While some people use travel as an excuse to stray from a healthy diet, I advise against it. Eating healthy while traveling allows you to thrive and be at your best so you can make the most of your trip. Whether it’s business travel or pleasure, you need to be on your game so that you can perform and enjoy your trip. Eating poorly saps your energy, ruins your digestion, and impairs your cognitive function.
But it can be tough to healthy while traveling. You’re away from your home base, your fridge full of food, freezers full of meat, kitchen full of cooking tools. The grocery stores are different and you can’t hit up your favorite farmer’s market. Instead of having everything you’re used to having to help you eat healthy, you’re at the mercy of whatever’s available in stores and restaurants.
So, what is one to do without access to everything you normally use to eat healthy?
Bring Cooked Food With You
If you’re doing a road trip where you’ll have access to a cooler, you can eat very well with some preparation. You’ll need a good cooler so that you’re not constantly refilling the ice. I recommend a Yeti or some other similar double insulated brand to really make the ice last. This gives you a portable fridge and a constant, inexpensive way to keep it, and your food, cold.
Boiled eggs: My method for large eggs: put eggs in pot, cover with two inches of cold faucet water, bring to a roiling boil, turn off heat, put the cover on, and let sit for seven minutes. After seven minutes, dunk your eggs in an ice bath to stop the cooking. This leaves the yolk slightly soft and still creamy. Add 30 seconds to the cooking time if you want a drier yolk. Place eggs in gallon ziploc bags. Keep the shell on and a steady supply of ice in the cooler and they’ll last up to a week. Take some salt and pepper, too.
Roast chicken: I’ve always said that a cold chicken leg is a great lunch. Keeps for a couple days on ice.
Whole roast primal cuts: Lamb leg, tri tip, prime rib, pork loin. Delicious hot or cold and larger cuts keep well for longer in the cooler. If you include the bone-in variety, it lasts even longer.
Lean cuts: Sirloin, chicken breast, picanha, lamb leg steaks, pork chops. Leaner cuts seem to last longer than fattier cuts.
Marinated cuts: Things like Korean BBQ ribs, carne asada, Greek lamb, that sort of thing. The marinades protect the meat from oxidation and they actually last longer than the same cut of meat without the marinade.
Burgers: Cooked burgers (with or without cheese) also make a good snack and keep for a long time in the cooler.
Roast a bunch of veggies: Cook some sliced carrots, onions, peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, and asparagus – or any physically large vegetables that taste good cold – and pack them away. The easiest way is to throw them in a roasting pan with some salt, pepper, and fat (olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, macadamia oil, or palm oil all work great) and roast them together. The tastiest way is to grill them over open flame, seasoned similarly.
Cooked tubers: Cold potatoes last forever. Include a few baked sweet potatoes, too, which taste incredible cold.
Hard cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, and full-fat yogurt: These are worthwhile foods that last forever when refrigerated or kept cool.
Raw fruits and vegetables: Carrots, berries, bananas, tomatoes, avocados, apples, plums, peaches, and jicama can all hold up for a couple days outside the cooler, and for quite longer within it.
If your trip is long and your supply of food begins to dwindle, you can easily restock at grocery stores with hot bars along the way. Rotisserie chickens will last at least two days in the cooler; disassemble for efficient storage. Keep your eyes out for barbecue joints, as ribs, pulled pork, and brisket will all keep if kept cold. Bring a pan and a small butane or propane stove.
That way, you can cook along the way.
Stock Up on Non-Perishables
There’s nothing wrong with a can of sardines or a handful of macadamias, and not every car, boat, or bindle can accommodate a cooler. In these situations, knowing which foods are both non-perishable (or at least have a decent lifespan out of the fridge) and Primal can help you decide what to buy and bring on the trip.
Canned seafood: This is arguably your most nutritious, dependable option, with plenty of omega-3s, protein, minerals like selenium, magnesium, zinc, and iodine, and if you choose wisely, bones, skin, and connective tissue. Sardines, herring, mackerel, trout, oysters, clams, tuna, mussels and salmon are all relatively common items. Restocking can be a cinch, since you can find canned sardines and tuna in most places. Keep a jar of Dijon and buy cherry tomatoes when they’re available. Mix the Dijon with a couple cans of the fish of your choice and toss in a handful of tomatoes for a quick and dirty salad. Speaking of which, make sure your seafood comes canned in olive oil, its own oil, or water.
Jerky: Bring a few big bags of jerky. If you can, I recommend taking the extra time to procure a large slab of lean meat so you can choose your marinade and save incredible amounts of money and make your own jerky.
Pemmican: Man cannot live on lean meat alone. No, he needs fat, especially animal fat. Pemmican provides both protein and saturated animal fat, but it takes some getting used to. Either make pemmican or buy it.
Nuts: Nuts get kind of a bad rap for their caloric density and tendency to stall weight loss in some folks, but caloric density in a small package may be what you’re after. If so, take your favorite nut. I like macadamias, for the buttery smoothness and low omega-6 levels, but even walnuts are better short-term feeding options than your average fast food menu item.
Mayo: If you’re going to have all that canned tuna and boiled eggs, you need some mayo to go with it. Keep it on ice once open.
Dried fruit: In a pinch, dried fruits are an excellent way to provide healthier carbs.
Find Healthy Food at Restaurants
No cooler, no canned goods (cause maybe you just don’t feel like all that prep work), surrounded by chain restaurants and fast food joints pumping the area with potent smells, hunger scratches at your belly. You would go without, except it’s been hours and you have several days left on the trip. You’ve gotta eat. There are “choices,” like fast food spots, but not any you feel like acknowledging.
This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where boys become men and girls become women. It’s a test, of effective foraging in a suboptimal environment, akin to looking for fruit during a nasty drought or berries in the dead of winter. Can you do it? Definitely.
Ask to cook it in butter: Almost every place has butter. Almost everywhere physically can cook the food in butter, it’s just that most people never ask. Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Order poached eggs: Poached eggs are always safe. They’re always simmered in pure water, no oil.
Burger patties: Burger patties at most restaurants, fast food or otherwise, tend to be cooked on a flat-top griddle using only their own rendered fat. They are very rarely cooked in oil, and you can always ask the chef or manager to be certain.
Bring your own dressing: The worst part of any salad in a restaurant is the soybean oil they make the dressing with. Bringing your own solves this problem and makes it possible to eat well almost anywhere. I recommend Primal Kitchen dressings, of course, but you can bring homemade or some other brand that you like.
Keep a tiny bottle of extra-virgin olive oil: Don’t want to bring dressing? Just bust out your olive oil and ask for some balsamic vinegar, then add to the salad. Keep the bottle tiny and you may avoid being pegged as the weird guy or being thrown out for “outside condiments.”
Research ahead of time: Before you go on your trip, consider looking up restaurants along your route to get a rough idea for which ones are good options. Use an app like Seed Oil Scout to find out what fats restaurants are using, or try a website like LocalFats to make your job easier. If you get to a restaurant and don’t quite know what the deal is, you can ask the head cook or manager what kinds of oils or ingredients they use. This isn’t necessary, of course. But it’s an option if you’re worried.
Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Going Primal isn’t about asceticism. Downright allergies and intolerances aside, it’s good to stray from your diet when the food is great. Sometimes the local food is worth it. If you’re in Italy and aren’t a full-blown celiac, try the pizza and get the pasta. If you’re in France and don’t normally eat cheese, try the raw brie. You’re a low carber but find yourself in Belgium with tallow-fried French fries on hand, eat them. Not every meal, but if it won’t kill you, it will make you happier. Live it up a little.
Don’t take things too seriously. A little subpar oil isn’t going to derail your entire life. You’ll be okay. You’ll survive. Make the best choices you can and focus on the quality of the trip itself.
If foraging conditions prove way too harsh, I’ll just not eat and chalk it up to an impromptu, truly random intermittent fast. This is pretty standard for me. I can handle not eating for a day and maintain energy without going too crazy. But that’s me – I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve built up a strong tolerance to going without. You may not, and that’s cool. Just know that it’s a viable option, and often a better one than eating junk.
I’ve found that things change when I’m traveling with family or friends. If it’s just me on business, alone, I’ll often skip meals, but if I have my wife or kids along, or I’m traveling with friends for pleasure, I generally will not skip meals. I’m there to be with them, to enjoy their company, and if they’re eating, so am I. If I have to meet someone for a business lunch, I’m not going to sit stone-faced and staring as the other person wolfs down a plate. That’s just bizarre. For all you parents, I’d strongly recommend not forcing your family into an IF against their will.
I’ve been pretty successful following these general guidelines over the years, but I’m interested to hear what works for you folks. How do you cope with unfamiliar, unfriendly food environments? Do you abstain from food altogether, do you dip into the 80/20, or do you somehow maneuver your way around the dietary landmines to get a full stomach?
Let me, and everyone else, know in the comment section!
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending more than three decades educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates flavorful and delicious kitchen staples crafted with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils, and dressings in their lineup, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prep mouthwatering meals that fit into your lifestyle.