Confession: Every time I travel, my dietary restrictions go out a 20-story window and splatter on the sidewalk below. Despite my best intentions, efforts, or planning, something inside me lets loose and says, “I’m on vacation, screw the healthy eating!”
But if I’m honest, it’s not all my fault. Especially in foreign countries, it can be difficult to identify healthy foods—and airports rarely accommodate dietary restrictions (or serve real, fresh food, for that matter). Add in any dietary restrictions—if you’re vegan or gluten-free, for example—and sticking to a healthy diet can seem downright impossible when you’re away from home.
But, with a little preparation, it doesn’t have to be. Before your next trip, check out these tips for ensuring you stick to your healthy habits or dietary restrictions while you travel.
1. Scope Out Your Destination
Some places are havens for those who are on restricted diets, with farmer’s markets, great grocery stores, and fresh, healthy produce galore. And others—think Germany in the winter—are downright dangerous. So, before you start reserving tickets and hotels, look into your destination’s options for healthy restaurants and grocers. You may want to book a hotel that’s more conveniently located to those important amenities, or at least know how to get there from where you’re staying.
2. Pack Food
Don’t let yourself be at the mercy of airport meals or fast food—instead, be prepared ahead of time for situations where you might not have access to healthy food. If you’re going to be traveling for several hours (or anticipate that you’ll get hungry during your travels), pack diet-appropriate food—like nuts, apples, or carrot sticks—that won’t spoil or be confiscated at security (no soup or other liquids). If you’re traveling by car, pack a cooler full of healthy choices to keep you fed on the road.
3. Ask for Accommodations
That said, especially if you’re flying internationally, airlines can accommodate some requests for dietary restrictions—vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, even low fat or low sodium dishes are often available, as long as you give them advance notice. Restaurants at your destination can be more of a challenge, especially if there’s a language barrier, but your hotel concierge will often be able to recommend some options (or, at the very least, point you toward a local grocery store).
4. Get the Hotel Extras
The hotel with the coffee pot, microwave, and refrigerator in every room may be a little pricier, but it will likely save you dough (and hassle) when it comes to eating. Having a place to store grocery items and a means to cook them can go a long way in ensuring that you eat healthy on your trip. Even if you don’t have a full kitchen, you can whip up a large salad with pre-cooked and reheated tofu or chicken strips or easy tuna salad sandwiches.
Finally, stay aware of the costs. Sticking to healthy items, or especially eating with dietary restrictions, often cuts the cheaper menu items (read: sausages from a street vendor) out of the picture—so plan ahead before you find your budget and your meal plans at odds. If you’re on limited means and have dietary restrictions, a great option is use the local grocer as much as possible, which will limit the costs eating out.
And make sure to remember—you are on vacation. Unless you have allergies, don’t be afraid to bend the rules once in a while to get a true sampling of the local cuisine (or just to enjoy yourself!).
Tell us! How do you stick to your dietary guns when you go out of town?