by Robert Cheeke, best-selling author of Shred It! and Vegan Body-building & Fitness, 2-time champion bodybuilder, and founder/president of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness – www.veganbodybuilding.com
As someone who travels a couple hundred days a year, I have learned a lot about eating healthy while living a busy life on the move. This is my tenth year on tour as a vegan athlete, speaking about plant-based health and fitness to audiences around the world. As my tour gets busier, more diverse, more international, and more exciting, I am spending more time than ever on the road, spreading a message of compassion to more and more people. That means more meals away from home than meals made at home, and the challenge to eat healthy on a consistent basis becomes greater. Millions of people live busy lives on the go for work or pleasure (or both). Many of them feel doomed to eat unhealthy fast and heavily-processed foods. Restaurants in airports, small towns and metropolitan cities around the globe do not always make it easy. So, I have some healthful tips to help you when you travel. There are ways that I’ve learned to mitigate the challenges of eating on the go, no matter where you find yourself.
MY TOP 10 TIPS FOR EATING HEALTHY WHILE TRAVELING:
1. Prepare to bring whole plant foods ahead of time and travel with ample amounts. Some of the easiest, tastiest, and most convenient foods to pack with you are fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, bars, and healthy minimally-processed foods like crackers and hummus. Prepared foods such as burritos, sandwiches, wraps, and vegetable sushi, are also great options, but may require a special container to keep things cold if you are on a long journey with these perishable foods. Some of my personal favorites to travel with are apples, bananas, oranges, bars, avocado rolls (sushi), burritos, peanuts, almonds, tea, and orange juice. If you are flying, just be aware that TSA allows whole and dried fruits and veggies, but items like hummus and even tofu must be in sealed packaging or a zip-top baggie and not be more than 3.1 oz. However, if the hummus or tofu is in a wrap (or has a green leaf like a collard wrapped around it), or is between slices of bread, it is fine no matter the quantity, if the wrap or sandwich is in a zip-top baggie.
2. When you know where you’ll be heading for work or pleasure, research ahead of time to learn about food options at your destination. Are you staying at a hotel, an Airbnb.com rental, or a friend’s house? Will you have access to a refrigerator? If you don’t have time, or forget to research ahead of time, you can use apps or websites like www.happycow.net to get a listing of all the vegan-friendly restaurants and stores in your region.
3. When you arrive at your destination, if you don’t find a vegan-friendly restaurant, understand that any supermarket will do. There are health food stores such as Whole Foods Market available in hundreds of major cities throughout the US, Canada and the UK, which have a plethora of vegan options, including meals from their hot food bar and deli. If you can’t find a Whole Foods Market or a similar health food store, almost any grocery store will have fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, and legumes.
4. If you would rather visit restaurants than grocery stores, but can’t find a “vegan” or “vegetarian” restaurant in the area, know that many international cuisine restaurants have plant-based options. Indian, Thai, Mexican, Ethiopian, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants, among others, are some of the best options for a variety of plant-based dishes. Many of the aforementioned offer a large number of rice and vegetable plates, as is common in their respective countries. I typically go to more of these types of restaurants than vegetarian restaurants when I travel because there are more of them. I make it a point to thank the staff for offering vegan options on their menu. My top three favorites are Indian, Thai, and Mexican with Ethiopian as a close fourth.
5. Realize that when you eat out at restaurants you will likely be consuming much larger quantities of oil and salt than you would at home. Keep this in mind and make exercise a priority. Take the stairs at your hotel, find a gym in the area, or simply exercise outside in a park or in your hotel room. An increase in exercise can help offset the increase in fat and calorie intake.
6. If you have non-vegan travel companions with you, work hard to set a good example to show how practical and easy it is to be a vegan while traveling anywhere around the world. Your food preparation, visits to farmers markets, supermarkets, and use of helpful apps and websites will keep you ahead of the game as you navigate your way around any city in the world. And maybe your friends may find the idea of going vegan themselves seeming less difficult.
7. When you visit vegetarian or vegan restaurants or enjoy the vegan items at non-vegetarian restaurants, make a point to thank the restaurant staff for having vegan menu items. The greater the demand for vegan food, the more it will become available at more restaurants, and more animal lives will be saved. Thanks for doing your part to spread a compassionate message while you travel!
8. Avoid the temptation to eat a lot of junk food while traveling. I spend a lot of time in airports and I am often tempted to buy a bag of chips or candy or something like that just to have a snack on the plane or at the airport. Rather than buying junk food, I work hard to seek out healthier options. Mexican restaurants are prevalent in nearly every airport in America. Or, I simply buy whole fruits like oranges or bananas, which are available at most airports and even rest stops on the road. A breakfast of a few bananas is a good way to carry me through to my next stop where I might find a burrito, salad, wrap or vegetable sushi. When I arrive at my destination I’ll usually have a Whole Foods Market or other health food store or restaurant to get a heavier meal. Ask yourself what the foods you’re about to buy will do for you nutritionally. If they provide a low nutritional return on your investment, try another option such as a fruit cup, green juice or oatmeal.
9. Buying food while traveling can be expensive. Trust me, I know it all too well. I just broke the bank on a 16-ounce bottle of orange juice (from concentrate) at the Fort Lauderdale airport yesterday. If you can avoid buying foods from airports by packing some fruit, nuts, seeds, bars, and other snacks including heavier meals made at home, you’re much better off for so many reasons. When you’re stuck in an isolated place such as an airport, airplane, ferry, train, or are limited to gas stations for snacks, prices will be high and your options will be limited. To save money, slice up some apples at home before you leave (drizzle with lemon to keep from browning too fast), bring inexpensive snack bars from home, bring your own bottled water or beverages (unless you’re flying, in which case be aware that you can’t take fluids through security at the airport, but you can bring your own bottle and fill it up with water at a fountain once you get through security– you can even add a tea bag). I will even bring a bowl of Yukon Gold potatoes or oatmeal for a heavy and filling (cheap) meal for my trip.
10. When you discover favorite restaurants, cafes, food carts, or other preferred outlets for vegan food in a given location, refer others to those places to help spread the word and send customers to businesses that impressed you. Giving recommendations is a great way to help vegan and vegan-friendly establishments continue to grow, while also helping friends, website followers, blog readers, and others. You might be able to influence quite a few people to choose healthier food options in the future. Helping others is a win-win situation for all.
To wrap up, I’ll leave you with a list of some of my favorite vegan-friendly food destinations from around the world.
ROBERT’S TOP 10 FAVORITE VEGAN-FRIENDLY EATERIES AROUND THE WORLD:
1. Whole Foods Market – Austin, TX
2. The Blossoming Lotus – Portland, OR
3. Ethos Vegan Kitchen – Orlando, FL
4. Thai Vegan – Santa Monica, CA
5. Green – Tempe, AZ
6. Green Mushroom – Sydney, Australia
7. Green Cuisine – Victoria, Canada
8. Laughing Seed – Asheville, NC
9. Chaco Canyon – Seattle, WA
10. Mom Can Cook – Santa Clarita, CA