Eating well when away from home can be hard — but it often makes the difference between a fantastic, enlivening vacation and one we need a cleanse to recover from.
I’m an adventurous eater but I also stick to a plant-based diet — just last week I was eating cousa squash from a street market in Isla Holbox like an apple because it was the only green food in sight — so I like to think I’ve mastered eating healthy while traveling.
Now, of course, it’s not always easy, but often it adds to the adventure. Exploring side streets inevitably leads to something more interesting than whatever the concierge recommends. There’s also great relief in just being prepared for unexpected bouts of hungers in airports or during travel delays — because those are just inevitable.
So whether you’re headed off on a day hike or an extended vacay, here are some of my recommendations for eating well when away.
1. Make trail mix
I recommend this to all of my clients, even if they’re not traveling. Having a non-perishable, curated-by-you, 100 percent healthy and affordable snack stashed in a bag, drawer, or glove box is essential for avoiding regrettable hangry decisions.
But when traveling, it’s even more important, as food options are often unfamiliar, far away, or questionable.
Shop the bulk bins at Whole Foods or another health food store to save money. Go heavy on flaked coconut, unsulfured/unsweetened dried fruit, and seeds. Include some sprouted nuts, and a treat like banana chips or dark chocolate-covered something, if you like. (Though, beware of chocolate if you’re headed somewhere hot.) Check out one of my go-to recipes here.
Avoid salt unless you’re going to be sweating, and especially dodge nuts that are oil-roasted and salted, which are a surefire way to increase water retention on the flight.
Remember, this is dense food, so a little bit goes a long way.
2. Prepare a feast for the flight (or drive)
This is my favorite! Start the vacation well right off the bat by making yourself something amazing to eat in the air (or on the road). Mondo kale bowls may get double-scanned by security, but it’s worth it, and they’re flight-approved even for international travel.
Aim for dark sturdy greens that won’t get soggy (think kale, cabbage, or other cruciferous veggies) and mix in anything else you like. I tend to add baked squashes, lots of raw produce, and a dressing that’s heavier-handed than usual, which keeps me full longer.
Make sure to dress it before you travel, otherwise the sauce will get swiped, as would chia-seed puddings, smoothies, or soupy things.
Bag some additional chopped fruit and vegetables for snacking and you’ll be prepared when a transfer takes longer than expected or you’re still figuring out the food situation wherever you landed.
A couple of other plane tips: Skip all of the food if possible, including the free stuff. Drink hot water with lemon. Ask them to refill your water bottle, or get two glasses of water each time they offer one.
3. Pack powders
These are even lighter-weight and more compact than trail mix, but remember: you’ll need something to mix them with. I absolutely love dense green powders when traveling somewhere that may be low on produce. (Recommended brands: Amazing Grass or Be Well Greens On The Go.)
If you’re looking for more sustenance, consider a high-fiber hemp protein powder (I like Nutiva’s Hi-Fiber.) And, if you’re hoping to travel with any powdered herbs, consider mixing them all into one container for a single-scoop supplement. Just measure what you need for each day and toss in a scoop or measuring spoon, too.
4. Pick local produce
Depending on where you’re headed, this may be an exercise in restraint or courage. But in my opinion, any fruit you find in a local public market and eat with your hands on the side of the road is going to be immeasurably more enjoyable than the hotel’s continental breakfast. It’s also always cheaper.
If you’re nervous about food safety, stick to fruits and vegetables with skins or peels you can toss. If you’re staying somewhere longer than a few days, consider a room with a kitchenette, or at least a small fridge. Backup plan: ask the hotel to store your food in their fridge, which I do regularly.
5. Forage for free containers
Save your trail mix bag for reuse on the rest of the trip. Borrow coffee mugs and/or silverware from your hotel. (And return them later!) Pick up napkins at the airport, as well as disposable silverware (unless you’re saintly enough to carry your own). Starbucks will give you free hot water, which I use for my personal tea, and then keep the cup for mixing powders.
A little foraging and you won’t have to travel with silverware, though of course you could.
Wherever you end up, take an initial tour to find the spots that serve food you like. Check out appetizers and side-dishes for plant-based options, which aren’t always entrees. Ask around for vegetarian spots. Decide which meals you want to indulge in, and which can be done on your own. For example, for the price of a hotel’s mediocre salad or nachos-only lunch, you could probably buy a whole week’s worth of local produce. And just imagine what else you might find.
This approach has lead me to roasted chestnuts in Portugal, street-side fried plantains with papaya in Colombia, rambutan by the wheelbarrow, and, just last week in Mexico, the best mango of my life.