How To Maintain High Food Standards While Travelling

We get this all the time… “How do you guys maintain high food standards while traveling?”

I’m not going to lie, it’s tough, sometimes maddeningly so. But it can be done. And I’m about to show you how. First let’s back up a little bit. What exactly are high food standards? We need to define them a little bit before we can even get into how and what to do while traveling.

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High food standards are simply that

Holding yourself to a standard well above whats considered normal or acceptable. Evaluating everything that goes in your body, how it was prepared, where it came from, and of course what is it in the first place.Is there sugar in the bread the waiter just brought you? Wh ere did the milk come from at the hotel’s breakfast? Did they use olive oil or canola oil to fry your veggies? All of these questions can be easily answered. Just ask the people preparing and bringing your meal to you. If they don’t know they will find out from someone else in the kitchen.

What are the benefits of eating healthy while traveling?

Just as in your normal everyday life the benefits are enormous. When traveling if you maintain super clean diet you will feel a million times better. Jet lag won’t be nearly as bad, you’ll have energy to burn, you’ll sleep better, you’ll wake up refreshed, you be more at peace and in the moment, have a boosted immune system, and generally be ready to tackle anything life throws at you.

Brock at the market
At the farmers market in Ireland

 

It’s important to be clear about your food standards

Most people aren’t going to be as strict as I am when it comes to what they put into their bodies… but again, that’s sort of the whole point of this post in the first place. To help you raise your food standards and maintain them when you’re on the road.

A lot of people might go on vacation or to visit a certain place just to eat the food. While that’s all well and good you have to remember to ask yourself one simple question that I’m going to borrow from my friend Diamond Dallas Page…

“What do I want?”

Do I want to eat everything everything in sight because I’m on vacation and I deserve it? Do I want to maintain unstoppable health both now and in the future? Do I want to eat that sugar heavy diary laden gelato because that’s what you do when you’re in Italy?

The point is that you are the one that maintains your standards. I found diary-free, sugar-free, nut based gelato in Italy… and it was awesome.

gelato in italy
My wife eating sugar-free, dairy-free gelato in Italy

 

There are a few simple things that I do while traveling that ensures I stay healthy and don’t compromise on what enters my body.

Set your expectations

One of the biggest things I do is to go in with right frame of mind. I don’t go to a country or destination thinking about the local chocolates or long for street food. I know I am not going to eat any of it. So why even entertain those thoughts beforehand? I cut off the distraction or possibility of eating something that I don’t believe in even before I set foot on the airplane. That way I’ve already made the decision… it’s over and done with.

Go to the farmers market

Every town in every corner of the world has one. Markets are your fast track to fresh local produce that you can cook yourself further ensuring the integrity of your food. If you don’t have accommodations with a kitchen just get tons of fruits and veggies that you can eat raw… your body will thank you for all those tasty enzymes. If you know you won’t have access to a kitchen beforehand then bring a small stove along with you. I never go anywhere without my alcohol stove and titanium pot. That way I can whip up fresh quick meals no matter where I’m at.

making salad in our camping pot at hotel
Made a salad from the farmer’s market items in our camping pot in the hotel room!

 

Ask questions, ask questions, and ask a few more questions

This is one that you’ll just have to get over. Most people don’t like asking questions at a restaurant. They feel weird, they feel out of place. Everyone we go out with just rolls their eyes when we start firing off our questions. If you are going to eat out you have to ask a billion questions. So get over it. Find out what the ingredients are in everything. If a language barrier is getting in the way try to work around it. If you can’t figure it out just politely leave, you don’t want to eat anything that you’re unsure about. Ask about the tricky things, like what’s in their sauces, what oils do they cook with? Is the produce local, better yet is it organic?

Restaurants, waiters, and chefs don’t get annoyed by this. Most of them like to take the opportunity to talk up their food and how it’s made. They are probably familiar with questions about ingredients now more than ever because of the rise in food allergies. If they don’t know or don’t want to tell, you take that as a sign and get your butt out of there.

Brock at health food store in dublin
Brock at health food store in Dublin

 

Plan ahead

This is a tricky one. Especially for most travelers. We like to fly by the seat of our pants and mingle with the locals and find out where they eat. The problem is just because the locals eat it doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good for you. If you don’t plan ahead you’ll probably end up starving miles from the closest health food store and end up going hungry, or worse, eating sketchy food.

Make sure you have multiple restaurants, markets, and grocery stores scoped out well before you arrive. That way you already know where you can eat, or how much food you should bring along on day trip. It might seem crazy but I know where I’m going to eat well before I have any idea what I’m going to do. If there aren’t any choices to be found, I don’t go there. Simple as that.

Don’t compromise

I know that almost everyone doesn’t agree with me on this one. Do not compromise. Just because you are traveling does not mean you should eat some local breakfast pastry with powdered sugar and chocolate all over it. I don’t waiver in the slightest. If I wouldn’t eat it at home I certainly won’t eat it when I’m traveling. Some people immediately think that c’mon live a little. The whole live a little thing just doesn’t make any sense. Sugar is poison, I don’t eat it at home, so why would I willingly poison myself when I’m traveling because it supposedly tastes good? No thanks. I don’t eat super healthy most of the time. I eat super healthy all the time. That means I don’t compromise when traveling.

There are the tons of different ways to maintain high food standards when traveling. These are some of the ways that seem to work for me. Like almost everything in life, it’s all about making conscious decisions and then acting accordingly. If you decide that you are going to set high standards for what goes in your body then that’s exactly what you’ll do when you’re traveling.

About the authors:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABrock and his wife, Kathleen, are nomadic travelers and health food enthusiasts. Together they have been traveling around the world since 2012, and are currently slowing their pace and hanging out in Arizona for most of 2014. Brock has thru hiked the Appalachian Trail, biked across the United States and fell in love with the country of New Zealand while house sitting there last year. You can read more about his shift in food standards and travel adventures at Our Favorite Adventure, and connect with him on Twitter.

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50 Comments

  • That is a comprehensive post on how to maintain high food standards while travelling. I too am very picky about food and I have to be extremely careful too since I am a vegetarian. Now in India, vegetarian implies no meat, fish or even eggs but vegetarian has different interpretations in a country like Japan. I normally carry dry fruits with me or have fresh fruits whenever I am not sure of the ingredients :)

  • Definitely a bit more serious about food then me, but I do think planning out the food a bit ahead of time. I always end up starving and eating junk and then feeling gross…. Also I do agree that there is no point in eating something horrible for you just because its a thing to do, if it will make you feel sick then its not worth it. Some good thoughts :)

  • Nice tips Brook and you are correct in that there is no harm in asking what is in things.

    I often stay in mid-range US hotels which have free buffet breakfasts so I think a lot of things are just heated in a microwave. Things such as the omelets and scrambled egg just don’t taste fresh at all.

    I must admit eating healthy is something I should do better but I grab a salad when I can, go easy on the dressing.

  • Oh I wish I eat healthier when I travel… I really do. But I’m one of those people who feel like when I’m traveling in a new country, I MUST EAT the local eats. And if that means a dutch pancake in Amsterdam or an alfajor cookie in Argentina, then so be it. But lately, I’m learning that it’s OK if I miss out on some of the foods, though still not eating too well. :(

    Back in the States, we were very careful about eating organic, local, free-range, etc. But we had to let those standards slide when traveling. I find that it becomes expensive too to try to eat like that (after all, street food is the cheapest, and I’m sure those chicken kebabs are not free-range chicken, lol!) Do you just set a higher budget for food?

    • It’s actually impossible to eat 100% clean and natural food when you travel. You DO want to eat LOCAL TREATS and enjoy the food you would never eat back home (oily, greasy, deep-fried and salty)!! That is what travelling is all about. TRYING NEW THINGS!

      • I totally agree. I traveled 10 months thru Morocco and Europe as a raw foodie and it was plain hell. Now I eat pretty much anything that seems tasty (happily enough that usually implies a lot of veggies, I just love them!), will also do in my travels (kebaps save my days sometimes!), but I eat all the nonsense too – moderately. There are days that the only junk I eat is one candy, some days none, some days a bit more but I feel quite energetic. I take supplements at a varying frequency but omega-3 is a constant – everything gets oiled then. I eat pretty fatty – and that means pretty fats, like coconut oil, fish, olive oil, eggs – omelette is also a life saver – and nuts, and only eat the other chemical-laden stuff when I eat out which is not all the time – hostels have a kitchen and I’m glad to use it, just not all the time, after all, it’s like you say Agnes, travelling is about trying new things!

  • Totally agree, eating well and stay healthy on the road is more than important! Farmers markets are our best friends whilst travelling, there is nothing better than fresh and local food. :)

  • Much like in my non-traveling life, if I know I’ll be splurging on something rich and decadent for dinner (Italian comes to mind!), I will make sure to make healthy choices throughout the day to balance it out a bit.

  • I totally agree that eating healthy on the road is crucial, especially if you are travelling for months, but to honest, I would never say no to a local special dish just because it contains some sugar…ONCE. And this is the rule what I always try to keep: I try everything (no meat) only once and then I eat my healthy diet on a daily basis. Lots of fruit, lots of veggies, nuts and seeds. The system has been working quite well for almost 8 months. :)

    BTW great blog, congratulations ;-)

  • I love this post, because I can relate to it so much. I only eat healthy food and on the road it is not easy to maintain a healthy style but with a little planning and research you can get it right. The time and efforts invested are worth it. One of the first things I do when I am in a new place is to locate the farmers market and where I can get organic food. Most supermarkets nowadays run their own brand of organic food so it’s not really a problem in finding organic food any more.

  • Farmers markets are the best when traveling. When I was in Bolivia, the first 3 hostels I stayed in didn’t even have kitchens, so I was forced to eat out everyday. Granted, the food in Bolivia is cheap, but can be pretty unhealthy. I finally stayed in a hostel with food and it was great to be able to cook again!

  • All of this is good advice, especially the one about “ask questions”. I think most travellers get themselves into trouble with food because they don’t ask questions – either they’re too shy, they don’t think about it, or they simply don’t know how to. But it’s so important – if you are putting something into your body, you need to know what it is!!!

  • Great blog :) I am foodie myself and I always take pictures of what I eat, haha. I totally agree – planning is crucial and it is important to eat well if you want to enjoy your traveling :)

  • Great post guys. I think that you should definitely stick with your standards. Whatever they are! I ask lots of questions as I have nut allergies. I’m not too proud to do so as it could cause health problems later. I also don’t like chocolate, bananas, or coffee. So I ask about those items too. In fact, I’ve just come back from Thailand and Indonesia where peanuts and coconuts are used in pretty much everything so, I had to ask.
    In fact, I found that it was easier to see what was in the food when I went to the local markets, and you’re right. They were very interested and didn’t think I was a pain at all!

  • We cook for ourselves quite often when traveling but do eat things that we would probably not if we were at home. The specialties of the countries we visit that is. My personal line is drawn at offal. :) I understand the desire to only put naturally good food into your bodies though.

  • Although not directly related to the quality of food per se, reading this post made me remember that during one of my first trips to Asia, a well-seasoned traveler gave me a “no-holes adjustable belt” as a departing gift.
    He said “as the days go by, just keep pulling one end of the belt”. Walking for hours under the sun and haphazardly eating resulted invariably weight loss. Since then, my adjustable belt has become an essential companion.
    I suspect, though, that travelers with health eating disorder (ha!) or obsessed with planning every step will dismiss the adjustable belt ;)

    (Btw, I just found your blog. A happy discovery :). Stay healthy, keep traveling and keep posting!)

  • This could not have come at a better time since we are leaving for Indonesia next week and I was planning on trying at least to eat healthier on the road this time around. It’s hard though but great tips to get me going. I’m not gonna be that strict though.. ;)
    For me it depends largely on where we are going. Food in Asia in general I find easier to stay on the healthy side so fingers crossed we manage it this time!

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