Perhaps you’ve figured out how to eat pretty well when you’re in your routine: home for breakfast, bring lunch to work, home for dinner. And you even navigate the occasional work lunch or dinner without a problem. But now you have to go out of town - business, pleasure, family (is that business or pleasure?). It doesn’t matter. The reality is the same – it’s hard to eat well when you are out of your zone.
I did some research to find tips from plant-based experts, vegan athletes and anyone who had ideas to help with making good food choices while traveling and combined them with what we have done. With a little planning, you can travel and not undo the work you’ve done getting your health in order and feeling great.
Choose where you stay
- Book a place with a kitchen or kitchenette.
- Look for bookings that say “studio”
- Ask for a hot water kettle (very common in Europe).
- Ask for a microwave or a mini fridge if your room doesn’t have one.
- Empty the mini fridge of alcohol and snacks to put real food in there. If you are concerned that they will charge you because things were out of place (I have heard such things), ask them to empty it for you.
- Ask for a bowl and some cutlery (or bring your own).
Research before you go
- Use Google to its full advantage. Search vegan + city name.
- Take advantage of social media groups, Facebook, Reddit and LinkedIn all have active vegan and plant-based groups you can search. And don’t be shy about asking for recommendations in specific cities. You might be surprised at the responses you get and you might make a new friend (I have).
- Print out what you find if there is any risk you won’t have internet access.
- If you are using a travel agent, ask for vegan suggestions.
Things to pack
- Bring a collapsible cooler with you. If you can’t get a mini fridge, you can certainly make use of the ice machine. Plus, you can pack it with food for the plane if you want.
- Bring a can opener. There is nothing more annoying than having a can of beans and know way to get into it.
- Remember your B12. If you are going to be gone for more than a week or so, you’ll be glad you brought it.
- If traveling by car (or if you’re brave) bring a hot plate and a pot.
- I know of someone who brought her instapot with her. I’m not into schlepping appliances, but if it works for you – go for it!
Bring stuff that’s easy to eat
- Oatmeal – Rolled oats only require hot water and some time. In a pinch you can make overnight oats by using tap water and leaving them covered on the dresser overnight. It’s not sexy but it’s good food. Even instant oatmeal is better for you than anything you’re going to get from a vending machine.
- Nuts/seeds/dried fruit – You can make your own trail mix and eat it almost anywhere. Energy rich, easy to make, carry and eat. It is our go-to anytime we plan to be out of the house for more than a few hours. Just bring some. You’ll never be sorry you did.
- Nut butters – These travel well and are high energy. Keep in mind that you can only bring 3.4 ounces on an airplane and something other than peanut butter is preferable in case someone on board has a peanut allergy.
- Carrots and hummus wraps – A good option for a snack when flying. Just make sure you eat it all before you land if you are flying internationally. They will not be pleased with you if you try to come through customs with produce.
- Rice, quinoa, sweet potato, beans or hummus and avocado – This is pretty good cold and works well as an airplane meal. Bring your own fork or spoon so you don’t have to wait for food service.
- Chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseed and goji berries are all very easy to carry and can be sprinkled on anything to add nutrition. If you end up only being able to get a salad, no worries, you’ve got it covered.
- Energy bars – These are not whole food and are not typically part of the Whole Food Muscle Way. However, they are better than eating junk or starving.
- Bonus tip – don’t pack anything with chocolate. It too easily becomes a melted mess.
Let the airline or cruise line know
- If you travel regularly you can make your food preferences part of your profile. If not, call twenty-four to forty-eight hours ahead and let them know. Tell the gate agent and flight attendant. I have heard very sad stories of other passengers getting someone’s special request meal because they were sitting closer to the front of the plane and asked.
- Speak with the food service manager when you arrive on board. They are more than willing to make your trip as pleasurable as possible. The more they know, the easier that is for them.
When you arrive
- Ask the hotel staff for suggestions on where to get a good plant-based or vegan meal.
- Search out the nearest grocery store, farmers market or natural food store if you’re going to be in town awhile.
- Scope out the nearest Wendy's. In a pinch you can get a couple of plain baked potatoes and put hummus from the grocery store on them.
- Use HappyCow.net (they have an app as well).
No one else eats this way
As shocking as it is, not everyone has realized that what they eat directly effects their health and how they feel. It’s a problem and we’re working on it. But until everyone catches a clue, you’re going to have to deal with being the odd-human out. If you’re already eating this way, you likely have learned to deal with it at some level. But some people (especially family) seem to just want to go out of their way to make things awkward.
Over the holidays I gave some suggestions on how to deal with questions, push back and attacks on your food choices. You can read that article here.
But also keep in mind, just because you are vacationing with family doesn’t mean you HAVE to eat with them. It is possible to go your separate ways and reconvene later. And you can certainly cook for yourself (assuming there is a kitchen).
Generally speaking, we have found that most people are willing to “put up with” or even accommodate our way of eating. But that could be because they know there is no sense in arguing with them. We’ll just science at them. ????
Dealing with the fear of missing out on local specialty foods
It seems no matter where you go there is something you “have” to try because it is a local delicacy. And it usually involves fatty meat cooked with sugar or lard or some equally unhealthy options (why aren’t delicacies ever healthy?). You have a few of options:
- Just skip it – Yes food is a part of any culture. But it’s not the only part.
- Have a bite or two – Nothing says you have to eat an entire plate full or multiple meals.
- As if they use the same spices and cooking techniques on vegetables. It’s entirely possible. We have done it.
- Decide you’re not going to worry about eating healthy while on vacation (not recommended and the risks are discussed in a bit).
Speak a little of the local language
- Saying “vegan” or “vegetarian” may not help you much as those terms mean different things in different places.
- Instead learn the works for “no meat, fish, diary, cheese and eggs” (throw in oil if you want to keep your oil in take to a minimum).
- Words like “beans,” “nuts” and “seeds” might also be helpful.
- Get a translation card. We have never used this site but it looks REALLY useful: World Accent
Decide not to care
This is certainly not the ideal choice for your health. But as with everything on the Whole Food Muscle Way, it is a personal choice. I recently spoke to a client who went this route and she said she will never do so again.
- Bloating – she was miserable after many meals because her body was not used to processing animal products
- Weight gain – No explanation needed
- Cravings – Upon returning from her vacation she had planned to go right back to her 100% plant-based diet. But her body has other ideas. She is once again having to overcome fat and sugar cravings.
Your taste buds adapt rapidly. A week is enough time for things to start to change. But your brain remembers salt, sugar and fat right away and will not forget just because you came home.
Those are the suggestions I found and thought were useful plus a few we have used. Are there any I have missed? Drop me a line and let me know!
Are your eating and health not where you wish they were?
Email me at Health@RnRJourney.com and set up a free fifteen-minute conversation to see if we are a good fit to work together.
Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.