I’ll be the first to admit that I am a creature of habit. I thrive on routine. My family has always been big on trips, once a year for as long as I can remember we’ve taken one “big” trip over the Summer. As an active family, we usually always go to a National Park or some place where we can hike and be outdoors. I look forward to our trips every year because I love exploring new places, but I do experience a little anxiety surrounding working out and eating.
I am lucky that my family is also a little workout crazed, because it makes running on vacations seem a little less abnormal. We break our trips down into “active” and “non-active” days, so on the “non-active” days when we are just walking around a city or something I’ll usually run in the morning and my parents will walk or run. My brother doesn’t run, but if there’s a gym he will typically buy a day pass. It’s not always a huge deal if I can’t workout or run while away, just because our trips are very active and include hiking maybe 5+ miles a day in the mountains or in the desert. I definitely get my steps in, that’s for sure.
Eating is more difficult. There are no restaurants on the trails so we have to pack trail food most of the time, I can’t always eat at the time that I want because my family tends to eat later than me, and sometimes there aren’t always options that I am satisfied with at the restaurants we go to.
I know I am not alone in this, so I have decided to compile my best tips for eating while traveling.
1. Always Have Snacks
This might seem like an obvious tip, but pack snacks that are substantial enough to hold you over to your next meal and satisfy your hunger craving. I tend to stick with protein & whole food bars, just because those are easy to pack in my Kavu and bring with me on the trail or wherever we are going. Especially when trips include driving in cars for a long time, you don’t know how many hours away the next restaurants are going to be, and the options when you get there may not be the best. That being said, please don’t only eat bars for your meals. I know from experience that worrying too much about food on trips can honestly ruin the entire experience for yourself and the people you are traveling with. Bring snacks for emergencies, long periods without food, and just in case hanger strikes unexpectedly (the body wants what it wants). Don’t bring them as a substitute for eating actual meals.
When picking protein bars to bring on the go, I tend to go for bars that don’t have a layer of chocolate. Why? I learned from experience that hiking in the heat with a chocolate protein bar in your Kavu results in a messy, melted chocolate situation. Try to go for bars like RX Bars, Freedom Bars, Go Macro Bars, or any bars that aren’t coated in chocolate. You can always bring them with you, you just have to be careful while eating them because the chocolate can get all over your face and outfit. That being said, I definitely have done it and I still do it, but it just makes my life a little more difficult (worth it though).
2. Pack On-The-Go Meals
You know that saying “If you believe, you can achieve?” Well it applies to packing meals for on the go just as accurately as anything else. The first thing that my family does when we get to our Airbnb or hotel is immediately check to see what the fridge situation is. If we have one, we always take a trip to the grocery store for basic things. This is just what my family does because we do tend to leave the room for the majority of the day to go places where the restaurants are lacking in abundance and variety, so it’s better for everyone if we take lunch on the go. We do this to avoid the whole “where are we doing for food” conversation.
The entire plate in the photo above was packed in Ziploc bags with a mini ice pack and took in my Kavu with me on the trail. I always take fruit, usually carrots or celery as a vegetable, turkey or canned tuna as a protein source, and crackers or pretzels with individual containers of hummus or peanut butter. I’ve found that it’s always better to pack too much food, than too little food. You can always save something for later, but if you don’t pack enough and eat everything, you can’t make food appear out of thin air when you get hungry next.
I know I’ve been talking a lot about hiking vacations, but this would go for any place where you’re being super active and out of the hotel room during the day with no options to stop for lunch. I am not saying you should pack lunches to avoid restaurants! There are no restaurants in National Parks typically so my family brings food to carry with us, we don’t carry food when we are exploring a city and there are places to stop for lunch. Just wanted to make that clear.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Branch Out
Search on Google or Yelp to find healthy restaurants or just any restaurants near where you’re staying! Ask the people that are staying in your hotel where they like to eat, or the owner of your Airbnb if they have any suggestions. When my family goes on trips, we try to eat at places that aren’t chains and that we haven’t tried before, just because it’s more fun to experience new foods. We tend to stay in Airbnbs instead of hotels, so all of our meals are usually on our own (no continental breakfast or anything). I got the above brown box meal from a Food Truck block party in Albuquerque, NM that I read about online!
Food is an experience, I think sometimes we forget about that. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the numbers of food (calories, macros, sugar, etc), but my family still talks about the food experiences that we have shared together. You can eat your perfectly weighed out and macro-friendly meals anytime, but you can’t go back and try that dish at a restaurant unless you go back there. It’s important to take advantage of the time you have in the places that you travel to while you’re there.
There is absolutely no shame in trying out fun, healthy restaurants on vacations. Some people choose to eat certain ways on vacations for all sorts of reasons, but if there’s a really cool juice place or health conscious restaurant you want to try out, then all means go for it. I still remember where I got the salad below, it was at the Peace Tree Cafe in Moab, Utah. My entire family loved their meals and their menu was excellent. I highly recommend trying it out if you’re ever visiting Arches National Park!
4. Don’t Track Your Food
When I had a poor relationship with food, I spent a lot of time worrying about when my next meal was going to be and what I was going to have. I would spend the time between eating and the next time I ate on MyFitnessPal logging different food combinations, trying to maximize the amount of food I could eat without going over the “Total Calories” goal that I had set for the day.
This mentality ruined pretty much every trip that we went on during that time period. I was constantly stressed out about whether or not I had enough calories for another meal, I couldn’t always track a meal exactly because I didn’t know the serving sizes or how many calories was in the dressing on my salad. I would get really upset and down on myself if the app told me that I was “gaining weight” from what I ate that day. I also would get super upset and anxious about not working out during trips on top of not being able to track my food accurately.
Looking back on those days, I feel sorry for my past self. I wish that I had known then what I know now. One day or one week will not ruin your progress or cause you to gain weight. Gaining weight is actually harder than you’d think because your body will do everything it possibly can to get rid of the extra calories BEFORE it stores the calories as fat.
When you’re on a trip, these are moments you can’t get back with the people you’re with. I wish I could go back and redo the time that I spent in beautiful places, barely even seeing them because I was all in my head about food. I ate so many salads that had no dressing because I was too scared to try anything else. I spent too much time upset and feeling defeated whenever I did try something that didn’t fit into my “plan”. That’s why I believe that MyFitnessPal (or food tracking in general) doesn’t belong on trips. Unless you’re tracking for a medical reason, delete the app before you even get in the car or step onto the plane.
In Phoenix, Arizona, my Mom and I tried out this vegan cafe called Annapurna (excellent if you’re ever in the area) and they had raw vegan biscotti bars with chocolate fudge on top. Did I know the calories? Nope. Probably super high in calories, fat, and sugar. You better believe that we demolished this entire thing. They also had homemade gluten free bread and it was to die for. I know that indulging in food that is labeled “raw” and “gluten free” could be argued as not branching out and being restrictive, but as long as you’re enjoying your meal, not worrying about calories, and not stressed out about eating habits, I don’t think you have to eat a milkshake for dessert every night in order for you to “enjoy” your vacation. Eating different foods that you can’t get at home with those you love should be the only thing that matters.
5. Be Present
I’ve mentioned this in a few different ways throughout this entire blog post, but wherever you are- be all there. I feel like in everyday life, you’re never really “off the clock” because the grind truly doesn’t stop. We are all so hard on ourselves and set unreasonably high standards and expectations. Vacations are a time to breathe and relax. When I travel, I tend not to go on social media. People go on social media to see the interesting things that other people are “doing” but if you’re on a trip, you’re already doing something interesting. Don’t worry about getting the perfect photo, don’t worry if your picture on Instagram doesn’t get as many likes as you thought, and don’t worry if the guy you’re taking to leaves your Snapchat unopened. Phones can be a cause of stress, plus your friends and your followers will still be there when you return home. My favorite part about trips is when we are out of cell-service range and have no choice but to put our phone on airplane mode to conserve battery and just enjoy where we are. We definitely do catch up on emails and texts when we get to restaurants and places with WiFi, but for a couple hours a day we are unreachable, which is kind of fun. When you’re on your phone and walking around, you tend to miss things. When we were at an art festival in Salt Lake City, I saw a cute little homemade ice cream cart. Usually I’d have dismissed the cart because I don’t eat dairy, but because I was fully present and not on my phone, I saw it was dairy free! You never know what you’ll miss when you’re distracted.
5. Make Menus Work for You
Throughout this entire blog post I’ve been saying that you should be open to new experiences and foods while on trips, but I am totally understanding of food allergies/dietary restrictions. Being dairy & gluten free, I know the struggle of looking at a menu and realizing that the only thing I can eat is a salad with grilled chicken… not fun. If I was a vegan or vegetarian, my options would be even more limited than they already are. My best advice is to make the menu work for you! Ask your waiter if they have gluten free options. Sometimes it might cost more (still not sure why), but you’ll be more satisfied if you can have what you actually want on the menu instead of settling for the safe and easy option. Like I’ve been saying, part of the excitement and experience of going on a trip is getting to eat yummy food that you don’t get to eat at home, so just because you have more dietary restrictions than someone else, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to eat good food, too. Thankfully, it’s more common now to find restaurants that cater to vegans/vegetarians and have gluten free options. I’ve mentioned this above, but Yelp and Urbanspoon are your best friends when it comes to previewing menus and finding top rated restaurants. Your biggest challenge might be to get the “non-vegan” members of your party to go with you, but usually restaurants have something for everyone!