Dr. Samantha’s Top Tips for Healthy Eating on Vacation

Once when I mentioned to a patient that I was heading on vacation she responded, with a wink, “oooooh, I hope you plan to have a realllllly good time.”

At first I was a bit confused as to what she was suggesting! Then I realized we had been talking about nutrition so I clarified that this was the topic at hand (thankfully it was!)

I told her that across the board, it is important to me to eat foods that make me feel well. And that this means more thought, more effort, and more commitment when I’m not on my home turf.

That’s not to say that I might not be more flexible when I’m traveling but the non-negotiables for me (no dairy, and no commercially raised animals) are non–negotiables if I’m at home or away. It’s a values thing for me. My values don’t go away on vacation. Feeling well and taking care of my body are paramount.

My life . My values . My choices .
Your values . Your life . Your choices .

If it’s more important for you to be carefree on vacation than it is to stick to your eating plan, if you don’t mind dealing with whatever it is that comes down the pike from getting ‘off track’, so what? If a short period of indulgence doesn’t make you feel regretful on the other side, and you’re not dealing with a concerning health issue (celiac disease, diabetes, etc) that will be impacted significantly by short term indiscretions then seriously, don’t worry about it. As long as you’re not traveling a week out of every month, enjoy, relax, and stay the course when you get home.

The key to making that decision though is to get clear on your priorities and your values around your own health, energy, and general state of mind. If it’s part of your values system to feel well, to keep inflammation down, to avoid foods that you know undermine your health, period, is it ok for you to chuck it on vacation? Perhaps. Your call. But know either way it’s a choice. A choice within your control.

Sure, it’s sometimes challenging logistically but if you know how to navigate vacations from a food perspective you can stick to your nutritional guns and still really enjoy your vacation. Really. 

Here are my top tips for healthy eating while you travel.

1. Book an apartment or a suite with a kitchen or kitchenette instead of a hotel room.

Often it’s no more expensive but even if it is, you can usually make up for the price difference by by cooking a few meals in instead of going out to eat. I’ve had (mostly) great luck on AirBnB, usually paying 30-40% less than I would have on a decent hotel room with more space as well as a place to cook. VRBO is another good option.

2. If you are staying in a hotel, call ahead.

If you do end up in a hotel, make sure the in-house restaurant can accommodate your needs. A quick phone call to the kitchen will get that answered for you. Often they are happy to take care of you. If not, there is usually another hotel option nearby.

Also, if you end up staying in a hotel, ask them to put a small fridge in the room before you arrive for restaurant leftovers and a few things you may pick up at the store (cereal, milk, etc.) Most hotels have these available for free. You can always empty out the honor bar in a pinch.

3. Scout out grocery store locations.

In any large city and most towns near large cities these days there are health food stores and almost all big box stores have organic sections and health food options. At Costco you can get large bags of wild salmon patties, frozen spinach and gluten-free pasta. Ditto for Trader Joes and Safeway. Find out where the health food stores are are before you go, or call the local markets and find out if you can get what you need. A little legwork helps so much!

When I’m in NYC I often choose a rental that is in easy transit to a Whole Foods. I have one patient who actually only chooses vacation spots where she is within walking distance to this kind of store. When I was keynoting a conference in San Diego last month I walked a mile to Trader Joes and picked up some food and walked back. I got to see a little more of the city and get a little extra walking in to boot!

4. Pack some healthy snacks to go.

If you have special foods you may not be able to find when you get to your location, bring them along. Nuts, protien bars, GF pasta, whatever you need. When I travel I’ll often bring a loaf of my favorite gluten-free bread (Happy Campers for those of you in Portland). I’ll freeze it and stick it in my bag. It may sound over the top but it saves SO much hassle once I’m on vacation. I also love those little packets of peanut butter that you can easily put into play.

5. Scout out restaurants before you go.

There’s no harm in looking at reviews before you even head out, regardless of dietary needs. Almost all restaurants have menus on line these days and you can get a pretty good idea of what may or may not work. You can even call the restaurant and ask whatever questions you have ahead of time. Just like when you’re at home, choose your meal not just by what sounds good, but by what sounds good AND is good for your body.

6. Consider your ability to eat healthfully and get exercise as part of your choice of destination.

For example, if you know that on a cruise you will eat too much and not get enough exercise, skip the cruise and go to a city that’s good for wandering. If you’re staying at a hotel, do they have an exercise room? Can you find a walking tour? Or sign up for an adventure?

7. Be clear about your needs and intentions.

If you’re going to visit family or friends, or even traveling with family or friends, tell them ahead of time that you’ve made some changes to your diet and you’re feeling great. Don’t worry about what they think.

This doesn’t mean being whiny and demanding that everyone bend to your whim and cook you special meals, but you can always eat something before you go out or ask if it’s ok if you pick out some restaurants that will work for you.

If they can’t accommodate you, or you don’t want to ask, no problem…take care of your own food, or do the best you can! Stand firm in your knowing that you are choosing to eat in a way that makes you feel well and is in integrity with what you want for your body and for your health.

If people don’t understand that, it’s their monkey, not yours.

8. Pick and choose your battles.

You may choose not to be as strict as usual when you’re on vacation (minus your non-negotiables of course) but vacation doesn’t mean throwing your progress away.  Spend some time thinking before you go about why you have made the diet changes, and why you might (or might not) want to stick with those changes while you’re on vacation. Getting clear about this before you go can be very helpful.

9. Do your best and don’t stress.

It’s not what you do some of the time, but what you do most of the time that counts. These are just some ideas to support you, but take it easy on yourself. It’s vacation after all.

Do you have any to add? Send me a note on my contact form!

Yours in Health,



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