6 Secrets to Healthy Travel

When was your last vacation?

If you’re like most people, it’s probably been too long!

I don’t know about you, but even though it is so hard to actually commit the time to taking a vacation, I always find that some time off refreshes and rejuvenates me and I come back to work/everyday life better off, especially when I engage in “healthy travel”!

What happens to your healthy habits on vacation?

While taking needed breaks is an important health choice, it is so easy while travelling to fall out of our normal routines and slip into unhealthy habits.

What kind of habits?  Eating junk, missing sleep, and not exercising…  While this can be a fun part of travelling, it can also leave us feeling ill and unwell and dampen our enjoyment of travel!

Here are my top 6 tips for healthy travel habits!

1. Design a supportive environment

Did you know that your environment has a huge impact on your behaviour and habits?  If you don’t believe me, think back to the last time you had a bag of chips in your house…  If you’re anything like me, you were keenly aware of that bag of chips and ate all of them nearly immediately.  However, if you don’t have chips around, you don’t eat them, right?  That is environment design.

Creating an environment that supports healthy habits is relatively easy and simple and goes a long way to supporting or preventing behaviours.  You can do the same while travelling.

Healthy travel Airbnb

Relaxing at our Airbnb in Vancouver

Get yourself a kitchen:

I find that staying somewhere with a full kitchen allows me to prepare some meals (usually breakfast) at the place I’m staying, thereby avoiding eating out (and by definition eating larger portions of less healthy foods) less often.  This also saves a lot of money since eating out is nearly always more expensive.

The best way to build a kitchen into your accommodation is to use a service such as Airbnb (you can use that link to signup and earn both of us $30 credit when you book!).  Often, renting an apartment is much cheaper than staying in a hotel and can also get you a much more convenient location!  Plus you can get a full kitchen with everything you need to prepare healthy food!

Next step is to go grocery shopping for some basics to make snacks and meals.  Here are my typical grocery store purchases while travelling:

  • Frozen fruit and frozen peas for smoothies (if your place has a blender)
  • Carrots, peppers, celery and other veggies to cut up
  • Apples, bananas, mangos, berries to snack on
  • Eggs
  • Gluten-free bread
  • Small package of butter for bread and eggs
  • Sliced turkey or beef
  • Bulk snacks (eg: nuts, seeds, etc)
  • Tea
  • Instant oatmeal

What about hotels?

If you are staying in a hotel, you can still create a healthier environment by requesting a mini-fridge, and a kettle/coffee-maker in your room (many hotel rooms automatically have both these days).  You might even find a hotel with a kitchenette including a microwave, hotplate, pots/pans, plates, etc.  Depending on what you have in your room, you can still go grocery shopping and stock up on healthy foods!

Consider location:

Wherever you stay, think ahead about the location.  Look for a place that is:

  1. Within walking distance to a grocery store where you are likely to find healthy foods?  You can search online for locations of Whole Foods (Canada and US), Trader Joe’s (US only), or other stores.
  2. Close to healthy restaurants or coffee shops
  3. Calm, quiet, and restful.  If you want a rejuvenating vacation, you probably want to avoid staying near bars, clubs, and busy restaurants that may create noise that keeps you up in the middle of the night!

2. Pack healthy snacks

No matter where you are headed, bringing along heathy and convenient snacks will keep you fed and healthy en route and while exploring your destination!

My favourite portable snacks:

  • Addictive Honey Granola (make at home before you leave!): Package in a larger container (for your checked luggage) and a smaller container (for your carry-on, see below).
  • Roast Nuts (make at home before you leave!): Package in a larger container (for your checked luggage) and a smaller container (for your carry-on, see below).
  • Jerky: Look for a brand with zero or few preservatives and a short ingredient list.  I usually buy Manitou Bison Pemmican from MEC which comes in a convenient 2-pack.
  • Wheat-free instant oatmeal (remember to bring a spoon or fold-up spork!): All you need is hot water and a container (like a coffee cup) and you can make instant oatmeal anywhere!  The brand I prefer is Glutenfreeda Wheat-free instant oatmeal (I like the Banana Maple with Flax and Strawberries & Brown Sugar with Flax flavours best).
  • Snack bars: My favourite by far for taste, texture, and not TOO high sugar content are the Vega Snack Bars (I like the Dark Chocolate Mixed Nuts and Sea Salt flavour best, followed by the Coconut Cashew).  I also like NuGo Free Gluten Free bars (specifically the Trail Mix flavour).
  • Chocolate treat: I LOVE chocolate and while I usually make my own chocolate treats at home, while travelling I splurge and buy some “healthier” chocolate options.  My favourite is Organic Traditions Dark Chocolate Almonds, which seem to spike my blood sugar less dramatically than your typical chocolate almonds.

Carry-on and carry along:

While en route, I always pack a ziplock bag with a serving each of the above snacks in my carry-on luggage.  This ensures that I have something to eat in the airport and on the plane and don’t have to buy something I would rather not eat!

Once I arrive, I always pack a bar plus maybe a few other items (nuts, granola, jerky) in my purse or backpack before I head out for the day so I have a quick snack on hand or even enough to avoid eating lunch out if I can’t find something I want to eat.

Bring a water bottle to stay hydrated:

Healthy travel water bottle

My trusty water bottle helped me climb The Chief!

I always bring a small to medium stainless steel water bottle (mine is the Klean Kanteen Classic 18oz with a loop lid) filled with filtered water to the airport.  I make sure I drink the whole bottle before going through security (where you are not permitted liquids over 100mL) and then I either refill my bottle from the tap after security (to avoid buying wasteful and environmentally harmful plastic bottles!) or buy bottled water and empty it into my bottle.  This way I also have water to drink on the plane.

Bringing a water bottle is important (even if you pack it in your checked luggage) so you can avoid plastic water bottles throughout your trip and to bring with you wherever you go.  I find I’m much more likely to drink water and stay hydrated if I have my own bottle rather than depending on buying water!

3. Choose the right supplements

I usually suggest to my patients that they keep it as simple as possible when bringing supplements on vacation.  However, there are a few supplements (all available on my online dispensary under the Travel category!) that can keep you feeling happy and healthy while travelling:

Support digestion:

Probiotics can be a life-saver when eating for keeping digestion calm and regular while eating outside your normal routine.  Find a shelf-stable (i.e.: one that doesn’t require refridgeration) probiotic like Thorne Floramend and take one capsule daily throughout your trip.

You might also consider a digestive enzyme, such as Thorne Bio-Gest (this one contains ox bile, so if you are vegetarian look for Vitazan Digestive Vegetarian) for heavy, fatty, spicy, or large meals if you are concerned about upset or heavy digestion.

Key nutrients:

Greens powder can be handy for times when you will be eating less fruits and vegetables than at home.  Taking a teaspoon of greens powder daily, such as Douglas Labs Organic Greens and Reds, can support your immune system (no getting sick on vacation) and energy (so you can do everything you plan) throughout your trip.

Another great choice is a B Complex, such as Thorne Stress B-Complex, which also supports energy production and is a great supplement to reduce/prevent hangovers when drinking a bit more alcohol while on vacation.

Avoid jet-lag:

If you’re travelling across time zones, melatonin is a must-have!  Melatonin is the hormone produced in your brain that tells your body it is time to sleep and using a supplement, such as Douglas Labs sublingual melatonin, can help your body resolve jet-lag faster.  I usually start taking it on the day I’m travelling at the time when it is about bedtime at my destination.  I continue for 1-5 days, taking it before bed each night, until I feel no more jet-lag.

I also use electrolyte powder, specifically Vega Electrolyte Hydrator (which comes in convenient single servings!), both to stay hydrated and minimize fatigue/jet-lag.  I usually take one serving while on the plane, and may take another when I arrive or as needed during my trip.  Also useful if you are losing fluids for some reason during your vacation (sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, etc).

4. “Plan to fail” and Monitoring

When you travel, do you eat/sleep/exercise better or worse than at home?

Of course, the answer is WORSE, right?  At least most of the time…

When we travel, we tend to eat out more (which equals larger portions of food that is more likely to be deep fried or covered in sauces…) and it is usually harder to eat fresh fruits and veggies.  We might stay out later too.  And most people definitely throw their fitness routine out the window while travelling.

This can all be lots of fun, for a while…  But for most people, abandoning their normal healthy habits eventually leads to feeling tired, sluggish, bloated, and regretful.  So how can you enjoy your travel and feel good?

Healthy travel treats

Choosing chocolate in Tokyo

Plan to fail:

Realistically, most of us are not going to stick to a perfect diet, sleep, or exercise schedule while travelling.  But we don’t have to completely go off-the-rails and end up feeling awful!

So, plan to fail.  This is also known as the strategy of Safeguards as coined by Gretchen Rubin in her book Better Than Before.  Check out my favourite concepts from this book in my article Master your habits, achieve your dreams.

Healthy travel dessert

Enjoying Skyr cake in Iceland

Here are a few areas where you can plan to fail:

  • Think ahead to where/what you would like to eat while travelling and plan a few “cheat” meals or special treats.  The rest of the time, use the healthy eating strategies I outlined above in numbers 1 and 2.
  • Plan a few nights out followed by a day when you can sleep in or take it easy so you can get the rest you need.
  • Set some limits on what you will eat, how many drinks you might have, how late you will stay out, etc.  This way you can enjoy your “cheats” but not overdo it to the point of beating up on yourself.

Monitoring:

If you’ve read some of my other articles, you will know by now that I’m a huge fan of diet tracking as a simple and easy way to become more mindful of what we eat.  If this is a new idea to you, check out these previous articles: Superstar diet tracker and My 5 best wellness apps.

Why is diet tracking so powerful?  Because it employs the habits strategy of Monitoring, also by Gretchen Rubin who explains up monitoring so well: “”We manage what we monitor.’  Self-measurement brings self-awareness, and self-awareness strengthens our self-control.”

Most people will totally abandon diet tracking while travelling, but this is a huge mistake!  In the case of travel, diet tracking is a low-effort behaviour that keeps us aware and accountable for what we eat.  This is key to maintaining some sort of self-control, but ALSO to get the maximum enjoyment out of what we eat.

The law of diminishing returns tells us that the FIRST bite of that delicious cake is the best, and ever bite after that is slightly less enjoyable.  Don’t you find this true in life?  Diet tracking can help you enjoy that first piece of cake without going back for a second (less delicious) piece (because you would have to track both!).

While it can be challenging to track new/different/unknown foods while travelling, accuracy is NOT the goal here!  The goal is to maintain awareness/accountability by tracking some approximation of what you are eating so that you can ENJOY your trip but not go overboard.

I’ve travelled in both scenarios: tracking and not.  And I have found that if I track what I eat while travelling, I inevitably end up eating less junk, feeling better while away, and coming home feeling good.

5. Get active

Healthy travel hiking

Hiking Haleakala in Maui

Travel can involve a lot of sitting…  Sitting on planes, trains, and in cars…  All this sitting does not exactly give us a break from all the sitting we do at work and at home in our everyday life, right?

Thankfully, travel is also a wonderful opportunity to be active in new and exciting ways, such as:

  • Hiking outdoors
  • Swimming in a pool or at the beach
  • Canoeing, kayaking, sailing
  • Biking on trails or to explore a new city/town
  • Walking, either on a tour or just exploring

Wherever you travel, try to build some activity into your trip to keep your energy up and get some vitamin N (N is for Nature).

Try a Fitbit:

I’ve had my Fitbit for over a year now and I’ve found that tracking my activity during travel can be really fun!  Learn more about what you can do with Fitbit in my article My 5 best wellness apps.

Last summer I set a step record while walking all over Berlin and on this most recent trip, I set a record for flights of stairs climbed on the day we hiked on Blackcomb mountain.

If your travel buddy also has a Fitbit, you can even challenge each other to competitions, which is bound to increase your activity!

6. Support rest and relaxation

Finally, make sure you get some rest on your vacation!  In addition to ensuring you have a place to stay that is calm, quiet, and restful (as I mentioned in number 1), here are a couple other things to consider:

En route:

I suspect that most people do what I do, which is plan to sleep on the plane on my way to my vacation destination.  And, like me, I suspect that most people find this nearly impossible!  Between fellow passengers, flight attendants constantly selling or serving something, non-existent leg room, and seats that barely recline, a plane is just not a restful place.

If you need/want to actually rest on a flight, you need some accessories, specifically a good eye mask and ear plugs.

My brother recently sent me this Sleep Master Sleep Mask, which I took on my recent trip and it was great!  It very effectively covers both your eyes and ears, it is soft and comfy, and adjustable!  Yes, it is pricey, but it is also washable, which means it is actually cheaper than buying other masks that you either can’t wash or that fall apart easily.  Plus, it came with earplugs, the perfect combo for any travel.

Meditation:

The second ingredient in having a restful vacation is meditation.  Whether or not you have a regular meditation practice, travel is the perfect opportunity to meditate daily.

I’ve written extensively about meditation for health promotion and stress reduction in the following articles:

During my first 100 day meditation challenged, I meditated in streetcars, tents, washrooms, and on airplanes as profiled in my article Where I meditated.  While travelling, I will often meditate in the airport or on the plane by putting in my earphones and listening to a short guided meditation via Insight Timer (one of My 5 best wellness apps).

Not only does meditation reduce the frustration of getting from one place to another, it can help you return home more rested and relaxed.  Give it a try on your next trip!

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