If you struggle with the balance of indulging and healthy eating when you’re away from home, I FEEL you. Making healthy choices while traveling is tough stuff. I just got back from a couple weeks away, and I was reminded how easy it is to let things fall to the wayside when I’m out of my normal routine (especially in Wisconsin where they really know their way around sausages and tasty cheesy things).
I managed to not go far off the rails though, and that’s all because of a few simple shifts, a little planning, and some healthy, travel-friendly snacks. I’m sharing my strategies here, along with snack ideas and suggestions for navigating the minefield of terrible-for-you crap in airports and off-the-highway joints.
Whether you’ve got a vacation on the horizon (beach-bound? take me!), a little Labor Day getaway planned, or work-related trips coming up this fall, I encourage you to give these ideas a whirl and see what works for you!
First, a Few Best Practices
Make a Bare Bones Game Plan. Before you leave, decide on two or three non-negotiable, baseline, healthy habits that you’ll maintain while you’re away. Keep these basic and choose no more than three, so sticking to them is actually doable. Examples: eat greens/vegetables at every meal, drink 75 ounces of water a day, avoid gluten, walk/jog/exercise for 30 minutes, get at least 7 hours of sleep. Wherever you are, whatever else you eat or drink during your day, you’ll know you’ve taken care of yourself in these few ways everyday.
BYOW. Not earth-shattering news, but worth emphasizing – nothing prevents post-travel bloat and fatigue as effectively as drinking water. (And hand-washing. Lots of hand-washing.) Relying on in-flight beverage service doesn’t cut it. Plane tap water is poor quality (this article is slightly terrifying). Besides, they give you tiny pours and there’s usually a long wait until they get to your row. The best solution: bring your own water. And drink a bunch. Aim for at least 8 ounces per hour. If you have to deal with some stink-eye from the folks in your row as you fumble across them to get to the bathroom, so be it. It’s better than the crankiness, headaches, and bloat of dehydration.
Pack a Stash. As you’ll see below, there are so many easy, delicious, travel-friendly alternatives to airport, fast food, or gas station options (many of these are great for bringing to work too). Grab ’em at your local grocery store before your trip or go with the time-saving approach of ordering snacks pre-trip from my new favorite online source for high quality, healthy foods, Thrive Market. (<– LOVE it! I’ll do a post soon on my favorite buys from Thrive.) I’m all for indulgences while traveling, but not wasting them on crappy airport food, like the plastic-wrapped nightmares that favor sugar, salt, refined carbs, and inflammation-inducing vegetable oils over anything with real nutritional value. You typically avoid fast food in your day-to-day life – why not when you travel? Save the splurge for something that’s worth it, like the local restaurants you’ll hit up wherever you’re going, or the home-cooked food you’ll have with the family and friends you’re visiting. You’ll start your trip and return home feeling lighter, more energetic, and relaxed. No crappy food = no crappy mood!
Get Up & Out. While on your trip, find a way to move, ideally, first thing in the morning, since that’s when you’ll likely have the most uninterrupted free time. Going for a jog or walk around town is my favorite way to get to know a new place. You can also look up a local yoga studio or do an online workout in your room. I’m into the free Tracy Anderson workouts on YouTube. If your co-worker/travel companion is game to join you, even better. Having a workout buddy can make all the difference between waking up for some exercise or slapping the snooze button. Though a casual workout won’t cancel out the second margarita I may have later that night, it never fails to keep me feeling good when traveling. Plus, it’s a lot easier to jump back into my exercise routine once I’m back home.
Ideas for Your Stash
In my day-to-day life, I’m not much of a snacker. I believe that if your meals have the right amount of protein and good fat, you won’t be hungry in between. But traveling is a different story because everything (schedule, where you’ll eat. etc.) is less predictable. So, I travel prepared.
Bars – Most nutrition/protein bars are garbage, so I’m always on the hunt for bars that aren’t full of artificial sweeteners, soy, and grains. Look for those with the shortest ingredient lists that focus on nuts, seeds, and fruit. I don’t love KIND Bars because they contain glucose (aka, plain ol’ sugar) and soy lecithin, but the low-sugar varieties (5 grams or less) work in a pinch. A couple other bars I prefer:
Simple Squares are similar to Larabars, but they’re organic, contain less sugar (9 grams each compared to the 18 – 22 grams in most Larabars), and they come in flavors like Rosemary, Cinnamon-Clove, and my favorite, Coconut.
Health Warrior Chia Bars are super tasty, a little crunchy, and deliver a solid dose of omega-3s and fiber. The original Chia Bars have 3 grams of protein, which is fine for a light snack (once again, Coconut is the best!). The new Chia Protein Bars, though a tad starch-heavy, have 10 grams of plant-based protein and will hold you over for a few hours. Chia seeds stick in your grill like crrrrazy, so have a look in a mirror after eating one of these.
Meat snacks – It’s tough to get high-quality protein from packaged snack foods, and one can only eat so many nuts. Enter: beef sticks, meat bars, and meaty trail mix. A mash-up of the salty-snack trend and the healthy protein trend, meat snacks are becoming the next big thing. I have ZERO hunger after eating these, and I love that their sugar content is super low. They’re great for travel because they don’t need refrigeration and stay fresh for months. A couple I’ve tried and liked:
Chomps Snack Sticks look like Slim Jims, but that’s where the similarities end. Chomps are made with 100% grass-fed beef, spices, and celery juice (a natural preservative). That’s it. They have 9 grams of protein and taste surprisingly delicious and well-seasoned with a nice chew (no gnawing action required with this jerky). Sugar-free, gluten-free, and no artificial nitrates or preservatives. If you haven’t tried meaty snacks before, Chomps are a great starting point.
I first tried Epic Bars a couple of years ago simply out of curiosity (and to support a business based in my favorite city in all the land, Austin, TX). They have the familiar rectangular shape of most nutrition bars, but they’re made with 100% grass-fed meats, including bison, beef, turkey, lamb, pork, and chicken. So, yeah…they’re a little intimidating at first. The Bison Bacon Cranberry Bar is a nice gateway. The meaty flavor is well-balanced by the sweetness of dried cranberries and the salty deliciousness of bacon. Super filling and great for zapping a sugar craving. I haven’t tried their new trail mix product, Hunt & Harvest Mix, so that’s next!
Flax-Chia packets – Carrington Farms Organic Flax Chia Paks are an easy way to add omega 3s, fiber, and a bit of protein to yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies. They don’t change the flavor of your food, and will add a little crunch.
Fresh fruit & veggies – Apples, pears, carrots, celery sticks, sliced bell peppers, cucumbers, berries, bananas (the latter two bruise easily, so they’re better for road trips than stuffing in an airplane carry-on). If you have a mini-cooler with a gel ice pack, bring along single servings of Wholly Guacamole for dipping.
Popcorn – Pop it at home and bag it up. Quinn popcorn has insanely good flavors (Hickory Smoked Cheddar!) and is preservative- and GMO-free.
Make-your-own trail mix – The bulk bins at the grocery are your friend, as is Trader Joe’s. A general guideline is two parts nuts and seeds to one part dried fruit.
Quinoa patties – For a longer flight, bring along something more substantial, like these genius baked quinoa patties from 101 Cookbooks made with herbs, greens, onions, and garlic. Easy, filling, and so delicious.
Ginger chews and dark chocolate – Ginger is a natural remedy for anxiety and motion sickness. Chocolate is a remedy for the pains of flights changes, asshole people, lost luggage, and other frustrating travel moments.
Just in Case
If you didn’t have time to stock up and buying food along the way is your only option, here are some of your best bets:
In the airport – Buy a container of full-fat yogurt (yes, full fat) or a package of two hardboiled eggs, an apple, plus almonds from the newsstand and you’ve got your own breakfast combo. Skip the pizza and burgers and look for make-your-own salad and sandwich places so you have more control over what goes in it. Burrito joints (like my fave, Burrito Beach in Terminal 3 at O’ Hare) will often have the option of burrito bowls (all the fillings, minus the tortilla) and can be vegetarian and even gluten-free.
At gas stations & rest stops – Even when it’s slim pickin’s, you can usually find at least a couple of these: yogurt, nuts, apples and bananas, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, string cheese, and hardboiled eggs. If going with the eggs, grab a cup, a fork, and a packet of salt and pepper so you can mash them up with some seasoning.
Fast food – If you’re in a food desert and this becomes a must, Wendy’s (cup of chili and a garden salad), Arby’s (Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad), and Chick-Fil-A (Chargrilled Chicken Garden Salad and a fruit cup) have relatively healthy options.
On the road – Put Siri to work. Search “health food store” along with the name of the next town you’re approaching. I did this recently on a long drive and found a cute place half a mile off the highway that sold freshly made salads, hummus, organic fruit, green juice and smoothies. You never know!
Try not to stress out about eating “perfectly” when you’re traveling. Stress is hard on your digestive system, preventing you from breaking down and absorbing nutrients properly and leading to issues like indigestion, bloating, and the dreaded travel constipation. UGH. Do the best you can with what’s available and stick to your non-negotiables. And have some freakin’ fun, ok?!
Do you have favorite travel-friendly foods that I missed? Do tell! Questions about anything I’ve shared here? Ask away in the comments.
Cheers to good times and healthy, safe travels this Labor Day weekend!