Travel is one of the most spectacular things we do. It introduces us to new people, new places and a whole new experience in culinary delights. Travel affords us the opportunity to sample everything from crisped insects in Indonesia to bulls testicles in Denver. Everywhere we go, we get the opportunity to try new and exciting things, but as fantastic as this sounds, it can also lead to overeating, unhealthy choices, and inevitably bringing home an unwanted souvenir of a few extra pounds around our middle. How does one manage this and still enjoy their trip? Is it possible to feel pleasure with the culinary aspects of a trip without sacrificing the pure joy of eating good food? Of course there is a way, it just takes a closer look at your choices and creating more balance with them.
Airport Food Choices- First and foremost don’t waste calories on airport food before you board. Either pack a healthy snack or if necessary get a light salad. Don’t get me wrong, I have had fantastic food in the airport and I do love eating and drinking during a layover, however the food in airports tends to be expensive, is not necessarily cooked for health and can be overly salted to enhance the flavor. If you need/want to eat before the flight and have access to Delta SkyClub or some other club status I highly recommend you take advantage of this. They usually offer some healthier choices and most often have vegan options as well. They are buffet style so you only take what you want, and they include a place to comfortably relax between flights. You can also fill your water bottle, have a small glass of wine and chill before take off. However, do not take the “all you can eat” as an excuse to eat more. Whenever I eat at a buffet I try to imagine that I am paying for each dish and each glass of wine. This can help keep it into perspective. Resist that urge to “Get the most for your money”- you are in sky lounge, act like VIP and pretend like it doesn’t matter if the food is free.
If sky club is not an option for you, then try to eat before your flight and pack a light snack for in flight to carry through security. Remember to make sure you follow TSA rules on what you bring through.
Prefer to eat at the airport still? Then find a restaurant or café near your gate to have something light, lower in carbs (since you will be sitting you do not need the extra energy from added carbohydrates) and a good source of protein and vegetables (the first will help you feel full and the latter will give you fiber to help manage travelers constipation).
Inflight meals- If you are preparing for a long flight and meal service is part of your passage, then order the vegetarian option. This usually means you will be served more vegetables which many times correlates to “healthier”. Sometimes these choices are a bit fresher as well.
If you are not seated in a cabin that has meal service, then it is a good idea to purchase something to bring on board rather than settling for the inflight options. Airports have come a long way from plastic wrapped sandwiches in a stand-up cooler. Depending on where you are leaving from you can get anything from sushi to a gourmet salad in an eco friendly compostable container. Make sure you are mindful of the smell of your food and its always wise to avoid bring peanuts on board as you may not know of potential peanut allergies in flight. Also make sure you drink plenty of water the days leading up to your travel so that you are well hydrated for your flight and for when you arrive in your location. It is inconvenient to have to go to the bathroom in flight, but it is also very important to stay hydrated while flying as this is important for feeling your best when you land.
Drink plenty of water while in the air and even ask for a hot tea while in flight to help keep your fluids moving through your system. If you brought food with you, time your meal when it is most in line with what a normal eating time would be. It’s always important to keep as normal of hours as possible while traveling, this includes meal timing.
Once you land - Make sure you drink plenty of water, again (notice a trend here??). Depending on the time that you land and the type of travel you are doing will determine when, what and if you should eat a meal right away, or fast until the next day. If you have a long vacation planned, are traveling solo and/or arrive at your destination later in the day it may be a good idea to just settle into your dwelling, drink some more water (J ) and get an early night’s rest. This will give your system an opportunity to refresh and restore before your vacation begins. If you have a very short trip where every moment counts, and/or if you arrive early in the morning to your destination, then settle into your routine and eat at the next appropriate meal time.
Eating while on the trip-
Once you have settled in and woken up fresh in your destination it is time to enjoy yourself -NOT to stress about food choices. However, pick which meals you plan to indulge and which meals you can be more mindful at. Perhaps alternating this over the course of each day is a good way to have opportunity to explore different options at different meals. Sometimes it is so decadent to sit down to the richest most decadent breakfast you can think of, or maybe you are traveling where there is a world-renowned donut shop. Why WOULDN’T you have one?? Balance would mean that this is not the day to also have that triple chocolate cake you eyed up at one of the restaurants on your list.
Another tip is to alternate your more indulgent meals with added activity. Take a walk in the early morning, go to the gym at your hotel, plan some hikes if you are in a spot to do so, or go for a swim in the pool or ocean. Activity doesn’t negate unhealthy food choices, but it does allow your body to use the energy from those foods in a better way.
Try to avoid snacks while traveling, unless of course it suits the time and place, in which case make sure that you balance those snacks with a lighter dinner. When choosing meals at your destination make sure that you try to choose foods that are local and special to the area. Supplement with nutrient rich accompaniments, these accompaniments are usually the diamonds in the rough. Traveling to the southern part of Portugal is not necessarily where you want to eat a burger with fries. This is where you want to try some octopus with a side of roasted olives. The burger and fries IS totally appropriate though for a trip to the American Midwest, especially if those fries and burger are sourced from a local farm. Try to avoid eating from chain foods while traveling and try to avoid all inclusive if at all possible. Travel should support the local economy of your destination, not hurt it. Research locally owned restaurants and visit these. Not only will you feel good about doing so but chances are the food will be far superior to anywhere else.
Drinking while on vacay- This is the area where most people slip up. Vacation equals relaxation and where I come from relaxation also correlates with having a drink. Now an argument could definitely be made that the area of change needs to be made in that association, but that is for a different discussion. Instead figure out what is the best way to balance alcohol intake in your style of travel. If you are traveling to watch a baseball game at Yankees stadium its completely appropriate and expected to indulge in some beers with your hotdog and popcorn. Same to say if you are traveling to the Valencian region in eastern Spain. A gorgeous glass of sparkling Cava would be wonderfully appropriate while you enjoy the setting sunset on your garden terrace and wait patiently for your traditional paella. The point is that this is the time to step out of your box. Sample Scotch while in Scotland, sip on Saki in Japan and toast a glass of whisky while in Tennessee. Ask for suggestions from the locals or your waitstaff.
Desserts while on vacation- I saved the best for last and appropriately so as dessert typically comes at the end of the meal. The best suggestion I can say (and this comes from an honest to goodness dessert fiend) is to do your research here. Sometimes you can go to a restaurant that has the most amazing steak in the world with Brussels sprouts grown in gardens on the roof, but their desserts are frozen and plopped onto a plate before serving. Around the corner from that same restaurant might be a 24/7 diner with handmade pies. Logical option: enjoy the meal, pass on dessert and go find your pie.
Look at the menu before you order. Maybe you won’t know how things are prepared but you can always ask or look for key words in the description. Find out if things are baked in house and if they are baked the day of. Aside from talking to your server, read reviews beforehand if available. Notice if desserts are seasonal and ask the server if they change. What does the description say on the menu? Are there ingredients used to enhance the flavor, things like spices? Maybe you don’t have dessert everyday and especially not every meal. Perhaps pick your best times and locations to enjoy your dessert and then don’t worry about what the menu says, ask the waitstaff for their favorite.
Always split dessert if it’s an option. Depending on the style of restaurant you are dining at, desserts tend to be much too big and way too much for just one person. Everyone will feel better for sharing. Flying solo? Bring it back to your room to enjoy after an evening stroll with a glass of wine off of your private terrace.
Now that you have a plan in place, I want to share the most important tip of all.
Enjoy each and every eating adventure you embark on. Savor each spoonful and truly bask in the beauty of a well-crafted meal. Any potential guilt felt overindulgence will only bring negative energy to your trip. Eat it, enjoy it and move on.