At home, eating awesome food is easy. Your refrigerator has all the selections you made on your regular grocery trips and you know which cabinets have all your fixings. Cooking is made familiar with all your favorite utensils in their place and you probably know how to best utilize your kitchen space. Maybe you even have a rock star spouse that is supportive or does the cooking!
Step out of this well-structured bubble and the “stick to your diet” challenge is afoot. Walk into any gas station or convenience store off the highway and there are thousands of products stocked with very few that are really good for you. Personally, I can usually count on one hand the things I can eat and drink. Water, Planters unsalted sunflower seeds, unsalted mixed nuts and sometimes an overpriced banana or apple near the front counter. Most airports aren’t better. It is like being thirsty in the middle of the ocean. “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!”
How in the world can we stick to our diet on the road much less make it fun?
Let’s talk domestic travel first.
1. PLAN and be a little unconventional! It goes without saying that you can power through most shorter trips with a bit of planning before you go. Bring favorite foods along and there is no reason to be deprived. What kind? Real food! Many fruits travel well and don’t raise eyebrows at security. Apples, bananas, oranges, etc. are faithful travelling friends. How about veggies and hummus?
Don’t be afraid to have a little picnic in an airport. Some homemade foods may require a little prep. Does slicing a small loaf of bread or spreading almond butter and trail mix on a tortilla look a little strange in our prepackaged world? It does and, I’ve been privy to some strange looks. Make it your party! Just prepare what you can in advance and do the rest on the way.
Consider bringing some healthy options for the hotel in the morning to subsidize a sparse continental breakfast. V8s or individual packaged almond milk can be a great addition to a checked suitcase if you know there isn’t time for a run to a store.
2. Use apps! If you don’t have time to Uber yourself to the grocery store, there are apps out there that bring the food to you. Apps like Door Dash can pull up restaurants by the type of food you like and give you all the specifics about the dishes of interest. They deliver what you’ve ordered to your door including doors of hotels, businesses and conference centers. The food that can be delivered through services like this is AMAZING and allows you to eat well when you can’t visit the actual restaurant.
I’ve made my order and paid during the few moments of a break. Once I get the text that the food has arrived I’ll briefly step out, get it and set it aside until lunch. Another great strategy to minimize delivery fees is to buy a few meals at once, throw them into the refrigerator at the hotel or office and eat them over the next couple days. It saves money but also gives you control of logistics so you can stage your food where you’ll need it.
3. Have the light stuff ready! Keep lighter food and beverage items close in case you get hungry. Think snack bags of trail mix, seeds or goji berries. How about 100 calorie packs of almonds? No need to be hungry when you travel so don’t leave home without some snacks tucked away!
I also travel with a few bags of my favorite teas tucked into the side pouch of my backpack. Usually when I get a cup of hot water at a convenience store or airport they usually don’t charge for the hot water or the cup. I’ll add my own tea bag later and, once steeped, I have a beverage that I’ll enjoy more than anything available in the store! How fun (and free) is that! The same can be done for portable beverage packets of many favorite drinks.
4. Learn to love (or at least like) grocery stores and ask for a refrigerator in your hotel room. Historically grocery stores have been hard for me as I’m not a shopper naturally. As I started to focus more on the food I was eating and paying more attention to the different ingredients, finding the right foods (and stores) became more important.
Over time I’ve learned to enjoy and even look forward to going to grocery stores. If I’m ever going to be someplace for more than a day or two I make a point of visiting a grocery store to check out the fare. Yes, even large health food chains feature the local products. During the trip I’ll buy the groceries, veggies and fruits, and prepared food to supplement my diet.
It goes without saying that you can buy more fresh choices if you have a refrigerator at your disposal. Most hotels have them or add them to your room with no additional charge if you ask.
Now onto International travel.
Let me start by saying this can be tricky depending on where you are in the world. I actually wrote this post in the last few days of a challenging trip to Shanghai, China.
In general, what makes it hard? For me, it is not knowing what the food is or knowing how it is prepared, especially with the language barrier. If you are lucky, menus may have pictures of the food so you can see what it looks like. But that, too, raises questions such as:
Are these noodles or is this the goose intestine dish?
Are those sprinkles on the mashed potatoes? What in the world makes the outside sweet?
Did someone order duck tongue?
Nonetheless, some international tips:
5. Discuss your diet preference in advance. Where possible, have a conversation about diet in advance with your coworkers or friends you are visiting. Start the conversation with something like, “I’m so excited to be visiting! One of the things I’ve really been looking forward to is trying some of the local foods.” Usually people will ask what kind of food you like. Don’t be bashful about saying what your diet is. Having the conversation early lets others wrap their head around it and think about some places that might include options for you.
Sometimes it can be tricky if superiors, customers, coworkers or business partners want to go out to restaurants that can be food deserts for you. At those places you can usually find at least something that meets your diet needs. At the end of the day, business travel isn’t about your diet and there are times where you just need to get by.
6. Eat with a local. This isn’t always an option but, wherever possible, take a local to places they know. They can usually describe what is in the food, help you order and translate any special requests to your waiter. As an aside, sharing a meal with someone is a great bonding experience. They can share something about their country and you can learn about the other person, their culture and their cuisine!
7. Use an international app. Food ordering apps in other countries are starting to be more common. Even if you aren’t comfortable or aren’t sure how to download the app on your phone, if you have any local friends share your enthusiasm about trying to order from the app. Ask if they would mind ordering you some food over their phone and pay them back in cash on the spot. In addition to getting the food (meals, groceries and even fruits and veggies), it is a great way to get a new experience of ordering food through a new medium in another country!
8. When in doubt, shop the familiar. Depending on the country, grocery stores can be tricky if the products are in another language. The good news is if you find the fresh food section of a grocery store it is usually a more familiar experience – stacked fruits and veggies with the prices next to them.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed experiencing grocery stores in other countries. It’s fun to look at the different products and how things are packaged. For example, in Shanghai milk is stacked in the aisles since it doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
Instead of bringing back souvenirs for my family I’ll often times buy a few different types of foods. Assuming they don’t set the alarm bells off in customs, it is a great way to share the experience with my family through food.
In short, just because you travel doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your diet. If done right, in most cases it can actually be a very enjoyable experience that exposes you to new food and flavors you’ve never experienced!
Last thing to remember: if something happens and you eat the wrong thing or have a dish you with something you normally wouldn’t have eaten, don’t let it ruin your trip. Chalk it up to experiencing new things in a foreign place and do your best with the next meal.
Also published on Medium.
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