How to Eat Healthy While Traveling

Sticking to a healthy diet while traveling is no easy feat, especially when most on-the-go food options are deep-fried; sugar-laden; or devoid of healthy carbs, proteins, and fats. After all, most airports are filled with fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King — and hotel breakfast bars are often loaded with sugary cereals, muffins, and donuts. If we’re lucky, we may be able to snag an apple and some oatmeal. 

While it’s normal — even expected — to stray from our usual eating patterns while traveling, this doesn’t mean we should overindulge in empty-calorie foods. Not just because unhealthy eating patterns are associated with chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease, but because the foods we eat while traveling can affect how we feel during and after the trip (think increased symptoms of jet lag, poor sleep, constipation, and low energy levels). 

Finding healthy food while traveling can be challenging, but it isn’t impossible. Let’s look at what you can do to eat healthy while traveling to support your digestion, combat jet lag, and make the most of your travels. 

Pack foods that are healthy and filling

Whether traveling by car, airplane, boat, or train, your food options at airports, gas stations, and convenience stores will likely be limited to highly processed snacks, sugar-laden sodas, and packaged pastries. That is, unless you plan ahead and bring along plenty of foods that are healthy, filling, and hydrating. 

Non-perishable foods that don’t need to be kept cold or hot are best, as improperly stored food can become contaminated with bacteria in as little as 20 minutes. We recommend packing more than enough non-perishable snacks so there’s always something nourishing to reach for. Some examples include:

  • Pre-portioned nuts and seeds (like pumpkin seeds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios, macadamia nuts, and shelled hemp seeds). 
  • Roasted chickpeas, cannellini beans, and edamame. 
  • Baked kale chips. 
  • Whole fruits (like apples, bananas, oranges, clementines, and nectarines). 
  • Dried fruit, trail mix, popcorn, and whole-grain crackers. 
  • Brown rice cakes with nut butter squeeze packs (simply slather on a layer of nut butter and top with shelled hemp seeds or pumpkin seeds).
  • Low-sugar protein bars (RX bars, FX bars by Designs for Health, and Larabars are all good options). 
  • Turkey, beef, and mushroom jerky. 
  • Soup and oatmeal cups (just add hot water!). 
  • Shelf-stable protein drinks with no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. 

If you do have access to a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs (for example, if you’re traveling by car, checking a cooler on a plane, or carrying a smaller cooler onto a plane), you can bring along some cold food items as well. A few nutritious options include unsweetened yogurt, string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, guacamole, prepared veggie sticks, sliced fruit, and pre-made sandwiches or wraps. 

Packing a few pre-made sandwiches or wraps is especially wise if you’re gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegetarian, as most pre-made options contain wheat, dairy, deli meats, and other unwanted ingredients. And don’t forget to pack a reusable water bottle so you can stay hydrated and prevent travel fatigue

Prepare your own healthy meals

Dining out is half the fun of traveling, but you’ll save a whole lot of money and food-related stress if you plan to prepare at least some of your meals from your hotel, cabin, or 

Airbnb. Many popular hotel brands have rooms with mini-fridges and kitchenettes, so you can stock up on groceries and prepare nutritionally balanced meals from the comfort of your hotel room. 

To prepare balanced, healthy meals while away from home, be sure to load up on whole grains (like brown rice and quinoa), organic rolled oats, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and veggies, dairy-free plant milks, and lean proteins (like chicken breast, eggs, salmon, tofu, lentils, and BPA-free canned beans). Current dietary guidelines for clean eating include:

  • Filling half your plate with fruits, veggies, and greens
  • Filling a quarter of your plate with whole grains
  • Filling a quarter of your plate with lean proteins.
  • Using healthy plant oils in moderation (e.g. extra-virgin olive oil). 
  • Opting for healthy beverages like filtered water, herbal teas, and coffee without sweeteners. 

If you need healthy meal ideas while traveling, check out these recipes from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. MyPlate has a bunch of travel-friendly recipes on its website as well. 

Make the most of hotel breakfast bars

Even though hotel breakfast bars are often loaded with pastries, sugary cereals, and fruit juices, this doesn’t mean you won’t find any suitable options. Fruit, yogurt, whole-grain cereals, nuts, eggs, and peanut butter on whole-grain toast can all be great options in a pinch.  

Look for healthy fast-food options

If you do need to rely on fast food restaurants while traveling, avoid fried and sauteed items and instead opt for grilled, broiled, baked, or steamed foods whenever possible. Sandwiches on whole-grain bread, salads with vinaigrette-based dressing, and build-your-own bowls (from Chipotle, for example) are all great options. Just be sure to order a side salad if your meal doesn’t include greens, or ask about swapping fries or onion rings for a salad.  

Check out this guide from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to learn more about how to eat healthy at fast-food restaurants.

It’s possible to eat healthy while traveling

Finding healthy food while traveling is challenging — especially if you follow a special diet — but it can be done with a bit of planning. The key is to pack a variety of nutritious snacks; look for accommodations with a mini-fridge or kitchenette; drink plenty of water; and make healthier choices when dining out at cafes, hotel breakfast bars, and fast-food restaurants. You can still indulge in comfort foods and experience the local cuisine, but you’ll be less likely to overeat if you’re hydrated and have all the fundamentals in place! 

Ready to achieve optimal health and wellness? Visit our blog for more health tips or book a free 15-minute consultation to discuss your unique health goals with our team.