How to Make Healthy Eating Choices While Traveling

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By: Holly Klamer

Traveling can mean spending long periods of time sitting in the car, an airplane, or at an airport. In all of these cases, access to healthy foods can be challenging.  An additional challenge can also be rushing to your next destination (i.e. no time for browsing where the healthiest foods are), an excess of fast food options available, and sometimes the only offered food is what is placed in front of you.  When you reach your destination, depending on your travel, you could then have more unhealthy food choices available or an excess (buffet) of however much food you want.

With all of these, and more, challenges with traveling and food choices, can it be possible to eat healthy while you are traveling?  YES it can!

Making healthy eating choices while traveling will take some extra time, planning and perhaps altering your travel habits, but it can be done.

Here are some tips to help you stay healthy when you travel.

Stop at a grocery store instead of opting for fast food.

Driving through the U.S. fast food restaurants, gas stations and vending machines at rest areas are a constant sight.  They can seem like the only options available when you are trying to eat on the road, and they are all quick options.

A healthier alternative to stopping at fast food is to find a grocery store along the way while you are traveling.  Stopping at a grocery store can mean you can get healthier choices, have access to more fruits, vegetables and save money in the long run.

Planning ahead to bring a cooler with you in the car can also mean you can keep perishable food with you.

If you are traveling by air, finding healthy food options can be just as hard.  Packing food with from a grocery store before you leave can be the healthiest, and cheapest, option.

Once you land in your new destination, even in a foreign country, stop at the local grocery store instead of opting for fast food.  Exploring a grocery store can be a fun way to see different foods in other parts of the world.When I travel to different places, it is something I look forward to see what I can find in local grocery stores.  It is still often the cheapest method for healthy eating compared to eating out.

Pack healthy snacks and bring them with you.

Packing food for road trips, travel by air or any other method can be the simplest way to eat healthy while traveling.  Instead of trying to figure out where and what you are going to eat while traveling, planning ahead by packing food with you can save you unhealthy food choices.

Travel friendly snacks/meals can include:

  • Nuts or a trail mix with dried fruit: these can be portioned out into small handfuls so you can track your portion control
  • Travel-friendly fruits like apples, oranges or other fruit cut up in Tupperware or other leak proof containers
  • Veggies with hummus dip
  • Whole grain crackers with cheese or nut butter
  • Container of yogurt (if traveling by car and have a cooler)
  • Pre-made sandwiches with protein and vegetable source

Stay hydrated.

Not drinking enough water can be common when traveling because of the restrictions on carrying liquids.  Some may also intentionally cut back on drinking liquids while traveling to avoid frequent bathroom breaks during car rides or during long flights.

Keep in mind staying hydrated can help not only your overall health while traveling but can help your food decisions as well.  If you are dehydrated even slightly, the brain can mistake this as a signal to eat. Therefore, by staying hydrated, you may help lower cues in the brain telling you should eat something.

When traveling by air, there is no way to get around the liquid restriction through the airport security. However, by carrying an empty water bottle, you can fill up with water at a drinking fountain once through the security. By keeping water with you while traveling by car, you can avoid the urge to pick up sweetened drinks at gas stations and rest areas.

Don’t indulge at every meal; keep the fruits and veggies a priority.

If you travel often, eating high calorie meals can quickly add up to be more than an occasional splurge. Not indulging at every meal, whether it’s during a weeklong vacation or another business trip can help keep your waist line trim.

What does indulging at every meal mean? Eating higher calorie foods and larger portion sizes, more than would normally at home. If you are on a luxury vacation, like a cruise, this can also be hard to not over-do on large portion sizes for every meal.

When traveling, aim to keep your meal plates half filled with fruits and vegetables. Whether it’s a buffet or another meal eaten at a restaurant, make half your plate produce based when you can. Even if you don’t see it on the menu, most restaurants can accommodate a request for extra vegetables for a meal.

When you are on a special vacation, like a tour through Italy, it may be hard to resist the temptation to not indulge every meal with special food items you don’t normally have. It’s important to find a balance where you are enjoying special foods unique to an area and not over-doing it. Find a balance that works for you for example such as an 80/20 guideline: 80% of the time you will make your plate half fruits and vegetables, and 20% of the time you can indulge on what you want.

Find ways to get in exercise.

Lastly, it’s important to remember to get in as much movement as you can when traveling to go along with healthy eating habits.  Traversing an airport to make a flight connection can get you moving, but once you reach your destination are you planning any exercise? Instead of doing all your sightseeing via bus or car, opt to take some walking or bike tours. If you are staying in a hotel, challenge yourself to wake up 30 minutes earlier to go to the hotel fitness room or do an online workout. You may find moving your body more can even help you opt for healthier food choices and enjoy your travels all the more.

About the author: Holly Klamer is the Chief Health Editor at She is a registered dietitian with a MS degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science. She teaches nutrition at two colleges in Denver and has her own nutrition consulting business.


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