As someone who's spent a lot of the last year on the road, I can personally tell you that eating healthy while traveling is no easy feat. On my trips, I usually eat out, because it's rare that I have a kitchen to cook my own meals in. Even if I do, I'm always too tired to want to trek all the way to the local supermarket, navigate a maze of foreign ingredients, and then lug it all back to cook in a hostel kitchen. Pit stops have healthy-ish options here and there, but generally speaking the pickings are slim.
It's gotten to a point where my entire diet gets shaken up every time a take a trip. Even when I try to plan things out, I still get derailed by all the chaos that comes with travel. Sure, at first it was fun to spend every other week throwing back pizza in Italy and tapas in Spain with reckless abandon, but my body simply can't handle the inconsistency anymore. I still want to enjoy the local delicacies of course, but with some balance in-between. In the end I know it will be better for my digestion and for my budget.
So I asked registered dietitians what they do to eat healthy on the road. They also travel all the time for work, so they're experts on the subject, and they told me there are easy ways to work around all my typical healthy eating obstacles. From packing a reusable water bottle to scoping out the local healthy restaurant scene before you hit the road, here's everything they recommend doing.
Pack way more snacks than you think you should.
All the R.D.s I talked to agreed: Packing a lot of snacks is the key to keeping your diet regular while you're traveling. Edwina Clark, M.S., R.D., recommends stocking up on non-perishable snacks (that are also TSA-approved, in case you're flying) like dried nuts, protein bars, and jerky. She explains that staying ahead of hunger with these quick bites helps her make healthier food choices throughout the rest of the trip. And Brigitte Zeitlin, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., founder of BZ Nutrition, agrees. She tells SELF, "By sticking to my plan of eating [a snack] every three to four hours." That way you avoid getting hangry or eating way more than is comfortable because you're ravenous when you sit down at the table.
As for how many snacks you should bring, it depends on how long you'll be traveling for. Plan accordingly, and divide big bags of things like nuts or beef jerky into single servings so that you don't accidentally eat through your stash before the trip is over.
Or, if you'd rather not carry around a bunch of snacks, swing by the local supermarket right when you arrive.
"One of the first things I do when reaching a destination is hit the local grocery store," Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City-area tells SELF. She says it's a great opportunity to restock your snack stash and also get a glimpse of the local offerings.
Instead of airplane meals, bring your own.
Newsflash: You never have to wonder "What's the deal with airplane food," again! Lindsey Pine, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D, C.L.T., owner of Tasty Balance Nutrition, tells SELF that her secret travel hack is to always bring oatmeal and soup cups on planes with her. "Just ask flight attendants for some hot water to fill up the cup," she explains. That way you can guarantee something that is tasty and satisfying, and you won't have to pay extra for anything the airline might be selling.
Don't skip breakfast.
According to Abbey Sharp, dietitian and blogger at Abbey’s Kitchen, you should always try to have breakfast before you start a day on the road, whether you're traveling by plane, train, boat, or automobile. That way, you won't have to resort to whatever breakfast foods the airport or train station is selling—which might not appeal to you or might not be that satisfying. Plus, a nutritious breakfast will keep you energized and sated, which will ensure you're ready to take on the day's travels.
Pack a reusable water bottle—it'll save you money and it's better for the environment.
Clark says that bringing a water bottle is a great way to guarantee you're staying hydrated, without having to constantly buy plastic water bottles. As long as wherever you're traveling has tap water you can tolerate (be sure to check before you go), you can fill it up in nearby water fountains, bathroom sinks, or even ask servers at restaurants and coffee shops to do it for you. Nora Minno, R.D., C.P.T., an NYC-based registered dietitian and personal trainer, also recommends refilling it at the gym, since she says most fitness centers offer filtered water. If you're flying, leave the bottle empty until after you've gone through security—that way the TSA won't end up asking you to throw it away.
Commit to eating veggies with every meal, even when you're ordering out.
No matter where you're eating while you travel, try to make at least half of what you eat vegetables, Clark advises. That way you can enjoy the local delicacies alongside a veggie dish. This trick works especially well at buffets, where the food isn't always of the finest quality, so you don't have to worry about missing out on something delicious by opting for vegetables instead.
And if you don't mind cooking while you're traveling, try to book a place to stay that has a kitchen or a kitchenette.
I'm not exactly at a point in my life where I can splurge on travel accommodations with swanky kitchens—it's all hostels for me. But if you are, and you don't mind cooking while you're on the road, Cara Harbstreet, M.S. R.D. L.D., of Street Smart Nutrition recommends booking a hotel or an AirBnB with a small kitchenette or a full-blown kitchen. She says this allows her to enjoy cheap, healthy breakfasts at home as well as leftovers from whatever she's cooked the night before. "I try to maintain as much of my normal routine as possible," she explains, "because changing time zones, flying, or lots of time sitting can really wreak havoc on my digestion."
Scope out restaurants with nutritious stuff you'll want to eat ahead of time.
"Map out a couple of walking and running trails, healthy food options, local gyms, and a supermarket so that you have a couple of go-to wellness spots when you arrive," Clark explains. Star them in your phone, that way when you maybe get overwhelmed by the stress of traveling, you'll already have these places locked and loaded, so you won't have to overthink finding the stuff you consider healthy.