Avoid a Diet Derailment: Nutrition for Travelers

Plan ahead to make sure your time on the road doesn’t equal a caloric meltdown.

As I’m getting ready to fly out for a national figure competition in the next week, I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about the tips and tricks you can use in order to help keep your nutrition on track when traveling.

With summer holidays upon us, it’s an added challenge to stick to a structured nutritional plan no matter if you’re flying somewhere exotic, taking a road trip, or just heading for a weekend at the lake. Having a structured diet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to enjoy yourself and your holiday, nor does taking a summer vacation mean you should put your fitness and nutrition goals on hold. It’s all about maintaining balance, being flexible, and having a plan.

You don’t need to take a vacation from your good habits.

Travel Day

It doesn’t matter if I’m planning for a day trip or a week, I always take a cooler with me to ensure I have suitable options on hand and have enough available for any meal “emergencies.” Anyone who follows a structured diet knows you can’t rely on others to have diet-friendly options for you, so it’s always better to plan ahead.

I pack all of my meals for travel day in a portable cooler I can take as my carry on. If you’re on a longer flight including stops, I recommend making your own “ice packs” with water and plastic Ziploc bags, as there is potential for them to be confiscated. If I’m taking an extended trip, I pre-cook and freeze my meals for the following days and pack them in my checked luggage in an insulated grocery bag (most stores sell them at the checkout).

“When it comes to eating in the airport or on the road, I often purchase fresh salads or vegetables to add to my already prepared protein source and top it with my own condiments.” 

I also carry last-minute options in my carry-on like protein powder, individual servings of tuna, almonds, and protein bars. This ensures that no matter what happens I won’t be stuck.

When it comes to eating in the airport or on the road, I often purchase fresh salads or vegetables to add to my already prepared protein source and top it with my own condiments. I always pack individual servings of mustard, Walden Farms salad dressings and syrups, nut butter, and stevia. That way I can customize my meals for enjoyment and feel satisfied despite being on the go.

If you’re doing restaurant meals, you can always order a plain grilled piece of chicken, fish, or shrimp and add it to tossed salad or steamed/grilled veggies. Trust me, no one will notice if you add your own dressing.

Hotel Stay

Always request a fridge – and if you’re picky, a microwave. I book all of my hotels online and there’s usually a section for notes and requests. That’s where I ask for these extras and my strategy never fails. Once I arrive at the hotel, I transfer my frozen meals to the fridge. In the absence of a fridge, I fill the bathtub or grocery bags with ice as a great temporary cooler.

Another lifesaver on the road is packing your own electric grill. I have a small George Foreman that fits about three chicken breasts and easily packs in my checked luggage. Once I arrive at my destination, I scope out the nearest grocery stores and farmers markets to get fresh protein to replenish my frozen supply, as well as fat sources, fruits, and veggies.

home cooking, electric grill

Packing an electric grill helps me stay on top of my nutrition when I’m on the road.

Although most hotel restaurants and continental breakfasts will have some form of egg and, if you’re lucky, oatmeal that isn’t loaded with sugar, I normally opt to make my own breakfast with packaged oatmeal (single serving oatmeal packets or pre-measured bulk oats), nut butter (most health food stores have individual packets of one or two tablespoons of natural nut butters), and protein powder or eggs.

I’m lazy, so normally I eat my oats cold and raw, but it only takes a second to whip up a warm version with the hot water from your hotel coffee pot. Note: run a batch of water through with no filter or grinds, unless you want coffee flavored oatmeal. The coffee pot trick is great for hard boiling eggs, too, although most grocery and convenience stores now have hardboiled (and pre-peeled!) eggs available.

On the Road

Even on the road, I can always find something to make my program work (that is, if I didn’t already have my pre-cooked and cooler-ready meals with me, but let’s speak hypothetically). Even if my only option is a convenience store, there’s really no excuse.

In terms of protein, even 7-Eleven has hardboiled eggs, canned tuna, protein bars, protein shakes, cottage cheese, and yogurt. I stay away from the bars and dairy as they don’t fit my requirements (no added sugars for me, please), but I can always find a shake that has essentially zero fat, zero sugar, and 25-30 grams of protein.

“This might seem extreme to some, but I follow the motto ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’” 

For a carbohydrate source, there are usually fresh vegetables in the cooler section (just avoid the dip that comes with), fresh fruit, rice cakes, and oatmeal available.

If you’re looking for an added fat source the individual packages of nuts are a great convenience store option. I recommend avoiding the roasted or seasoned versions. I opt for the raw versions as these typically have no added chemicals and unnecessary oils.

If you want to make your oatmeal to go, grab a coffee cup, add the hot water available for tea, and mix your meal right in the cup. Voila – carbs to go!

Restaurant Eating

Most restaurants will cater to your dietary needs, so often it comes down to knowing what to order so you can avoid the hidden extras. For breakfast, whole eggs, egg whites, or omelets are great options, but make sure to request no oil, butter, cheese, or dairy if applicable to your diet.

If available, cottage cheese, turkey bacon, fresh fruit, or oatmeal can be added to make sure you’re getting the protein, carbs, and fats you need. And don’t forget about your personal stash of nut butters and condiments if you need to embellish on your meal.

restaurant, eating, couple

Most restaurants you encounter will be happy to accomodate your dietary needs.

For lunch and dinner, I normally opt for a lean protein (again requesting no oils and no spices), a tossed salad, and steamed vegetables. Even if they aren’t on the menu, most restaurants will make steamed vegetables for you. The sautéed mushrooms and onions that normally come with a steak are great for adding flavour and volume to your other proteins. As always, just remember to request no butter or oil.

For condiments I stick to yellow mustard and hot sauce or add my own zero-calorie options to avoid the added fats and sugars that are in typical dressings.


This might seem extreme to some, but I follow the motto “fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” My fitness goals require extreme dedication and awareness of my food choices. So it’s worth it for me to plan ahead.

That being said, I’m a true believer in finding balance and making room for indulgences, especially when on vacation. By planning ahead so you can avoid any unexpected or extra deviations that will take you further away from reaching your goals, you can truly enjoy your intentional (and moderate) indulgences.

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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