Healthy Travel for the Body and the Mind
  • By Deanna Segrave-Daly
  • In 2017
  • July 5, 2017

Healthy Travel for the Body and the Mind

by Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

When I am asked how to stay healthy while traveling, I know people are usually expecting me to respond with what to restrict so they do not gain weight. However, my first two responses are:

  • Flexibility is part of a healthful diet
  • Mental health is just as important as physical health

What does this mean? You need to enjoy your vacation and your life! It’s important to have food freedom every day and remember that depriving yourself of something you love or don’t get to have often will just increase your stress levels as well as your chances of overeating on something else. Food is meant to bring us energy, and satisfaction, not anxiety. The social and cultural experiences that surround food also have value, so why miss out on the joy that food should bring, too? Allow yourself to relish in every moment without fear of calories or weight management.

This brings me to discuss what I feel are two real challenges, for many, when traveling.

  • Eating what you love in amounts that make you feel good (physically and mentally)
  • Moving your body out of joy, not guilt; Exercising without it overtaking vacation plans

I want to start by addressing the first challenge. It often corresponds with how people may eat before they “go on a diet”. If you have lived through dieting before, you may recall a time where you decided “if I just finish the whole carton of ice cream now, it won’t be there tomorrow and I can start ‘being good’ then”. It is often as if it is the last time ice cream will ever hit your tongue. Well, how does that leave you feeling? Probably with some digestive troubles, difficulty sleeping, a headache and/or some bloating the next day. It would be a much better experience to have had the serving of ice cream, enjoyed it mindfully, and then been able to have more in a couple of days! The same happens to many on vacation. There is often a mentality that you may not have that specific meal, dessert, treat ever again, so you over-indulge in it, rather than mindfully enjoying it. Unfortunately, that can leave you with an unpleasant experience of the meal or food, harming your physical and mental health.

For the second challenge I mentioned, I encourage you to relax. Skipping structured workouts for a few days will not cause weight gain. If intense exercise is a daily part of your life, your body may welcome this rest by reducing inflammation, decreasing stress hormones, and having the ability to truly repair those muscles that you always push so hard. After vacation, you’ll be eager to return and your body will be even more capable of reaching fitness goals. That’s not to say I am telling you that you aren’t allowed to exercise on vacation! Just be sure it’s something you want to do and not something you are doing out of guilt after a meal or abnormal dessert.

For most of you, this isn’t as easy as “ just eat mindfully” or “eat intuitively” while on vacation. Even relaxing travel brings different stressors since your schedule is abnormal and eating is not as planned. Use the tips below so that when a buffet, large menu, or your favorite dessert is in front of you, you’ll be able to eat mindfully without going overboard!

  • Pack Emergency Food

Healthy Travel for the Body and the Mind

  • Keep filling snacks on hand that can be combined into a meal in case life doesn’t go as planned. If a flight is late and you are running to your connection, missing the meal you were going to stop for, having a high protein bar, some roasted beans, and a piece of fruit can provide the same nutrition as a full meal.

Healthy Travel for the Body and the Mind

  • Unsure of the breakfast situation where you’re headed? Oatmeal never fails. Pack single serve oatmeal packets, single serve chia seed and/or nut butter packets, dried fruit and a plastic spoon and you can make fresh oatmeal by pouring water through your hotel room coffee maker to heat it up!
  • Foods to Pack:
    • High protein bars such as RxBar, Wella Bar, Oatmega, KIND Strong
    • Roasted edamame, chickpeas or fava beans
    • Nuts, seeds, nut butter
    • Fruit (fresh or dried)
    • Whole grain or flax crackers
    • Shelf-stable milk boxes
  • Balance Meals and Snacks
    • When a meal contains mostly one energy nutrient (example: pasta with red sauce being mainly carbohydrate) instead of all three, you’re likely to feel unsatisfied either at the meal or later in the day, which can cause overeating. Try to add protein whenever possible to support satiety, with vegetables and fruit being a bonus. If you check those at each meal, it doesn’t matter if it is home-cooked, at an all-inclusive restaurant, at Starbucks or a restaurant, you’ll be full and satisfied when you should.

Healthy Travel for the Body and the Mind

  • Share Meals and Desserts
    • This isn’t for everyone, but if you know only having French toast for breakfast will leave you feeling poorly all day, share a small order with your whole group and eat something else that you know starts your day off on the right foot. This works for mid-day treats and desserts, meals and desserts, too!

Healthy Travel for the Body and the Mind

  • Stay Hydrated
    • Hydration is about more than just water. If you’re on vacation spending a long day at the beach or hiking in the heat, you need to replace enough electrolytes and carbohydrates, too. Be sure to have snacks around (like the bars or fruit above) and even consider traveling with electrolyte tabs or powders to add to your water. Staying hydrate means you’ll better regulate your appetite and hunger.
  • Fit Exercise into Travel Activities
    • Rather than force yourself to lift weights while the family is on the beach, find activities that everyone can do together. Pack a frisbee if you’re flying, or a game like spike ball if you can fit it in your car for a road trip. Walk wherever you can instead of taking a taxi. Convince your significant other to join you for sunrise yoga on the beach. You’ll keep stress levels down by moving and also experience things you wouldn’t have from inside a car or hotel gym! This higher level of appreciation of your experiences may translate into higher elevated gratitude and mindfulness with food, too.

Pack these tips wherever you are this summer for happy, healthy travels!

Healthy Travel for the Body and the Mind by Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is a speaker and consultant dietitian based in greater Philadelphia. She specializes in sports nutrition, intuitive eating and nutrition for mental health.  You can find her recipes and tips for fueling an active lifestyle at