Traveling Light

As difficult as it may be to eat healthy in New York – especially after Shake Shack decided its flagship restaurant 0.4 miles from my office wasn’t sufficient and opted to open a second East Side hub 0.3 miles from my apartment – eating well while traveling is infinitely harder.

There are a lot of things you shouldn’t take my word for (example: that the 5-second rule still applies in NYC bars), but trust me on this one: maintaining a healthy lifestyle while on the road is hands down one of the hardest – but most rewarding – skills I’ve ever had to master.

Why should you believe me? Because I’m writing this from San Diego.

During the height of conference season, my job has me frequenting LaGuardia at least twice a month. And besides learning who not to follow through the security checkpoint (Midwest women transporting a backpack of snow globes), my airport education has also taught me that preparation is key when it comes to Cinnabon-free transcontinental travel.

It’s impossible to be as regimented with your eating and workout schedules as you’d like when living out of a suitcase, but I’ve learned a little advanced planning can make all the difference between overstepping your daily calorie intake by 200 – and vaulting past it by 2,000.

And that’s about the best you can ask for when you’re washing your hair with a 3-ounce bottle of shampoo.

Here are my top tips for how to survive a few kitchen-less days of travel without sabotaging a week’s worth of good behavior.

1. BE PREPARED WITH SNACKS.

A growing number of airlines have stopped offering complementary soft drinks, so you can kiss your chance of getting a bag of peanuts good-bye. And with 84% of all domestic flights (I made up that number) into New York delayed, when your stomach starts growling, if you’re not prepared, you’re going to find yourself leaving the closest Hudson News with a jumbo-sized KitKat and a sinking feeling of regret. Not only will that chocolate bar set you back 410 calories, but it will rob you of $4.95 that could have been spent buying coke in a glass harmonica from a Mitch Hedbgerg-inspired mini-fridge once you arrive at your destination.

Having an arsenal of your everyday snacks in your carry-on luggage is the key to evading such a fate. When I left my apartment for this trip, for example, I came prepared with dual ziplocks of red pepper strips and dried nectarines. Did the low-cal snacks last me all the way to my Chicago lay-over? Nope. But they kept me from ordering a $12 breakfast sandwich made from powdered eggs in the Southwest terminal.

Non-bruisable fruit (oranges, apples, etc.), nuts and low-sugar granola bars also make an easy go-to, but if you don’t have anything in the cupboards to bring with you, never fear – there are healthy options for sale in the airport if you take the time to look for them. They will undoubtedly cost more than their non-airport counterparts (I paid almost $4 – or the cost of a NYC happy hour beer – for a Chiobani yogurt in the airport Thursday), but I’d wager it was worth it in the long run.

(Also, note to all the yogurt executives out there who read my blog: why doesn’t anyone make yogurt in 3-ounce containers that can make it through security?  You would make a killing, particularly from me.  Please steal my idea and make it happen. Thanks.)

2. BRING YOUR RUNNING SHOES.

You may not be able to maintain your usual workout routine when you’re 2,700 miles from your gym, but if you make the time to squeeze in even a little bit of exercise while on the road, you’re still going to be a step ahead of the game. Most hotels these days have at least a semblance of a fitness center, and those that don’t will usually recommend nearby running paths where you can sneak away for a quick sweat once your conference sessions break for the day. Not only will you get your workout in, but you’ll get the chance to explore a new city in a different way. (Note: not recommended if your conference is in downtown Baltimore, unless your running partner carries a sawed-off shotgun.)

If you’re short on time, you can even work out right in your hotel room. I tend to favor less-intense in-room workouts, like watching Groundhog Day on TBS, but when I found myself in my room Thursday with 20 minutes to kill, I queried my brother via text for some advice.

I’m not sure why I asked him. It’s not like he’s in shape or anything.

Next time you’re in need of a small-space workout that will really get your heart pumping, follow my marine brother’s prescription:

  • 50 squats
  • 40 lunges
  • 30 sit-ups
  • 20 star jumps
  • Repeat for 20 minutes. “Work hard,” he says.

(If you do it, let me know how it goes. Because I ignored his advice and go for a 3-mile tempo run instead.)

3. DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP TOO MUCH.

Eating healthy and meeting your fitness goals is always hard, and it’s significantly harder when you’re on the road. Give it your best shot, but if you only make it 90-percent of the way there, take pride in knowing you’ve still done better than everyone else at the conference. (Although you’ve probably done worse than my brother. Let’s be honest here.)

What are your best tips for maintaining momentum while on the road?

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3 Responses to Traveling Light

  1. Tara says:

    Love this post!!! This is my biggest challenge as I find I have been traveling a lot lately. I also pack snacks. Some of my favorites are: Luna Bars (I always travel with a few in my suitcase – they make a great breakfast with coffee or hold – me – over meal), a bag of raw almonds and Quaker oat squares cereal (something about the protein-carb combo keeps me satiated and is delicious). Oh and my other trick: I drink TONS of water when I travel – flushes my system of the salty food and keeps me hydrated for the flights.

    • Thanks, Tara! And I totally agree on the water – when I was flying back from Paris for the Baltimore Half Marathon this fall, I asked for so many glasses of water that the flight attendant eventually just gave me an entire 1.5L bottle intended for the whole plane. And when I finished THAT, he was so impressed, he gave me another.

      The other thing that’s key is eating whole, real foods to stave off hunger. I used to pack things like 90-calorie Special K cereal bars, both those left me 1. hungry and 2. full of artificial ingredients. Instead of eating one 90-calorie strawberry bar, I could have eaten two whole cups of strawberries for the same calories and felt way for satisfied.

      That’s why I like your blog – I LOVE that you use whole ingredients to make healthy things. I’m planning to write a post soon about cooking with real food, so when I do, expect a shout out. 🙂

  2. Where’s the love for your hometown? I’ve done a few 20 mile, sketch-free runs downtown. I do ❤ Omar, though.

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