Eating on a Budget While Traveling
I love traveling the world but there are two situations that really get under my skin while on vacation: wasting time and wasting money. I want to enjoy every minute of my vacation and searching for food or wasting money on some junk because that is all I can find drives me bonkers!
Ky and I love to travel and since getting married in August 2014, we’ve been fortunate enough to visit Tahiti/Moorea, Ireland, Jamaica, Italy, and Mallorca, Spain. While I’m a competitive athlete who loves to travel, I’m also very frugal and passionate about making good financial decisions. So, when traveling, my biggest concerns include: maintaining fitness, feeling energized on a day in/day out basis so I can enjoy the trip, and controlling costs. These concepts likely will not go hand in hand without planning ahead so I am here to teach you how to successfully eat on a budget while traveling, all while maintaining optimal performance. If I can do this, you can too.
Furthermore, as an avid runner and finance zealot for frugalness, Ky knows I’m going to have goals of eating “clean” while also making a dollar stretch far as humanly possible. Ky knows one reminder she is going to hear from me (over, and over, and over) before we leave is to be sure to pack enough bars and snacks for us so that we don’t have to survive on airplane food and packaged meals from generic corner stores.
The further you stretch your dollar in food costs, the more you can spend it on unique trip experiences. I remind my little dietitian that our frugal food choices allowed us to spend a night in Dromoland Castle in Ireland and sail on a yacht in Mallorca only to eat at one of the most exotic restaurants in the world. Years ago it made me sick to my stomach to buy a bottle of water and bag of nuts for $8 just to hold me over on my 2 hour layover. As I would pay $3-4 for ONE bottle in the airport I would contemplate, “why didn’t I just throw a bottle in my bag before I left or empty a bottle from the hotel before leaving?” I’ve learned from my past doings which has resulted in more money in my pocket and feeling better both mentally and physically throughout my trip.
While I have always sought to be frugal-health nut, life changed a few months before my first marathon, the Dublin Marathon; It was my first journey into the world of Functional Medicine. I decided to go through the process because I wasn’t recovering like I had in previous years. I remembered in high school and college how I could lift hard 3-4 days a week and had no problem completing football workouts. In spring of 2016, I wanted to start training for my first marathon and was having an extremely hard time with energy. If I exercised my legs with barbell squats for just 2 or 3 sets on a Wednesday, my legs were still so fatigued on Sunday that I couldn’t make it past 5 miles without walking. I wondered, am I going to have to give up lifting my lower body so that I can run? Why could I do this 10 years ago and I can’t do it now? I was 31 years old, not 95. I knew something just wasn’t right.
So, with the encouragement of my in house Functional Sports Nutrition expert, I met with a Functional Medicine trained physician to try and figure out why I was no longer recovering from my workouts. Through the process of testing, consultation with my physician and dietitian, they identified a “leaky gut” as a major part of my issues. This included that I wasn’t absorbing fats and proteins (no wonder why I had a hard time recovering), and for whatever reason, my body was lacking/not absorbing B-vitamins which help provide energy.
Within about a month of starting supplements to heal my gut and help break down fats and proteins along with dietary changes (removal of almost all gluten, dairy, and anything with added sugar) I was seeing a huge difference! The changes were hard but with a marathon in Ireland, I was determined to enjoy the event without bonking. So, as I saw success with my lifestyle changes and modification in vitamins/supplements/bars/etc., I wanted to make sure I kept things moving in the right direction on our trip. Plus, this trip was my longest vacation to date so I knew I had to have laser focus when packing in order to be able to maximize my training on race day and my wallet for the remains of the trip.
As we left for Ireland, I stuffed every nook and cranny with bars, snacks, and supplements. I even brought a quart sized container full of Mediclear -a highly potent multivitamin and protein shake in one. This product is honestly the most amazing protein powder on the planet if you can get past the taste. (Mediclear is expensive but its jam packed with nutrients and vitamins including a lot of b-vitamins so it really helps me feel alert and focused. I continue to take Mediclear about once a week or any time I’m a bit low on energy since I can’t tolerate caffeine). This plan-of-attack-packing led to several positive outcomes that I will outline below:
- I was never overly hungry since I never had to wait for a tour bus to stop or go searching stores for food since I always had something on hand
- We saved several hundreds of dollars over the course of our 10 day trip.
- Time saved!! Instead of having to wait in line at a grocery store or sit down for a meal at breakfast each morning, we were often able to just eat something in the room and then get on our way to our tour, site seeing, etc.
- I felt better mentally and physically. I know from previous trips I randomly felt crummy from eating something with processed ingredients or not making great food choices due to seeing one of my favorite foods such as pancakes on the menu and thinking “but I’m in XYZ, I should treat myself and I may never be back here again to taste how they make them here.” Eating the things I packed allowed me to feel better and enjoy each day of vacation. I did splurge on several occasions but I did more of this at places that were unique to Ireland such as the amazing Queen of Tarts (Our reward for after the marathon!) or at dinner so it didn’t wreck my entire day.
- We enjoyed our vacation even more knowing we were spending our money efficiently to enjoy things unique to Ireland.
- I felt energized each day and never once experienced that food-coma, super sluggish feeling. I only took one nap the entire time we were there (That red-eye the night before was a little rough).
Next, I will outline some of my strategies for fueling on the road with the aim to improve performance, increase energy, and save money.
One thing Ky has taught me a lot about is stabilizing blood sugar with snacks that include fat, fiber, or protein. An easy thing Functional Medicine turned me onto is Oloves olives. Olives may not be for everyone but I could practically shower in olive oil. Naturally, I enjoy olives as a snack as well. Olives are full of healthy fat so they easily satisfy hunger and maintain blood sugar between meals. Furthermore, they are high in sodium which can help athletic performance especially for those who sweat a lot or those getting ready to compete on a hot day or in endurance events. Oloves makes small pouches that are easy to stuff into different corners of your carry on to pull out any time you need something small to hold you over.
If there is any food in this world that I eat in mass quantities, its nuts and legumes. I’m fortunate that my Functional Medicine food sensitiviy testing didn’t suggest a single trace of intolerance to nuts or legumes. When I go on trips, I most often use small ziplock bags and put in different combinations of nuts that I bought in bulk at our local wholesale store . Another great alternative is to buy Planters Nutrition Wholesome Nut Mix Pack Pouches. Right now they’re $5.86 for 6 pouches on Amazon, a much better price than paying double or triple in the airport.
I frequently pack 2-3 different types of bars when I go on a trip. I get bored easily and like variety in my food as well as in my life. One of the most simple and pure bars on the market, I almost always include is RXBAR (click here for their variety pack) in my travels. My personal favorite is the peanut butter while Ky loves the mint chocolate. If you’re a lover of pumpkin spice, they do make this flavor for a brief time in the Fall.
My second go to bar is by Pro Bar. All of their products are Non-GMO and gluten free. I typically use their meal bar for a meal replacement and protein bar on days of heavy workouts. They have more ingredients and a bit of added sugar compared to RXBAR bars but they are more complex in flavor and I find them to be more satisfying on my longer run days. I often pair it with Oloves or nuts. My favorite flavor for the meal bars is their peanut butter (duh!) or superfood slam and for the protein bar I love the cookie dough.
As mentioned in Joe Guerra’s post on expert travel tips to keep your competitive edge, staying hydrated while traveling is crucial. Personally, I like to bring my own bottle and fill it up at the airport. My favorite is my Miu glass bottle that is made of borosilicate glass, a very pure form of glass without led or PVC (polyvinyl chloride). I bring this in my carry-on but you do have to be careful if you’re going to bring glass if you plan to toss your bag up above in the luggage storage compartments. The thing I like about the glass bottle is that I can keep it in the fridge and then when I pull it out the water is actually cold. The other option is to have a Swell vacuum sealed stainless steel bottle which will keep your beverage hot or cold for hours at a time and is incredibly durable. One downside; Swell’s stainless steel design does not allow heat or cold transfer, so your water will not be very cold even after you have it sitting in the fridge over night.
Have questions about eating on a budget while traveling? What are your favorite travel tricks? Leave your thoughts in the comments section, we would love to hear from you!