A healthy lifestyle takes planning, quality food, and a commitment to fitness. For a lot of people, those are the first things that go whenever they’re traveling away from the convenience of home. Luckily, with preparation and easy strategies, you can maintain your healthy lifestyle no matter where you go in this Paleo traveler’s guide!
Eating Paleo is much healthier than the typical Western diet, but it isn’t the default option for most places. Almost everywhere you look, sugary soft drinks and unhealthy processed foods are within easy reach.
To live a sustainable Paleo lifestyle, you have to set firm guidelines. The easiest place to start is your immediate environment – your pantry and fridge – to fight the temptation of those fast food joints and doughnut shops down the street.
But, what happens when you travel outside your carefully constructed Paleo bubble?
Things get a lot more interesting. Thrown outside your comfort zone, you’re forced to find new ways to maintain a Paleo lifestyle.
This is a huge source of stress for many people. They are perfectly healthy at home, but every time they travel, they start to slip. Suddenly, the sheer convenience of a Big Mac doesn’t look too bad. Yikes.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. The issue isn’t a lack of good intentions. What you need is a traveler’s guide — and a better plan.
How to Eat Paleo When Traveling
Staying Paleo on the road requires a combination of big-picture mental shifts, and practical techniques to fit your specific travel situation.
Don’t Expect Perfection (and Celebrate Every Success)
With the wrong mindset, a lot of us set ourselves up to fail before our trips even begin. Adjusting this will help you stay flexible and adapt – whether you’re driving cross-country or stuck in an unfamiliar airport.
Perfectionism can get you in trouble. We’ve spent a lot of time building the discipline needed to stay Paleo at home; it’s understandable to expect the same results on the road.
This overlooks the importance of environment when sticking to our healthy lifestyles. At home, healthy options are just a few steps away. All you have to do is head to the kitchen.
Expecting everything to run just as seamlessly when you’re traveling is unrealistic.
With travel, Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) is a lot more common. While a perfectionist feels absolutely terrible when the tiniest thing goes awry, simply doing the best you can will allow you to celebrate your successes – even if you don’t manage to keep things 100 percent Paleo.
A key point of this traveler’s guide is to remember to aim for 80 or 90 percent compliance, and you’ll stay on track and can return home without losing all your momentum.
Don’t Let One Mistake Turn into Two
It’s so easy to tell yourself, “Hey, I’ve already screwed up today. So it really doesn’t matter if I screw up this meal too!”
This kind of defeatist thinking is toxic to your health. When you write off an entire day because of one mistake, it won’t take long before you abandon your healthy lifestyle. Taking a few days off from a healthy diet (or exercise plan) makes the idea of getting back on the program even harder.
If you’re starving and ultimately have to eat something non-Paleo, sometimes that’s just the reality of traveling. Don’t beat yourself about it. Accept it, then move on.
Don’t let one slip up justify another!
Re-Frame the Experience
When traveling, sometimes we imagine doomsday scenarios where there’s nothing healthy to eat, and that by the time we get home, we’ll be 20 pounds heavier.
All that stress is unnecessary – and unproductive.
Why not turn the experience into a game instead? See how resourceful you can be with hacking what’s available to make it Paleo. Instead of viewing the situation as a nightmare, try seeing it as an opportunity to get creative.
Personally, it’s been amazing how much of a difference this simple mental adjustment has made to my travel game. Without all the extra worry, it’s easier to enjoy meals and the time spent traveling.
Commit to Stay Active (No Matter What)
Eating well and staying active go hand in hand.
A team of Indiana University researchers studied 6,000 people and found a significant connection between regular physical activity and fruit and vegetable consumption (1). They pointed to a phenomenon called the transfer effect, where improving one aspect of your life triggers a desire to improve others automatically.
Some of us are so focused on the nutritional aspect of travel that we overlook physical activity. But staying physically active makes the nutrition part a lot easier.
So, give this traveler’s guide tip a try your next trip: You don’t have to work out as long (or as often) as you do when you’re at home. Anything you do to break a sweat reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) and motivates you to eat healthy too (2).
Your exercise routine also acts as a psychological anchor to life at home. Everything else in your environment might be new, but bringing that one constant with you is comforting. And, if you do go off track, it’s much easier to just rebuild the nutritional aspect – instead of both.
Wherever you’re headed probably won’t be ideal for your typical fitness program. That’s okay – just make sure to commit to staying as active as possible.
Running or walking is one of the best ways to explore a new city. Sometimes you can find a gym near where you’re staying and sign up for a temporary membership or, if you’re lucky, use your hotel gym. If neither of those are options, you can do a challenging bodyweight workout in your hotel room. See, no excuses!
Think about portable, lightweight ways to bring your fitness program with you. Your suitcase might not have room for dumbbells, but how about a pair of running shoes, resistance bands, or a yoga mat?
Prepare Paleo-friendly Snacks
In addition to the mental shifts above, preparation is your biggest key to staying Paleo on the road.
Don’t rely on discipline and willpower alone. You’ve probably developed a lot of those at home, but those are some of the first things to go when you’re faced with an unfamiliar environment.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology pointed out that your willpower is limited (3). It might get you through the demands of “regular life” just fine, but when you factor in disrupted sleep, long hours and the unforeseen emergencies of travel, it can run out quickly.
Two things in particular are to blame: hunger and a lack of sleep.
A study published in the journal Sleep found that sleep-deprived participants couldn’t resist tasty (but unhealthy) snacks like cookies and chips – even just two hours after eating a meal that supplied 90 percent of their daily caloric needs (4). Sleep debt triggered the chemical signal endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), the same signal affected by the active ingredient of marijuana!
With red-eye flights and cross-country drives, some sleep loss during travel is inevitable. Accept that you’ll be hungrier than normal, and you can take precautions to stay full while you travel.
One of the best things you can do is to prepare a bunch of Paleo-friendly snacks the night before you leave and bring them with you in a cooler. That way, whenever you find yourself getting hungry, you have a healthy solution within arm’s reach.
Here are just a few things you could pack for your trip. Keep in mind that some of these things you won’t be able to bring with you if you’re flying.
- Bananas, oranges, and apples (look for fruits that aren’t messy and are self-contained)
- Dark chocolate
- Fresh vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, squash, etc.)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Nut butter (almond, coconut)
- Nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc.)
- Paleo snack bars
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc.)
Healthy Tips for Road Trips
Trying to figure out food along the way is a huge gamble. You’ll probably be able to find Paleo options in major cities, or at least something you can make work. But in the places between them – like open stretches of highway – healthy options are scarce. There, fast food places and convenience stores are the norm.
If you do find yourself in the middle of nowhere with few healthy choices around, make the best of it. The vast majority of fast food places have salads, which are a far cry from the ones you usually eat but aren’t half bad if you order them without a commercial dressing. Pack a small plastic container of olive oil for a healthier alternative.
Convenience stores are even more challenging, but doable. Skip the candy and chips and head straight to the beef jerky and nuts. Check the labels carefully, as many products are made with commercial seed oils, but you should be able to find something Paleo-friendly. Most convenience stores also carry fruit. Pick up a few of those for an emergency snack.
A lot of people overlook hydration. Many of us intentionally drink less water than usual to avoid bathroom stops. But go ahead and drink up. You might have to stop a little more often, but that’s a good thing because it’s an excuse to get out of the car, stretch, and move around. It’s also easy to confuse dehydration for hunger.
Healthy Tips for Air Travel
Airports are tougher than car trips because you have to think about security restrictions, flight delays, and potentially getting stuck there for a long time.
But staying Paleo is very possible. A lot of it comes down to proper planning. The TSA in the United States actually allows you to bring food in your carry-on luggage. This is huge because you can control which snacks you’ll have on hand – without being subjected to overpriced (and unhealthy) airport food. If you’re flying elsewhere, a quick search online will help you see what the regulations allow.
Hydration is essential. While you can’t bring liquids through TSA security, you can still bring a large reusable water bottle and fill it up at one of fountains once you’re inside.
Sometimes you run out of snacks or get stuck in an airport longer than you anticipated. In those situations you’ll just have to adapt and make do.
- Mexican food restaurants are generally pretty Paleo-friendly if you focus on avoiding the tortillas and chips. Go for a burrito bowl or fajitas (just eat the meat and vegetables) to keep things Paleo.
- Steakhouses are another good option. It’s usually pretty simple to swap the potatoes or French fries for a side salad or mixed vegetables. Your entree might be grain-fed… but it’s a lot better than just giving up and heading for Cinnabon.
- Breakfast places and diners are usually workable too. Stay away from the pancakes and French toast, and go for the eggs and bacon or omelets. The protein will keep you feeling full a lot longer than a gluten-heavy meal (6).
Healthy Tips for Hotels and Other Rentals
A lot of us use travel as an excuse to go out for every meal. While we probably will want to try a few new restaurants, we can still prepare other meals on our own.
Most hotel rooms have a mini-fridge at a bare minimum, and many have kitchenettes. The rising popularity of extended stay accommodations has made it a lot easier to find an affordable room with a functional kitchen.
There’s nothing stopping you from finding a good grocery store once you get to your destination (research online for something close) and making a few easy meals as your schedule allows. This gives you some of your control back because you get to pick the ingredients – and how they’re prepared.
Services like Airbnb and HomeAway are also useful because they offer such a huge variety of rental options. It’s pretty easy to find an inexpensive apartment rental: 1) in a residential location with a kitchen, and 2) relatively close to a grocery store.
The Bottom Line
Traveling takes us outside our comfort zones. That’s what makes it fun and exciting. But it can also be a bit more challenging to stay Paleo.
You don’t have to let being on the road get in the way of a healthy lifestyle. If you’re willing to move past perfectionism and set yourself up to succeed before your trip, you can have fun while you’re gone – without straying from the good habits you worked so hard to build at home.
Have you ever struggled to stay Paleo while on the road? What are your best health and fitness tips when you’re away from home? Leave a comment below and share your experience!
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