Despite being in the middle of intense healing the past few months, I was determined to meet certain travel commitments that I’d made before my “surgery surprise” (yes, I cleared things with my doctors first!). If anything, doing things that required my intense focus worked to put space between me and the pain of what my body was going through, so I welcomed the distractions. That being said, I knew these trips would require some accommodations and that meant extra planning. I say “extra” because I am admittedly a fairly neurotic travel planner so these accommodations became just one more thing on my list of usual travel prep.
As I packed for my trips, I checked off the typical stuff (check weather, plan outfits, gather shoes and accessories, toiletries, PJs, glasses, share itinerary with hubs, electronics and chargers) and when I got to “food” on my list I realized that while this has become second nature to ME, it is one of the most common questions I get from clients:
“What tips do you have for eating well while traveling?”
Some people might say “who cares? I’m on vacation!” Or “this is just a quick work trip!” but I would say that whether your trip is for business or personal reasons, pleasurable travel is about more than just yoga pants and airline upgrades – in fact, travel is never pleasurable unless you are feeling good on the inside too! For example, how many times have you come home from a trip and:
- Come down with some sort of cold, flu or other virus
- Felt extremely exhausted even if your trip was a vacation
- Had a flare up of muscle or joint aches and pains
- Struggled to get your sleep back on track
- Noticed your weight shot up
- Or experienced a relapse in some health issues, anxiety, skin breakouts or other health condition
Like it or not, travel is a physically stressful undertaking and if there’s one thing that stress does to our bodies, universally, is that it undermines our health with inflammation and hormonal changes. What is the surest way to keep your insides happy and stress at bay so that you don’t return sick or achy? Eat nourishing food and get some decent sleep.
(Note: None of this is to suggest that one should be distracted by making perfect choices while traveling – trust me, perfection should NEVER be a concern, home OR away – but if you could proactively do a few things to make sure you don’t end your travels depleted, why wouldn’t you?)
For me, planning out nourishing food for my trip starts before I start packing, sometimes even before I finalize my reservations! Here are some tips for how I go about this:
- Book a room with a full kitchen/kitchenette OR request a mini-fridge. Having the resources to store if not prepare fresh food while traveling is clutch. The goal isn’t to cook and eat every meal “in” but rather to have nutrient dense real food options for at least one meal each day. Even a mini-fridge will allow you to keep some hard boiled eggs, fresh berries and deli meats on hand.
- About 10 days out, check your pantry or shop for special travel food options like meat sticks, jerky, coconut chips, nuts, packs of nut butter, trail mix, protein bars, etc. and don’t forget tea bags, collagen packs, and electrolytes! Oh! Don’t forget dark chocolate – always have some dark chocolate on hand 😉
- Get on google maps and research where the local Whole Foods or natural grocer is, and make a list of nearby restaurants. Spend some time with TripAdvisor and Yelp using terms like gluten-free, paleo, organic, grass-fed, and even farm-to-table to make a list of places to choose from while on the road. Whether it is being able to hit up the prepared foods bar in the grocery store or even get a rotisserie chicken, or it’s being able to navigate easily the menus available to you, a little planning ahead on this front always pays off!
- Bring a small freezable travel bag or a handful of ziplock bags for on-the-go options for your whole trip. I often travel with a bag like this one to keep fresh food in but another option is just to carry multiple zip-lock bags – fill a smaller one with ice and then put it inside a larger one which also carries the food you are trying to keep fresh – for extra precaution, put the whole thing inside a third ziplock in case one leaks! NOTE: TSA expects gel coolants to be frozen solid when you go through security so don’t forget to pop a travel bag into the freezer the night before you leave.
- If flying, hit up airport vendors and if driving, don’t overlook gas stations – both often have salads, sandwiches and fruit to grab – just discard the unwanted ingredients. Choose olive oil and lemons to replace dressings, and avocados or guacamole to replace condiments. Also, most flight attendants will bring you a banana in place of pretzels OR hot water for your tea in place of soda, if you ask!
- Take advantage of frequent flyer club rooms or loyalty spaces in airports – often you already have these benefits without even knowing it and the FREE food provided in these clubs is surprisingly nutrient-dense and yummy! If none are available, scope out a restaurant in the terminal after passing through security and get food to go to bring your own meal on board. Chipotle, anyone??
- Double-up on veggies and go bunless or opt for grilled or roasted protein when eating out – even in not so ideal situations, you can always load up on veggies or protein. Double or triple your patties at a FiveGuys and ask for them on lettuce and other veggies, or go for the grilled nuggets at Chick-Fil-A. Can you tell I often travel with boys??
- Pack a mini bottle of some mineral or sea salt in your day bag – whether to season your food or just balance out your electrolytes and help with energy, I cannot more strongly recommend taking a lick of salt each day while on the road. This will keep your mind sharp, energy balanced and body hydrated. I even put mini shakers of Redmond salt in my family’s Christmas stockings each year just to make sure they always have it on hand while away from home!!
- Bring a refillable water bottle – While you can certainly buy bottled water on your travels, most are overpriced and just contribute to our plastic problem. No matter where you find yourself on your travels, you can easily refill a bottle and keep yourself properly hydrated. Aim for a daily intake of ounces equal to ½ your body weight and add more if exercising or sweating, or to match any alcohol or caffeine intake!
- Don’t stress, do your best – at the end of the day, travel should be enjoyable and not filled with rigid rules. Sure you should be mindful of your food choices but if something is not ideal, it’s not the end of the world – enjoy it thoroughly and then let it go.
Bonus Tip: SLEEP! I don’t know about you, but not being in my own bed with my own pillows can be very disruptive to my sleep. The tricks I found that work best for me are:
- set your room to 68 degrees at night for optimal sleep temperature
- cover all ambient lights* such as alarm clocks, microwaves, and smoke alarms
- tightly seal curtains shut*
- get sunlight exposure upon waking up each morning to balance your circadian rhythm.
*always have a small roll of electrical tape in your toiletries bag – use it to cover up ambient lights and keep your curtains fully closed
Making any (or all!) of the above part of your travel planning will not only become second nature with practice but also will work to reduce the stress of travel and have you returning home in solid health!