It’s mid-March and I’m making my second trek back across the country for 2015. Both times the travel has been for a conference and expo. When it’s time to fly, anxiety about maintaining my nutrition inevitably sets in, as a trip away from home means deviating from my weekly shopping trip to the farmers’ market and Trader Joe’s.
For the past 8+ years, my prep for business travel included stocking up on packaged protein bars to get me through a long day of walking an expo hall. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence for me to use the protein bars as full meal replacements if a day became really hectic.
This year, though, I wanted to try something different. When I’m at home, I have a semi-eat-clean lifestyle and I thought to myself: “Get it together. You can travel and eat healthy. At least give it a try.” This was my experience.
To prep, I bought and prepared food for my flight from Oakland to Orlando that wouldn’t require refrigeration and was tough enough to withstand being stuffed in a carry-on piece of luggage. Since I’d arrive at my hotel around 11pmET, I also wanted to ensure I packed enough food to last me until the next morning, if needed.
In my suitcase – next to shoes (wrapped in shower caps) and my make-up bag – I had Ziploc sandwich bags filled with sliced oranges, sliced apples, sunflower seeds, roasted unsalted almonds, whole-grain biscuit cereal, carrots and bell peppers. In some cases I double-bagged the contents to help protect against potential leaks from the fruit juice.
When I got to the airport, I cruised around the terminal to try to hunt down some of the healthier options. I wondered how much money I might’ve saved by bringing my own healthy snacks vs. buying the healthy(ish) options they offer at the airport.
The terminal wasn’t very large. It had a few coffee bars, one larger chain restaurant, a food to-go stand, and a couple of the magazine stands that sell bottled water and candy. Here’s what I found:
- Cup of broth-based soup for 3.69 at 230 cal (restaurant chain)
- Cup of fruit salad: $4.29 (food to-go)
- Grilled chicken salad for $10.59 at 420 cal (restaurant chain)
- One whole banana: $1.28 (coffee bar)
- One whole boiled egg: $1.70 (food to-go)
- One whole piece of fruit: $1.62 each for an apple or orange (food to-go)
- Tuna salad on whole wheat for $8.35 (magazine stand)
- Turkey sandwich on sliced white bread: $9 (food to-go)
A few of the places also sold nuts and seeds for various prices. The comforting thing to know is that healthier options are available in the airport, but it’ll be no surprise that you’ll pay for it. I was glad that I had packed several oranges in my carry-on, which I bought the day prior for $1.50/lb.
Some of the fruit and nut snack bags made it into my backpack for easier access during the flight. This worked out quite well, as I was able to have fruit-infused water on the plane, making the water much more appetizing.
After checking into my hotel room, the first thing I did was open up the cabinets to check for a mini refrigerator. Luckily, yes, there was one under the television.
Then, I prepared my late dinner of carrots, mini sweet bell peppers, almonds and cereal. It may not sound like much, but at that point I was just tired from the flight. It was around midnight and I just wanted to nourish my body before heading to bed. Before the produce made it into my tummy, it got a bath in the sink.
My plan was to get up early, grab a cab and go to a grocery store to stock up for the week. However, my schedule the next morning began to unravel when I looked up the travel time to the grocery store and saw that morning rush-hour traffic would double the commute time. Fearful my planned grocery trip might make me late for my first meeting, I instead finished off my last bag of sliced apples and oranges before I left the hotel room. I stopped by a coffee stand where I picked up a latte and a cup of nuts and seeds to help me through the day.
Later that evening, I did make it to a grocery store. My haul:
- 1 cucumber
- 2 avocados
- 2 bell peppers
- 2 servings of coconut water (1 not pictured)
- 2 servings of salted popcorn (not pictured)
- 5 apples
- Bag of unsalted roasted nuts and seeds (not pictured)
- Box of mixed green salad
- Mango salsa
- Purple rice crackers
Even if my room didn’t have a refrigerator, this haul would look nearly identical. The only things I wouldn’t have purchased were the salad greens and salsa. I probably would’ve swapped those for an extra cucumber or zucchini and whole oranges.
For dinner that evening I used half the lettuce box to make a large salad with the salsa, 1/3 of the cucumber, half an avocado, half a bell pepper, blueberries, and rice crackers on the side.
The rest of the food I consumed over the next couple of days. For example, in the morning I’d have an apple and blueberries with a handful of nuts and seeds. In the afternoon I’d return to my room to eat slices of bell pepper and rice crackers with avocado. You get the idea.
For fuel when I was away from the room I carried a bottle of water, nuts, seeds and popcorn.
Dinners were often eaten at a restaurant with colleagues and friends. I even had the good fortune to run into my second cousin on the show floor! It was great to see him and catch up over a cocktail.
Packing to go home, I still had a good amount of food to consume, so I put a bell pepper, avocado, 2 apples, nuts and seeds into my carry on. When I arrived back home, the first thing I did was make another large salad with all of those fixings, plus jicama and cold pasta sauce as the dressing. (Sound weird to you? Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. It’s delicious!)
Did I eat healthier on this trip compared to previous ones? I did! Was it worth the effort? Absolutely.
I also indulged a little when I went out to dinner with my colleagues. (Wine? Sure! Pretzel? Ok!) But the balance, overall, was much better than trips prior.
My top 3 key learnings:
- Have something healthy to eat in my bag at all times. This helped to curb cravings for the items I knew would eventually make me do a sugar-crash and burn. I successfully and politely declined bread rolls, crab cakes, cake pops and chocolate mousse. That’s no small feat.
- Stay hydrated. Did I get strange looks when I infused my airplane water with fruit slices? You betcha. So. don’t. care. Also, the coconut water was great at keeping headaches to a minimum (said headaches may or may not have been caused by wine).
- I can travel and eat healthy. I’m glad I gave it a try.
Have any advice to share on staying healthy and fit when traveling? I would love to hear your stories and ideas. Please leave a comment below.