How I stay healthy when I travel
I travel as much as I can, getting on a plane about once a month. It can feel hard to stay healthy when you travel but it doesn't have to be.
Here are some of the things I do to stay healthy when I travel.
How to stay healthy when you travel
1. Hunger (not meal times) guide my eating
When you travel, you're free from your usual eating schedule (breakfast, lunch and dinner time). Embrace it. Often, we eat out of habit ("it's lunchtime, I should eat") instead of eating when we're hungry. This is called 'eating by the clock' and it's a good habit to break.
When I travel, I disregard meal times the best I can. I eat when I am hungry. As the food I eat on holiday is more indulgent, it tends to keep me full. So I might only end up eating brunch and dinner (with dessert)! If I wake up still full from the night before, I grab a coffee, then adventure on until hunger comes knocking.
2. Prioritise 1+ nutritious meal a day
To stay healthy while I travel, I prioritise one healthy meal a day. That is to say, for one meal a day, I choose the healthy option. Once that is under my belt, I have more flexibility for the day. Breakfast often becomes my healthy choice meal. Maybe it's porridge for breakfast or muesli with yoghurt. Sometimes, I get a veggie-ful lunch. This strategy doesn't make me feel deprived. It makes me feel good.
Note: I typically eat a minimum of one nutritious day. I try for more, of course, but some days, it's just the one meal and I'm grateful I snuck that in at least.
3. Take a thermos-style water bottle
Paying for water is a real pain when you travel. I love a thermos style one as it keeps my water cold all day (so I'm more inclined to drink it). It means I don't drink as much alcohol out of thirst. Just remember to finish your bottle before going through airport security.
4. Focus on fibre to avoid constipation
Different food and alcohol (and unfamiliar bathrooms) can cause constipation when travelling. I make fibre a priority when I travel. I'll get porridge, bircher muesli or oats for breakfast - topped with seeds/nuts. I'll get a chia pudding as a snack (which I find at airports these days). I'll get a banana or pear as a snack. Here are some other foods that help prevent constipation.
5. Buy a packet of mixed seeds
I'll almost always buy a packet of seeds (mixed seeds are great) when I travel as my real-food fibre 'supplement'. It's not hard to find a tub of yoghurt and add seeds for breakfast or a healthy snack. I'll take the seeds to breakfast if there aren't any at the buffet. You can also add seeds to salads.
6. Invest in comfort insoles
These have become a healthy travel essential for me. Instead of going to the gym when I travel, I prefer to walk around exploring. This means I can walk for about 3-6 hours a day! It works out to be about 20,000-30,000+ steps a day. You NEED to be comfortable. Comfort soles cost about $20. It's worth it. Once they warm, they mould to your feet. I like the Gel Active insoles.
7. Get un-daggy sneakers
It's taken me years to accept that comfy shoes are essential when travelling. I recommend getting a pair of black running shoes (very popular now) as they go with any outfit without making you feel daggy - or some comfy sneakers like these white ones.
8. Choose a healthier holiday
Some types of holidays like cruises and resorts make it easy to overeat. I choose holidays that make it easier to come back feeling good. I like to stay at an Airbnb or a serviced apartment without included breakfast because I'm rarely hungry for breakfast and I'd rather enjoy a long lunch with white wine and fresh bread than defrosted pastries.
9. Master the buffet
If there is a buffet, I have a strategy.
I check out the selection at the table before picking up my plate. I prioritise what I would love to eat the MOST.
With my priorities set, I choose fewer options. When you try to taste a bit of everything at a buffet, that's when you end up with a plate piled high. Fewer options (i.e. quality over quantity) is my strategy.
I think about how much I'd eat for that meal when I'm at home and use it as a guide for how much food to put on my plate. For breakfast, I don't normally eat much so I choose one option. E.g. A piece of toast with Nutella (my absolute favourite), maybe bircher muesli the next day - instead of eating both for one meal. For dinner, I choose one protein and one carb option, then fill half my plate with vegetables/salad.
To stop myself going back for seconds (as I'm satisfied), I remind myself that:
"I can have it tomorrow if I want".
"I can buy it later if I'm still craving it".
"I am always allowed to eat that food".
"If I am hungry, I can get more. But am I hungry?"
10. Share food - so you can sample everything
I get severe FOMO (fear of missing out) when I travel. I want to taste all the local food. Sharing the best way to never miss out. For dinner in Napoli, we shared an artisanal pizza with wine and a salad. Share a Nutella crepe in Paris (even though I want one to myself)! We split the potato pancake is Prague and got a side of sauerkraut.
11. Order to "leave room for dessert"
Travel means eating out a lot - it's pretty unavoidable. I choose what I want to eat, then order one less dish. This is my "leave room for dessert" strategy. It's what I tell myself when I feel disappointed to miss out on another dish. "If I'm still hungry afterwards, then I can get something else to eat" I remind myself. Sometimes I'm not hungry. Sometimes I am. Lucky, I left room for dessert...!
12. Practice 'crowding'
Crowding is when you focus on filling up on more of the good stuff, instead of thinking about what you're not allowed to eat. Naturally, you eat healthier without feeling deprived. Getting 5+ serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit a day is always my number one health mission, even when I travel. Almost always, it's the healthiest option on the menu. I often order a side of salad or veg. This also helps prevent constipation - and veggie meals tend to be more budget friendly.
Road trip snacks of strawberries, mandarins and cherry tomatoes help me stay balanced and get enough fruit and veg.
13. I'm serious about sleep
Beyond anything else, sleep is my #1 priority. I take sleep very seriously because sleep is so important for my energy, immune system, happiness, hormones... I can't travel and enjoy myself properly when I feel run down. I have a few things I do that really help me avoid jet lag.
As soon as I get on the plane, I change my watch to the time at my destination. And then I start living like I'm in that new time zone already.
I sleep if it's night at my destination, and stay awake if it's daytime.
If I am planning on sleeping for a long time, I'll drink lots of water but then stop an hour before so I don't have to go the toilet (and jump over people to get there).
To help me fall asleep, I'll have one of those tiny bottles of red wine. People say don't drink on planes because it dehydrates you but I think the benefit of good rest is essential. I drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
I always have a travel pillow, earphones, warm jumper, socks and an eye mask.
When I arrive at my destination, it's hard, but I don't nap. I wait until it's at least 8pm at night to sleep.
14. Embrace the natural health kick
I do indulge when travelling. I drink wine, eat dessert and try every type of food - nothing is off limits. So when I come home, I feel a difference in my body. BUT because I gave myself freedom and indulged on my holiday - as a result, I naturally crave healthier food and exercise again.
I do not need to guilt myself into it - or force myself to 'be good'! By simply checking in with my body, I realise it's guiding me to feel good again. I embrace the natural desire to eat healthily and exercise. No need to stress or hate on myself. Thank you, body!
15. Don’t let guilt ruin your holiday
Gaining a little weight and losing a bit of fitness isn't a big deal. There is no point letting guilt suck the enjoyment from your holiday... Indulgence is an essential part of a healthy, balanced life. Repeat after me: "I am allowed to enjoy myself. I do not need to feel guilty. Indulgence is part of balance".
When I get back, I simply ride the natural health kick and after about a week or two of following my usual routine of healthy eating and exercise, any weight I've gained has been lost and I'm feeling great.