Taking trips and vacations can be a fun and exciting part of our lives, whether for business or pleasure. However, it almost always means a change in our typical routines. When we travel we have to account for things like different sleeping arrangements, air quality, water, exercise routines, currencies, access to things we need, how we spend our time and perhaps most importantly, what we eat. This all could be a good thing, but unfortunately for most people is actually a worse thing. All too often people have much poorer lifestyle and eating habits while they travel.
When it comes to eating specifically, if you are health conscious and have ever traveled to a new area, whether by plane or other means, you know first hand that eating healthy can be quite a challenge depending on where you go. Let’s break it down further. If someone just wants to “fill their belly”, “avoid hunger” or “indulge”, then it is very easy to eat. Pretty much no matter where you travel today on Earth, fast food, junk food, fried food, processed and refined food is abundant. Sadly, this includes even the most remote locations! However, if a person is interested in nourishing their body properly with high quality, nutrient dense, wholesome and fresh food, this can become quite daunting.
While many large, popular and progressive cities on Earth provide an increasing amount of dietary choices to suit all health and Earth conscious needs that we may have, they are still flooded with way more bad than good options. In fact, when it comes to most tourist destinations, they cater to some of the unhealthiest eating and drinking habits. However, don’t let this dissuade you from traveling and experiencing the many benefits that come from experiencing new places, cultures and experiences. Travel is extremely enriching and the best part is that it can be done in a way that suits any budget and dietary need, if we simply prepare and plan ahead properly.
I have been traveling since I was a young child, and have to date visited nearly 20 countries and lived in some of them for months at a time. I love to travel and experience new places, but having so much experience with travel, I also know that it can be hard to maintain one’s healthy eating and lifestyle habits if we don’t prepare properly and anticipate the common pitfalls present in a society that does not prioritize health and wellbeing. However I refuse to sacrifice one for the other and always make sure that any travel I do also includes healthy eating and living options that are up to my personal standards and in alignment with my priorities.
Of course for all too many people this is not the case. Instead, they are prone to disregarding “healthy eating and living” for the period of their trip or vacation. However this is actually so much more harmful than it seems, as it breeds instability in our priorities and paves the way for increasing health and healthy living challenges. For example, any weight gained during vacations may not be dealt with after and only ends up accumulating over the years. Some people try to do all sorts of detox programs after unhealthy vacation or travel periods, but the stress that the body endured while it was subjected to harmful foods, drinks or other habits cannot be undone and weakens the body over time. Plus, temporary detox tactics, like a 3 day juice fast, are not going to get to the root of cellular toxicity or neutralize the substances that were ingested. It just does not work that way.
Ultimately, this all raises an even bigger question: who are we trying to cheat in the end? If our intentions for proper nourishment and healthy living are real, then it makes no logical sense to want to “poison ourselves” or “stress our body” intentionally “some of the time”. Either we understand why we eat and live the way we do, or we don’t, and instead treat it like some kind of punishment or deprivation period that we seek to escape the moment we have the excuse to do so. In this regard I always encourage you to be honest with yourself and if you want long-term and sustainable health and wellness benefits, be consistent and committed to your priorities. Don’t give your Ego or social status a boost for claiming you eat healthy, if you are all too eager to drop it when given the chance. It is essential to clearly outline and align with your priorities in life if you want successful results, whether this be with your health, work or relationships.
So to help you eat healthy while traveling or on vacation, I will outline below various tips and ways you can prepare to enjoy feeling your best before, during and after your travel.
Eating During the Transportation
Before we get to our destination, we have to consider the transportation that is going to take us there and whether we will need to eat during transportation or not. For short trips, anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, most of us will not need to eat anything. However, longer trips will usually require some sort of food. Here are some choices based on type of transportation.
Travel by Airplane
Even though an increasing number of major airlines are improving the health value of their meals, most airplane food is nowhere near being optimally healthy for us. Aside from the highly refined and processed ingredients used, and usual reliance on animal products, oils, sugar and salt, the food is often cooked or heated in ways that further destroy the value of that food and increase health risks. I recommend you thoroughly read the ingredient list of just the cookies or pretzels that some airlines offer as a complimentary snack. Many such snacks and meals on flights are also directly sponsored or provided based on contracts with food and fast food corporations that create some of the worst food options ever. To make things even worse, increasingly snacks or meals are not even included in the ticket price, but must be paid for separately and are charged at a premium.
The solution to avoid all this is very easy: bring your own food. As long as your food is not any kind of liquid or gel (this includes nut butters) over 100mL, and as long as you do not bring any foods off the plane and into the country you are traveling to that are not allowed, like fresh fruits and vegetables, you are free to bring your own food onto the plane. This means you can bring with you all sorts of wholesome snack and meal options, like fresh or dried fruits and veggies, raw nuts and seeds, and various snacks made of them. You can bring bean or veggie patties, healthy bread sandwiches or wraps, and even full on meals based on things like rice, potatoes and beans.
Travel by Train
I have never travelled long distance on trains, so I cannot comment on the quality of the food directly. However, whether you are going short or long distance by train, here again the solution is simple: bring your own food. With train travel you have even more flexibility as you can bring homemade green smoothies and other liquid or gel foods that would not be allowed on a plane. The good news is that given increased awareness about plant-based eating, some train companies are making appropriate changes to keep up with consumer demand. For example, Amtrak is now offering vegan options.
Travel by Car
Travel by car provides the easiest and most flexible option when it comes to having control over the quality and type of your food because as long as you are not crossing borders into countries that have different rules than yours, you can bring pretty much anything you want. You also have the flexibility of stopping along the way if you need a grocery store, which is always the best place to stock up on healthy foods. In addition, you can search for what suitable restaurants, farmer’s markets or other eating venues may exist along your route for further options.
Travel by Motorcycle or Bicycle
Although these modes of transportation limit you on the amount of space you have to pack things, you can still bring your own food, whether that be in a backpack on your back for a short trip, or in a bike compartment or saddle bag for a long trip.
Eating On Location
How you are going to eat once you get there, depends a lot on where you are and the type of accommodations you have chosen. The easiest way to eat healthy while on any kind of vacation is to have a room with some kind of kitchenette. If this is not available, it is still very much possible to eat healthy, as you can go mostly raw or eat very simple meals. If you are staying for a night or two, it is easiest to bring your own food from home, as most hotel rooms have a fridge, and in truth you don’t need to warm up most plant-based meals, so that let’s you skip needing a stove or using a microwave. In fact, there is less nutritional damage from not re-heating the food again and room temperature foods are really the best for our digestion anyway. If you are staying for longer, you can explore other options based on what may be in the area you are staying.
The upside of all-inclusive resorts is that if you are at a 4 or 5 star resort, there is usually enough choice to pick something healthy and diverse to eat. The downside of these resorts is that if you are very health conscious, unless it is a truly outstanding resort, you will likely not be fully satisfied by the choices available as they are bound to have various oils, sugars and salt. You may or may not be able to get whole grain options for foods like rice or any pasta or bread products you may choose to eat. You may or may not have access to freshly cooked bean dishes, or be stuck with a limited variety of canned beans, if any. You may or may not have enough dishes that are fully plant-based. You may or may not have a salad and fruit area that are full of fresh, as opposed to canned options. So there are bound to be various limitations, and the lower the quality of the resort, the worse things usually are, as most all-inclusive resorts focus heavily on refined (white) grain products, animal foods, fried foods and sugary foods.
The location of an all-inclusive resort will also highly dictate the quality and variety of the food offered. For example, most resorts in Cuba, even if they are high end, still struggle to provide enough fresh fruits and vegetables and wholesome, plant-based dishes. On the other hand, most good resorts in Mexico offer much better options where these things go.
The good news is that today with all of the health conscious awareness going on, there are increasing numbers of resorts and retreat centers that cater specifically to optimally healthy eating and offer entire menus made of wholesome, plant-based and vegan options, as well as easily cater to other dietary needs like gluten-free. The key is to choose wisely and invest wisely with your time and money, so that your holiday truly treats and nourishes you, and does not leave you feeling worse during or after it.
Hotels or Resorts Without Included Food
When you are responsible for your own food, your choices are much more in your own hands. While it is way too easy for many people on vacations or even business trips to go down to the local fast food restaurant, whether it be for breakfast, lunch or dinner, other choices can be made. One just has to be conscious and make a commitment to healthy eating. Depending on what kind of budget you are on, you can choose to buy and prepare your own foods and/or pick some high quality food establishments for meals. The latter option naturally gets very pricey.
My personal favorite today when traveling, is making sure that I have a local grocery store or food market near by and prepare my own meals. This allows me to explore and experience the wonderful variety of fresh and wholesome local fruits and vegetables that the area has to offer, as well as other unique or new plant foods that may be prevalent in that culture. Yet at the same time, I get to choose and control how I will prepare those foods, to ensure maximum satisfaction and alignment with my standards and priorities.
A Vacation Food Example
On my most recent trip earlier this year (2010), my husband and I took a two week trip to a non all-inclusive resort on the Caribbean island of Grenada. I had no kitchenette available, but this still did not hinder me from eating wholesome, plant-based meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the photo below, you can see some of the types of food that can easily make good choices, and ones that do not require refrigeration, cooking or any long or special preparation. Such food options can easily be modified to meet to the needs of all plant-based, vegan, vegetarian and raw food eaters.
On this type of eating plan, I did not feel like I was sacrificing my usual way of eating or sacrificing satisfaction, and any deviations from my normal eating were minimal and ones I was comfortable enough with. While I could not have my daily green smoothies, I was still able to eat greens and fresh fruits. Instead of freshly cooked or sprouted beans, I opted for canned beans and rinsed them before eating to reduce the sodium levels. My food, as always, revolved around various fresh fruits and vegetables, which is always most important to me. Other than that, I also had my usual servings of beans, some whole grain products (despite these being more processed than I would normally eat), raw and unsalted nuts, natural salsa, dried fruits, like dates, and Larabars, which I brought from home. I was able to find some unpreserved hummus, as well as some organic almond and soy milks, which were a good addition in this case, but which I normally wouldn’t need or drink at home. In terms of drinks – there was really only and always just one – water. In this case it was bottled, which I never do back home, but had to resort to in this particular circumstance. So as you can see, there is the core foundation that is upheld but there is also some flexibility involved to strike the right balance we will each need to strike for our personal needs and practical considerations.
Here is what a typical breakfast looked like for me:
Pictured in the photo are: fresh coconut, plain peanuts, dates, banana, tomatoes, carrots and lettuce. Wholesome, natural plant food goodness! (In brackets are the main macro-nutrients.)
I cannot tell you how easy it was to eat this way. Not only was it great for my budget, as preparing one’s own meals always is, but the best part of this type of eating is that I felt amazing after every meal, just like back home. I didn’t have to cringe after meals or worry, or feel bloated and sluggish, or have any guilt or unpleasant feelings that I was putting the wrong stuff into my body. It made for such a great vacation, as our food was always and easily available, and food that I could trust to nourish my body well.
On a side note, and something important to address here, is that some people fear eating the most healthiest foods while away in different regions of the world, namely fruits and vegetables. This is so sad, especially given the junk they will resort to eating instead, and in 99% of cases completely unnecessary. Unfortunately our society spreads a lot of fear and misinformation that get passed around and gives people the wrong idea about food safety. I have personally eaten fruits and vegetables freely in many so called “questionable” places and have never once gotten sick, because in truth these are not the foods that make us sick, especially if we have a clean and healthy internal environment to begin with. Of course if any concerns are present, you should always take appropriate measures to do what makes you feel safe. However, normally it is as simple as washing the fruits or vegetable with bottled water and/or peeling them if needed. The biggest risks mainly come from restaurants that may have contamination issues, especially they relate to animal foods that are present and poor overall hygiene and cleanliness standards.
A typical myth that surrounds camping trips is that food is mostly canned and revolves around meat cooked on the fire. As with other types of trips, it is all about the choices one chooses to make. Even without a fridge, it is very possible to eat fresh, healthy and wholesome meals while on camping trips. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and minimal canned food can be a very easy thing to achieve on such outings. Of course it goes without saying, the key is to break old conditioning and popular stereotypical behaviors associated with such experiences, and approach these trips with a fresh perspective that will leave you better, not worse off for doing it.
On long-term or long-distance hiking trips, the food situation gets a bit more tricky, but even here we can make many smart choices and always have the wonderful world of raw, dehydrated foods to look towards.
If you love and care about yourself and all the effort that goes into maintaining your health for optimal energy, vitality and wellbeing, don’t let travel or vacation time throw you off course and leave you reverting to poor or destructive old habits. Yes, our society is not yet set up to prioritize human health, but every single day things are getting better. So now it is truly up to us and in our hands to simply explore all of the amazing options out there that allow us to travel and enjoy a wide range of amazing holiday experiences without sacrificing our eating habits.
Treat yourself with true treats that nourish, rather than harm your body. Abusing your body with fast food, over-eating, drinking alcohol or consuming refined fats, carbohydrates and high amounts of protein and sugar is just not worth it, and definitely no treat for your body. Such eating behavior, in fact, creates the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of symptoms and infections, which many people come down with while on holiday and then blame on things like the quality of the water or food contamination. When a body becomes overly stressed and polluted it takes action to clean itself out and reduce the load of harmful substances, which for us means things like vomiting and/or diarrhea.
So instead of dealing with unpleasant symptoms or feeling tired, sluggish or sick in any way, use your travel and holiday time to restore, rebalance and rejuvenate your body, as much as possible. Explore and enjoy the world, but don’t diminish the importance of healthy eating at these times. On its own, traveling normally takes a toll on the body on some level, so this is even more reason to support it properly at this time with high quality nourishment.
In the end, eating healthy while traveling or on vacation can be as easy and healthy as you choose to make it.
May all your travels be happy, safe and enjoyable!