How To Stay Healthy While Traveling Abroad: Keeping the Pounds Off Overseas

There is nothing more invigorating, exciting or freeing than packing up and traveling abroad. Danny Kaye once said, “To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” Whether you’re globetrotting somewhere warm and exotic or headed to a place that’s unconventional and off the beaten path, travel changes a person often for the better. There’s a sense of possibility and wonder found in a new place, surrounded in a foreign language, immersed in a culture not your own. However, along with its inherent triumphs, come the disadvantages. Weight gain and falling off the health wagon are two common concerns linked with travel, and it’s a challenge we all face at some point when approaching a big trip.  

Let’s face it—food is part of a cultural experience. You can learn a lot about a place through its local flavors and cuisines. Who wouldn’t be tempted to try a double chocolate German cake while in Berlin? Or what about a hearty beef stroganoff when visiting Moscow? We all love crème brûlée, but the calories for such a dessert lie in the 400-range. Traveling abroad shouldn’t be synonymous with eating unhealthy and feeling lethargic. Let’s take a look at some creative wellness travel tips that will make you feel great and eat well while experiencing a new cultural landscape and tradition.

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Bring Your Own Food

Bringing your own food can provide some much-needed alternatives to choices that could otherwise be to your detriment. Just in terms of the airport alone, how great would it be to have a bag of your own mixed nuts handy or nutrition bars in lieu of overpriced sandwiches and processed foods? Particularly when air or train travel becomes burdensome, we want to eat as a relief and are likely to turn to not-so-healthy nearby options.

If you’re traveling to a place like Scotland, for instance, where a typical breakfast consists of eggs, bacon, sausage, buttered toast, baked beans and potatoes, substituting this several days a week with a granola bar would be a smart nutritional choice as well as add variation. The same goes for midday snacking and even your choice of milk with coffee or tea in the morning. If you prefer a non-dairy creamer, for instance, isn’t it great to have that in the hotel refrigerator instead of whole milk or heavy cream, which can wreak havoc on your stomach? Bringing your own food involves planning ahead, but can pay off in the long run.

Practice Portion Control

You can apply your day-to-day portion control practices to your time abroad in an effort to garner the same healthy habits and effective results. Making a rule to not go back for seconds for any meal gives you a great cut off point, as does splitting particular dishes with friends or taking half of yours back to your residence for the next day. Seafood paella in Spain, for instance, can be served practically in buckets! Asking for a small plate for which to place your meal can save you the mental anguish from feeling like you need to consume everything that’s in front of you. Measuring out sides like mayonnaise and salad dressings can prevent you from going overboard, also, especially if you’re in a rush.

An important mantra to remember when practicing portion control is “see the meal before you eat it,” meaning to envision a sizable portion that’s right for you and your nutritional goals prior to diving in. If you’re wanting to get really particular, you can even make it a point to add your milk and sugar to your cup before you pour in coffee or tea!

Three Day Juice Cleanse

With all types of different foods piling on top of your stomach, your body often gets overwhelmed. With juice cleansing, you’re giving organs such as your kidneys, liver and skin a break, as they are constantly working overtime to process everything you consume. While it may feel strange to juice cleanse for a day or two abroad, it can give your body a much-needed break from the different types of cuisines and flavors it’s processing, many of which are probably foreign or new to your system. Luckily, most countries have access to cold-pressed juices either in a grocery or health store; naturally, it may take some research ahead of time to find the best resources to go. Checking in with local restaurants as to the types of juices they may have available is also a great option and can offer you varieties you can’t find in a store.

If you’re aiming to juice yourself and you have a kitchenette to do so where you’re staying, then it is possible to pack your juicer and check it in with your luggage. Proper sanitary measures must be taken—and this is really only a possibility if you have the setup to do it—but juicing in your residence can give you options over the types of fruits and vegetables you’re consuming. Ultimately, this aids in helping your body handle the potential rich and varied foods you’re sampling while abroad. Another option along these lines is to consider a three day juice cleanse before leaving for a trip to give your body a good boost to start the trip off right.

Along the same lines, it’s a great idea to incorporate a ginger shot into your travel routine. Ginger shots help upset stomachs that might be wrestling with foreign foods, they boost your immune system, they fight infection and even helps regulate your blood sugar and metabolism. They can provide the perfect pick-me-up, too, when you’re needing a lift.

Walk, Bike, Run

In the world as it is today, many people in many countries regularly exercise. Choosing to rent a bike and navigate on wheels is an optimal way to see new sights while getting in a workout. If you’re staying in a hotel or residence with a gym, deciding to take time out of your morning to work out can definitely enhance your energy and overall wellbeing.  

If you have a pedometer or FitBit-related device on your watch or phone, it can be a fun challenge to see how many steps you can get in over the course of a day. Again, you’re killing two birds with one stone, essentially—you’re sightseeing, exploring a new locale while also burning calories. Additionally, taking an exercise class from a nearby gym or facility could also combine a cultural experience with increasing your heart rate. However, you may run into some difficulties if the instructor speaks in a different language. Don’t worry, though, that’s when it’s okay to find a tucked away spot in the back!

Buy Food, Eat Out Less

By making a concerted effort to buy food at grocery stores and eat out at restaurants less, you’re able to control what it is you’re consuming and when. If you’re on a tight budget, buying groceries—food that’s either pre-made or easily assembled at home—is a great way to help save funds that could be otherwise spent on a day tour or an exciting excursion.

When buying food, it’s best to try to find fresh fruits and vegetables at markets. This also facilitates a cultural element, as you really do get a feel for the local color and vibe of a country when you browse markets featuring locally grown foods.  Of course, buying foods at groceries and markets implies you have to have a kitchenette to take them back and prepare. If you don’t have the luxury of a small kitchen at your residence, maybe try focusing on prepared foods that you can indulge in without having to actually cook. (After all, you’re on vacation, right? Isn’t it a time to break away from cooking?)

Ask Questions & Substitute

While eating at cafes or restaurants, it’s important to ask questions to the waiter, waitress or chef about what’s in each dish. Some or all words may be in a foreign language, causing you to need some clarification on what you order. You certainly wouldn’t want to be under the impression you’re ordering a vegetarian dish only to learn it’s cooked in duck lard! Along the same lines, substitute unhealthy side dishes with vegetables, when possible. In the U.K., for instance, French fries—or as they call them, “chips,” accompany many sandwiches and main courses. Asking for a vegetable replacement instead could leave you feeling a heck of a lot better about your meal.

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Conclusion

In the end, it’s important not to let the culinary challenges of living, working or traveling abroad take a toll on your health. Sure, we don’t want to overthink one or two pounds or beat ourselves up over a local decadent meal that’s not to be missed, but we also want to emphasize our nutritional choices and overall wellbeing so we can be fully present to appreciate the new sights, sounds and wonders around us. It’s important to be adventurous, but also disciplined and judicious about what we put into our bodies and how we exercise when overseas. Hopefully, these tips have given you some ideas on how to not abandon your health while immersing yourself in a new culture.

Taylor Rohwedder