The challenge of eating healthy on the road goes far beyond healthy road trip snacks
When thinking about eating healthy on the road on short holidays – a long weekend at the lake or five days visiting a city – you shouldn’t worry too much, as it is unlikely your general health will suffer dramatically. Even if you indulge yourself trying all the different desserts you find, after going back home, your body will most probably adjust. But, when you are planning for a road trip, backpacking journey, or anything with more than, let’s say, a month, then you need to be more careful because it is very easy to go on a spiral of unhealthy decisions. And even better, if you want to change to a travel lifestyle, aka nomad life then you can start to learn how to travel and make money and then read this guide with that in mind.
Longtime travel is a very demanding activity, both physically and mentally, so you might want to be well prepared before you embark on your journey. If today, in the safety of your comfort zone, you have an unhealthy lifestyle, then things will only get worse for you on the road. We suggest trying to change those habits before you leave so that your life on the road is much easier, you don’t suffer so much and are able to really focus on the travel itself.
Think on traveling as a life project, a life-changing one, one that you have to be fully prepared to embrace all the experiences you will have: you should not be overwhelmed by physical difficulties that could have been prevented with some simple planning. You may be tempted by the idea of leaving it with destiny and explore as you go, which is amazing in terms of experience, but terrible for your overall health.
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Disclaimer 1: Sara is ovolactovegetarian and João is vegan so our recommendations will always reflect our personal dietary options. We believe that, independently from your dietary preferences, it is possible to be healthy on the road with our options
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How to eat healthy on the road? It all starts with planning, lots of planning
Yes, there are plenty of things to do before hitting the road, nothing too complicated but just enough to give you a head start for your optimal health on the road. Finding ways on how to eat healthy on the road should be on top of your head for any decision you do about your trip. You may not be able to do all of what we will talk about here, but at least you can be aware of what would be beneficial, and try to do the best you can.
Deciding your boundaries
Surprisingly or not, the first thing we suggest you do is a pre-planning task, which is to define what are the boundaries of your food decisions or, in other words, what type of food you don’t want to have in any circumstance. Here, we have to take into consideration not only allergies but also convenience foods, that might be easy to obtain but go against what you see as part of a healthy diet. This may sound too much to think about now but, if you do this, you will see how much it will influence all the rest of your planning. It is like having a guideline for all of the processes instead of going just by gut feeling.
A practical example: you arrived late to a new town and you only find a convenience store open to buy something for your breakfast the next day. An easy option would be cereals or some kind of instant oatmeal, but you know what you are getting with those ultra-processed options: mostly empty calories. Maybe, you decide these ingredients are out of your boundaries so you decide to go for a vegetable milk (assuming you don’t consume dairy) and some bread with sugarless jam instead, which you need to find in a bakery next morning. So your boundaries can be things like chips, or any kind of deep fried food, or sugary food, for example.
What you have to do is to try to imagine a diet you will be able to follow through while traveling, based on your knowledge of the local options. Do some research on restaurant menus, food available at the market, locally grown food, etc. Then, imagine and write possible dishes and ingredients you might want to have. For unfamiliar food, check its nutrition facts and see how well it matches your dietary requirements.
This type of planning might just be a mindset to get you prepared for unforeseen situations, or it can actually be a plan you do beforehand that allows you to circumvent any unhealthy trap. What you really need to think is that slow travel should not be different than staying at home, just the background will change. Nomad lifestyle does not share the same mindset as classic travel, especially if you want to be healthy full time and not just when you go back home.
Study your destination
Consider how much you know about the place you currently live: the grocery stores, the cheap and healthy restaurants, the parks for exercise, the supermarket, the street markets, the bars with healthy options that are so hard to find, etc. Now, with that same mindset, consider researching your destination in order to find healthy options while traveling, or to help you with decision making along the way like, for example, the hotel you are going to stay. Use Google, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, forums, and other online sources of local options. Check our Resources for a list of all the sources of information we use.
After you have identified all the useful services, it’s time to place them on a map (or if you prefer you can do the research while you place them on the map at the same time). To help you do this, there are many tools, actually too many. But, luckily, Google Maps is getting so advanced that it can substitute almost all of them. What you need is an offline map you can use while moving around, with all the local places you’ve researched and placed there. You can always use a physical map if you prefer, or at least have one as a backup plan (out of battery anyone? :)).
A couple pieces of advice here: first, have a plan B for offline times, even if you have access to the Internet; second, we highly recommend you get a local SIM card. Nowadays SIM cards, especially the prepaid ones are so easy to buy anywhere in the world that the money you will save by having access to the information will, for sure, compensate what you pay for it. Just think about access to apps with local deals or special discounts that you quickly search while heading to an activity.
Let’s review what we have to do for this part of planning:
- Do a list of the services you will need on the locations you are going to be
- Download an offline map app (ex.: Google Maps or Maps.me, both available for iPhone and Android)
- Save the locations you have identified on the map (online or physical if you prefer)
- Install healthy food-related apps (ex.: Happy Cow)
- Install location-related apps (ex.: local transportation, events, healthy restaurants, etc.)
- Bookmark location-related websites (to keep up to date with events, like food fairs)
With all this information, you know you won’t be caught off guard in any situation.
Tip: Don’t forget to check and save opening hours in your personalized map. It’s quite frustrating if places are closed.‹
Be mindful of how much effort you put into this planning, as you will need to do this for every location. In our opinion, it is better to know a little than to be an expert on one location. Get at least the main groceries and restaurants and then, if you have more time, go deeper on your research.
Tip: Just for safety, add local police and hospital numbers and their location in your database.
Choosing where to stay
This is, probably, the most important decision to make regarding your health while traveling: choosing where you are going to stay. There are many variables to choose from and not all are related to your health. You may want to be close to places you want to visit, cheaper areas or safer neighborhoods. Those are all sound reasons for choosing a location but, please, do have into consideration the location of your sources of healthy food.
We normally use the following criteria to choose where we to stay:
- Factor in all the other variables (budget, distance to places to visit, safety, friends, etc.)
- Now factor in the eating variables (area with local markets and healthy restaurants)
- Prioritise an apartment with full kitchen (Airbnb and other similar websites to use)
- If not existent or too expensive, consider a shared room in a house with kitchen
- If a hotel is necessary, double check for mini-fridge and other options (kitchenette)
- Consider Couchsurfing as a way to share a kitchen (look for healthy eating hosts)
- Consider Housesitting or swapping as a way to have full access to a kitchen
The power of a full kitchen
A full kitchen will provide you with lots of freedom and the power to totally control what you eat. You can use the fridge to store food, pre-cook meals or even invite friends over, a nice and conscious way to eat healthily and affordable. There are many ways to look for apartments, AirBnB being the most popular and easy option. But, if you are considering a longer spell like a month or more in a place, you can use local real estate agencies that will widen the scope of your search, and many of them answer well to remote inquiries before you even get there.
There are also local real estate websites that include on their searches kitchenettes, which are a reasonable compromise of price and cooking options. With a kitchenette, you can do some light cooking and you will most probably have a fridge where you can store food but, for longer stays where you may want to cook frequently and more complex recipes, then it might not be enough for you.
As a rule of thumb for us, anything above 1 week of stay, we go for a full kitchen unless it is completely out of the budget.
Other (healthy and free) alternatives
If we are not staying more than 3/4 days on a location, we always try to look for a Couchsurfing experience (there are alternatives, check our Resources). It has many advantages, especially if you find a host that has healthy eating habits and likes to share his kitchen with the guests. We always suggest our hosts that we prepare a meal based on our local cuisine. It’s the perfect combination of cultural exchange and being healthy at the same time. If you want to stay longer periods, consider booking more than one host, so that you don’t stay longer than 5 days. It is not an official rule, but almost no host will accept a stranger for longer periods of time. We are sure you wouldn’t do the same.
Another option is doing Housesitting(there are alternatives, check our Resources), where a house owner hires someone to take care of the house in his absence. There are many reasons why a house owner wants to open the house to strangers, either to take care of their pets, for taking care of the property, or even for safety reasons. This is more common in western countries, but you still find options all around the world. Check the resources at the end of this article for more options.
When choosing a house to sit, check every case with detail. You do have a full house to yourself for free but you may be required to do some work, so don’t forget to consider that too. The major limitation with this approach is that you are bounded to the time frame of the house owner, so it can be 2 weeks in December or 3 months at the beginning of next year, and that is not negotiable. But, if your requirements match the offer, then it’s a perfect scenario and you may end up living in an amazing house or property for free.
Slow travel should not be diferent from staying at home, only the background will change.
Carrying your own healthy road trip snacks
This applies to any kind of traveling, even a small trip to your dentist. The key to a successful healthy lifestyle is to be always prepared an carry healthy road trip snacks. And we are not even considering the financial benefits of this super important habit but, as a reminder, consider the money you will be saving by not purchasing food everywhere you go.
One of the main advantages of carrying your own food when on the road is that it allows you not to skip meals which, unless you are used to fasting, is not very healthy. Having always some healthy caloric food with you will allow you to be always on top in case of an unexpected delay happens.
Food you can carry
Depending on the way you travel certain foods are possible to take and others aren’t. Are you traveling by plane or car? Is your trip 12 hours or just a couple of hours? Are you crossing borders? All of these are variables that you need to take into consideration regarding the food you carry. Some food you can always take with, like nuts for example, but others like fresh fruit are a different matter. Don’t be shy to board a plane, skip their terrible meals and start eating your own healthy home-made meals or road trip snacks. Most people will stare at you, but your body will thank you.
For this type of items, you will most probably need special utensils that you can read more in detail on the “Food carrying utensils” sub-chapter. Coolers, gel packs and other kinds of refrigeration techniques can be used to help you carry fresh items.
Here is a list of some options for perishable items:
- Fresh vegetables (like carrots or celery)
- Pre-cooked starches (like sweet potatoes)
- Fresh dishes (like guacamole or baba ghanoush)
- Pre-made salads (be careful with the dressing)
- Probiotics (like Kefir)
- If you eat dairy, pre-boiled eggs or cheese
Remember to try to keep the food fresh as much as possible, with airtight and spill-proof containers. We recommend glass or stainless steel for safety and durability.
With non-perishable food, the options increase exponentially, as you can dehydrate almost anything. With this type of food, you still need to carry utensils, of course, but the requirements are simpler because you don’t need to refrigerate them. Another advantage dehydrated food has is the dramatically smaller volume it takes, allowing you to carry more quantity. Some of them we provide recipes, as you may be already based in a place with a kitchen which allows you to prepare food before you travel.
Here’s a list of some options for non-perishable items:
- Nuts and seeds (by far the best option)
- Fresh fruit (like avocado which is a nutritious fruit)
- Dried fruit (be careful with the added sugars)
- Nut butter (like peanut and almond)
- Coconut Meat
- Food bars (here you find plenty of recipes to do at home)
- Oils and spices for dressings (sea salt, pepper, olive/sesame oil)
- Sourdough Bread to eat with your dips (recipe to do it at home)
- Tea bags
With both perishable and non-perishable food options well combined, you can already have a fully nutritious balanced meal anywhere you go. Have you ever imagined how much freedom this gives you? Once you turn this into a habit, you will understand its power.
Food travel kit
This section is especially important for us because we always have fun watching people’s faces when we use what we call the “No Footprint Food Kit”, which is nothing more than our own portable eating utensils. When we eat out, at a street market, for example, and just before they serve us on a plastic plate, we give them our own plate with an open smile. This is always followed by a short laugh in return. The idea here is trying to be environmentally friendly while you eat on the road, especially from street markets or food fairs.
You now must be thinking, these guys are crazy, they want me to carry around a kitchen. Yes, it may sound weird to carry all these items with you, for us took some time to get used to the idea. But it is just a mindset change as always, we found light and easy to use versions of all items, organized it as a kit and now it’s part of our daily life every time we leave our home. Think how much you are doing for our planet, and not so much on the crazy looking smiles you are going to receive along the way. You are taking care of the planet as much as you can, what is everyone else doing?
No Footprint Food Kit or Food Travel Kit (aka NFN Kit)
Here’s a list of what goes into our kit:
- Water bottle (try to use metal bottles, if not at least check it is a BPA free bottle)
- Coffee mug (we tried foldable metal versions but they were not good, so we use one similar to smash cup)
- Flexible rubber plate (an alternative would be a wooden plate)
- Cutlery (we love sporks, we still have our plastic ones, but we recommend metal versions)
- Washable napkin cloth
- Bread bag (multi-purpose, like carrying food or serving as a tablecloth)
- Metal straw (now easy to find)
- Soap to rinse everything afterward (we love Dr.Bronner’s)
If we had to choose at least one you should always carry, it would be a reusable water bottle. We will talk about the critical habit of drinking water later, but this bottle can be used for anything, including tea. Just remember to empty it before heading to the departure airport gates. And metal straws, yes, they exist and are very easy to get. Any juice, smoothie, soft drink or anything liquid related you find will have a plastic straw, and we are sure you have seen the images of the injured turtle with non-recyclable plastic straws we throw away. Just get a couple of them, they will come with a cleaning tool, and you can now refuse using plastic straws everywhere you go.
Food carrying utensils
To complete our food travel kit we also carry other utensils that we use for carrying food, it’s like NFN Kit part 2.
- Food containers (we know they are heavy, but we prefer the glass ones)
- Ziplock bags (multi-purpose, including leftovers for eating later)
- Portable cooler (if you are traveling by car then consider this and this)
Again, this will depend on your mean of transportation, and how much you can carry, because of the volume and weight they can represent. Your kit might look a bit different, depending on your own needs and personal preferences. When choosing the material, take into consideration the environmental and safety risks associated. In terms of safety issues, food contamination by plastic is a reality, so have this in mind.
Carrying the food travel kit is almost like carrying a full kitchen and dining room with you keeping in mind that you are doing a huge favor to the environment and, especially, to your body.
Food choices: Healthy snacks for traveling
We have described plenty of healthy snacks for traveling, now we need to talk about how to choose the ingredients to make balanced meals. Again, this approach should be a habit and not just something you do when traveling. The rules we apply to traveling are not much different from your life at home. If you already have a balanced and healthy diet, you can skip this chapter. Otherwise, read through it and let’s shed some light on your food choices.
When you are traveling, well actually anywhere in the world, carbs are always the most accessible to get. Sodas, chips, bread, chocolates, all of them may have some fat but the majority of the calories are carbohydrates. The problem with carbs is that they are enjoyable and they may satisfy you for a while, but it isn’t a long lasting sensation. Worse than that, binging on carbs won’t make it for a balanced diet while on the road, or anywhere else. (just check the Health.gov recommendations) Proteins, on the other hand, provide long-lasting satiety but it’s harder to find healthy options when traveling.
If you are considering long hikes or any activity that requires a high amount of energy, then you should focus even more on good quality protein. Not carbs, which are useful too, but not the most important macronutrient for high caloric demands.
What are good choices of proteins, in no particular order:
- Legumes (like chickpeas, green peas, beans, etc.)
- Protein-rich nuts or nut butter (like peanuts and almonds)
- Protein-rich veggies (like kale and spinach)
- Quinoa (amazing super food, good balance of proteins and carbs)
- Hemp seeds (amazing protein profile)
- Vegetable milk (or others, if you eat dairy)
- Tofu (try to find organic)
- Tempeh (amazing cheese alternative)
- Sprouted grain bread (yes, protein bread)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Dairy products (like cheese or yogurt)
- Protein bars (only if you don’t get any of the above)
As you can see, it’s not a small list, so there is no excuse whatsoever not to carry protein-rich food with you while traveling. The first ones on the list are legumes, which should be the main source of proteins, even if you aren’t vegetarian. Let’s look at them more in detail.
Legumes (like chickpeas, green peas, beans, etc.)
You may think of this type of food as perishable and time and energy consuming but you are wrong. Or, at least, half wrong because there are many easy and practical ways of cooking legumes. One option is to buy canned legumes, which is normally quite easy to find, but we prefer to promote a more sustainable approach: buying dry grains in bulk and cooking them at home.
Look at these options on how to prepare and consume legumes:
- Sugar snap peas or snow peas (they are edible legumes)
- Roasted legumes (some examples: Chickpeas, Lentils, Edamame)
- Dried legumes (some examples: Green beans, peas)
- Sprouted legumes (some examples: beans, lentils)
- Fast cooking legume paté (like adzuki or mung beans)
- Legume-based bars (look for sources)
- Legume-based pastry (lentil granola, bean brownies, chickpea cookies – sweet or savory.)
On important reminder before cooking the majority of the legumes is the need to soak them before you cook them. It will help to an easier digestion and nutrients absorption. Use this guide as a reference.
Fruit and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables should already be heavily present in your daily diet, so we will be talking more about the best options for carrying them with you.
Fruits are always crowd pleasers especially the sugary ones, which makes eating them really addictive. Despite being healthy in general, it’s best not to use them as your main source of carbs, as, in some cases, they may even have more sugar than candies, especially tropical fruits. Take, for example, a mango: it tastes heavenly but 14% of it is pure sugar so, in excess, it can cause more harm than good.
Having this in mind, we recommend fruits higher in fibers and lower in sugar. Don’t remove any from the list, though. Instead, consume the most sugary ones in moderation, like bananas, mangoes or papayas. Other fruits, like berries, you can eat plenty, as they have very high nutritional value and are low in calories. Finally, you have a superstar fruit, one that most people think it’s not a fruit – avocado. It is a real fruit and one with a special characteristic not easy to find: its amazing healthy fat profile.
Having all this information into consideration, this our order of preference in eating fruits:
- Avocado (find the ripe ones which are normally smoother)
- Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or any berry)
- Peaches (a healthy way for some sweetness with low sugar)
- Citrus fruits (pineapple, nectarine, orange, lemon, grapefruit)
- Apples and pears
These are just a few examples, you have all the other edible fruits of this planet to enjoy while you are on the road. Try to mix, eating too much of something is never a good idea no matter what food we are talking about. Bananas, for example, are super nutritious, providing potassium and other important minerals but too many of them and you’ll spend your day in the toilet.
And think creatively when considering carrying fruit, you can have it dried or in juice form for example. Juicing is also a great way of blending different types of fruit, just have in consideration the way you keep it as juice tends to oxidate.
Eating raw vegetables may sound strange for a lot of people but, in fact, we could eat almost all veggies without cooking. There is even a name for this type of diet: the Raw Food Diet. Although we eat a lot of raw food, it is not exclusively what we eat. We promise we will only give you tasty examples of raw vegetables.
- Carrots (easiest to carry are the baby carrots but you can slice an adult carrot too)
- Celery sticks (great for dipping in hummus)
- Radishes (some are spicy which makes them even more delicious)
- Broccoli and cauliflower florets
There are many more, and sometimes you just need a small trick to make them more enjoyable, like the Pressed Cabbage Salad, a way to mildly pickle this vegetable. Another tasty recipe that we love is cutting the broccoli florets into very thin slices, add some olive oil and salt and it them raw, couldn’t be simpler. Experiment with the vegetables you see in the local markets, you may have a nice surprise with something you did not know you could eat raw.
Salad in a Jar
You probably have heard about Pie in a Jar as an interesting way of conserving and serving a dessert in restaurants. I know this because, back in 2012, when I was working in the Cayman Islands, my restaurant’s pastry chef was not very happy with sharing the freezer with the rest of the staff, especially the odor contamination. There was also a problem of space because everyone in the restaurant wanted to take up space for their things. I was told she invented the Pie in a Jar to solve all of those problems. I don’t know if she was the first person or not but, what I do know is that this solved also the problem for travelers to easily carry and consume salads.
There are many methods and recipes to do salads in a jar but we’ll share the way we do it together with one recipe:
- Bottom layer: dressing (very important: it has to be far away from crispy greens)
- Marination layer: anything that will marinate while soaked (like legumes, mushroom, tofu)
- Middle layer: here you can add rich foods (like quinoa, amaranth or sprouts)
- Top layer: the green leaves, that should remain crunchy and delicious
- Cover layer: some seeds or nuts (like sesame, and peanuts)
If, for any reason, you are already taking supplements, like Iron or Magnesium, do take them with when you travel. We don’t really recommend taking them, otherwise advised by a physician, because you should get everything you need from your food alone. The only exception to this is Vitamin B12 and for it, you should have your values checked before traveling for a long period (you should do a full checkup before traveling, anyway). If your blood values are already deficient (it can happen to vegans or omnivores), take the supplements with you. B12 is mainly available from grass-fed beef, which most of us do not have access anymore due to the way beef is produced nowadays, making it quite common for low B12 levels.
Another kind of supplements you can and should carry is probiotics, and there are already plenty of commercial forms. You can also make them yourself at home and there are plenty of resources to teach you but, the easy way is to buy Kefir or Kombucha, for example. Again, like in everything we say here, moderation is important, especially because they may send you too many times to the toilet, which may not be convenient when traveling.
Another supplement you may consider taking, very useful for jet lag, is melatonin. We never needed it but there are many cases in which the consequences of jet lag can be more aggressive and you may need to recover quickly from it. Other than that, if you have plenty of time, let your body adjust to jet lag naturally, even if it takes more than a week.
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Healthy Habits on the road
Some daily habits can be quite harmful to a life on the move, so here we will talk about some good habits and behaviors to develop when traveling. It’s all a matter of mindset and there are many techniques to help you change your habits. We especially like the 3Rs approach, that you can read in detail here. But, it basically goes like this:
- Reminder (you need a trigger for the new habit)
- Routine (you need to add or create a new routine)
- Reward (you need to reward yourself every time you do it)
Changing your habits will change your future. Creating new, healthy habits will create a better future for you. What bigger motivation could you have? Don’t wait until you start traveling to change your life for the better, start doing it now! Trying to implement new habits once you are out of your comfort zone will be even more challenging, so take advantage of your time right now.
Here are a few new habits to get you started.
Habit 1 – Right portions of food
Eating right portions is amazingly difficult in the western culture because they usually are gigantic, some of them even enough to feed you for a full day. What happens when you give your body too much food? It needs to deal with the excess, by storing it or getting rid of it. Your body will store or throw away the excess it’s getting. Do you see the problem here?
Another advantage you will quickly realize when reducing your portions is the extra energy you will have after a meal, instead of feeling sleepy and sluggish. You will know when you have managed this habit successfully when you go to a buffet full of delicious food but you still eat a well-proportioned meal.
Because when you are traveling is is very difficult to be consistent with your meals, you tend to overdose on food every time you have a chance. Think twice, and try to keep the proportions healthy, even when trying a new food you don’t need to eat everything different you see.
Tip: use a smaller plate or use low-calorie food to fill the plate (like vegetables)
Habit 2 – Eat more frequently
This habit correlates directly with the first one because doing this will prevent you from feeling too hungry at a certain point of the day, making it easier to eat small portions. The idea is to feed your body continuously by doing smart snacking. Some nuts here, a fruit there and you won’t feel so anxious for food in the bad moments.
With the food tips we gave before, it should be easy to carry small quantities of food that will help you with this new habit. There are health benefits for your body too, although not as many as once believed.
Habit 3 – Drink water
If you feel hungry, drink water! Yes, sometimes, when you think you want to eat something, drinking some water will suffice for a period of time. Apparently, thirst sometimes shows up disguised as hunger.
Our body needs water for almost everything, not just helping your body staying hydrated but also flushing out toxins. If you have any food poisoning while traveling, then drinking water becomes critical, so remember to always keep a bottle near you at all times.
Another advantage of drinking water is to help mitigate the jet lag effect and symptoms of overexposure to the sun, typical problems of a life on the road.
Just be aware that drinking water while traveling does have some potential risks, especially in countries where tap water is not drinkable. A safe way to go is bottled water but we always try to look for public water filters we can use. If not then we carry a water purifier very easy to use, we even made a video about it. There are other good alternatives in the market like the now popular lifestraw.
Habit 4 – Avoid Alcohol
We are talking about being healthy here, so too much alcohol will always be a problem. Unless it is a small glass of red wine with your meal, most of the alcohol you drink is not beneficial at all for your body. We don’t want to talk about the damaging consequences of drinking alcohol, in general, but for traveling in particular:
- Traveling is also meeting new people, too much alcohol will NOT help on that
- It will increase calorie intake, disrupting your daily diet
- You don’t want to feel sick when outside of your comfort zone
- It will make you eat more and, most probably, unhealthy food
To give you a reference, and focusing on red wine, the official recommendation (Health.gov Dietary Guidelines) is no more than 4 glasses on a day for men, and 2 for women (in UK is even less). You can even use the application on your phone to help you measure your alcohol intake (I used the app for some time, and eventually reduced my intake to 3/4 beers a month).
Be careful with your social drinking, again a slow travel mindset should be the same as when you are back home, the only difference is that the background is moving.
Habit 5 – The 80/20 approach
The idea behind the 80/20 approach to traveling is very similar to the famous diet (book). We don’t recommend any specific diet but we like to use the 80/20 rules especially when away from home. You may be doing a tour to an area with no healthy food options and you forgot your snacks, or you were told there would be options but then something changed the plans, or you just want to try the local food. Either way, sometimes you will have to eat unhealthily, either you want it or not.
This is where this habit becomes important, to keep some kind of damage control. Try to follow the 80/20 and, on a weekly basis, try to have 80% of your meals on the healthy side. This means that around 3 meals a week, you can indulge in a burger and fries.
Habit 6 – Fasting
Fasting as recently grown in public interest not as a religious act, which is prevalent in most religions, but as a tool to better health. There are already many studies and explanations for the advantages of fasting, you can check this article to start reading more on the subject. No matter if you are traveling or not, several formats of fasting – intermittent fasting is one of them – are considered to be quite beneficial for your overall health. One of the arguments in favor is that almost all religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) have some kind of fasting embedded in their practices, which gives the impression that detoxing one’s body (and, why not, soul) is an important practice.
If you already do it or would be interested in exploring fasting in your daily life, then traveling would be much easier for you in terms of healthy eating. Simply put, if you don’t find healthy options for breakfast, for example, you can just skip it. We don’t recommend anyone to start fasting without supervision and without the support of experts in the matter. But, for your own health, just consider this option.
Can you bring food on a plane? Guide to eating healthy on Flights
Traveling by plane has specific characteristics that have to be addressed in terms of healthy eating and healthy options especially when you can bring food on a plane. For example, consider the restrictions at the airport, in terms of what and how much you can carry. Nevertheless, there are actions you can take to help you eat healthy while flying.
Pre-order your healthy meals
Some companies allow you to order your onboard meal in advance, which means you get to decide what kind of food you are going to get. From our personal experience, this means access to food tailored to dietary restrictions (like gluten-free or vegan) and, most likely, grant you access to healthier food. The only disadvantage is that it sometimes costs more to have a specific diet, so you have to consider that vs. buying food before boarding. To pre-order your healthy meals you must look at all the options you have when purchasing online, sometimes add-ons or meals are available to change, Norwegian Airlines for example always gives you the option to change a style of meal. If when buying the ticket you don’t see that option then you should contact the airline after the booking requesting that update, most of the airlines today are ready for this.
Check flight menus
Some companies will also have an onboard menu and you might be surprised to find some healthy options, awareness is increasing among flight providers. Just double check the prices, as they tend to be particularly hefty.
Skip the salt
Onboard planes, the AC is always on, which tends to create a low humidity environment, reducing your hydration levels. Eating too many salty foods isn’t going to help. Also, it is most likely those correspond to unhealthy options you should avoid. Skip the table salt they usually provide with the meal and make sure you drink plenty of water.
Buy food and drinks before boarding
Everything you are not allowed to pass on the x-ray control you can probably buy before boarding the plane. Unfortunately, the food restrictions may vary from country to country, so it is difficult to detail here what can be done. If we use the American guidelines as a reference (TSA- Transportation Security Administration) we can see we are allowed to bring up to 100ml (3.4oz) of the following liquid foods:
- Jams, dips, and spreads
- Salads dressings
Solid foods should be ok to carry on the plane but, like we said before, rules may vary so, be prepared for unforeseen situations.
Eating out healthy
You have just arrived at your destination or you have been there for a while and want to go out for a meal. Hopefully, you did some planning, like we recommend at the beginning of this article, and you have the location of the places you should go to, to make sure you will have a healthy meal. If not, there are still many ways of eating out healthily, as long as you put your mind to it. We also cover in this topic eating out when gas stations are the only options you have if you are on the move.
When at home, the frequency people usually eat out is not as high as when traveling, so one tends to make the best of it and you might want to indulge in overeating because this is a rare occasion. Nevertheless, because the frequency is not that high anyway, it will probably fall under the 80/20 rule.
But, when you are outside of your comfort zone, eating out can become a norm and not an exception. Be mindful of your decision to eat out and remember not to make it a daily habit. Being able to cook your meals at home is the best way to ensure you have a healthy meal.
How to find healthy options when eating out
If you did some planning beforehand, you probably placed on your map app, or paper, the locations of some restaurants that serve healthy options. Just follow the directions to those places, maybe starting with the ones you are sure to offer simpler food.
If you haven’t researched before but have access to the internet, then use the websites and apps that allow you to look for healthy options, like Tripadvisor or, our favorite, HappyCow. You can also check our resources section for more options. Tripadvisor is probably the biggest database of restaurants, as it is one of the oldest reviews websites around. You can not only look for restaurants with specific characteristics, but you can also check people’s reviews, which is super useful when deciding where to eat.
Consider looking for groceries or local markets that may also serve meals. You will probably have access to salads or healthy soups. Buying our food at the grocery store and do a picnic is one of our favorite activities.
Slow adaptation to new ingredients
One of the things we also do when we travel to a country or region with a very different type of cuisine like, for example, Asia where everything is spicy, is to eat as neutral as possible in the first few days. It’s not only about avoiding spices, but also about some main ingredients that can be very different from the ones your body is used to. You want to give your body time to adapt to these new flavors and ingredients.
When we arrived in Asia, we only ate white rice for the first couple of meals and then, step by step, started adding complexity to our meals: a sauce here, a spicy soup there and, after two weeks, we were eating full local food and not having suffered any digestive problem. You should always listen to your body and, if it starts to show symptoms, then go back to rice or basic vegetable soups, or any other basic food options you have available.
Buffets are great
Some countries, like Brazil, have great buffet restaurants with all-you-can-eat options, and for us, on a strict vegetarian diet, this became a fantastic option when eating out, with many offering full tasty vegetarian options, like beans, rice, and vegetables.
Therefore, we advise you to go for buffet options as a great way to find healthy cheap food. Brazil is a funny example because the best place where we found vegan food was in a Brazilian steakhouse. They always offer a varied buffet, on top of the meat cuts, and we did go a couple of times when nothing else was available. If you just want to eat healthily and do not have vegan concerns, then, by all means, steakhouses are a perfect solution for you. Just be critical on the hygiene of the place and the employees, buffets are also a hazard for food poisoning if not well catered.
Only gas stations or junk food joints
You may end up in a small location that has only junk food or you are traveling between places and the bus only stops at gas/bus stations. So what to do on these occasions? One may think it is impossible to eat in gas or bus stations and be healthy, but there are some strategies you can use to make it possible.
The refrigerated area
Most of the time, healthy food, like fruit cups, vegetables, salads, sandwiches, and juices, will be in the refrigerator. You should always start your search there, but be mindful that not everything is going to be healthy.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Nowadays, more and more gas stations are trying to have some fresh produce, so try to look for fruits or anything that can be fresh and the least processed possible.
Some stations or joints may have low-calory meals, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy options because they can be loaded with salt or artificial ingredients that do more harm than good. Always try to go for the least processed food options as a rule of thumb.
If you are not desperate to eat, then you can play a safe move and buy some unsalted nuts, for example. This will allow you to stifle hunger until a next better stop comes.
Be mindful and strategic of everything you do.
Cooking your own food
You got yourself a house with a decent kitchen and you are now ready to take full advantage of it. Great! Now, it’s time to have a look at your research of the food markets where you will buy your ingredients.
Nowadays, most of the information about local markets is online, but it is not easy to find, especially if it is not in English. An alternative is to go to organic vegetarian restaurants and ask them where they buy their produce. Even if you find great markets online, always ask for other options around town, as you might find local alternatives.
It can be a challenge to find organic produce, especially in countries where the legislation is not so clear or restrictive, like in Thailand, for example. On the other hand, we think it is better to eat from an unconfirmed source of organic food than in a confirmed source of non-organic food. If you stay longer in a location, you can try to ask around about the credibility of the organic suppliers, or you can even pay them a visit, why not? This is all for your health, so no path is too long to take.
What to cook
There is no other way of being more confident about the food you eat than cooking it yourself. That way you control everything: the ingredients, the portion sizes, the timing, etc.
Maybe, because you are in a foreign country, you may not find everything you are used to cooking with. Don’t fret and see this as an opportunity to do some fusion cooking! Don’t try to live only on your home ingredients, it may be too much effort and, probably, too expensive too, because of import taxes and logistic costs. Think about the environmental footprint of imported goods and opt for local ingredients.
When we move to a new location, our objective is to s
lowly integrate local food into our meals and, after some time, eating local food all the way. A good example is how we have been substituting bread for rice in our breakfast, and now in Asia, as it is not so easy to find oats we are trying rice soups as an alternative, and we love them.
Health food concerns
You may not be aware, but there are many factors that influence your health other than the food itself. If you are very stressed, for example, you will are probably not going to have a good digestion, you may even get diarrhea, which will completely undermine your health, even if you eat the healthiest food possible. Food poisoning is another big issue that will, at least, cause you some diarrhea, something that we are always at risk when eating out.
Health check-up before you go
We do blood tests every 6 months but, before we travel or change location, we always repeat them because we want to be sure we don’t have any problem that might arise in the future. Besides the standard blood sample exams, we also recommend checking out your B12 and D vitamins, as they have been a growing health concern.
Avoiding and treating food poisoning
First, we need to avoid getting sick but, if it happens, then we need to mitigate it and cure it so we can continue our amazing travels. Remember that these tips are valid for eating out and at home, as you can also get food poising from the food you buy on a supermarket.
Avoiding food poisoning
Cooking at home:
- Wash your hands all the time – the most important rule ever!
- Wash cooking utensils at all times while you cook
- Cook food thoroughly – if you are not 100% sure, avoid raw food
- Foods to watch out for: meat, eggs and dairy and vegetable sprouts
- A great rule of thumb for traveling is to check the bathroom: if it is not clean, then it should mirror the kitchen hygiene. Run away!
- Go for hot foods, heat kills germs
- Only get salads if you really trust the place
- Avoid ice on drinks (it’s most likely made from tap water)
Treating food poisoning
Food poisoning can go from short vomiting for a couple of days to a very severe condition in a couple of hours, so we suggest you find a physician that can give you the right diagnose.
The majority of food poisonings improve without treatment after 48 hours. If that is not the case, contact immediately the closest hospital. You can also get some initial advice using online advice or medical apps. We have listed some in our resources section.
If you only have mild symptoms of food poisoning, then some simple eating rules apply:
- Stop eating for a few hours, let your body do the work of concentrating on killing germs
- Try drinking small quantities of water or, if possible, noncaffeinated rehydration drinks
- If your urine is not too dark, then you should be ok with the fluid intake
- Restart eating with easy-to-digest foods, like rice and cooked apples or pears
- Rest to allow your body to recuperate from it
In case you get a more severe case, you should always be mindful of replacing the fluids you lost with vomiting and diarrhea. The physician will probably prescribe appropriate medication and rehydration salts that you can buy over-the-counter.
We have already suffered from food poisonings, and it is not enjoyable at all, but unfortunately, it is very common for travelers. Just take good care of yourself and always go to the doctor if the symptoms don’t go away after 48 hours or if they get worse.
Digestion like most of our human functions is controlled by a part of our nervous system. When we are under stress we activate our “fight or flight” mode which can reduce if not shut down completely our digestive system which will completely affect your nutrients absorption of what you eat, no matter how healthy it was. Symptoms like nausea or even diarrhea or constipation can happen, depending on how stressed and for how long you are. (more detail)
We don’t really have a solution for this, we just want to raise awareness of the impact of stress on your digestive health. The best is to try to use meal time to calm down, consider exploring the concept of mindful eating where you merge meditation with food. If you want some guidelines you can place on your refrigerator to remember you can check them here and here.
Eating as a psychological reward
Traveling is not a full-time fairy tale, no matter what type of travel lifestyle you have, no matter the people you choose to be with, or the activities you decide to pursue, there are going to be ups and downs. If you are traveling alone, and you are not so used to be long spells of your life by yourself, loneliness can be an issue, one that you may try to deal in many ways. One of them is using food to compensate for those negative feelings. This is usually a synonym of binging on unhealthy food and that will only make you feel good in the short-term, with dire consequences in the long-term. Instead, try doing something else, like a massage or a day at the spa, to make you feel happier and reduce your anxiety.
You have probably heard this everywhere: there is no doubt a good night of sleep makes wonders, including stimulating proper digestion. The reason we are bringing it here is that travel of any kind will challenge your sleeping routines.
There is almost no way you can plan everything to be sure to have a good night sleep, even if you are a planning freak. You will always meet unforeseen situations, like a delay in departure, or a terrible neighbor on your 3 months lease Airbnb. Once again, we just want to raise awareness of the importance of good sleep to your overall health, which also includes your digestion. Don’t underestimate the importance of good sleep, and consider using, like we do, sleeping masks and earplugs, and, if possible, a sleep tracker app or device (all my family uses this watch), so that you know how well you have been sleeping. Every person has different sleep needs, so a tracker will help you figure out which one is yours based on how you wake up. Remember, waking up fresh is half way for a healthy day.
Zero Waste Eating Healthy on the road
Traveling and sustainability is a challenging duet and any expert would say that the best way to be really sustainable is not to travel. While technically it may be correct, we have to think about the long-term: if we promote traveling as a way to grow and educate yourself, to increase awareness of the world around us, then it is very much likely you will be a strong advocate for sustainability and, thus, overcoming the deficit. This, of course, is based on assumptions and we are not saying that people that do not travel don’t fight for our planet as strongly as others.
Of course, there are many ways to reduce your footprint, like opting for moving around with a bike instead of flying but, in this article, we focus on how to reduce your impact with the food choices you make while traveling.
Restaurant food leftovers
We come from a country (Portugal) that asking for food leftovers in a restaurant as take away is not common, which now that we look back is a tremendous food waste. We’ve worked in restaurants and the food law if in place will never allow re-using food from customer leftovers so it will always be thrown out. Unless the restaurants have agreements with local governments or companies, that use restaurant waste to produce compost for example then we will be doing our planet a favor by always taking with us our leftovers.
Now, taking away our left-overs is already a big step to reduce our footprint, but doing so with our own containers instead of the plastic ones most probably the restaurant uses, is a giant step towards a zero-waste world. For that, we carry a food container, either to carry our food or to bring take-ways from eating out places.
For making it even more perfect, let’s all use non-plastic containers, for the sake of our food, as some studies have shown some plastic food contamination, but glass containers. We know they are a little heavier to carry, but lighter on our planet and your health.
When you go out to a market or supermarket, consider always the local ingredients, try to steer away from potatoes from the other side of the world when you can buy local alternatives, like cassava or sweet potato. Even in local street markets, they can sell imported products, so be aware of that. If you live in a country that does not produce grapes or apples, for example, try to buy something else instead of buying fruit that traveled thousands of miles. Of course, it also helps the local economy to buy locally besides being great for the environment.
Hopefully, you will be buying food all the time, and any supermarket or street market will always offer you plastic bags for your groceries. So the same way you already bring your own reusable bags to supermarkets you can also take them with you traveling, or at least carry normal plastic bags that you can always reuse when going back to the market. We always get smiles and funny faces on street markets when you give our own plastic bags to the people from whom we buy. Maybe they don’t understand yet, but the future will tell them better.
We have consolidated all the links and resources of this article’s topics to help you find extra information that will help you go even more in detail, in case you need.
|Planning||Study your Destination||Google Maps||Happy Cow||Cost of Living||Tripadvisor||Foursquare||Local Yellow Pages|
|Planning||Choose where to stay (not shared)||Airbnb||Hostels||Hostelz||Agoda||Hotwire||Trivago|
|Planning||Choose where to stay (shared)||Couchsurfing||Hospitality Club||Global Free Loaders||Be Welcome||Cultree||Trustroots|
|Planning||Chose where to stay sitting||Trusted House Siters||Mind my House||House Carers||Nomador||Luxury House Sitting||House Sit Match|
|Food Utensils||NFN Food kit||Water Bottle||CoffeeCup||Bowl||Sporks||Metal Straws||Soap|
|Food Utensils||Food carrying utensils||Food Container||Glass Jars||Ziploc Bags||Soft Cooler||Electric Soft Cooler||Compact Cooler|
|Find Healthy places||Apps||Tripadvisor||Happy Cow||Food Tripping||InBloom||Clean Plates||Fooducate|
|Health||Medical Apps||Health Tap||Doctor on Demand||AmWell||iTriage|
|Health||Sleep devices||Fitness Tracker||Fitbit||EmFit||S+||Sense|
We hope we have covered all of your concerns and questions about how to eat healthy on the road, and also gave you some real actions to make it possible. Remember that, although we are slow travelers, many things we wrote here applies to any kind of travel.
Being healthy should be always on our minds, and we should not let excuses to stop us from reaching this goal.
If you have anything you think is missing from this guide, or you would like to know more in detail, please leave your comment, as we will be happy to answer.
Any comments or experiences you may have, please comment too, we have built this with our experience together with everyone else’s we’ve met on the road.
Healthy Travels everyone and don’t forget to check our homepage for more of our experiences!!!
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