“Time to go on a diet” is what I’m tired of saying every time I get home from a trip. It’s hard to make healthy choices when we’re ripped from our routines. We are creatures of habit. I do my power walk around 10am every day. I make scrambled eggs in the morning with cut-up fruit. I can’t really do all of that when I’m traveling, and I may be on a plane at 10am, or I don’t have access to a kitchen. I’m also tired when I travel, since I’m away from my comfortable bed, and when I’m tired, I don’t make the greatest food choices. My willpower is weak. But when, at one point in my life, work had me traveling regularly, I had to decide that enough was enough or I was truly going to go up three dress sizes. Here are my tips for eating healthy on the road so you don’t come back bloated.
Plan your meal route every day
Every day, look at your travel route. If this is a road trip, look at the towns through which you’ll pass. Figure out where and when you’ll hit places for each meal. If you know there will be a long stretch in between, make sure to have snacks with you so you don’t pull over and get a hot dog from a gas station. Have a plan.
Find cute local spots
You’re traveling so you may as well see what cute, unique local restaurants each town has to offer. Why eat at a chain that you could find in your own city? Do a little research and find a favorite (healthy) local spot. It will keep you away from the onion rings and burritos of fast food chains.
Get a mini fridge
Ask for a mini fridge in your hotel room. Even if they’re going to charge you $10 a day, it’s worth it. You’ll still save money because then you can store things like salads and healthy items from the nearby grocery store, rather than eating every meal at a restaurant.
Another benefit of having that mini fridge back in the room is that you can take your restaurant leftovers back to the room. You won’t feel that you need to clean your plate, there and then, because otherwise the food will go to waste—it won’t.
BYO Food on transport
When traveling on airplanes and trains, pack your own food. The healthy choices at airports are so incredibly expensive, that if you do dine there, you opt for the fast food, just to save money. So skip that decision, and just bring something healthy.
Split entrees with your travel partner
In your own kitchen, you can make a bit of everything—a side salad, some rice, some protein, some soup. But at restaurants, you can typically just choose the healthy item or the unhealthy one. You can have an entrée salad or a pasta dish. If you get both, you’ll spend $40 on that meal. So, ask your travel partner to split entrees with you: one can choose an entrée salad, one the heavy dish, and then you can share.
Shop the roadside produce
When you see those charming shacks selling produce on the side of the road, pull over. You can get incredible deals on produce because you aren’t paying for their transport to market: they just came from the field behind you. Load up on apricots, strawberries, and all your favorites. It’s much more affordable than getting a fruit salad from a gas station.
Get fruit and nuts at gas stations
If your only option for a snack spot is a gas station, get fruit and nuts. You can usually count on gas stations at least having a basket of apples, bananas, and maybe some oranges. They’ll also have bags of almonds and other nuts available. Grab those, instead of the cheesy nachos.
Pay for the better breakfast
Some hotels include a continental breakfast that’s basically just sugary pastries, yogurt, and granola bars or you can pay a little extra to access the omelet bar, bacon, and more substantial treats. Shell out the extra bucks for it. That protein from the omelet bar will keep you from buying unhealthy snacks two hours later.
Pack these non-perishable fruits
Bananas, apricots, peaches, apples, oranges, nectarines, pears, figs. So long as you never refrigerate these in the first place, they’ll stay in good shape in a paper bag in a dry place for several days.
Buy a box of Kind bars
Whatever your favorite high-protein, healthy bar is, hit a grocery store and buy a whole box before your trip. It brings the price-per-bar down substantially, and gives you a quick protein pick-me-up when you need it.
Pack these protein snacks
Bring a small lunchbox, get some ice packs, freeze them in your hotel freezer (or you can just get ice from the ice machine) so you can keep these protein snacks on hand in the car: string cheese, hard boiled eggs, Greek yogurt.
Easy on the complimentary wine
Your hotels and motels may offer complimentary wine hour to guests. You don’t have to take them up on this every day. If you’re traveling for a while, those calories add up (and wine makes you want to eat unhealthy foods).
Get grilled chicken at fast food spots
If you absolutely have to stop at a fast food spot because you have no other options, get a grilled chicken sandwich. Most major burger chains have them. The grilled chicken will always be lower in fat than that double bacon western onion ring BBQ burger.
Add veggies at build-your-own spots
If you stop at a build-your-own item spot like Chipotle or Subway, know that they offer unlimited veggies, for free. So ask them to keep adding those sautéed bell peppers, or cucumbers, or spinach.