Traveling for me can be terrifying – I become neurotic about what and where to eat (ok, I'm exaggerating, but food quality is definitely a concern when traveling). Fortunately on a recent spring break trip to Puerto Rico, I was ultra-prepared ;)
Here are some tips about how to stay on track while traveling:
1. Research, research, research…
My main concern was being able to find high quality & fresh produce while in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico is an island and imports 85% of its food (see here). Don’t get me wrong, I love trying new foods but with smaller scale agriculture in Puerto Rico, traditional meals include tostones (fried plantains), jibaritos (a fried plantain sandwich) and queso frito (fried cheese). Everything fried!
One of my favorite mantras is: when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Before traveling, I visited websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Fodor’s to map out health food stores and restaurants close to the airport, hotel, and locations we’d be visiting.
It's worth noting this trip was planned less than a week in advance! It only took 20-30 minutes a few days before the flight to do some research and I was able to come up with plenty of options, no problem.
2. When hunger strikes…
Before I left I planned what I could eat on the plane and snacks for when I was out and about. Typically most unpeeled fruit, wrapped meals, and nonperishables are ok - TSA has a helpful app/search engine (see here) where you can type any word in to check if you can bring it through security. Unfortunately, water is not one of them and frighteningly, we become more dehydrated on planes because of the super low humidity (see here from the World Health Organization). In addition, the air we breathe on an airplane is pretty gross. A 2002 study reported that airplanes are designed to recirculate 50% of the air to increase efficiency, which is linked to higher rates of symptoms of the common cold! (Zitter, et. al 2002). Plus jet lag can throw off our gut microbes (see here). Way uncool.
Austin’s brilliant solution for me was a care package of individual servings of nut butters, Lara bars, dried figs and dehydrated powder veggie drink mixes, five days’ worth of whey protein powder and raw whole almonds purchased in bulk. These were totally versatile and easy to pack. I ate these on the plane, while exploring, at the beach, and even hiking in the rain forest!
Usually, when I fearfully warn my family: “Pack food so you have something to eat!!!” and send photos (pictured right) of snack examples, they aren't as obsessive as me. And they don't. (Side note: my college student kid brother sheepishly grinned and admitted to ordering eggs and soda on the plane for breakfast. Oh, the choices we make when hunger strikes!)
3. Stock up when you arrive!
The first place we visited upon landing was a store I discovered during my research, Freshmart. They carry many “natural” and organic products I’ve seen at Whole Foods and other heath food grocers in the US. I encouraged my family to get rice cakes, peanut butter, and bananas for a quick and easy breakfast during our stay. We ate one rice cake each with peanut butter spread generously and split one banana between us per day – my fam loved it and it held us over until late afternoon for lunch.
4. Roll with the punches…
Naturally, plans change. But luckily, I’ve become a pro at picking out healthy meals from a menu. One night for dinner, my family and I were hungry and tired. I quickly tried to check for somewhere decent on Yelp, but the menu was not available and didn’t specify what kind of food was served. I took a gamble.
This time the menu did not offer as many vegetables as I would have hoped or any details about ingredients in the food. I asked the waitress for plain grilled chicken breast, white rice and a side salad without dressing. In my experience, restaurants are willing to oblige even if you order something off-menu or create your own plate. My other sibling (not my baby bro pictured right) has been known to make excuses to bring his own food in restaurants ("Excuse me, I actually have to bring this inside because I have to drink it for my dialysis tomorrow." He definitely does not need dialysis).
I had a great time in Puerto Rico and was able to continue eating healthy – if I ever travel to somewhere else exotic I’ll be sure to write about what I ate on Ubuntu Fitness!
Zitter J, Mazonson PD, Miller DP, Hulley SB, Balmes JR. Aircraft Cabin Air Recirculation and Symptoms of the Common Cold. JAMA. 2002;288(4):483-486.