I’m on an airplane as I type this and a few days after I return, I have another trip on my calendar. I rack up a lot of frequent flyer miles and I’ve become pretty good at packing. One of my strategies is to “recycle” articles of clothing (e.g. one skirt, two outfits) so I can make more room in my suitcase for healthy food! It’s my secret to staying on track when I travel. If I don’t, I really feel it: My energy level plummets, my appetite gets thrown off, I tend to get run down (and catch every germ flying around those stuffy airplanes) and I have a tougher time maintaining my weight. So, I created a 3-step strategy that I put into action even before I pull out my suitcase:
Step 1. First, I look through my entire travel itinerary and think through every meal.
If my options look a little bleak in the nutrition department, I pack some ‘emergency back up kits’ to fill in the gaps. My typical go-to options include:
Nuts and seeds or squeeze packets of natural nut butter like Justin’s, or unsweetened, preservative-free dried fruit (like dried figs or mulberries) or fresh fruit if possible. Today I pre-washed grapes and cherries and packed a cup each in ziptop baggies. Whole grain crackers and pre-popped popcorn (3 cups counts as a whole grain serving) and,
Dried veggies ( I love dried veggies – I wish I had invented them!) like 'Just Carrots' or 'Just Tomatoes' made by Just Tomatoes, Etc. Having back-ups on hand means if I go to a dinner and whole grains aren’t available, I can forego the white rice or pasta and munch on popcorn or crackers when I get back to my room. And if I’m at a conference and sugary stuff like cookies are served at snack time, I can nibble on the dried fruit and nuts stashed in my bag.
Step 2. I go online to check the “food radius” around my hotel, including grocery stores and food markets within walking distance. On one recent trip, I knew that a Trader Joe’s was about a 10 minute walk from my hotel. Before I even unpacked my bags, I strolled over and stocked up. That evening when my work-related dinner included just a scant amount of veggies, I wasn’t concerned because I knew I had baby carrots and grape tomatoes waiting for me in my room.
Step 3. Next, I scope out which restaurants near my destination offer healthy selections.
This way when I have lunch or dinner on my own or I get to pick the place I’ve already done the leg work. Some chains like PF Chang’s and Chipotle are sure bets because I already know the menu and have healthy go-tos. And in many cities I’ll use sites like www.menupages.com or www.opentable.com to view menus online. If I already know where to go and what to order it’s much easier to follow through rather than relying on room service.
As much as I love visiting new destinations, traveling can be draining. If I do my ‘homework’ before I go, plan ahead, and pack my healthy goodies I’m able to return home without feeling like I need to detox! Do you travel often? What are your favorite stay-on-track strategies? Tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.