How to Eat Healthy When Traveling for Work: Complete Guide
Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of 1 million Americans traveled for business each day. That’s equivalent to every United States citizen taking at least one business trip each year! But while the competitive nature of the US workplace continues to thrive, the diet of the average traveler is somewhat worrisome.
To eat healthy when traveling for work, you first need to understand the greatest challenges to healthy eating while on-the-go. A lack of time, cookware, and local knowledge may make it difficult to eat wholesome meals while traveling. Fortunately, there are plenty of potential solutions.
In this article, we’re going to explore some of the most common challenges that face health-conscious business travelers. We’ll also examine some of the best ways to eat healthy when traveling for work. This way, you could make the most of your journey and come back home feeling better than ever.
Challenges of Eating Healthy While Traveling
Let’s face it—there are tons of opportunities to eat unhealthily while traveling for business. From the moment you begin driving down the highway or make it through airport security, you’re bombarded by offers for fast food, cheap convenience store snacks, and everything in between.
Healthy options are often out of sight or very inconvenient to reach. The relative inconvenience of trying to eat well while out helps encourage travelers to embrace a briefly junky diet. However, whole food availability isn’t the only challenge to healthy eating during business travel.
Convenience, available equipment or appliances, and familiarity with your new setting can also be influential factors when it comes to your eating habits. As such, we can summarize the challenges of eating healthy while traveling for work as:
- Cooking Equipment
- Local Familiarity
Let’s take a moment to analyze each of these aspects and discover how they might limit a traveler’s dietary choices. This way, you can form a comprehensive understanding of these challenges and prepare an effective strategy for combating them.
One of the greatest difficulties in eating healthy while traveling for work is time. Most travelers are expected to stick to firm schedules or itineraries that may limit opportunities to cook wholesome meals or go grocery shopping.
From the moment you board your plane or get into your car, you’re on a timer. Travelers must contend with several deadlines, including hotel check-in and check-out times, scheduled meetings, and flight dates. Balancing all of these time-sensitive responsibilities can be overwhelming, even for the most organized individuals.
However, a lack of free time isn’t the only challenge facing travelers. Those who are lucky enough to find themselves with a few hours to kill may lack the cooking equipment and supplies to prepare a healthy meal.
Take a moment to think about the cookware and dishware currently residing in your kitchen. Now consider how frustrating it would be to try and cook a wholesome dish without any of those components. You might not be able to bake, boil, or saute anything, leaving you with very few meal options.
Travelers that find themselves with time to cook often lack the equipment necessary to make anything more than a sandwich, salad, or cold snack. At this point, you may be considering carrying an extra piece of checked baggage just for pots and pans. However, you may want to resist this thought.
A significant number of hotel rooms come equipped with simple coffee makers or microwaves, but not much else. And while you can utilize your room’s microwave to cook soup-in-a-cup or ramen meals, these convenient store-bought options are often loaded with sodium and not much else.
It may be better to simply pack a bag of easy-to-eat healthy snacks, like dried fruits or nuts. This can help you avoid the equipment conundrum without investing in additional appliances.
To be fair, there are many hotels that offer a full kitchen to their temporary tenants. This could either be a shared common kitchen or a private galley-style area within the room. But most of these properties that offer these services cater to individuals who are staying on an extended basis.
If you’re only going to be traveling for a few days or so, you may not be able to secure one of these upgraded rooms. And if you are spending a week or more at your business destination, you may end up paying twice as much for the opportunity to have your own refrigerator, stovetop, and oven.
Because nearly all business ventures are paid for with company funds, managers and supervisors often choose affordable options for their employees. Your boss may even supply you with a list of company-approved hotels and allow you to make a selection before heading out on the road.
But depending on the employer, the length of stay, and the mode of transport you’re taking, you may not have the opportunity to access practical kitchen appliances.
Transportation might seem like an odd challenge to healthy meals, but it’s crucial to consider the travel challenges typically faced upon leaving an airport or train station. Individuals who don’t have a rental vehicle are often limited in their choices of restaurants and eateries unless they want to pay a handsome fee for a taxi or rideshare service.
But even employees fortunate enough to have a rental vehicle (or their own car) face challenges in finding and procuring fresh, healthy meals. That’s because nearly all business trips involve long-distance travel to an unfamiliar destination.
While you may feel comfortable driving to your local grocery store for ingredients and supplies, your destination’s layout and shopping options may be vastly different from what you’re accustomed to. This can be extremely disorientating and discouraging.
Fractured familiarity happens on an occasional basis, even for those who don’t travel far from their hometown. Think about a time that your favorite grocery store rearranged their shelving or installed a new internal department. Did you feel upset, angry, or confused at first? Did this feeling lessen as you got used to the new layout?
Routine and familiarity is an essential part of our lives. Finding that some things remain consistent and constant allows us to experience a feeling of stability and security that might otherwise be unattainable. When we travel, we willingly accept that our destination is going to be different from our origin point.
However, understanding a concept and coming face-to-face with it are two drastically different things. Many travelers feel slightly disconcerted or lost when arriving at a new, unfamiliar location.
They may struggle to process the hundreds or thousands of changes in their environment, resulting in anxiety and a sensation of being overwhelmed with sensory information. Using a GPS app can help travelers get a grasp of their destination after arriving.
But as we’re about to see, it’s often better to do some virtual investigation of your destination long before you arrive.
Importance of Eating Healthy While Traveling for Work
You don’t have to let yourself become defeated by the above challenges. Gorging on junk food and convenience-store snacks doesn’t have to be the unavoidable burden of taking a business trip.
Taking the time to make the wholesome choice could help you lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, help you sleep better at night, and ensure that you get excellent rest. Still, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential positives of eating well.
Eating nutritious meals, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly are all activities with long-lasting positive physical and mental effects if you’re determined to stay in tip-top shape while traveling for work.
Let’s explore some of the best ways to eat healthy while traveling for business. These potential solutions can help you pick the options that work best for your body, schedule, and temperament.
Dehydration can present itself in many forms, including hunger. When you’re thirsty but unable to recognize feelings of thirst, you may instead begin to instead sense an insatiable hunger. To satisfy this hunger, you may turn to nearby snacks or convenient fast-food meals.
Sadly, many of these types of foods are notoriously low in nutrients and high in sugars, fats, and carbohydrates. As such, allowing yourself to become dehydrated could be contributing to weight gain. One of the best ways to fight back against this scenario is to stay hydrated.
If you don’t already own a personal water bottle, now is the time to invest in one. There are hundreds of BPA-free plastic models to choose from, though glass options are quickly becoming more popular and practical.
The Yomious Glass Water Bottle is a prime example of a modern borosilicate glass bottle. It is capable of carrying 20 ounces (567 g) of liquid and comes with a nifty bamboo lid with an attached carrying handle. Owners don’t need to worry about dangerous shards of shattered glass, as this tough option also comes with a silicone sleeve that helps to keep the bottle protected and intact.
By drinking at least one liter of water each day, especially cold water, you can help keep dehydration at bay while also helping to curb your sensation of hunger. For those attempting to shed a few pounds on their journey to becoming a fitter person, water is a boon.
But in addition to drinking plenty of water, you’ll also want to ensure that you’re enjoying plenty of quality rest each night. If you’re tossing and turning and only managing a few hours of shut-eye every night, you may be putting yourself at risk for a wide range of health conditions.
Get Plenty of Rest
Individuals with remarkable sleep deficits are more likely to fall ill or develop serious conditions later in life. During the short term, insomnia can take a toll on the heart, the brain’s cognitive function, and the immune system’s viability.
Over many years, a lack of sleep could increase your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Sleeplessness can also contribute to weight gain, which has its own slew of related dangers. Like dehydration, fatigue can contribute to persistent sensations of hunger.
Those who sleep for only a few hours each night are more likely to binge on unhealthy snacks and fried foods. Over time, this habit can lead to obesity. For these reasons, it’s far more imperative to shut down your laptop and get plenty of rest than it is to pull an all-nighter. This is especially true when you’re traveling.
Having to leave the familiarity of your typical surroundings and meet new people can be exhilarating. But it can also be stressful. If you’re not sleeping an average of eight hours every night, you may be making yourself more prone to anxiety attacks or depressive thoughts.
After filling up your water bottle and waking up from a wonderful slumber, you may feel ready to take on the world! And if you’ve done your homework before arriving at your destination, you may be able to leave the hotel and head to a nearby eatery that offers wholesome, healthy breakfast options.
Investigate Your Options
Before you pack your bags (but after you’ve booked your flight and reserved a room), you’ll want to spend some time exploring your destination. If you’re headed to a foreign country, it may be beneficial to study the local customs, manner of dress, and language. However, even domestic destinations may require a little study.
Once you know where you’re headed, when you’re expected to arrive, how long you’re staying, and where you’ll be sleeping while you’re there, you can begin your investigation. One of the best ways to go about this process is to start with your hotel or lodging location.
You could choose to call the front office and inquire about nearby restaurants and shopping opportunities, or you could use a search engine to discover nearby landmarks and places of interest. Exploring your dining options online often allows you to browse menus, prices, customer reviews, and hours of operation.
Many food-based search engines such as Zoomato, or Happy Cow (specifically designed for the vegetarian/vegan diner), also feature filters and sorting options that make it easy to find vegetarian, vegan, or health-conscious dining options. When you take advantage of these sources of information, you can avoid overpriced and over-portioned meals and enjoy affordable, healthy alternatives.
When looking for the best dining options near your hotel, it may be a good idea to start by searching for highly-rated breakfast places. After all, starting your day with a filling and wholesome breakfast can help deter mid-afternoon snack cravings and help you feel more energetic and focused throughout the day.
It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While this proverb might not be technically true, as lunch and dinner are just as vital, eating a healthy breakfast can help you enjoy a better mood and a higher level of cognitive ability throughout the day.
Additionally, taking the time to eat breakfast may help curb unhealthy food cravings. Those who find themselves making constant trips to the nearest snack machines and fast-food restaurants could find that their willpower increases after eating a breakfast rich in fiber, fresh fruit, and nutrient-packed superfoods.
While many hotels offer complimentary breakfast services, these spreads often consist of sugary cereals, various types of bread, and sweet pancakes or waffles. Taking advantage of this breakfast may save you a little money during your trip, but it might not do you any favors in the long run.
If possible, seek out fresh options where available. Determined to avoid eating out as much as possible? Search for the fresh fruit options during the complimentary breakfast service.
Be sure to ask about whole-food plant-based alternatives to common breakfast items, and don’t be afraid to grab an extra apple or orange for the road – as long as you aren’t breaking any rules. Wholesome breakfasts can provide the energy you need to succeed in whatever the day’s endeavors might be.
Of course, you could also ensure wholesome snack availability by bringing food along for the ride. Though it may seem strange to pack a snack bag for yourself before traveling for work, doing so could save you a ton of frustration and help keep overall travel costs low.
Sometimes the best way to fight convenient-yet-unhealthy food cravings is to come prepared with your own healthy options. Dried fruits and granola bars are popular options, but many travelers forget that they can also bring perishables with them.
If you purchase fresh fruit and veggies right before you leave town, they’ll likely stay edible for the duration of your trip. Naturally, you’ll want to pack any food items with care, especially if you plan on placing them in your checked baggage. Also, some airlines may restrict the amount of perishable foods you’re allowed to bring with you.
For these reasons, you’ll want to check with your airline before purchasing several pounds of fresh fruit or vegetables. Still, dried options that keep well over extended periods are often allowed, even in great quantities.
If you’re not sure that you’ll have the time or energy to go out to eat, a pre-prepared snack bag could be a lifesaver. Just be sure to include plenty of nutrition-rich options and try to vary the types of nutrients you’re consuming.
Too much or too little of anything can be harmful, so finding the right balance is crucial to maintaining excellent nutrition. You may also want to skip that night out at the bar, especially if you’re hoping to stay in the best possible mental shape.
Going to the hotel bar for a few drinks after an intense meeting is a relatively commonplace practice. Joining a few of your coworkers or supervisors is also a socially accepted practice. But social pressure to drink and a long-term drinking habit can both contribute to weight gain, as well as serious health conditions.
If possible, you may want to avoid alcohol while you’re attending to business. Not only can you avoid any potential hangovers by abstaining from drinking, but you could also enjoy a greater amount of energy and focus. These two effects are bound to be beneficial as you navigate your meetings and work responsibilities.
While it may be fine to go partake in a single beer or hard drink after successfully completing a hard day’s work, having several drinks could prove to be problematic. This applies not only to your health but to your professional reputation. Remember, it’s perfectly fine to decline social invitations, especially those that involved drug or alcohol usage.
And while you’re at it, you may want to add a little fiber to your diet. Alcohol is known for its punitive effects on the digestive system, and this issue only worsens when you’re not eating enough dietary fiber.
Consume Plenty of Fiber
Up until somewhat recently, fiber supplements were primarily targeted toward seniors and the elderly. Fiber supplementation can be a necessary source of dietary fiber for older individuals or those with complex medical conditions.
But the average adult doesn’t need supplements to enjoy excellent gastrointestinal health. Consuming plenty of whole grains, nuts, and fruits is one of the best (and tastiest) ways to get more fiber into your system.
When you’re providing your body with plenty of dietary fiber, you’re helping it rid itself of nasty toxins and waste products. Fiber could also help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels while helping you lose weight. Of course, too much fiber poses a few risks, including bloating and constipation.
However, you can offset this risk by drinking plenty of water and getting a little exercise during your trip. Many hotels offer gym amenities, and starting your day with a quick treadmill walk and a fruitful breakfast could help you make the most of your business-oriented vacation.
Choose a Well-Equipped Room
This tip may not apply to you, as not all business travelers are not given the option to choose or upgrade their accommodations. However, if you are able to request a room with a kitchenette or a few extra cooking appliances, you may want to take that opportunity.
Purchasing fresh groceries and preparing them immediately before cooking is often the most straightforward way to get the most nutrients from your food. Processed foods and typical snacks may have lengthened shelf lives, but they also offer very little in the way of nutrition.
Still, if you do manage to secure a room with a kitchen area, you’ll need to consider cooking equipment. You may want to bring a multipurpose pan or skillet with you on your journey to reduce on-site costs and shopping hassles. You could also plan your meals ahead of time and only bring the most necessary pots and pans with you.
Switch to Tea
While tea is the primary all-day beverage of the United Kingdom, coffee tends to be more popular in the United States. Like most forms of black or breakfast tea, coffee contains caffeine that can help induce a feeling of wakefulness. But unlike tea, coffee consumption can produce some unpleasant effects, especially when consumed throughout the day.
Switching to green or black tea may be a wise idea. Not only will you be able to avoid the headaches of caffeine withdrawal, but you may also enjoy a wider range of health benefits. Many types of tea contain antioxidants, and some may even help lower your risk of a heart attack.
Southern states do revel in sweetened tea options, but these often contain an equal or greater amount of sugar than the standard soda. As such, it’s crucial to choose a tea that is low in natural sugars and high in polyphenols and flavonoids.
Some of the most wonderful aspects of tea are its shelf life and portability. You can pack away several weeks’ worth of tea without consuming much baggage space, and as long as you keep your leaves in an air-tight container, they should stay good for several months.
However, if bringing a snack bag and a box of tea doesn’t appeal to you, it may be time to familiarize yourself with local food options. This extends beyond local cafes, restaurants, and eateries.
Familiarize Yourself With Local Options
While we’ve touched on local restaurants, we haven’t fully explored grocery stores. Unless you’re traveling to a fantastically remote location, there’s a good chance that there will be a grocery store within walking or driving distance of your hotel.
If you’ve chosen to upgrade to a room with appliances (or your hotel has a mini-fridge and a microwave), you may want to ditch the snack bag idea and purchase your week’s groceries after arriving at your destination. This could help save you a little money on baggage fees and allow you more space for clothing or souvenirs.
Besides, shopping in an unfamiliar grocery store may help you discover the ingredients of products you never see at your local store. Part of the intrinsic beauty of travel is that it allows for cultural exchange, and you may just fall in love with a dish or food item you never thought you’d like.
Minimize Processed Carbohydrates
Going on a no-carb diet is often more harmful than it is beneficial. However, chowing down on a lot of “empty carbs” can contribute to weight gain and a decrease in overall health. When you’re traveling, you may be confronted with a seemingly endless parade of high-carb, low-nutrient options.
Enriched bread, a common component of burgers and sandwiches, is a fine example of what you might like to avoid. Many fluffy white-bread options are infused with corn syrup, a complex form of sugar. Unused carbohydrates are converted into glycogen, an equally complex type of sugar.
Consequently, enriched bread options can be a kind of double whammy when it comes to sugar consumption and fat storage. If you’re not running laps around your hotel or office, you may be inadvertently causing your daily caloric intake to balloon by relying on food products with enriched flour or processed sugars.
Eating healthy while traveling for work can be tricky. There are several challenges to healthy eating on-the-go, including time, available equipment, and destination familiarity. However, by recognizing these potential issues, you can begin to consider how you’ll avoid them.
Investigating your destination is one of the first steps you may want to take. You can choose to use your hotel as a starting point and search for nearby restaurants that cater to your dietary needs or preferences. You may also want to use the opportunity to search for nearby grocery stores or farmer’s markets.
It’s vital to stay hydrated and well-rested during your journey, as dehydration and insomnia can both prove detrimental to your health. You may also want to avoid drinking alcohol, consuming excessive amounts of coffee, and making a habit of visiting the vending machines. Packing a snack bag and switching to tea may help.
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS
Compliment Your Body, LLC
1441 Broadway #6087
New York, NY. 10018
Compliment Your Body has been providing corporate chair massage and in-home massage therapy to New York City and the surrounding boroughs since 2004. We are local to New York City and pride ourselves on our team of local therapists. All of our therapists are hand-picked and thoroughly vetted. We don’t hire over the phone, we meet our team on the field.
Compliment Your Body believes that care is a circle. We care for our team, our team cares for the participants, and we all care for the community!
For every single in-home or chair massage, Compliment donates three meals to a New Yorker in need through our relationship with Food Bank For New York City.
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