When I was a child, I remember my dad often packing our lunch when we were going on the road. If he didn’t pack lunch, we’d usually stop at places with salad bars. I used to wish that we could go to places like KFC and Pizza Hut like everyone else.
Now, as an adult, I have an appreciation for my dad’s efforts. Packing healthy food for the road comes naturally to me, which is a good thing considering how much travel I’ve done in my adult life. Sure, it’s a hassle and it would be much easier to eat out. But I feel better when I eat my own food.
In this article, I’m sharing healthy food ideas and tips for traveling. Whether you have a day trip planned or a big vacation abroad – these tips will help you stay healthy, have more energy and, as a extra bonus, save money.
1. Prep some meals for the road
There’s always so much to do before a trip, you probably can’t be bothered thinking about food prep. It can feel like a hassle for sure but it’s worth it.
For example, on overnight trips, I almost always bring protein pancakes because they travel well. It’s a small hassle to prep them the morning of a trip but I feel really good about life when I take my homemade protein pancakes out for breakfast on an international flight when everyone else is eating cold, sugary muffins or greasy omelettes and sausage.
Here’s a photo of my breakfast on a recent international flight. (More explanation: What you are seeing is half a very large protein pancake spread with peanut butter. I like to make one large pancake when prepping food for the road, rather than a couple small ones, simply because it’s easier. I package the pancake in a plastic bag so I can dispose of everything before arriving at my destination.).
Here are some other easy things you could prep for the road:
- Protein balls
- Boiled eggs
- Mini quiches
You can prep whatever you want but keep it simple – it has to be easy because you are going to busy getting everything else ready for your trip. Things like protein pancakes and protein balls work particularly well because they don’t need to be refrigerated.
2. Fill your bag with convenient food
If you absolutely can’t be bothered prepping food or if you are staying in a hotel so prepping food isn’t an option, here’s a list of convenient foods you can pick up at most decent supermarkets:
- Protein bars and powder
- Fruit (I prefer fruit that doesn’t need to be washed like oranges/bananas)
- Rice cakes or healthy crackers
- Nut butter sachets
- Green powders (individual sachets)
- Electrolytes (especially nice for flights or long road trips)
I always make sure I have at least 2 protein bars per day of the trip in my suitcase (or in my purse if it’s just a day trip). I travel with a mix of bars – some will be higher calorie and potential meal replacements (ie. Vega One bars) while some will be lower calorie for snacks. Depending on the climate, you might prefer to have bars that aren’t coated in chocolate to avoid having melted bars.
If you are worried about transiting borders, you’ll have no problems bringing packaged food into a different country. I usually have protein bars, protein powder, peanut butter, oats and green tea in my bag and I’ve never had a problem. You just won’t be able to bring fruit. Make sure you declare everything!
3. Eat in your hotel room
On vacation you’ll probably be eating out a lot. However, if you travel for work or if you want to save money on vacation, eating in your hotel room is a good option. In the least, having breakfast in your room is easy and a great money saver. Wherever possible try to book a room with a kitchenette. If you can’t get a kitchenette having a fridge, kettle and microwave is ideal.
As I mentioned earlier, if I’m on an overnight trip, I’ll bring protein pancakes. If I’m away for more than one night, I pack single sachets of instant oatmeal and cook the oats in a mug with boiling water from a kettle. I also try to get to a supermarket when I arrive at my destination to pick up some almond milk and fruit for breakfast.
If you don’t have a kettle, you can pick up a travel immersion heater/coil for boiling water. I used this one a recent trip to Mexico and it worked fantastic.
Here’s a picture of my oats all mixed up with protein powder, some peanut butter and a chunk of banana (my mug was overfull so it’s a bit messy!). Not really an Instagram-worthy photo but I wanted you to see how easy it is to make food in your hotel room.
For dinners, if you want to eat in your hotel room, you can find some healthy takeaway (see more about that in the next section) or you can stop by a supermarket for some ready-to-go meals. One of our favourite, easy meals on the road is to grab a cooked chicken and some salads. We also regularly pick up Chipotle when traveling in the United States and bring it back to our room after a long day.
4. Find healthy fast food
Whenever we are planning a holiday, I spend some time google mapping healthy eating options, supermarkets, gyms and good coffee before we leave.
Healthy, cheap eats are easy to find in most major centres. There’s no excuse for stopping at junk fast food places. Burrito bowls and sushi are my go-to meals on the road. Here’s a photo of my favourite dish from Chipotle in the United States (steak burrito bowl with black beans and guacamole – if you want less calories you can skip the meat or share your guacamole).
My boyfriend and I also like the Fit Fare at Denny’s. Although this popular roadside stop can sometimes be a dive, some Denny’s aren’t too bad and you can usually get a healthy, balanced meal. Here’s a photo of our Fit Skillets (salmon, potatoes and veggies) on the road in Canada.
Build your own plate or salad places are also really good options. When we were in Shanghai a few years ago we ate at a place called Sproutworks almost everyday. The concept was simple – you could build your own plate choosing from veggie and grain salads and protein options. In North America, Wholefoods has tons of healthy options – cold salad bars, warm foods, cooked chickens, soups and bakeries. While Wholefoods tends to be a bit more expensive, if you want something healthy you can’t go wrong.
5. Choose high protein options when eating out
This is something I alway tell my clients to help them stay on track when eating out – look for the protein. A perfectly cooked piece of steak or salmon is just as good as most things on the menu and won’t blow your calories out for the day. Most high carb options in restaurants are also going to be very high calorie (ie. pasta and pizza).
My best meal on a recent trip to Mexico was this wild Pacific salmon on sweet potato with pickled leeks and crispy shallots. Interestingly, the people at my table who got fish burgers, fries and pizza didn’t enjoy their meals as much as those of us who chose the salmon.
Finding balance while traveling
If you travel regularly for work, you’ll need to create a routine that allows you to stick to your diet plan. Too many women who work on the road let their job derail their efforts to lose weight and stay fit.
On vacation it’s important that you enjoy yourself but you also don’t want to sacrifice all your efforts through the year. In previous blog posts, I’ve talked about the importance of preventing weight gain on holiday and the potential negative consequences to your metabolism.
The balance is found in choosing your treat meals wisely and eating well the rest of the time. Find enjoyment in visiting supermarkets, organic stores and gyms when on vacation. This is one of the best ways to see how the locals live and it’s one of my favourite things about traveling!