Feeling worse after a vacation is not the desired effect. Here are some tips for better health during and after your trip.
One of the worst things you can do while traveling is to eat while traveling. While you're in transit that is, whether you're flying, driving, or however you're getting to your destination. The foods in airports, on planes, trains, and in roadside stops are all designed to make unhealthy food taste better or, in the case of airlines, to make food taste better at high altitudes, usually in the form of excess sugar, salt, and fat. It may seem like a necessary evil when you just need to get something in your stomach, but it might haunt you later - especially if you're on a long-haul trip and several meals will be involved. There are already other factors at play including how your body deals with motion, vibration, engine noise and altitude, along with dehydration, stress, mineral loss and poor digestion that deplete your energy and resources. Add an unhealthy meal to the mix and you're throwing gas on the fire. Here are a few simple tips for planning ahead so you can enjoy your vacation and not be a digestive wreck by the time you get home.
Plan ahead about what food you're going to pack. For international travel there are generally very specific rules about different food products with every country. Some are very strict and will not allow many food products, confiscating them on arrival. Even some US states don't allow products from other states. And some countries are beyond strict, administering heavy fines and penalties to anyone attempting to bring in certain products without full disclosure. Most countries should have a government customs and border patrol page that lists allowable items that you can reference before you travel. Be sure to do this as close to your departure as possible as these rules can change regularly. Many common restrictions lie with fresh fruit and vegetables, meat products and honey.
One thing you may want to avoid on airplanes is coffee. It’s been reported by anonymous flight attendants that the coffee is made with less than pristine water and that the coffee pots are not cleaned regularly. This is just one more thing that can contribute to digestive upset while traveling so best to avoid it.
Ultimately, if you can tolerate a stretch without a full meal, your best bet is to have small amounts of healthy food to keep you going until you can find some healthier options at your destination. The following are some options that are easy to travel with and put together that have nutrients to keep you fuelled without the extras to bring you down.
Avocado – this is such a nice little travel snack because it doesn’t need to be refrigerated and you can do so many things with it. If you can’t bring a knife even a spoon will bust open an avocado if it's ripe enough. I like to pack an “everything” spice mix of granulated garlic + onion, salt and sesame seeds. I just sprinkle it on and enjoy with some crackers or just straight onto the avo. Even just plain salt is fine though, or get creative with your spices. Just pack only enough to use while you’re traveling in case there is a customs issue – and be sure the avocado itself is allowed too.
Cereal – muesli, granola or other healthy cereals are great to bring with you to avoid being stuck eating sugary kid's cereals on a plane or at a hotel. Bring small bowl or similar container, an empty water bottle and 2 tablespoons of vanilla protein powder in a separate pouch or right in the empty bottle if you will only be making one serving. Once on the plane get some water for your empty bottle, add the protein powder and shake it up to make your ‘milk'. Pour over the cereal and enjoy.
Chia Fresca – a great way to stay hydrated in transit and get some protein and fibre at the same time. If you're on a plane ask for some water with lemon or lime and mix in 1-2 tablespoons of chia seeds. After a few minutes it will thicken and the seeds will become suspended, then it’s ready to drink. Just stir a few times while you’re waiting so they don’t clump together. If you're on a road trip, pack a few limes and a knife (or precut them) and a travel mug so you can make as needed.
Whole Grain Bread or Crackers – if you are able to find some good whole grain, hearty bread or crackers these can be a great base to build a meal on. They will digest slower and leave you feeling more satisfied than the refined bread they serve in flight. Pack enough in your carry on for the duration of your flight and put the rest in your checked bag where it will stay nice and cool. Anything with added herb flavourings such as rosemary will taste a little better up at altitude as well.
Protein – if you're flying the TSA allows cheese, eggs and meat through security. Be sure there are no issues with customs that you may clear before you board your flight as some of these items may not be allowed. And be sure you consume them all during your flight if you'll be clearing customs after you land. Some good grass fed cheese will go great with your crackers or bread. Just be sure to slice before you pack since you won’t be able to bring a knife and there likely won’t be a very sharp one offered to you on board. There are lots of healthy meat jerky’s on the market now made with wild or grass-fed meats that don’t need to be kept cold. Hard boiled eggs still in their shell will be good for a few hours if you take them out right before you leave for the airport. TSA does allow freezer packs as long as they are still completely frozen when you go through security. If they have melted at all they will be taken away, so check your packs to see how long it takes for them to start to melt. The other option is to pack ice cubes in a sealed bag that you can empty out right before entering security.
Sandwiches – both the TSA and many customs rules allow for commercially packaged foods so if you have a good source for a healthy sandwich on whole grain bread with lots of filling, chances are it’ll be a better option than what’s on board. Just be sure it’s in sealed or well wrapped commercial packaging.
Protein Bars/Balls – high quality, organic protein bars or ‘bliss balls’ are good options for filling up, but watch the sugar content, they often have as much as a candy bar.
Dried Fruit – there are no limits for TSA but again check with customs. Generally there are lighter restrictions around dried versus fresh fruit. Dates are a great addition if you like to have something sweet. It will keep you from the temptations of the in-flight snacks and provides some extra fibre and digestive support as well.
Fresh Fruit – pack these carefully so they don’t get bruised before you can eat them. Things like greenish bananas (no brown spots), apples, citrus fruit, berries or cherries are good options that won’t require cutting. Just be sure they’re washed and ready to eat before you pack them. Again, make sure they are admissible if you’re traveling internationally.
Nuts – an excellent way to make your carry-on meal more filling and to avoid the temptation of in-flight snacks. All nuts are a great option. Avoid ones that are overly salty so you don’t get dehydrated.
Nut butter – you can only bring 3.4 ounces on a plane and it would be part of your carry-on liquids, but nice to have if you’re packing crackers or bread. For a road trip however, this is an easy source of protein that doesn't need to be refrigerated.
A few other tips to keep in mind: always stay hydrated to avoid many symptoms associated with jet lag. If you do end up with diarrhea avoid taking anti-diarrheal medications as this can then create the opposite problem of constipation. Instead be sure to avoid foods like meat or spices, eat lots of cooked vegetables, soup, rice, bananas and some good old white bread will often help slow things down. Digestive enzymes can often help prevent gas and bloating and can be taken between meals if those symptoms arise.
Vacations are often an excuse to eat what you want - a vacation from your 'diet' as well. This is not entirely unhealthy and, done within reason, can be a great way to have some fun. Just try to moderate your choices, pick the best quality options you can, and remember that too much junk food can potentially ruin your entire trip so think first about whether it's even worth it.