Many of my health coaching clients (and most of my social circle) are business professionals who travel to some extent for their jobs. This can be great for closing important client deals and building elite airline god-like status (upgrades, y’all!), but super tough if you aspire to be healthy. Traveling tends to disrupt your normal routine and makes it difficult to maintain ideal eating and fitness habits. I get it. As a business consultant for more than a decade, I’ve been there. You end up working crazy hours, sleeping on planes (not ergonomic, by the way) and eating food that you would never consider otherwise (airport cinnamon buns, anyone?). It’s a recipe for complete physical melt-down – at least it was for me.
In my case, the abundance of airport food, lack of consistent sleep and extreme job-related stress resulted in chronic weekly migraines and strange flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, aches) that I was unable to cure for years. I knew I hit rock bottom in 2008 when the hotel concierge where I frequently stayed in Singapore called a local doctor to my hotel room because I was unable to get out of bed. Yes, doctors make “house calls” in Singapore, thank goodness.
It was at that point that I knew I needed to make some changes – either stop traveling for work (which I eventually did) or stop treating my body like garbage while I traveled. It’s with the latter thought in mind that I created the following tips. These are the most impactful routines and “hacks” that I developed over years of travel and that I now implement for each trip to ensure I am prioritizing my health in addition to the corporate agenda. Oh yeah, I also follow my own guidance during vacations – that’s how much I want to avoid getting a migraine again. Ever.
Tip 1: Up Your Pre-Flight (or Pre-Drive) Game
Ensure you have the items you need for an ideal travel experience – maybe it’s a pillow, blanket or noise-cancelling headphones to allow for a better sleep. Maybe it’s applying for “TSA-Pre” so you don’t feel the stress of waiting in long lines. Either way, find out what works for you and make it a habit before each trip.
Tip 2: Home Sweet Hotel
For me this means finding a hotel with a gym that is relatively close to a grocery store or restaurants that will give me healthy food options. If I am going to be at my destination for more than two days (especially when on vacation) I try to get a hotel room with a small kitchen. It’s amazing how much better you eat if you can prep food and cook yourself.
Tip 3: Pack Snacks to Ward Off Bad Decisions
This one is a must. I pack a slew of my favorite healthy treats, both in my carry-on and my checked bags, if I have any (for after I arrive). Having snacks will help you avoid making bad decisions at the airport or on the plane. Airport food is getting a bit better, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still hit or miss. I usually pack nuts (raw, unsalted), fresh and dried fruit (organic apples, bananas travel well), raw veggies (carrots, broccoli) and even home-made sandwiches. Rarely is there an occasion that I would eat plane food as it is loaded with salt, preservatives and reheated in plastic containers (not nice). The food may look tempting in business or first class but I still even avoid that unless I have a 7+ hour flight.
Tip 4: Hack the Menu
This tip is my favorite because I feel such a sense of satisfaction when I make it work. In most restaurants, if you are friendly with the wait staff they can help you order off menu if you need to. For instance, if I see that a restaurant serves omelets with spinach, I know they HAVE spinach. Then I ask for a side of sautéed spinach along with whatever else I order even if it isn’t explicitly listed on the menu. With some finesse, ordering off menu helps me to ensure I am getting enough veggies for the day, which can be hard when traveling.
Tip 5: Hydrate, Repeat
I cannot overstate the value of drinking water. I try to bring my own refillable bottle through security as many airports now have refilling fountains that supply high-quality purified water. I recommend at least 16 oz for each hour of travel time.