Chip’s Tips: Maintaining Your Nutrition While Traveling

I’m often asked how I manage my nutrition concerns while traveling and on vacation. The short answer is planning, but there’s also the consideration that this should be a fun and enjoyable time. If perfection is the only acceptable outcome, then you’ll probably be miserable much of the time. Where’s the fun in that? This is where the 80/20 guideline can help you make sense of your options. 80 percent of the time you eat the healthiest meals you can given your circumstances and 20 percent of the time you allow yourself to indulge in the foods that some might label “bad”. I find that this strategy reduces stress and anxiety around eating and allows you to enjoy your time away. 

Let’s start with the planning aspects of travel. If you wait until you are starving and tired, the rigors of travel will make it very unlikely you’ll make good choices.

  • If appropriate, you can bring healthy snacks with you while en route. Fruit, nuts, and bars are all easily carried while in most modes of transportation. If you find yourself in a situation where a healthy meal isn’t an option, these types of snacks can hold you over until there is a better one. Tip: nuts and seeds are high in fiber, fat, and protein and can be a great long-burning source of energy.
  • Hydration is also paramount. Airplanes are very arid environments, so you should plan on drinking more than you normally would to maintain proper fluid levels. Also, the reality is that most foods you’ll encounter in airports, planes, train, and bus stations, and on the road will be high in sugar and salt. Staying properly hydrated will help you stay healthy and feel better overall. Tip: Bring your own water bottle and you’ll have the double benefit of saving money and producing less waste. Many airports have filtered water fountains in the airside, post-security parts of the terminals.
  • Another simple thing you can try is to scope out the locations you’ll be passing through ahead of time. If you know you’ll be driving a particular route, then you can see what your options are along the way and plan your stops accordingly. Google Maps will allow you to refine a restaurant search result to take into consideration distance, price, cuisine, and star ratings. Airport maps show which restaurants and kiosks are in each airport terminal that you can reference to see what your best options are. If your flight offers a meal service, airlines frequently allow you to see the menus offered ahead of time. You can always request a special meal that will take into consideration any specific concerns. Tip: Vegetarian and vegan meals are probably the most nutritious options offered on a plane.
  • The same investigation into your destinations can help you find a local hidden gem. Websites such as Trip Advisor, Fodor’s, and Yelp can help you find restaurants or food markets that you may not have encountered otherwise. Leave room for spontaneity, but make sure there’s a solid backup in case your wanderings don’t pan out. Tip: Ask locals where they like to eat. If you don’t have any friends or family in the area, cab drivers and shopkeepers, for example, will certainly have suggestions regarding where to go.  

One of my favorite adages is that your body will tell the tale. If you mostly eat processed food and have a salad once a week, then it’s unlikely you’ll feel good and be healthy. If your diet consists mainly of whole, fresh foods and you have a decadent dessert while away, then it probably won’t have a lasting impact. Ultimately, you’re on vacation so don’t be too hard on yourself when you do indulge. As long as it’s not too extreme or frequent, you will be fine. 

In the interest of full disclosure, here is a picture of a carbayon. It is an almond-based sugar-glazed pastry that is famous in northern Spain, and I try to have one every time I visit. No one could consider it healthy, but it is tasty and unique. 

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