Staying healthy while you travel can be a challenge. You don’t have the luxury of a routine, the food is unfamiliar and often the cheapest and most convenient options are also the most unhealthy. Knowledge is power though, and I’m going to let you in on the best ways to stick to a healthy and nutritious diet on the road. Here’s how to eat healthy while you travel.
In the beginning you’ll have to force yourself to choose healthy options and incorporate good habits into your day. But with a little practice and discipline you’ll soon find that you automatically make better decisions around food. You’ll learn more about local dishes and what dishes are nourishing and filling, and which ones will leave you with energy slumps and feeling sluggish.
1. Never Skip Breakfast
Having a nutritious breakfast will prevent you from making unhealthy food choices later in the day. Don’t opt for banana pancakes with syrup, choose eggs or fruit and yogurt which will keep you fuller, longer.
Find hostels and guesthouses that offer a free breakfast which saves money and the effort of hunting down a reasonably healthy, reasonably priced breakfast in a new place. You can add this as a filter on most booking websites.
If you have to grab breakfast on the go you can buy pre-boiled eggs, fruit and yogurt in convenience stores across Asia and Oz. Aim for something with plenty of fat to keep you full, and if you’re having an active morning then have some carbs with it too.
2. Find healthy places to eat
Travelling usually means eating out a lot, and if you’re on a budget you often won’t have a huge amount of choice in where you can eat. I know it’s really, really easy and cheap to have a cup of noodles from 7-11 for dinner but your body needs more nourishment than that.
Here are a few examples of healthy and affordable food in popular countries:
In Vietnam you can order fresh salads and summer rolls on the street for less than a dollar,
In Australia authentic Asian food can be seriously cheap. There are little pockets in the cities where you can pick up authentic and cheap Asian food. Check out Chinatown and the Vietnamese / Thai equivalents for cheap, fresh food. You’ll find these areas on Google Maps. In Melbourne we would often pick up brown rice sushi rolls for just a few dollars while we were out sightseeing – or head to Master Roll in South Yarra for the best Vietnamese food for around $5.
In Taiwan food markets are really popular and meat skewers are a super cheap delicious and filling dish. You’ll always have a night market nearby where you can pick up very cheap and tasty food.
In Cambodia western food is very popular but take a walk slightly off the main streets and you’ll find lots of authentic local restaurants where you can get freshly made curry for just a few dollars.
In Bali ‘Gado Gado’ is a very cheap meal of a boiled egg, steamed veg and other healthy stuff for just a few thousand rupiah. You can order this at any local warung, again you’ll need to go a couple of streets away from the main tourist drag but you should be able to find a good warung nearby using Google Maps.
Japanese food is always a nice option for something cheap and fresh. Conveyor belt sushi can be surprisingly cheap across Asia so take a look on Google Maps for nearby Japanese restaurants.
It can be really hard to get enough fruit and veg in the Philippines because of their love for pork and white rice. Smoothie and juice bars are really popular there and quite cheap so this can be a good way to get some much needed vitamins and nourishment.
All of these foods can be found in markets or food stalls, probably just around the corner from where you bought that cup of noodles and they’ll leave you feeling a lot better!
3. Make lunch your biggest meal of the day
When you’re travelling and sightseeing, the afternoons are the busiest part of your day. Give yourself plenty of fuel for the days activities by eating enough at lunch.
I’ve found that evenings are the part of the day when willpower wanes a little – if I haven’t had enough to eat at lunch, I tend to over-order or make bad decisions. Having enough to eat at lunch stops you needing to snack in the afternoon and usually leads to making better decisions around dinner because you’re not starving.
Eat something fresh, with lots of fats, some good protein and don’t cut out carbs – you’ll need them to have enough energy to explore and sight see. Try stir-fried vegetables, an omelette with rice, noodle soup, or a healthy fish dish.
4. Carry healthy snacks
Often when you’re travelling the only food available will be unhealthy stuff like crisps and chocolate. Keep some healthy snacks in your bag so that you have something good to keep you going during these times.
Buy things like crackers, little bags of seeds or nuts, yogurt, fruit and pre-boiled eggs at convenience stores and carry them with you. They’ll be a godsend on long bus or boat journeys.
Protein bars are fantastic to snack on, if you can find them. Buy things in the chilled section of a convenience store rather than off the shelves as things that need to be refrigerated usually have fresher ingredients. I don’t eat much meat so I also carry protein powder and a protein shaker with me which is great for filling me up and getting enough protein.
5. Watch your rice intake
White rice is a staple food in SE Asia and it’s served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice is great for providing your body with the energy it needs to function but you’re often served a lot more of it than you need.
Order one serving of rice between two people, and if both main dishes are served with rice just let them know you only want one to save on food waste.
Order a vegetable side dish instead of rice – garlicky pak choi can be a great substitute.
If you feel like a rice or noodle dish but don’t want a huge meal then split it with your travel partner and order a vegetable dish or salad to share too.
6. Learn about local dishes
Previously I thought healthy eating abroad meant ordering chicken salad everywhere. Not only was that an incredibly boring way to eat but I also missed out on trying delicious local food.
Since we’ve been away I’ve learned a lot more about food in the countries we visit and now it’s much easier to eat well.
Do a little reading online and learn about the local dishes to find out which ones are particularly healthy, it will make it a lot easier to order the right stuff. Even better, do a cooking course or food tour to learn more about the dishes and their ingredients (this is particularly handy if you have allergies and want to know which foods to avoid).
In Thailand choose Som Tam instead of Pad Thai
In Bali choose Gado Gado instead of Nasi Goreng
In Vietnam choose summer rolls or fresh salads instead of Banh Mi
In Cambodia skip the popular western foods and go to a local restaurant for a freshly made Khmer curry.
In Japan choose sushi instead of yaki soba
In Malaysia vegetarian Indian food is delicious and filling alternative to fried noodles or rice.
7. Don’t eat airplane food
Eat at the airport or bring food with you instead of eating plane food, which is usually very processed, calorie dense, and just not good.
Even on long haul flights I pack my own food and I really feel so much better for it. You can prepare some food if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, or pick something at the airport or on the way. I opt for fruit, fresh veg, a salad or sandwich and bring my protein shake for when I need a snack.
8. Share your Meals
Portion sizes vary a lot around SE Asia and in some countries you are served way more food than you need. I find it hard to leave food behind after seeing so many hungry people while we’ve been travelling, but it’s also not healthy to eat more food than I need or want. When we’re in countries with large portions we just split our meals and eat what we need.
If you want to try a dish that’s not super healthy, why not share it with your travel buddy and combine it with a healthier option? Or have the leftovers wrapped up and make two meals out of it.
9. Drink lots of water
Thirst can often be mistaken for hunger and in hot countries you’re going to need to drink a lot of water to make up for how much you sweat. Don’t drink fizzy drinks when you’re thirsty, even if they’re sugar free, as it gets you into a bad habit of craving sugar and artificial sweeteners instead of water. Always carry a water bottle with you and ask in restaurants and cafes if they can fill it up before you leave.
Hydration is the key for good digestion. Many people find that when they travel they have issues with digesting their food or feel sluggish after meals, this is usually because they have not drunk enough water. Make sure you drink plenty during and after your meal and I promise you will feel a lot better and your stomach will get a little flatter too.
10. Recognise your vices and limit them
My biggest food weakness is sugar. I’m such a huge sugar fiend and I have an endless appetite for sweet things. I know how unhealthy this is and how much it affects my energy levels so I’ve come up with my own way of limiting how much I eat. I don’t eat sweets, chocolate or any junk foods all week except on a Sunday when I can have as much as I like – I call it ‘Sweet Sunday’ and it’s sometimes my favourite day of the week.
Recognise the foods that send you into an unhealthy eating pattern. For me if I have something sweet I tend to eat too much and skip meals just to snack on more of it. It’s my trigger food for unhealthy eating and most people have one. Find yours and take it out of your diet as much as possible.
Don’t tell yourself you’re never going to eat it again as this is unrealistic and unachievable if it’s something you crave a lot. Instead eliminate it completely most of the time and allow yourself a cheat day once a week or whatever works for you. You’ll be surprised how little you crave the foods after a couple of weeks of this!
Those are my tips for staying healthy while I travel! Give them a try and let me know how you get on.
Thanks for reading!