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Eating healthy is a major challenge while traveling

October 8, 2015 - Andy Flynn
This week: 423

Sept. 15: 420

Difference: +3

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I’m really bad at eating healthy while on vacation. Last week, I found that I’m even worse at eating healthy while traveling on the road.

I chalk most of my incompetence up to inexperience. My trip to Gettysburg in August was the first multi-day vacation spent away from home in eight years. When I’ve taken time off with my wife, it’s typically been a staycation, using our Saranac Lake home as a base for day trips around the region. Most of my vacation time over the years has been spent working on book projects at home.

Last week, my wife and I took a working vacation to Raleigh, North Carolina to cover the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards Show and World of Bluegrass conference and concert series. Along the way, we stopped in Blacksburg, Virginia, to conduct an interview. We made the trip for research on an upcoming book project about the Gibson Brothers bluegrass band. Eric and Leigh Gibson hosted the Awards Show Oct. 1 and performed the following day.

I spent so much time preparing for the trip — places to stay, directions, media passes, etc. — that I had little time to properly prepare for eating healthy on the road. I did spend a lot of time looking for restaurants before we left, but the choices for healthy food were either limited or non-existent near our hotels, never mind along the interstate en route. I had some luck with restaurants serving salads, and I did bring along some peanut butter sandwiches and New York apples, but the trip was generally filled with fast food.

Then there’s the novelty of being on vacation. Sometimes you just feel like having a good time.

Exercise was another problem. We spent five out of six days traveling on the road, driving between five and 11 hours at a time. Although I was prepared to exercise in the fitness rooms — even packing three sets of dumbbells in the car — I simply had no time for exercise because of our tight schedule.

I’m sure if I had more practice and prepared more, I’d be more successful at eating healthy and exercising on the road. But it wasn’t in the cards for this trip.

Building in the time for exercise, for finding healthy food options and for having sit-down meals instead of meals on the go would help in the future. But that’s the problem: time. When it’s go-go-go, sometimes getting food — any type of food — in your system is a challenge. There were even times when I ate bigger meals on the road because I wasn’t sure what time the next meal would come.

Obviously, I gained weight. How could I not? I guess that’s the question that will haunt me until next year’s driving vacation.

We plan on returning to Raleigh for the IBMA conference in 2016, so that gives us a starting point. At least now we have an idea what to expect.

This year, we didn’t know what food options were realistically available. I made a reservation for lunch on Friday, Oct. 2 at the Rye Bar and Southern Kitchen at the Marriott hotel adjoining the Raleigh Convention Center, where I enjoyed catfish and three sides of vegetables. But our hotel, the Econo Lodge a short drive away from the conference, was surrounded by fast food restaurants, and the concert venue only had fast food. There was a Subway near the Econo Lodge, but we stopped at a Subway for lunch in Chapel Hill on Thursday and we weren’t in the mood for more subs.

So here’s the challenge. Learn some new tricks, build more time into the schedule for exercise and prepare for healthy meals for the next trip. My eventual goal is to simply not gain weight on vacation. That in itself would be miraculous and show real progress. In the meantime, it looks as though I’ve got plenty of work to do.

10 Tips for eating healthy while traveling on the road

With a quick scan of online resources, I’ve compiled a list of tips that I know will help me eat healthier on the road during my next vacation.

1. Plan ahead. Research the area where you’ll be traveling and staying for healthier food options. I tried to do this for the trip to Raleigh, but it looks as though I needed to spend even more time preparing for diet and exercise. Packing a cooler in the car, and restoring the ice every morning, is one idea we’ve adopted with some success.

2. Drink plenty of water. The entire trip, my wife and I were saying we needed to drink more water, so we’d stop and get some and put it in the small cooler we brought. But we didn’t get enough.

3. Eat smaller, frequent meals. That’s tough on the road without bringing your own food, which leads me to the next tip.

4. Pack healthy snacks. Fruit, nuts, cut vegetables, etc. are good examples. Yogurt and hummus are great, as long as you’re not driving. It can get messy. Some of these items can be stored in the cooler into the room.

5. Stock the hotel room. Bring in bottled water, fresh fruit and healthy snacks. Most hotel rooms today have small refrigerators, which makes this more convenient than bringing a large cooler.

6. Be careful with fast-food outlets. Some experts advise travelers to stay away from fast food joints, and others say to choose wisely. We’ve found that not all fast food restaurants are horrific. There are healthy choices out there. A little homework will lead you to the right ones. Sometimes it’s just a matter of making better choices.

7. Visit a local grocery store. You can use a grocery store to stock up your hotel room or buy healthy snacks on the go. We did this with some success in Gettysburg but not in Raleigh because of time constraints.

8. Don’t be afraid of adopting new habits. Maybe there are new habits you can learn for traveling, things that you may not do at home. A new exercise routine, new portable healthy foods, etc. It’s worth getting creative and asking others what they do.

9. Sample, don’t gorge. You can try new foods on vacation without going nuts.

10. Don’t stress. As long as you’re eating healthy some of the time, it’s better than not eating healthy during the entire trip. After all, this is a vacation. It’s OK to splurge a little. Just don’t beat yourself up if you gain a few pounds; however, if you gain 11 pounds like I did, it’s time to re-evaluate the way you travel. Once you get back home, get back to a regular healthy routine. That’s my plan.


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Blog Photos

The Gibson Brothers perform Friday, Oct. 2 at the Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh, North Carolina during the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass concert series, which was held from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The meal choices for patrons inside the building were limited to fast food. (News photo — Andy Flynn)