So you’re headed on vacay, but you’re worried about not having food options that fit your lifestyle. Yes, you can still have a cocktail and savor a local cheese board! Registered dietitians explain how to eat healthy while traveling so you can enjoy delicious, new foods, and still strike the perfect balance.
After a long few years of staying close to home, and occasionally, actually mandated to stay inside our homes, Americans are itching to travel again. According to a March 2022 NerdWallet survey in partnership with The Harris Poll, seven in 10 Americans plan to take off on a vacation in the next 12 months.
While our brains definitely benefit from the break from the usual hustle of day-to-day life, our bodies can take a hit from all of the indulgences. That said, you need not (and should not!) eschew all of the local delicacies in lieu of sticking to a perfectly-portioned meal plan. Even dietitians agree that vacation is all about loosening up—within reason. And this guide on how to eat healthy while traveling is here to coach you through how to enjoy your out of office time without coming home with several extra pounds of unwanted baggage. (And if you do, don’t stress. Temporary indulgences will not set you back over the longterm).
How to Eat Healthy While Traveling
Before you start stressing about vacation weight gain, pause and reflect. “How often do you get to go on a trip like this? No one should be counting calories or be stressed out to eat perfectly while on vacation,” says Roxana Ehsani, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Miami and a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That said, there are ways to ensure you’re eating well-rounded and nourishing meals during your travels. By being mindful about your meals ahead of the trip, prioritizing veggies and water, and allowing yourself to indulge, you can enjoy your vacation while remaining healthy.
Read on for tips for before and during your getaway so you can have an experience that sparks joy and feeds your soul without leaving you with one ounce of regret.
3 Healthy Travel Tips For Before You Leave
Make Your Meals Count Before You Depart
There’s no need to restrict, go on a diet, or skip meals leading up to your vacation, Ehsani says. In fact, this might set you up to overeat and overindulge when you are on vacation because you’re so ravenous. Instead, “try to eat as normally as possible before vacation and have balanced meals,” Ehsani explains.” “If you know you are going to be eating out a lot while on vacation, maybe you make a point to eat more and cook more at home in the weeks leading up to your vacation.”. (Psst…here’s a week of dietitian-approved easy meal prep ideas in case you could use some inspiration.)
Pack Healthy Travel Snacks
While you’re in the kitchen, pack some reusable zip-top bags or collapsable containers with your favorite healthy snacks. “Before departing, I make sure I have some healthy snacks for the flight, car ride, or train trip,” says Katherine Brooking, RD, co-founder of the nutrition news company Appetite for Health in San Francisco. “In some places, it can still be difficult to find healthy travel snack options at gas stations, airports, and kiosks. Plus the cost of on-the-go snacks can quickly add up, so it’s best if you can bring a few from home.” Some of her favorites include:
- No-bake energy bites
- Dried fruits
- Nut butter packets
- Whole grain cereals
- Protein bars
- Fresh fruits (oranges, apples, pears, and bananas all travel well)
- String cheese
- Crunchy veggies (such as carrots or celery)
- Whole grain crackers and hummus
- Crunchy chickpeas
Prioritize Probiotics and Supportive Supplements
Brooking says many people experience digestive issues when traveling. To help prime your microbiome for the adventures to come, consume plenty of probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut leading up to the trip and pack a probiotic supplement (like HUM Nutrition’s Gut Instinct),. In addition to that gut-supporting supplement, “if you are concerned that you won’t be able to eat balanced meals you could always bring a multivitamin with you,” Ehsani says. “And since traveling for long stretches of time and having to change time zones can definitely weaken your immunity, pack a vitamin C supplement or eat citrus fruits like oranges and strawberries during your commute.”
7 Healthy Travel Tips For During Your Vacation
Make the Most of Your Mini Fridge
If you’re lucky enough to be staying at a rental property with a full kitchen or a hotel room with a mini fridge, swing by the local farmer’s market or supermarket to fill it with healthy travel snacks, recommends Michelle Hyman, RD, a registered dietitian in Long Island, New York. Her list often includes fresh fruits, Greek yogurt, string cheese, seltzer water, and whole-grain English muffins.
Sample Local Cuisine
Although you’ll have some snacks now to fill in any gaps and combat hangry meltdowns, you can and should absolutely try to make the most of the region’s restaurant scene. “Allow yourself to experience new flavors and foods on vacation,” Ehsani says. “Trying the local specialties gives my taste buds adventure and enjoying ingredients prepared in unique ways inspires me when I get back home to try cooking with new foods or play around with new methods of preparing them.” Brooking swears by booking a cooking class at a local culinary school or other venue that offers them with a host from the area you’re traveling to. “You’ll meet new people and hopefully learn some new skills and recipes to take home with you,” Brooking says.
As you scan the menus at the restaurants you visit, look for dishes that are loaded with vegetables.“Veggies are our most nutritious food, yet most people don’t eat enough of them, Ehsani says. “Try to choose a colorful plate to pack in the vitamins.” Brooking sets a goal to make at least one meal each day salad-based. “This way I can help ensure that I am getting a few cups of leafy greens.”
Plan for One Treat Per Day
While on vacation, a boozy beverage, dessert, or pastry seems like a reasonable and joyful part of the journey rather than an off-plan moment if you pencil it into your mental agenda. But there are ways to indulge while eating health on vacation. Ehsani explains how it’s done: “It can be tempting to try everything, but one good rule of thumb is that if you find yourself tempted by every bakery you pass, select one treat per day. Or split a couple with your travel partner!” Another way to put this into practice? “If you decide to try a new dessert with dinner, maybe you skip the booze at that meal,” Ehsani says.
Enjoy Your Eats Mindfully
Sure, there’s a lot of new scenery to snap pictures of and endless amounts of people watching (plus you might be checking your phone to research your next stops). But come mealtime, try to tune into what’s on your plate. “I focus on being present while eating,” Hyman says. “This makes it easier to stop when I feel satisfied rather than trying to clean my plate. If I want dessert, I’ll order a smaller-sized dish at dinner so that I don’t become uncomfortably full.”
Have One Glass of Water Per Alcoholic Beverage
Brooking is A-OK with letting her hair down on vacation, but does so in moderation. “I stick with no more than one drink with alcohol per day,” Brooking says “Not only does excess alcohol add calories, it can also make you less mindful of what and how much you’re eating.”. If you do opt to imbibe, enjoy the drink mindfully and have a glass of water alongside to reduce the risk of any hint of a hangover, Ehsani says.
Speaking of H2O, Hyman and Ehsani swear by their reusable water bottles to refill throughout the trip. “Traveling can make you dehydrated, so I try to really focus on drinking plenty of water while on vacation,” Ehsani says. “Notice how often you’re using the bathroom and keep tabs on the color of your urine. If you’re peeing every two to four hours and your urine color is mostly light in color, this could be a sign you are staying well hydrated.”
If you end up boarding your plane, train, or automobile on the way back feeling like you may have “overdid it,” try to forgive yourself rather than wallowing in guilt, Brooking suggests.
“Every day offers a new beginning, and you can get back on track after you’ve enjoyed your holiday,” she says.
What you do most of the time is more important for your health than what you do during a short-term vacation, Hyman explains. So give yourself some grace. And when you get back home, stock up on these 11 natural detox foods to feel 100 percent again.