Let me start this blog by writing a few things bold and clear:
- What defines “healthy” travels goes far beyond squeezing in workouts and finding (or creating 😉 ) the most nutritious option on a menu. While it is totally valid to be fitness and nutrition-minded and goal-oriented while traveling (and that’s what this post is about!), remember that the intention you set for your travel is entirely up to you. Perhaps, the most holistically healthy thing for you is to make decisions that are most conducive to your physical and physiological goals to keep you feeling and functioning as optimal as possible. Perhaps, it’s intentionally breaking from routine in a restorative manner that supports your mental and emotional well-being.
- Your body will fluctuate when you travel. Hell, your body will fluctuate when you don’t travel. On the daily. No matter if you nail your workout and meet every one of your macro goals or you hit snooze and find yourself elbow deep in take-out. It’s a fact of biology. Be prepared for it. Accept it now! Know that your body is a flexible, pliable, malleable vessel that will yield and respond to your efforts.
My personal philosophy to travel is the same as when I’m on home ground. I prioritize nutrient-dense foods that are going to support my physical and physiological function (hell, I want to enjoy vacation, not be held up with stomach upset or groggy with brain fog!). I make time for intentional movement that benefits my mental health. And I enjoy every single moment, I keep it flexible, and I go with the flow (but not without jerky in every one of my purses).
Without further ado, I’m here to outline the top tips for prioritizing fitness and nutrition during travel, no matter the destination or duration.
On Your Terms
Whether you’re away for vacation play or business meetings, the actions that you take to support your total wellness do not require justification, validation, or explanation. Let go of what you think you “should” do while traveling, whether that’s squeezing in a daily workout or diving into dessert, and embrace what you, personally, want and need to do. While these actions don’t require explanation, it can be helpful to earnestly express the importance of your choices to your travel companions. If prioritizing nutrition & fitness is something unfamiliar to you and your circle, let them know just how important it is for you to honor your commitments no matter where you are.
Reframe & Reposition
Hear me out. Just because something is available to you does not mean that you have to eat it or engage with it. Words and phrases like “indulge,” “treat yo’self,” and the infamous “vacation calories don’t count” create a sense of scarcity surrounding food & exercise offerings that have a major impact on our biological cues and awareness. Try replacing “I have to exercise because I’m traveling” with “I want to move my body today” or “I need to rest today.” How about swapping “I should eat the ice cream, I never do at home” with “No thanks, I’m satisfied and not craving ice cream today” or “I’ll have one scoop of chocolate because it’s an important part of this experience for me.”
Psst… This concept works on all end of the spectrum, whether applied to nutrient-dense or not-so-nutritious foods. I’ll never forget when I went to Europe with Mo for two weeks – Our engagement trip, **sigh!** I was newer to the whole health and fitness thing, and thus hell bent on making my trip an active and nutritious vacation out of fear of regression, to the point where exercise and food consumed most of my thoughts. Looking back, this mindset is not my idea of “healthy,” and many things (not just my last name) have changed in the years that followed. I digress, back to the Al-ecdote. Every chance I got (read: every time I saw a corner store with snacks, read: every other block) I picked up a “healthy” snack – a fresh fruit smoothie, a bag of almonds, a protein bar – you name it – and ate it… for the sole sake of making a point that I found something nutritious to eat, despite not being hungry. Turns out, I probably wound up consuming more food than I needed to (and certainly letting food consume me more than it needed to) and would have been better off honoring my hunger cues appropriately.
When dining out, remember – you’re the paying customer! You have the right to ask questions, request modifications, and note any preferences to your server (flanked by a genuine “please” and “thank you,” of course). Pro tip: ask your server how a food is prepared (butter or broth?), what you can expect from portion sizes (made to share or bite-sized?), and what complements the entree (pasta or greens?). This information will help you decide what type of modifications, if any, you’d like to make to your selection. A few of my trusty tips for navigating any menu with an eye on nutrition can be found in this FREE e-book!
Spoiler Alert: asking questions may not always work… especially if you and your server speak different languages! I’ll never forget in Canggu, Bali, I was so excited to order a “Whole Roasted Cauliflower” served with herbs, cashews, and tahini drizzle from a delightful beachside cafe decorated with like a gypsy caravan with driftwood and dreamcatchers adorning the walls. I confirmed with my server that the cauliflower was roasted, not fried, with an enthusiastic head nod, “yes, yes yes!” And then, I watched Mo’s eyes get wide as he watched the chef toss my whole head of cauliflower right into the deep frier from his view across the table into the open air kitchen. Unfortunately, I knew that, that quantity of fried food would not sit well with my stomach, and asked if they would please prep me up a version that was roasted, not fried. All was well in the end with my golden, tender veggie!
Likewise, in France, Mo and I watched from our quintessential Parisian AirBNB as lines formed at the restaurant cap-stoning our block each night, weaving around the block in a matter of minutes. We just had to know what was up, but couldn’t find any information about the eatery online, so… we hopped in line. Turns out, the restaurant only served up all you can eat steak frites – buttery strips of steak with bottomless french fries that soaked up the decadent sauce. Needless to say, I enjoyed every damn bite, but I chose to honor my preferences as well by eating a moderate portion until satisfied. It was worth it for me, and it was what I wanted in the moment!
PSA: Intentionally restricting or limiting nutrient intake while traveling despite being physically hungry will likely lead you to consume more calories than if you ate regular, balanced meals throughout the day. That’s because ignoring our hunger and biological need to be fed does some serious damage for our perception of appetite awareness. Facts. It causes our bodies to lose trust in us, thinking their headed for starvation. Prioritizing robust, nutrient-dense meals will help manage hunger, curb cravings, and keep appetite awareness in check, where as feeling famished will often lead to a lack of judgment and over eating.
Pack (or purchase!) n’ Go
The first law of navigating nutrition states: if food is readily available to you, you (or someone you love, or someone you moderately tolerate) will eventually eat it. (But remember tip number 2!) Since travel often means close proximity to restaurants boasting sweets and grease abundance, set yourself up for success with strategic selections that support your goals and preferences. Pack up a carry on with non-pershiable snacks, protein, and veggies so that nutrient-dense foods are always in your back pocket (literally, I sometimes carry jerky in my back pocket). Or, make a pit-stop at the store upon arrival for the same.
Chances are, your accommodations don’t have a full kitchen set-up and you’re left dining out at restaurants or picking up quick pack-ables at the local grocer. If you’ve got a super consistent groove to your normal routine, you might find that everything from unfamiliar foods and cooking methods to schedule and surroundings have an impact on your digestion. Totally normal, but it can leave you feeling a bit uncomfortable. Pack a digestive enzyme and take with each meal – especially a meal you know may trigger an intolerance – to assist your body in breaking down and metabolizing food.
Schedule Activity (and Rest!)
Planning your exercise schedule in advance will hold you accountable to prioritizing movement, and keep you from scrambling to figure out your next sweat sesh. Plus, factoring a rest-day into your routine will help you relax, restore, and recover. Pro-tip: make exercise a part of your travel experience by opting for a class exclusive to the area, an activity important to the local culture (salsa or line dancing, anyone?!), or engaging the whole crew (like hiking, kayaking, or biking!). Bonus points for combining all three.
Don’t have access to a class or outdoor activity? Try this 20 minute Anytime Anywhere Body Weight AMRAP:
As Many Rounds and Reps as Possible
15 air squats
On H2O, that is! Staying hydrated with water will aid in appetite awareness, balance fluids, and battle any bloat that may come with being out of your element. If alcohol is a part of your travel, know your intentions and set limits so that consumption doesn’t interfere with them (you know, being elbow deep in drunk munchies or hangovers that leave you snoozing through the workout class you were so looking forward to!).
Traveling sets your familiar schedule all out of whack, so protect your nights to make the most out of your days. Prioritize a regular bedtime routine (or at least something that resembles one) and aim to maintain eight solid hours of restful sleep. I for one absolutely love a big, comfy, hotel bed with plush pillows all to myself… sorry, Moses, but ain’t nothing better than a solo hotel sleep 😉 Not all accommodations are lush and lavish, though, so come prepared with anything that helps you drift off – pack lavender essential oil, an eye mask (ever try falling asleep in Iceland when the sun is still high in the sky at midnight?), and ear plugs, and download a white-noise app prior to departure.
Identify Your Essentials
When you’re traveling, so many things are out of your control or different than what you’re used to. It’s the beauty of visiting a different destination, but it’s also what freaks nutrition and fitness minded people out the most. Go into a trip knowing the top three things you need in order to feel good – your bare essentials – and do whatever it takes to protect those things. Mine are quality sleep, a high volume of vegetables, a dash of alone-time, and some sort of intentional movement every few days. I will go out of my way in order to make sure that these essentials are met, and then I can be flexible for everything else.