumption “unpleasantness” the next day (and yes, I speak from experience.) You’ll also be able to plan ahead better about what kind of foods to bring with you and how much you’ll need.
Search for hotels that offer a mini-fridge in the room. Not only will you be able to house health-promoting foods in your room for easy access, but you’ll also save big money by bringing your own breakfast, lunch and/or snack foods which can add up quickly on vacations.
If you’re looking at a few different hotels, search each one in google maps prior to booking to see how close they are to surrounding grocery stores and markets. The closer they are, the easier it is to make a stop or two throughout your trip. You can grab simple things like bottled water, or even perishable items like fruit or veggies and dip.
Lastly, do some research on what the hotel breakfast has to offer (especially if it’s free!) Stocking up on hard-boiled eggs or fruit from the breakfast buffet can serve as breakfast or snacks during your trip. Call the hotel ahead of time, or check reviews on Trip Advisor for the hotel (specifically search “breakfast”.)
Which leads me to my last and final tip: Use the heck out of review sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor to search the city your visiting, along with keywords like “paleo”, “farm to table”, or “grass-fed” (depending on your chosen lifestyle, of course.) For example, on Trip Advisor, you can search city + (chosen keyword) in the main search bar, which will supply reviews people have made of restaurants and hotels in that city using that specific keyword. This is how I found a hotel that served gluten-free breakfasts options and restaurants to visit on a recent trip to Boston.
You can easily take a variety of perishable and nonperishable items with you depending on the length of your trip, and how much room you have to pack food. This can easily go with you in the car, and you can take plenty of food with you in your suitcase, or right in your carry on through security.
For perishable foods, take a cooler or cooler “shoulder” bag along with gel ice packs to keep foods cold during your travel time. When flying, if you’re unsure if your ice source is security-friendly, take a large ziplock bag and get ice from a drink shop once you’re in the terminal.
I personally take an electric cooler with me on all car trips, which plugs into the car or a wall socket to make it into a fridge on demand.
Options for travel-friendly perishable foods:
- Vegetables like carrots and broccoli tossed in olive oil or dipped in almond butter
- Hard boiled eggs (pre peeled!)
- Pre-cooked roasted sweet potatoes
- Meats like shrimp, chicken or beef pre-cut into strips
- Single serving packs of guacamole
- Slices of raw milk cheeses
- Pre-made salad (yes, you can get this through security with dressing on!)
For long flights, prepare meals to-go. Dry foods are perfectly acceptable to take in carry-ons, so take as much as you need. I typically pack a big salad with meat (pre-dressed with my favorite olive oil) to eat on the plane during meal time. This means we’re usually full and happy until we’ve settled in at our destination.
Packaged foods or foods that don’t need immediate refrigeration make great emergency meals and snacks, especially when spending time overseas or working long hours away from the hotel for work. You can pack large stashes of these foods in your suitcase, and take what you’d like in your carry-on for immediate use.
Options for travel-friendly “no fridge” necessary foods:
- Jerky like Epic Bars or CHOMPS
- Bars like RXBAR, Larabars, or Simple Squares
- Nuts and seeds (or pre-made trail mixes)
- Dried or freeze-dried fruit (dried mango or apple chips)
- Individual packets of almond butter or coconut butter
- Individual packets of coconut oil
- Wild-caught salmon (in a pouch, not a can!)
- Fresh fruits like apples, bananas, avocados or oranges
Bonus tip! Take your own “travel” unprocessed sea salt, olive oil for dressing, and desserts you enjoy like dark chocolate or cookies. Restaurants typically offer processed table salt, dressings made from vegetable oils, and crazy heavy desserts that can add up to bloat, headaches, and unpleasant digestive distress during your trip (and ain’t nobody got time for diarrhea in Disney World!)
A few travel-friendly accessories like reusable forks, plates, a small sharp knife, and cloth napkins will help as you eat the food you’ve brought with you. You can also take a travel bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap to rinse your utensils and containers in the sink after using them.
Take your own reusable water bottle and coffee mug to use throughout your trip. This will eliminate the cost and waste of endless amounts of plastic water bottles and cups that can add up while traveling. If flying, you will need to empty your water bottle before going through security.
Don’t be shy about taking any other small conveniences that make you feel comfortable and happy. This includes supplements you might be taking like magnesium or probiotics, or bags of your favorite tea you like to drink in the morning. Especially when traveling frequently for work, keeping a semi-normal routine is crucial to overall health and longevity.
How to Eat Healthy While Traveling: The Arrival
Whether traveling in your own car or by taxi, plan to stop at the grocery store just before reaching your hotel or at some point shortly after you arrive to get items you weren’t able to bring. This is also the time to pick up large bottles of purified water that will last you throughout your trip.
If the mini-fridge is more “mini” than expected, you can use your cooler or cooler bag and refresh it with hotel ice every 6-10 hours as you eat the food and free up room in the fridge. Make sure to turn the fridge to the coolest setting if you are packing it full with food as most hotels will have it set to the lowest setting.
Throughout your stay, use the airtight containers you brought to pack meals or snacks to take with you out each day. If you’ll be gone from the hotel all day (which most of us are) for work or to explore, you can take these containers in a shoulder bag like a purse or backpack along with your reusable water bottles, coffee container and utensils.
Whether traveling for vacation or work, experiencing new, local cuisine can be the highlight of any trip. Luckily, you can enjoy the food at a majority of the restaurants you’ll visit by follow a few key “tricks” of the trade:
- If picking your own restaurants, search directly in Google, Yelp, or Trip Advisor for keywords like “grass-fed” or “gluten-free” along with “restaurant” and the name of city you’re visiting.
- When you arrive at a restaurant, tell the waiter you are gluten-free (dairy-free, or whatever you are trying to avoid) and would appreciate their help in making substitutions. Most of the time, they’ll make immediate recommendations and let the chef know your sensitivity.
- When ordering salads, simply ask to sub the dressing for a side of olive oil (if you didn’t bring your own!) Ask them to hold any croutons or cheeses if you’re choosing to avoid gluten and processed dairy.
- You can order any burger dish by simply asking them to hold the bun or replace the bun with lettuce leaves, and leave any sauce on the side. If you’d like to avoid the items fried in vegetable oils, sub out the fries for other sides they offer like grilled vegetables.
- You can order any entrée dish that includes meats like steak, fish, or chicken, and ask for “double the veggies” as your side if it comes with other sides that are breaded or topped with cheese.
- If you’re trying to avoid vegetable oils, ask if there is an option to have your meat or vegetables cooked in butter instead of the typical canola oil.
Don’t worry. Be happy.
While all of these tips can help you eat healthy food while traveling, the most important thing you can do throughout your trip is to not stress about food imperfection. In fact, one of the number one causes of digestive distress is stress. This means, you could be eating the most nutrient-dense, pristine diet there is, but if you’re stressed, you’re not only impairing the breakdown and absorption of your food, you’re also suppressing your immune system and increasing your likelihood of experiencing a reaction to a gut pathogen or food toxin.
This is especially challenging for us “type As” as perfectionism and the all or nothing mentality typically reigns supreme. In the end, however, that mentality will only do more harm than good.
In short, enjoy yourself and the opportunity you’ve been given to have a job, or travel and be on vacation. If that means bringing your own desserts, then go for it. But don’t miss out on exploring all that new cuisines have to offer.
Got questions about how to eat healthy while traveling? Have some other insights? Share your experiences below!