With the exception of oh, say, the last 6 weeks, I’m a very mindful eater. During the week, I follow a Whole30 program pretty strictly, splurging on special occasions.
One of the things I used to struggle with when traveling was maintaining my eating habits. That’s not to say I don’t let myself enjoy local cuisine; I do of course, because traveling is worthless if you’re not willing to sample local foods and enjoy your time without constantly worrying about your calorie intake. But I try to do it while also being mindful of my dietary restrictions.
When I’m traveling, I spend about .7 seconds of the day worrying about my “diet.” But I also know I can’t eat unhealthy food at every single meal and expect to have an enjoyable vacation, because my body isn’t used to consuming unhealthy food regularly. My trip would be ruined by belly aches, fatigue, and nausea if I wasn’t somewhat mindful of the food I ate. But I splurge just like anybody else when I’m traveling. I’ve found, however, that traveling and being healthy are not mutually exclusive, especially if you go into the trip prepared.
It can be hardest to maintain your healthy lifestyle, particularly the eating, when you’re visiting a foreign country. No convenient calorie information, often a language barrier between you and servers or chefs, and you’re constantly on the go, which makes it hard to plan out healthy meals. But there are a few things you can do to help strike the proper balance between eating healthy and enjoying your trip.
1. Educate yourself. Read up on the types of food available where you’re traveling, and figure out the stuff you know you can eat and the stuff you’d prefer not to. For example, when I go to Italy, I know I can’t eat a ton of pasta, but luckily there is always a meat or fish course that I can enjoy, pasta free. In Germany, sausage and potatoes are everywhere, so I know I’m going to have options at most restaurants.
2. Choose restaurants wisely. Some even have their menus outside, and if not, you can ask to view one before you sit down. Make sure there’s something on there you can eat. Sure, if you’re going to the famous Reykjavik Hot Dog stand specifically to try a hot dog, that’s one thing (you should, by the way, it was heavenly), but if you’re just strolling around to find a restaurant, view the menu before you go in, and find somewhere else if you don’t see anything that you’re comfortable with.
3. Eat breakfast. This can be hard to remember to do, but it’s important. You’ll be starving by lunchtime and end up eating a croque-monsieur the size of your head and washing it down with a Nutella crepe if you don’t get something in your belly when you wake up. Not that I’ve done that, or anything…
4. Buy snacks at the local grocer. I live by this rule. On my first day in a place, I head to the store and grab almonds, dried fruit, lunch meat, and various other snacks that I can nosh on throughout the day. It keeps your metabolism up, and you won’t be starving when you sit down to eat. Plus, exploring places while your stomach growls is the worst, and if you’re out in the wilderness hiking or on a secluded beach, it may be longer than you think before you get a chance to eat.
5. Hydrate. Carry a big bottle of water around and drink all of it. Often what we mistake for hunger is actually thirst. Plus, you don’t want a dehydration headache while you’re out exploring.
6. Cook some meals. This is only possible if you’re staying in a place with a kitchenette (which I recommend doing anyway, if you can. More on options for that here). Go to the store, find some local meat and produce, and cook yourself up a meal. Other options: pack a lunch and go have a picnic in the local park!
7. Enjoy the built-in portion control. Places other than the U.S. tend to serve much more reasonably sized meals, so eat what’s on your plate without worrying you’re eating too much!
8. Ask locals where they eat. Odds are, they eat a more “everyday” diet, so it can be helpful to find out where they go. Plus, you’re likely to find the best hidden food gems in the city.
9. Walk. Don’t cab, bus, or train it if you can walk it! Take the time to enjoy the place with your feet on the ground instead of in a vehicle, and at the same time you’ll be keeping your metabolism up by moving your body.
10. Exercise. I try to do yoga when I’m traveling, either at an actual studio (doing a yoga class in German was an interesting experience) or on my own in my hotel room. I also like to go on jogs or long power walks. Not only for the health benefits, but there is nothing better than jogging around a new city as a way to see its nooks and crannies. My first time in Berlin, I jogged through the Tiergarten at dusk and was so mesmerized I didn’t even realize how far I’d gone.
11. Enjoy yourself. I don’t want to come off as a fuddy duddy who only eats salads whenever I travel. I splurge when I want, with the understanding that I’ll still try not to eat stuff that will make me feel sick. So split dessert, have some gelato, eat Nutella, have that glass of wine or 4. Balance is really the key.