Being Healthy While Travelling…is Tough
Maintaining a healthy diet is tough enough on an average day, but throw travelling into the mix and it becomes so much easier to fall off the wagon. Travel can really wreak havoc when it comes to eating healthily, for a whole host of reasons.
Local dishes, while delicious, are not always the healthiest option. Airports are usually ridiculously pricey, leading us into the arms of the more affordable Burger King, and jet lag messes with our mind and body clock in ways we can’t even begin to understand.
And this is all before we’ve even realised we’re not at home anymore, and we’ve absolutely no idea of what eateries are in range of our hotel or Airbnb 😅.
Unsurprisingly, these are common traps travellers and digital nomads fall into when travelling. Let’s discuss these traps in more detail, and learn how to overcome them!
Knowing What to Eat in a Foreign Country
Naturally, one of the most exciting aspects of travelling is the food 😍, but failing to research the local cuisine can result in us making really unhealthy choices. As humans we tend to shy away from unfamiliar things, so not knowing what’s what beforehand might have us ordering something naughty. Foreign menus can be confusing, there’ll be words we don’t understand, and it’s not always clear how something is cooked.
It’s also worth noting that “local” food doesn’t necessarily mean “healthy” food, as a number of cultures all around the world are starting to see a rise in obesity we’ve come to associate with the Western world. Preparation is key to eating healthily!
Do Your Research, Create a Bucket List
Luckily, researching dishes and restaurants in foreign countries is surprisingly easy.
By utilizing tools like Google Maps, Facebook Groups, TripAdvisor, Quora, and our upcoming City Food Guides, we can use aggregated ratings and first-hand reviews to find out what to eat, where to eat it, which dishes use way too much oil, and so on.
Here’s our top tips for finding healthy, highly-rated food:
- Learn the local words for “fried”, “sugar”, et cetera, et cetera
- People fake reviews, so be wary of restaurants with only a few of them
- Get first-hand advice from food bloggers, expats, and digital nomads
- See what’s nearby (including reviews and busy times) using Google Maps
- FYI, some of the best cafés and restaurants don’t top the TripAdvisor “lists”
- If you’re staying in an Airbnb, have fun learning how to make local recipes
- Be adventurous, don’t choose somewhere because it looks safe and familiar
In short, combine a variety of sources (no, not those types of sauces!) to help you make informed decisions—go with your instinct when making the final decision.
Airport Food is Very Expensive
Airport meals can cost more than the airfare, it’s insane, and in-flight meals aren’t exactly anything to rave about either. Like anywhere else, fast food restaurants are the cheaper option, and it’s way too easy to tell ourselves “but, we had no choice!”.
Eat beforehand, and take snacks with you.
Here are some healthy travel snacks for flying days:
- Seeds and nuts (if this sounds boring, go for the spicy/seasoned ones)
- Dried fruits (surprisingly tasty, but watch out for the high-sugar content)
- Dried beans (again, some of these are very flavorful)
- Fresh fruit (a bit perishable, but still a tasty treat)
- Grain and/or bean salads (because salads don’t have to be boring!)
- Granola bars (easy to carry, some are really tasty)
- Jerky 😅 (just because)
- Popcorn (steer clear of the ones that are obviously unhealthy)
- Sliced and cured meats (not healthy, but not unhealthy either)
- Whole wheat bread, tortilla wraps, and crackers (source of fibre)
- Solid cheese (hold off on the stinky cheeses though 😉)
FYI: when moving through security, half-eaten foods, sauces, oils, soups, salad dressings, and yogurts (basically anything liquid) are not allowed.
Non-whole foods must also be wrapped in ziplock bags or airtight containers.
When You Land
When the Nomad Noms team travels, we always know what we’re going to eat, and where. Nothing eases the stress of flying like food and sitting down, and already knowing ahead of time where we’re going to eat is simply invaluable. We research restaurants near our accommodation, and consciously replenish with a small, healthy snack and plenty of water upon landing, so we’re not tempted to change our minds!
Jet Lag = Making Bad Decisions
Jet lag is a bitch. When travelling through time zones, our body clock becomes out of sync. We find ourselves hungry at strange times (often when there’s nothing open other than a 24-hour McDonald’s!), and all hell breaks loose. Jet lag disorder can also bring on insomnia, daytime fatigue, difficulty functioning, constipation, diarrhea, dehydration, and mood changes (depression and anxiety), and when feel crappy, we tell ourselves we need comfort food in order to feel better—but this only makes us feel worse in the long run, and leads to further bad decisions throughout the trip.
Enjoy yourself, but if you’re having this (below) everyday, you’re doing it wrong! 😂
Avoid the “I’m on Vacation” Mentality
You’d be very surprised at how much weight can be gained on a 1-week vacation, and for digital nomads falling in love with the local food, especially those with a carefree attitude, the “I’m on vacation” mentality can quickly become daily life.
And when the food is oh-so-cheap…oh dear.
Stick to 3 meals (or 6 small meals) a day. When working or adventuring, it’s easy to skip a meal and wind up feeling weak and hungry later (= bad decisions).
We know this can be tough for busy digital nomads, so try eating while working. Go to healthier destinations if you’re generally just trying to be healthier and find it quite difficult (although a cliché, it is really easy to find healthy food in Bali and Thailand).
Refrain from eating unhealthy snacks from convenience stores, and be wary of the sugar in drinks (it really adds up when we’re not paying attention). Drink lots of water.
Learn the healthiest and tastiest cafés and restaurants—return to the best ones.
In restaurants, don’t be afraid to ask questions, or ask for healthier substitutions either—many restaurants are more than happy to cater for specific needs.
Choose Accommodation Wisely
Ask these questions before booking hotels and Airbnbs:
- Is there a nearby supermarket, if needed?
- Is there a fridge, for food storage?
- Is the area touristy and expensive?
- Are there any healthy cafés/restaurants nearby?
- Do any of the nearby eateries look inviting and comfortable?
It can be quite disheartening to find that local eateries are low-quality, too expensive, or too far away, especially when we’re booked to stay a while. In a new country, anxiety can be crippling, and it’s way too easy to choose somewhere that looks safe.
Be adventurous, be prepared, have a decent idea of what and where you’ll eat.
Rebeka Bergin is the founder of Nomad Noms. A digital nomad finding ways to stay happy and healthy while traveling around the world, her hobbies include cooking, eating out, discovering new cuisines, watching horror flicks and reading fantasy novels.