travel smart: your guide to eating well, living well + accommodating dietary restrictions while traveling
Traveling is something I’ve been fortunate to be able to do, and to do lots of.
It’s important to me: it changes you, clarifies things for you, and helps you grow.
Ever since my first few taste of getting pushed out of my comfort zone via diving headfirst into a new place and culture, I've been imbued with this sense of wanderlust.
From backpacking through most of Europe, to living in China for a few months teaching English, to visiting temples in Southeast Asia, to traveling solo through Copenhagen, to studying abroad in the UK, to domestic travel via roadtrips, train rides, and flights on the East Coast, West Coast, and Midwest of the US (and Hawaii!), it’s been a wild ride… and yet it still feels like there’s so much more of the world to explore (because there is).
One thing that can be stressful while traveling, though, is figuring out how to accommodate your dietary restrictions, food sensitivities, and wellness routines while traveling, while still getting the optimal cultural experience.
Here are my tips for traveling anywhere and staying true to yourself and what’s good for your body — and getting the most out of your experience. It follows the baseline of a Paleo lifestyle, meaning that while food is important, so are the other factors, like connection, movement, and play.
Sidebar: I’d been fortunate enough to do most of my traveling in Europe back before I was “Paleo,” “gluten-free,” or had any sort of food sensitivity, so I feel like I’m not missing out on the bread, pasta, pizza, cheese, and gelato I had while in Italy and France now (thank goodness).
1. Bring Snacks and Supplements with You
The key to saving money, avoiding hanger, traveling fast on-the-go, and supporting your normal diet is to bring snacks that you eat regularly at home and that you know will hold you over. Dry roasted nuts and homemade trail mix are great, as are your favorite protein / snack bar (I like Keto Bars and RX Bars for high protein content and minimally processed ingredients).
I also bring supplements that I regularly use — most importantly, a probiotic and a multivitamin.
Other popular supplements people bring are powdered coffee (Four Sigmatic and Perfect Keto have some) or tea (I use Pique tea crystals, which dissolve easily, or Art of Tea matcha packets, which are perfectly travel-sized) and single-serve collagen packets for an easy protein boost.
2. Do Your Research & Know Your Priorities
Know that if you’re going to Asia, soy sauce is a common ingredient to most dishes. For people who don’t have a gluten allergy but just prefer to be gluten free, that means that these dishes aren’t “actually” gluten-free – you’ll get strange looks if you ask for no soy sauce, or they’ll say it’s not possible.
In my experience, a little soy sauce doesn’t give me any harmful side effects, so I just go with it. My priority is to eat local food without destroying my health or giving me digestive issues; for you, choose what your priority is and stick to it.
Google is your best friend — for example, if you’re gluten-free, Google “Barcelona gluten free food” you’ll get a ton of lists.
I’ll cross-compare with Google Maps to see which ones are accessible, read some reviews, and head there.
If you’re traveling with a group, know your options.
Example: If you’re going to a tapas place, know which dishes are fundamentally gluten-free (almost all of the meat, seafood, and veggies in this case).
3. Pick Your Travel Destinations Wisely
Certain destinations will be easier for you depending on what your dietary preferences are:
If you’re vegan / vegetarian —> Thailand, Denmark, USA (Colorado, California, NYC, Hawaii), Australia, India, Australia
If you’re keto —> Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Croatia
If you’re Paleo —> Greece, Spain, Portugal
If you’re gluten-free —> Sweden, Spain, Mexico, Australia, Central/South America
But, similar to the tip above, if you use the mighty powers of Google and do some research beforehand, you’ll likely be able to find whatever it is you’re looking for. I have a friend who’s vegan and gluten-free and found a variety of places that accommodated that in Iceland, of all places.
4. Work Out (and Refuel Properly) Afterward If It’s Important to You
Not everyone prioritizes working out when they travel or live abroad, and that’s totally OK. There are so many things to do and so little time, after all.
But if you are looking to stay in shape, are training for a race, are a fitness professional or athlete, want to avoid muscle loss, or have literally any other reason, there are a variety of things you can do.
ON YOUR OWN:
Running: All you need are a pair of running shoes. Running is actually one of my favorite ways to explore a new place — it has all the sight-seeing benefits of walking, but you go faster (i.e. you’ll cover more ground). Since you have nothing else to do while you’re running, you’ll likely notice more than you would otherwise.
Swimming: Most cities have pools, lakes, rivers, or another swimmable (is this a word?) body of water. A swimsuit, swim cap, and goggles doesn’t take up much space in your luggage to pack.
P.S. These swimsuits can double as beachwear.
Walking: This is quite obvious, but we often forget the benefits of walking. Likely, you’ll already get a lot of walking in anyway, but if you’re looking to do more, go on a walk and explore your new surroundings.
Bicycling: Some cities offer bike tours, but you can also just rent a bike for fairly cheap and use that as your form of transportation. You’ll find that it’s much quicker than walking and even taking public transportation.
Gym: You’re unlikely to find Equinox-level amenities, but all you really need are the basics. A few dumbbells or kettlebells will do the trick — even if they’re a light weight, you can do high rep exercises.
Outdoor/Indoor Bodyweight Exercises: Sure, you can do suitcase exercises, but simple bodyweight exercises are incredibly effective. Think pushups, situps, planks, jumping jacks, wall sits, and squats. You can do them in your hotel room/Airbnb or in a park — literally anywhere.
P.S. If you do find a park, try some pull-ups as well.
Resistance Band Exercises: I bought a pack of resistance bands from Amazon for less than $10 — they’re easy to travel with and provide a little oomph to your basic bodyweight exercises. Greatist has a compilation of exercises you can try.
TRX Exercises: If you have a TRX band that you use at home, pack it. You can easily use it when you travel just like how you use it at home: loop it over a door or on a tree and go through a variety of exercises.
Read This: 5 Quick Travel Workouts from Nerd Fitness
Barry’s Bootcamp: With locations in major cities in the USA, Italy, France, Australia, Canada, the UK, Norway, Sweden, Qatar, Singapore, Mexico, and the UAE, Barry’s Bootcamp is a reliable, challenging, and unbelievably fun place to workout — and includes a Fuel Bar complete with all the smoothies you need to refuel after crushing your workout.
P.S. Classes are run in English (at least in Stockholm + USA).
Yoga classes: Yoga is universal — and even better, Sanskrit is the universal language of yoga, which means that you’ll likely recognize some of the pose names. You’ll also be able to follow along based on what the instructor and other students are doing. Yoga studios can be found in most places, and you can usually rent a mat from them if you don’t have your own. Trust me, nothing feels better than getting off the plane and getting some much-needed time to stretch out your muscles.
Thai boxing gyms: Would generally recommend only if you have boxing experience, because this won’t be your typical Rumble or Shadowbox scenario. Thailand is the origin of this, but you can find boxing gyms now in many major cities.
Spin classes: Self-explanatory! If your legs aren’t tired yet, give them some extra strengthening.
5. Explore Local Grocery Stores + Markets
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Locals often do know best. From the hole-in-the-wall places, to hip coffeeshops, to small fruit stands, to large grocery stores, places that locals frequent in their every day lives are some of the most magical.
If you’re staying in an Airbnb or anywhere with a kitchen, an easy way to save money is to purchase fruits, veggies, nuts, eggs, bread, wine, and snacks if you haven’t brought them (or run out). They make for a quick and easy breakfast, packed lunch, or picnic dinner — and you might find some things you can’t find in the US (like this Oatly ice cream in Sweden that hadn’t hit the US stores yet).
6. Journal and/or Create Something
THE MAGIC OF JOURNALING
Confession: The only time I journal consistently is when I travel. It’s something that I’ve carried with me through all trips; there’s something magical and heart-achingly simple about putting pen to paper and writing down everything that transpired that day.
My best memories are letting my thoughts loose in sunny parks, idyllic train rides, short plane rides, bustling coffee shops…
There are so many benefits of journaling and journaling while you travel has an added perk — you can capture your memories long after your trip has ended.
My journals are in notebook, but you can also do it on your phone, tablet, or laptop — or even scan/take pics/type up your journal to digitize it forever.
CARVING OUT TIME TO CREATE
Taking time off from work creates time for other things, like any creative endeavors you’ve always had but never had the time to fully work on.
Europe serves as a time of intense writing inspiration for me — how could it not, with the rich history of Hemingway, Orwell, Fitzgerald, and more?
I’m a huge proponent of balancing sight-seeing with living, of balancing intense walking days with more relaxing days inside or in nature. Take those off days to create. Take any travel time to create.
Reclaim this time for yourself.
7. Connect with Humans + Incorporate Play
Connection is the last, often forgotten, yet arguably most important part of this lifestyle.
Even when you’re traveling solo, you have the unique ability to connect deeper with yourself and the chance to make new friends (I recommend hostels for this very reason for solo travelers).
If you’re traveling with friends, you’ll find that traveling together is a whole different beast than simple day-to-day friendship.
Take this time to play. To romp. To have fun. To literally do whatever it is you want, because you deserve it.
Get out in the sun, especially — soak up the Vitamin D.
For solo travel inspiration:
The Truth About Solo Female Travel (guest blog post by Grace Terry of Native + Well)
9 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Backpacked for the First Time by Be My Travel Muse
The Best Cities to Travel Solo in Europe by World of Wanderlust
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