Traveling on a diet: Tips and tricks to meet your goals!
So you’re going on a trip! Maybe it’s for work, maybe you’re visiting family, or perhaps you’re going on an incredible vacation. Believe me, I know it can feel impossible to stay on your diet and to eat healthily when you’re traveling. Between airports, unfamiliar places, new restaurants, less access to kitchens and not being able to cook your own food, it can feel extremely daunting!
As someone who is on the road a lot for work, I completely understand. I’ve had my fair share of melt downs where I’ve waited too long to eat while traveling, only to find that I’m surrounded by food options, but little that I can actually have that meets my dietary restrictions. (Vegan, gluten free, sugar free…it’s not always easy!) I become hangry and all I want to do is cry out of desperation, the blood sugar is low…it’s not a pretty scene to say the least.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years of being on a stricter diet and traveling a lot for work, is that it’s extremely important to plan ahead! Here are a few tips and tricks that I have learned that have helped me on the road so I can stay well fed, and so I can stay true to my dietary needs.
1. Pack food!
That’s right. Bring food with you. And not just food for the plane, but snacks you think you’ll want for your entire trip. Depending on where you’re traveling, you might find it’s hard to find a grocery store that has the things you know you need to get you through the day, so do the work beforehand and bring some things with you!
I always bring some sort of energy bar with me. One for my plane ride because the snacks on the planes are usually cookies or peanuts, both of which I don’t eat, and then at least one per day for the duration of my trip. I’ll usually bring a few extra’s just in case I’m in a bind. This way, if I’m running low on energy, I have something to get me through! If I’m running late and can’t grab breakfast, I have something in my purse that I can eat until I find my next meal. Working out on the road? No problem! I have a protein bar with me to help rebuild muscle and keep me full until lunch or dinner. So, energy bars are a total plus for me! Pick your favorite that suits your needs. I prefer Lära bars for my regular energy bar needs. They are gluten and sugar free, usually dairy free, not super high in calories, and they have a ton of flavors to pick from.
(Side note: I will admit that these days I’m very focused on getting enough protein with all the exercise I do. Sometimes I need something more substantial than a Lära bar to sustain me longer, and it’s pretty hard finding a bar high in protein that has zero grams of sugar. I want to be totally transparent and honest with you, so like I said in my Anti Inflammatory Diet 101 blog post, this year I've given myself a little more flexibility when it comes to sugar intake, and this is primarily where I'm talking about. While the majority of my diet is sugar free, there is always a little sugar in my protein bars. I've given in to what it is, because I think the benefits outweigh the negatives in my current routine. But again, make the choice that works for you! It's all a process on finding what works the best for your body.)
Traveling to someplace with a kitchen? Pack staple foods that might be harder to find at your destination. If I’m traveling to a place that will have a kitchen where I can prepare my own food, I will often pack brown rice noodles (Tinkyada is hands down my favorite brand), dried or canned black beans for protein, brown rice, quinoa….small amounts of bulk staples that I’ve found over the years are harder to find on the road. Once I arrive, I can fill in the blanks by buying lots of veggies and fruits as well as another protein option upon my arrival.
Other things I tend to pack are brown rice cakes and almond butter (which is a staple snack for me and sometimes part of my breakfasts, so I always love to have these available) and my guilty pleasure snack, popcorn (favorite brand is Skinny Pop…so good!). I’ll often bring an apple or cut up some veggies for my plane rides as well, especially if it’s a longer trip in the air. I also try to pack my vegan protein powder in my suitcase to make sure I’m getting enough protein when I’m not home cooking for myself. Be sure to pack a water bottle, too, so you can stay hydrated!
2. Research before you leave!
Get online and start searching restaurants in your destination that will meet your requirements! I always visit Happy Cow to get my initial vegan search for where i’m traveling to next. It’s a fantastic source of information when you want to eat plant based foods on the road!
Look at restaurant menus online and see if you can find one dish that will work for you! I often find that on a menu full of amazing looking food, while most of it doesn’t fit my needs, there will usually be at least one dish that I can work with. Unless you’re traveling alone, you’ll probably find that you are in a situation where other’s want to go to a mainstream restaurant, and you’ll go and have very few options to choose from, which leads me to my next section which is…
3. Don’t get frustrated, and ask for what you want!
When you’re hungry, it can be super easy to start panicking that there won’t be any food for you around the corner, and the hangry emotions start to set in. (I know from experience!) It’s important to stay calm, and find solutions. I’ve had to get really good at asking for what I need, even when I don’t see it on the menu. I would say 99% of the time, the staff is there to make you happy and to feed you what you want!
So! First off, if I see a dish that checks almost all the boxes, for example a dish that’s vegetarian and gluten free, but has cheese on it, I simply ask for it without cheese. Goes without saying, right? When it gets more complicated, that’s when you have to be bold. (And don’t forget to be polite as well! A little kindness goes a long way!) I never assume that a restaurant will make me anything I want, but it doesn’t hurt to ask what they can do for you if you have such and such restraints that you have to follow when it comes to food. I used to be VERY shy when it came to asking for what I needed at a restaurant, especially when I was in another country and there was a language barrier. I often felt extremely helpless! Now, while I’m still not perfect at it, I’m much more comfortable asking for what I want.
Sometimes it’s as simple as saying I want a plate of grilled veggies, and then I ask what sort of other options they might have. Do they have brown rice? Do they have tofu, legumes, or a non-meat protein? I’ve yet to be turned away, and I’ve actually always been met with a kind and understanding server who wants to help as best they can.
4. It’s ok to not be perfect!
Traveling has enough stresses that adding food to the list can sometimes put you over the edge. Remember, if you have to make adjustments here and there, it’s not the end of the world. Do the best you can, and cut yourself some slack if you don’t follow your diet 100% of the time! We are all humans, and when you find yourself in a bind, sometimes you just have to eat.
While I don’t budge on my vegan diet, there have been a small handful of times where I break down and eat a piece of bread, or maybe there’s a vegan pastry that I really want to try, and while it’s also gluten free, it has some sugar in it. While I’m pretty strict, I do make exceptions now and then, and give myself the occasional allowances, and that’s ok!
So there you have it! My go to preparations to eat well on the road. Planning your trip isn’t just about where you’re going to go sightseeing. Focus on how you’re going to feed yourself so you have fewer surprises along the way that can lead you to straying away from your goals.
I’d love to hear how you prep for your trips, and what your go to snacks are that you bring along with you!