#RealFoodMagic Travel Tips

What’s a Paleo couple to do when the cook goes out of town for work and the partner left at home doesn’t *do* meal prep? Check out how I stayed on track with my health goals while traveling and how I prepped my husband to cope with my absence.

Part One - A Paleo Man Plays Video Games All Week

I don’t travel often without my husband - he’s spoiled to having me around, making sure he is well fed. He is an excellent cook but the routine, planning, and grocery shopping required for meal prep is not really his strength. For example:

  • He once volunteered to make dinner when I was having a busy time at work. He chose a slow cooker gumbo recipe that he did not start making until 7:30 in the evening - meaning we didn’t eat until almost 11 PM on a Tuesday night.
  • If he forgets his lunch bag at home or gets too busy, he just doesn’t eat - he will literally skip meals out of laziness.
  • One time when he kindly volunteered to go to the grocery store for me, an item on the list was Raspberries. He sent me a picture of a box of Raspberries to check if that was the right thing to buy.

On the flip side, on our first Valentines day together he improvised a delicious cherry and wine reduction sauce to pour over our steaks.

I had a business trip coming up where I would be gone most of the week, leaving husband to his own devices at home. I didn’t want the poor thing to skip breakfast and lunch out of busy-ness and then feast at our local wing bar for dinner every night. I especially didn't want him to sabotage his nutrition right before his first ninja competition that weekend. So I decided to make all his food for the week so he could still eat well without me around. Plus, it gave me a chance to express my love for him in one of his top love languages, Acts of Service.

***Meal Prep Porn Below***

I purposely made one less meal than I thought he would need for the week as he will usually meet up with a friend when I’m not home, so I figured he would eat out once.

However when I came home he told me had never made any plans - all he did was play video games at home. Guess what happened on the one day he was short a meal?

He didn’t eat lunch cuz he knew I would be home that evening and would make him something to eat.

Part Two - A Paleo Girl’s Adventure in Rural South Carolina

I was traveling to a rural part of South Carolina to visit one of my company’s manufacturing plants - I was nervous about what kind of food would be available in such a tiny town. Below are some of the tricks I used to stay on track while traveling - if you have interest in reading more details about how I ate on my trip, keep reading for the full story!

#RealFoodMagic Travel Trickery

Tip One: Stick to your normal routine as much as feasible. Keep up with (non-food related) activities or habits you usually do at home so your brain does not think you’ve gone to a lala land with no consequences or structure. Brains like structure!

Tip Two: Pack healthy snacks, side items, and condiments that you can pair with normal restaurant food. Or go to the grocery store after you arrive and stock your hotel fridge with supplies!

Tip Three: Plan meals ahead as much as feasible. Look at restaurant menus before you're starving and cranky and stressed out - decide what you want before you get there, while you’re in a positive and level headed mindset.

Tip Four: Be your own health advocate - state dietary preferences if given the option. (caveat - never claim you have a food allergy if you don’t).

Tip Five: Free food and alcohol is not free of consequences.

Tip Six: When something “worth it” does come along - enjoy it!

About a week post Whole30 I was feeling FABULOUS and I did not expect to be hit so hard with cravings on my trip - but from the moment I arrived at the airport, I wanted comfort food and alcohol. I did some self reflection and realized these cravings were being driven by two things:

1. Anxiety about doing well in my meetings scheduled for that week.

2. My brain seeing airports and hotels and suitcases and thinking we were on vacation and having a “special occasion” where we eat and drink whatever we want.

It took repetitive and circular conversations with myself to overcome the cravings. Over and over again I told myself that giving in to those impulses would NOT make me feel better - if I deviated too far from my normal eating patterns I would feel heavy and lethargic. My anxiety would be worse because I would be subconsciously telling myself I am too weak to do hard things, like stick to my healthy eating goals while away from my kitchen - therefore ultimately setting myself up for failure on my agenda that week.

Additionally, I reminded myself that just because I am traveling does not mean it is a special occasion where I automatically indulge in fun foods. This was going to be a normal work week, just in a different state than usual. I have justified far too many foods and beverages with something being a “special occasion” in the past and it’s something I’m determined to change for my future. A random Friday night, a business trip, National Margarita Day, etc are not special - treating them as such dilutes the excitement of a true special occasion.

I made it to my hotel and had overcome the initial shock of cravings and old impulses - yay me! Thankfully I had a plan of how I wanted to spend my evening, which brings me to my first balanced travel tip.

Tip One: Stick to your normal routine as much as feasible.

There are two activities I do almost daily that are imperative for my mental health.

  1. Workout.
  2. Read for at least an hour before sleep.

I typically don’t work out while traveling but was determined to do at least 20 minutes of activity in the hotel gym each day, purely to maintain the habit of movement at the end of the work day, keeping my anxiety at bay and helping me sleep better.

For my second daily activity, reading, I worked it in to my busy itinerary for the week by getting up two hours earlier than normal so I could catch up on emails in the morning without having to log on for too long after leaving the office. Therefore I was able to keep the evening mostly screen free and get in bed early enough to read.

Tip Two: Pack snacks, side items, and condiments that you can pair with normal restaurant food.

Breakfast in the hotel always presented temptations - the places I stayed had those make your own waffle stations which smelled so freaking good. But I walked myself through the consequences of eating one of those waffles and they no longer seemed tempting after I thought it through. Besides if I’m going to have a waffle, wouldn’t I rather have it at a fun brunch with friends, not from a mass produced waffle mix at a hotel at 6 in the morning?

My breakfast each day was basically the same - whatever eggs and meat were available with salsa, and a side of fruit. There aren’t usually vegetables on a continual breakfast buffet so this was my best option for getting some vitamins and fiber. Were the eggs and meat from factory farms and cooked in cheap vegetable oils? Definitely. Did the salsa have sugar in it? Yea, it tasted like ice cream topping after so long without sweeteners. But sometimes you have to let good enough be good enough.

I also packed travel packs of almond butter to eat on bananas, which I was confident I would find on the buffet. The healthy fat allowed me to stay full until lunch!

Things to throw in your suitcase:

-Food Bars such as RxBars, Primal Kitchen Collagen Bars, Lara Bars, etc.

-Portable fats like coconut flakes, cashews, almond butter packs, individual packs of olives, and packets of ghee

-Portable dressing packets from real foods brands like Tessamae’s that you can add to salads

Tip Three: Plan meals ahead as much as feasible.

There weren’t many options for dinner the first night of my trip. I perused a few restaurant menus before I went to the hotel gym and ended up choosing the Ruby Tuesday’s next door to the hotel. I was glad I had picked out what I would eat before I got to the restaurant because by the time I got there I was STARVING and was sorely tempted to go off plan.

I chose the blackened tilapia, salad bar and a side of sweet potato fries (which I know were deep fried in an inflammatory seed oil but sometimes you just need some damn carbs!). I sipped a sparkling water with lime (my go to fun beverage when dining out). The salad bar was a minefield of less healthy options but I stuck with veggies and protein and topped it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar which I was super happy to see next to the sugar and dairy laden dressings.

Tip Four: Be your own health advocate - state dietary preferences if given the option.

Lunch the next day was one that I thought I had planned in advance - I knew we were going to have salads and sandwiches from a local deli. My colleague had kindly asked before my trip if I had any dietary restrictions and I said “No, I eat everything!”Since I assumed the salad and sandwiches would be laid out buffet style, I thought I could easily grab a sandwich, discreetly remove any cheese, toss out the bread, and dump the meat on a salad. Well you know what happens when you assume…

Lunch rolled around that day and everything was prepackaged in individual boxes. I grabbed the salad option and it was drowning in shredded cheese - on top of that, the dressing was a very thick creamy and sweet concoction that definitely had dairy and sugar. Thankfully the salad also had diced ham, turkey, romaine, tomatoes and cucumbers so I tried to eat around the cheese and use only sparing amounts of the dressing.

I was mad at myself after this - when my colleague asked me about lunch, why didn’t I just say something simple like “Thank you so much for asking, I avoid dairy and bread when I can so if there is a salad option with no cheese or croutons, I would be so grateful if you can order that for me!”.

The truth is I just didn’t want to be “that girl” - I was afraid of sounding like one of those people who says they’re gluten free just because it’s the trendy thing to do, with absolutely no thought behind why they’re doing it. I didn’t want to sound like I’m undermining people who have life altering food allergies and honestly I didn’t want there to be any extra fuss for me. This is probably something that will take time to overcome but I owe it to myself to grow a pair and stand up for my health. I hope you can feel comfortable doing the same.

Tip Five: Free stuff is not free of consequences.

I spent the last two nights of my trips in a larger city and different hotel. As I checked in, the friendly front desk associate explained to me that they offered a free dinner reception each evening with complimentary beer and wine. After long days at work, I was very tempted by the alcohol - but I kept imagining that the nice man had just offered me “free gluten and sulfites” instead of “free beer and wine” and that made it a lot easier to resist.

Again I asked myself questions about whether drinking would be “worth it” - was the temporary relaxation from a glass or two of cheap wine really worth not sleeping well, getting off track on my fitness goals, and possibly not being as sharp at work the next day?

Just because something is free doesn’t mean you have to eat/drink it - those foods/beverages come with just as many consequences as ones you pay for.

Tip Six: When something “worth it” does come along - enjoy it!

On my last day in South Carolina, we had a company lunch with cute food trucks. One of the trucks offered Shrimp and Grits, which everyone kept telling me I couldn’t leave South Carolina without having. This seemed like something that fell in the “probably worth it” category so I was excited to indulge.

The meal came with a heaping pile of Pimento Mac and Cheese. I adore Pimento cheese so putting it in a delicious warm macaroni is basically perfection.

The Shrimp and Grits was GOOD. I’m drooling remembering it now. Definitely worth enjoying that dish over conversation with coworkers I don’t see often.

The Pimento Mac and Cheese was sadly not as tasty as I was hoping it would be. I only ate three bites - I could tell it would not be worth the consequences of the gluten and dairy.

It has taken many years and many rounds of Whole30 to get to this point of “food freedom” where I can pick and choose things that are worth it and where I can over ride the impulse to drink and eat my anxiety away. And sometimes I still get it wrong and eat something that ends up not being worth it, or I eat one too many worth it things in a row and I’m suddenly sliding back in to old habits and need to do another reset. It’s a continual learning process and a skill that thankfully I can only continue to improve!

What are some foods or occasions that are worth it to you? Are there particular triggers you have that make you want to go off the rails? How do you work to overcome those impulses?

If you’re curious about how to eat after Whole30, check out Melissa Hartwig Urban’s book Food Freedom Forever. That woman is my idol and I owe her so much.

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