ice cream sign

How to not eat like an asshole on vacation, without feeling deprived

I have a healthy eating goal for all vacations. It’s simple and effective, and sometimes I’m even able to drop a few pounds by the time I get back. So what is this jet-setting mantra? Easy: Don’t eat like an asshole. But if you’re used to vacations that involve endless cocktails and the scale a little heavier when you get back, it might not sound so intuitive. That’s why I’ve broken this idea down into easy trick that explain how to eat healthy while traveling. Pretty soon they’ll be second nature to you, too.

How to eat healthy while traveling without feeling deprived

That last part is key, right? Yes, you want to maintain your weight over vacation, maybe even drop a few. But you have all year to feel deprived. Why should you feel deprived over vacation? Well, you shouldn’t. And that’s the beauty of the idea of just not eating like an asshole. You can enjoy some treats, relax, and even pamper yourself.

How to do you make sure you’re pampering and not spoiling yourself? That’s where the easy tips for eating healthy while traveling come in. While they don’t require much thought, they do require that you’re honest with yourself. The only person you’re accountable to on vacation is you. So make sure you check in, be honest, and — most importantly — enjoy yourself.

sweet escape neon lights

Yuiizaa September

Eat at your natural rhythm

No, I don’t mean how quickly you eat. (Although there’s value in making sure you’re not hoovering your food.) Know what pattern of eating makes you feel best: three bigger meals spread out throughout the day, or five or six smaller meals and snacks closer together. Most people feel better doing one or the other. I’m a grazer, so infrequent but bigger meals make me feel slow, bloated, and uncomfortable. Eat the way that makes your body feel best.

Yes, I’m talking to you even if you booked the all-inclusive cruise with meal times. Don’t let a company, or a fellow traveler, dictate how you’ll eat if it makes you feel bad. You can pack healthy snacks to bring with you if you think you might not have an opportunity to eat otherwise. Some of my favorites to bring are low-sugar beef or turkey jerky, protein bars, and individual serving packets of almond and cashew butter. I’m also a protein powder packer, although there are some things you need to know about taking protein powder on a plane.

Check out the local convenience store

Sure, you already looked up plenty of restaurants and cafes you want to hit. That’s great. But don’t underestimate the local convenience store. My boyfriend and I travel most frequently to Scandinavia, where we pick up picnic meals from none other than 7-Eleven. On one trip we checked out the store on a whim and found the most delicious protein pudding either of us had ever had. We pick up some sparkling water, split a sandwich, and round out the meal with some seriously indulgent protein pudding.

While there’s a chance you’ll find only the chips and candy we have stocked at home, you might find something delicious, healthy, and surprising. I’m also able to see more expensive countries like Sweden and Denmark on less money by working park-centric picnics into our daily activities. I also like to keep a couple protein shakes stocked in my hotel room. I drink about ⅓ of a bottle pre-meal, roughly 50 calories, so I’m not ravenous when I’m enjoying higher sugar and fat meals. I automatically eat less, but I don’t feel deprived. (And save money by ordering smaller entrees.)

how to eat healthy while traveling have coffee if you're not hungry

Lexie Barnhorn

Don’t eat if you’re not hungry

If you’re on a business trip it can be harder to eat healthy while traveling. Stress, boredom, and sleep disruption from timezone hopping can all leave you reaching for the snacks. Pack a book, a solid source of protein, and a sleep supplement like ZMA to help dampen their effects. But this mostly comes down to checking in with yourself and being brutally honest about how you feel. Is that really hunger? Or are you probably dehydrated from the plane and stressed from going through security? Reassure yourself that you’ll eat as soon as you’re actually hungry.

If you’re on vacation, this is easier. Restorative vacations build in plenty of activities that help bust false hunger cues. If you’re sleeping in and reducing stress, your urge to eat to ease anxiety or simply stay awake should decrease drastically. But your hunger might plunge more than you want because you’ve been eyeing those regional pastries leading up to your trip. Stay accountable and honest about your hunger levels, and use the next tip when you realize you want to eat but you aren’t actually hungry. Want to check out something local? Hit a coffee shop locals love in the mean time.

Know what you want, skip the distractions

Don’t let random foods distract you from what you’ve been craving. Remember and remind yourself that you can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything. If what you want is a very specific pastry, have that. Don’t get sidetracked and order something you weren’t thinking about just because it’s there. If you aren’t hungry, remind yourself that you can have the exact thing you want as soon as you are. Yes, that means having an ice cream cone for lunch if that’s exactly what you’ve been craving.

You might be wondering why I’m suggesting you eat ice cream for lunch in an article about how to eat healthy while traveling. You have to look at the bottom line. Denying yourself that one regional treat you’ve been wanting might lead to overeating later — and you probably won’t choose something quality. It’s better to have exactly what your body is asking for, when you actually need the calories, and keep the next suggestion in mind.

eat healthy while traveling without giving up ice cream

Victoria Bilsborough

Use the first bite rule

I’m always shocked how well this one works for me when I’m on vacation. What I crave is usually a specific Swedish pastry called princess cake. So, in addition to saving this nostalgic sweet for when I’m actually hungry, I check in with my craving while I indulge. So what is the first bite rule? Simple.

You know just how good that first bite is? Time seems to stop, right? Everything slows down and you just savor how miraculously good food can be. Well that feeling disappears pretty quickly. Then you’re eating just because food’s in front of you. You’re no longer enjoying it like you were. The first bite rule is enjoying your treat as long as each bite tastes as good as that first one. When the magical feeling disappears, stop eating. You listened to your craving, indulged, and now it’s gone. When the craving comes back, you can have another.

Don’t forget to drink your water

I know, I know, you know this one already. But do you follow it? It’s easy to skimp on water when you’re traveling because the airport bottles cost an arm and a leg and they only give you thimble-sized cups when you’re in the air. Pack an empty Nalgene, fill it up once you’re past security, and then keep putting away the amount of water you need in a day. The air they pump into planes is notoriously dry, so I even try to up my intake the day of my flight.

Maintaining your water intake is how to eat healthy while traveling 101. Staying hydrated not only cuts out false hunger due to thirst but also banishes that terrible travel bloat. Drinking enough water will also go a long way toward curing that travel constipation. While feeling trim through the middle won’t necessarily help you eat healthy while traveling, it’s certainly a bonus. Nothing sends the scale soaring post-vacation like bad digestion and bloating.

How to eat healthy while traveling: The long and short of it

Learning how to eat healthy while traveling is mostly about accountability and fighting that feeling of FOMO. Yes, you only have a certain amount of time at your destination. Maybe that makes it impossible to enjoy every treat you had been eyeing before your trip. But that’s OK. Assuring yourself that there will be other opportunities, and that the experience is more important than the food, can alleviate some of that FOMO-induced false hunger.

These tips do get easier to implement with every successive trip. Once you realize you can eat healthy while traveling and still enjoy indulgences, everything changes. That anxiety about missing out vanishes, fears about counting calories alleviate, and you relax more. Then it’s a positive feedback loop. Your hunger drops because you’re less anxious, which makes you stress even less about everything. For that first trip, though, this is your guide to nailing it. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me create a pattern for successful and stress-free vacationing.

Annie Shelmerdine