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The top unhealthy eating traps for travellers and how to avoid them

When you’re in the habit, it’s not so hard to eat healthily when you’re at home.

Regular routines, and shopping and cooking for ourselves mean we can get healthy food in without too much bother. We’re able to plan and prepare the food we want to eat and, if we’re of a mind to, we can optimise this to be as healthy as possible. We can get in the half-plate of veges at every meal; we can make sure our serving sizes are reasonable and we’re not eating too much refined brown and white food.

When we’re travelling, though, all of this gets much harder. When we’re relying on others – restaurant chefs, convenience food outlets, airlines – to prepare our food, it becomes a lot more random. When you don’t necessarily have control over where or when you eat, keeping the healthy food going can be really tricky.

I say this having recently returned from a travel-heavy couple of weeks, for both business and pleasure. Traveling for work for me often means events and conferences (most recently TEDx Queenstown, which I’ll tell you more about in a little while).  With these kinds of events, often where and when I eat is organised by someone else. Meals are catered or venues are pre-arranged or, alternatively, nothing is organised and I have to forage food from wherever is convenient. This makes healthy eating much tougher – it’s sometimes necessary to get anything in just to avoid falling down from hunger. ‘Healthy’ goes down the list of criteria in this case; ‘filling’ becomes top priority.

Pre-arranged restaurant meals present different challenges. Often they are superb food, but rarely do they contain what I’d think of as a couple of vege serves. After a few days, this can have an effect on the body!

Being on holiday is slightly easier; we are more in control of where and what we eat, although this isn’t always foolproof, either. My flight to Sydney the other day involved me eating potato chips for breakfast, after an engineering delay and a plane change meant the airline couldn’t offer a meal service. That’s not an ideal breakfast in anyone’s language, but I had no choice and I was, by that point, starving.

So what’s the answer? Not travelling is not an option. Travel enriches the mind, if not always the body. And trying different food, no matter where we are, is one of the great joys of travel. We need to be flexible enough, mentally and physically, to adjust to issues when they arise. There’s no point stressing out about not getting our 5 plus a day if there’s nothing we can do about it. But there are some things we can try.

Carrying ‘emergency’ snacks – a bag of nuts; a fruit bar; pieces of fruit or even a sandwich – is not silly. Just ditch the leftovers before arrivals if you’re travelling internationally.

Breakfast, oddly enough, is often the healthiest meal of the day if you’re not in control of lunch or dinner, and usually you can decide what you eat here. If you have access to a breakfast buffet choose all the veges on offer and stock up on fruit. If you’re making your own make sure it’s high-fibre and heavy on the fruit. I’ve been known to pack my own bircher muesli to eat in motel rooms, soaked overnight in the motel milk.

If you’re travelling for fun, obviously try and seek out healthy outlets for lunch and dinner, and load up on the veges. Even if choices are limited, there’s usually some plants on almost every menu. And remember holidays are for pleasure, too, and treat foods are part of the fun. Don’t let the stress of finding healthy food overwhelm you.


Date modified: February 16 2021
First published: May 2016

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