I love talking with patients about their lives and travels, and travel is a frequent topic that comes up in our sessions. Typically our conversations address the patient’s concern about how to sustain a healthy diet during different or uncertain circumstances. Unless a patient needs to uphold a structured diet to target a serious medical condition, I try to reassure them that travel can be a great time to try new foods and be more relaxed with their diet dogmas. That said, a patient needs to choose foods that help them feel well (so they can enjoy their vacation) but also to indulge in special meals, tempering strong sugar or carbohydrate cravings once they return home. To achieve those goals, I suggest that they enjoy themselves while traveling, choose energizing meals, and avoid bringing unhealthy habits home. Here are some tips on how to accomplish that:
- Remember the basic building blocks to a satisfying meal: protein, healthy fats, and a large volume of high fiber foods (mostly vegetables). Try to eat your meals with these guidelines in mind and if you happen to have a little more wine or some flourless chocolate cake or gelato, your blood sugar will be in a better position to handle it.
- Try to follow my “2 out of 3 rule.” If a meal contains starchy carbohydrates (e.g., pasta, mashed potatoes, risotto, hot crusty bread), desserts (insert your own favorite examples here), or alcohol, then choose only two of these three items to enjoy. (I’ll typically choose a nice glass of red wine with a gluten-free, chocolate dessert. But that’s just me.)
- Always pack snacks. Always. Even if you do not routinely snack, having healthy portable foods is always a smart move when you are on the go. The reasons: airport delays; your day is filled with back-to-back business meetings; your tour group can’t decide where to go for lunch, and when they finally do there’s an hour-long wait; the local sweetbreads don’t seem appetizing; you have decision fatigue about the 20-euro(!), sad-looking attraction food, etc. (See below for some of my favorite travel snacks.)
- Travel with a refillable water bottle and/or a refillable insulated coffee tumbler/mug with a lid. You can fill this up in the airport after going through security or at restaurants and rest stops on long car trips. A water bottle is also a must for a lazy day on a beach or by a pool as well as for sitting at conferences. If I am staying in a hotel, I typically fill my water bottle with the filtered water that’s often available in the hotel gym. (And what a bonus when the hotel offers infused fruit water in the lobby! You’d better believe I’m filling my bottle full of strawberry mint water.) Staying well hydrated helps with energy and appetite control. And staying appropriately caffeinated helps me feel happy.
- Try to start your day with a healthy higher protein, higher fat breakfast. And if you have access to a kitchen, cook as often as you can within your definition of “vacation.” Choose eggs, meats, and peanut butter at a continental breakfast. And if eating all of your meals at restaurants is the only option, then use this as an opportunity to try more vegetables. If a chef can’t make Brussels sprouts taste good, then it’s OK not to prefer Brussels sprouts. But you may be surprised to enjoy a well-prepared vegetable you wrote off as a dislike 30 years ago. It’s amazing what some butter, maple syrup, and roasting can do for a Brussels sprout!
What about the need to comply with dietary restrictions, such as eating gluten or dairy-free or avoiding other foods that trigger reactions while away from home? For this, I always base my advice on how a patient feels when they eat a particular food. If a food provokes irritable bowel symptoms, fatigue, or joint ache and pain, etc., then to feel their best, I encourage the patient to try and sustain their current diet while they are away. If a patient is unsure how a food they previously limited is affecting their health, I recommend reintroducing the food at home prior to travel to gauge its inflammatory effect. Clearly communicate diet restrictions to third parties involved in your travel plans such as travel agents, tour groups, cruise and hotel concierges, conference directors, etc.
There is an art to traveling well. For me, a great trip involves packing appropriately, scheduling the perfect balance of adventure versus relaxation, and eating delicious new foods and meals that are creative, energizing, and nourishing. Vacations are often associated with indulgence, but I like to have my patients reframe their mindset to think about using the time away from home to kick-start healthy habits.
- Use vacation not only to get caught up on sleep but to establish sleep patterns that can transition to home.
- Exercise! Holidays are great for getting outside and enjoying movement in the sunshine. Enjoy fun, special activities like snorkeling, cross-country skiing, or going a bike tour.
- Put down your phone! Scientific studies link vacationing with stress reduction, improved sleep quality, improved productivity, and heart disease prevention.
No matter if it’s a trip of a lifetime, a stay at grandma’s house, or a work trip, explore, enjoy, and travel well — with snacks.
Healthy Snacks for Travel
Protein + Fat + Vegetables
To fill you up, a good snack should be high in fat and/or protein. Ideally, avoid added sugars over 5-10 grams per serving. And always avoid artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, saccharin). Use caution with chips and highly sweetened fruit-based snacks (dates!) that can be stimulating to the appetite.
- Protein Powder Packets – shake with water or almond/coconut milk
- Olives – look for shelf-stable, single-serving packets
- Tuna or Chicken Salad Packets
- High-Quality Jerky – Chomps Snack Sticks, Wellshire Tom-Tom’s, Whole Foods Jerky (find on Deli counter), Ayoba-Yo
- High-Quality Pork Rinds – Epic
- Raw Vegetables – carrots, cucumbers, celery, sweet mini peppers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, jicama Sticks, radishes, sugar snap peas, etc.
- Greens Drinks (Suja), Tomato/Vegetable Juice (V8), and Kombucha (GT’s)
- Nuts and Seeds/ Nut Butter – travel with a premade trail mix or buy single servings of mixed nuts and squeezable nut butter packets
- High Protein and/or Fat Bars – RX Bars, Epic Bars, KIND Bars, Larabars, Coconut Secret Bars, Wella Bars, Perfect Bars, Bulletproof Bars, Papa Steve’s, Purely Elizabeth No Grain Bars, Simple Squares, Patterbar
- Dark Chocolate – > 75% cocoa, less than 8 g of sugar per 15g of fat per portion. Read labels and be mindful of temperature to avoid melting.
- Edamame/Dry-Roasted Soybeans: Seapoint Farms
- Kale Chips/ Beet Chips – Rhythm Superfoods
- Roasted Chickpeas –GoodBean
- Dehydrated Vegetable Chips – beet chips, plantain chips, parsnip chips, coconut chips, dehydrated broccoli chips, seaweed snacks
- Nut Flour & Flaxseed Crackers – Simple Mills Sea Salt Almond Flour Crackers, Dr. in the Kitchen Toasted Flackers Flax Seed Crisps
- Puffed Peanut Snacks – Bamba Snacks
- Fruits & Dried Fruits