Staying on top of your diet while you’re traveling is a challenge. Long hours in a car or airport make fast food and treats very tempting. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “well, that’s all there is. I guess I’ll get the cheeseburger.” If you’re on the road for long enough, two years in my case, all that fast food can really take a toll on your body.
I’ve spent the last two years traveling with a national touring musical. Our primary mode of transportation was a bus; we could be in as many as seven cities in as many days. When I got the job, some touring veterans told me to expect to gain weight because “fast food is all there is.” I was not willing to accept that and you shouldn’t be either. Granted, my situation has been pretty extreme; I’ve basically been on a non-stop two-year road trip, but the strategies that I’ve used to stay in shape are applicable to just about any travel situation.
To start, you’ll want a cooler, ice packs (TSA approved if you fly), and Tupperware/plastic containers. This doesn’t have to be some fancy meal prep bag, though I opted for one for durability’s sake; you can get a perfectly good lunch bag from Walmart. The cooler was great for traveling perishable food and prepped meals from city to city. When our bus pulled up at a rest stop surrounded by fast food, I could easily whip out a much healthier option. Bonus— no waiting in line!
So what about the food?
My go-to for protein was always rotisserie chicken. They’re pretty inexpensive and they usually have a couple days worth of meat on them. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty when you’re stripping the meat. There can be another half pound of meat hiding in nooks and crannies around the chicken. Another option is low-sodium deli meat; even better if it’s “nitrate-free.” Deli meat isn’t necessarily the best quality meat, but it’s also really easy to throw a couple slices in a Tupperware with some veggies for a quick lunch.
For carbs, I went with potatoes, rice, green veggies, and mini bell peppers. Stab a potato a couple times with a fork and throw it in your hotel microwave for 6-8 minutes for a quick and easy baked potato. Some grocery stores even sell individually wrapped taters that you can just toss in the microwave with no stabbing required. There are plenty of brands of microwaveable rice, but the problem is, a lot of them have at ton of sodium from flavoring. If you can find one with zero sodium, great! If you can’t, try to find one that’s below 300mg. The veggies are pretty simple. Bags of spinach, kale, or broccoli florets are easy to come by and easy to transport. I like the peppers because they’re an easy way to add flavor to road meals. They work great in a salad, or put them in with deli meat and broccoli to spice it up.
The fat source that I’ve used the most by far is avocado. Whether sliced or as guacamole, they’re a great way to add fat and flavor to any meal. I always kept an eye out for single serving guacamole snack packs. Easy to transport, even easier to add to a meal. Nut butters and nuts themselves are also a great option. Go for the nut butters that have shortest ingredient lists (i.e. Peanuts. That’s it). There are too many nut butters out there that are better suited as a dessert than a healthy snack. Take a look at that sugar content!
There are a lot of great combinations that you can make with these ingredients. Here are some of my go-tos.
- Oatmeal – instant oatmeal is ok, certainly better than most hotel breakfasts. Add nut butter and
berries to amp up the flavor.
- Microwave mug muffins – Tons of recipes out there on the internet. I started making these recently and I’m upset that I didn’t start doing it sooner.
- Microwave Eggs – Whisk up an egg or two, add spices, and microwave in a mug for 30-60 seconds. It may not be the best egg patty you’ve ever had, but it beats the hell out of the “scrambled eggs” that most hotels serve.
Even when I have a kitchen, I find it easiest to keep breakfast simple. I just want to get food in
my body quickly, without any frills or fuss.
- Low/Zero-Sodium Deli Meat or rotisserie chicken with green veggies and guacamole.
Salad – Rotisserie chicken, kale, tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, blue cheese crumbles. You could add dressing to this, but I found that the blue cheese crumbles were enough for me.
- Rotisserie Chicken with microwaved potato or rice – I like to add roasted red pepper hummus to this for added flavor. Great as a post-workout meal as well.
- Nut butters,
- Protein bars – check the protein source and how much sugar it has before you buy.
Jerky – the lower the sodium the better. BUT, check the ingredients. If the only sodium source is plain old salt, you should be ok.
- Protein shakes; add powdered peanut butter to make them more substantial.
These are just some ideas to get you going. Your only limit is your own creativity!
Let’s be real though, if you’re on vacation or a road trip, eating local food is part of the fun; you have to live a little! I stuck to this kind of diet most of the time, but if you think I didn’t have deep dish pizza when my show played Chicago, you’re crazy!
Using these meals, I’ve managed to maintain the same weight through two years of constant travel. I do indulge every now and then, but I can afford to because of how healthy I keep the rest of my diet. With these strategies to get you started, there’s no reason why you can’t stay healthy on the road.