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Eating Healthy While Traveling: How to Avoid Weight Gain

Have you offended your Aunt Mary because you wouldn’t have a heaping plate of eggplant parmesan after filling up on pasta and garlic bread? Do you cause gossip among coworkers for only ordering salads? Is your friend Jenny mad at you because you wouldn’t indulge in those margaritas with her in Cabo? Wait. Rewind. Were you really eating healthy while on vacation?

More likely, the opposite was true. Let’s face it, nobody wants to offend people who have taken the time to prepare delicious food by not eating the meal. More likely, you probably went back for seconds of the eggplant parm. You told yourself you were eating healthy on your business trip because you ordered a side salad with your double bacon cheeseburger. Instead of saying no to the margaritas, you probably did shots of tequila as well.

The truth is, while traveling we usually aren’t focused on weight loss and nutrition. Whether you travel for business, for pleasure, or just to spend time with family, we all face that inevitable weight gain. But how to avoid it? In reality, eating healthy while traveling is difficult.

I know. It’s happened to me. But with some careful planning and some mustered self respect, you can accomplish your goal of eating healthy while traveling. I’ve put together some tips to get you started.

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Foods to eat while traveling in a car

My favorite way to travel is by car. My husband and I love taking interstate trips and sightseeing along the way, like when we took an 11 day road trip to New Orleans. We also like short intrastate excursions to visit off the beaten path or unique destinations, like when we stayed in a Star Wars themed Airbnb. We also often travel by car to visit my parents who are 3 hours away. So whether it is for a weekend or a few weeks, here are my healthy eating options for traveling by car.

  • Don’t go out for breakfast – You will get full and lethargic, plus waste money. If you want a big breakfast invite friends over at home for Sunday brunch.
  • Bring a cooler – Stock up on yogurt drinks, string cheese, and fruits such as grapes, berries, and bananas that are easy to eat while in the car. You will be eating healthy without wasting driving time stopping for food.
  • Stock up on healthy snacks – Fruits double as snacks. They have a low caloric density according to Noom, which means they have a high amount of water per calories. This means you fill up without adding excess calories. This is great for hours in the car when it is easy to pass time by eating.
  • Trail Mix is lunch, not a snack – While healthy, nuts and dried fruits are very high in calories. This are better to munch on as a lunch meal where you would expect to eat more calories.
  • Avoid the protein bars – Unless to are planning to run a marathon and need extra calories, these are a terrible food to have on a trip. They are meant as a meal substitute, not a snack. They are meant for athletes, not people sitting on their butts in a car all day.
  • Bring a refillable water bottle – It is easy to get dehydrated. Make sure you bring water. This will keep your body’s systems functioning properly, which will help digest the food you eat later.

Eating healthy while traveling for a week

  • Pack your lunch – Instead of eating fast food at a rest stop, pack the makings for a sandwich. Lean deli meats with veggies on whole grain bread are great for the early stages of a trip. Classic peanut butter and jelly is great towards the end because it has a long shelf life. Don’t forget to include travel friendly foods such as carrot sticks, radishes, celery sticks, mini bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes as a side dish or for healthy options for snacks.
  • Stop for a picnic lunch – You aren’t getting any exercise while in the car. Time a visit to a park to eat your sandwiches, stop for a bathroom break, and take a walk or throw a Frisbee. Remember, the journey is part of the memories, not just the end destination.
  • Stay in a condo – If you stay in a condo, you will have kitchen facilities. Check out the local grocery store. Choose foods with few ingredients. While won’t want to cook every meal, you will save time not waiting in huge lines for breakfast or lunch every day. Buy foods for breakfast that you can eat before heading out for your daily itinerary. Pack sandwiches to bring with you for lunch.

Tips for eating healthy while traveling by plane

  • Skip the alcohol – If you are a nervous flier, you may be tempted to knock back a few drinks. Don’t. These add tons of extra calories. Instead use your earbuds to listen to your favorite playlist, and take a nap. The flight will be over before you know it.
  • Don’t let free beverages tempt you – Skip the soda or fruit juices. Water is all you need to stay hydrated. You will have plenty of opportunities to treat yourself on your trip. Don’t add extra calories before you even reach your destination.

How to eat healthy and cheap while traveling

eating healthy while traveling, have soup for lunch
  • Take advantage of complimentary breakfast – Most hotels serve a light breakfast buffet. I don’t mean to eat a lot of donuts and bagels. However, many offer oatmeal and servings of fresh fruit. You can even take an extra banana as a midmorning snack.
  • Order soup or an appetizer for lunch – Even lunch portions often have excessive calories. Have a bowl of soup or a healthy appetizer such as hummus and veggies. These are great options for a business lunch. While salads are healthy, I find that restaurants try to overcompensate by making them large enough for several people.
  • Split a meal – If you are traveling with friends or family, ask if you can split a meal. This way you can try something tasty without filling up.
  • Avoid meal plans – While these seem to save money, they often only cover the basic options, and usually include a sugary beverage. Many restaurants now offer healthy food choices with nutritional information printed on the menu. Pick one of these.

Eating healthy while visiting friends or family

eating healthy while traveling choose a few appetizers to stave off hunger so you don't pick out at dinner
  • Try an appetizer – You don’t want to offend your host by not eating their food. On the other hand, you don’t want to use this as an excuse to pig out either. Sample one or two appetizers, not ten. In addition to being polite, this will actually curb your appetite so you don’t binge eat when the meal is served.
  • Fill up on salad and veggies – You don’t want your vacation dampened by everyone making a fuss over why you aren’t eating. Instead, take larger helpings of salads and veggies, while taking smaller portions of meats and simple starches. You will satisfy your stomach and your host, without the extra calories.
  • Share dessert or have a small portion – Nobody says you have to skip dessert. Again, your don’t want to offend your host. But you don’t need to take the largest slice of cake, and add ice cream and whipped topping. Instead, see if somebody wants to split a dessert with you, or take a small portion. When traveling with a close relative or best friend, I often just take a taste of theirs.

How to stay healthy while staying in a hotel or on a cruise

  • Limit yourself to 1 or 2 drinks – Don’t get the drink package on a cruise. These packages will tempt you to drink your money’s worth. This will be more than your allotted calories for the day, and you haven’t even hit the buffet yet. When you do have a drink, stick to vodka and soda, gin and tonic, or white wine. These tend to be lower in calories.
  • Order a water with your drink – This way you will stay hydrated and take longer to drink your alcoholic beverage.

Portion control and healthy food while traveling

  • Choose lean proteins – Believe it or not, there are healthy foods at the buffet. Choose a lean protein such as fish, shrimp, or grilled chicken. Eggs also make a good source of protein, as long as the chef doesn’t smother them in sauce or fatty meats like bacon and sausage.
  • Take small portions – You are on vacation, so you most likely want to sample local cuisine or at least sample several of those tasty foods at the buffet. That’s ok. Take some small portions of your favorites. Then don’t go back for seconds. If it wasn’t on your plate the first time, there is always tomorrow.
  • Don’t listen to mom and dad – Contrary to what we were told growing up, you don’t need to finish everything on your plate.

What is the best way to eat healthy when I am always on the go?

  • Have a light breakfast – Breakfast should be enough to give you energy for your morning activities, not your main meal for the day. Eating big will make you sluggish, and you will be more likely to lounge around instead of participating in energetic activities. Besides, if you eat light at breakfast, you will have more calories available to try foods at dinner or dessert.
  • Take part in activities – Take advantage of cruise expeditions that include snorkeling, zip lining, etc. Hotels often have bikes to rent or kayaks or canoes. If none of these are available, take a walk on the beach. Walk around the city instead of taking a cab. Make use of the hotel gym while waiting for others to wake up.
  • Skip the day drinks – Day drinks will make you lazy and slow down your metabolism, while adding calories.
  • Invest in a lunch backpack – These have an insulated section for food. Then use the main section for other travel necessities.

I hope these tips will help you on your healthy eating journey. I am sure there are many additional tips out there. If you have some ways to eat healthy while traveling, I would love to here them. Drop me a comment.

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Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.

3 thoughts on “Eating Healthy While Traveling: How to Avoid Weight Gain”

  1. These are all great ideas! We always bring a cooler on a road trip and pack our lunches. And having a light breakfast definitely keeps you motivated to start a long day of traveling!

  2. We are heading off tomorrow for 2 months so this post was very timely. We definitely plan to picnic for many meals during our travels. If nothing else, we get tired of eating in restaurants every day. We are big fans of HAM meals (half a meal – shared between us). We tend to eat a big lunch and a small dinner. Some good tips for us to remember.

  3. I agree with some of the ideas here. We like to pack lunches for road trips, but sometimes you would arrive in the area where you couldn’t eat your picnic lunch. You just have to know the timing as well.

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