Staying on track while you’re on the road

From naturopath Robyn Chuter.

By the time you read this, I’ll be in San Francisco, one of my favourite cities in the world. My husband, 2 kids and I are spending 2 weeks exploring California (with a dash across State lines to visit the Grand Canyon), culminating – for me – with 3 days of full-tilt learning at the 3rd International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. (To read my reports from last year’s conference, go to my Article Library and scroll down to the Conference and Seminar Reports section.)

Our trip involves 5 flights and looooong stretches of driving on American highways, notorious for their endless procession of fast food outlets. So, you might be asking, are we going to dump our usual healthy eating style, ‘bust out’ and fill up on airline slop and all that world-famous (or infamous?) Yank junk food?

No way, José! I want to pack as much hiking, canyon climbing, tram riding and museum visiting as I can into this trip, and still arrive at the conference bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. That means I’ll need to be at my physical and mental peak, and the only way I can do that is to stick to my usual high-nutrient plant-based eating style and get regular exercise, any which way I can.

Here are my tips, gleaned from previous travel experiences, for staying on track while you’re on the road:

1. Surviving Long Flights


  • Be sure to specify your meal preferences when booking your flight. All airlines offer a wide range of ‘special’ meal choices including vegetarian, vegan, raw food and gluten-free. We’re flying Fiji Airways, which previous experience indicates serve quite delicious vegan meals with plenty of vegetables. A little heavy on the oil for my tastes, but loads better than the usual mass-produced airline food!
  • Personally, I prefer to eat as little as possible when flying to minimise the abdominal bloating that I tend to suffer on long flights (sorry if that’s TMI ;-)) but my kids and husband eat like horses whenever we travel, so I always pack some travel-hardy fruit such as bananas, apples and mandarins; raw vegetables such as carrot and celery sticks; and baked potatoes and home-made oven-baked falafel which are light but filling. Stay away from salty snacks which just exacerbate the dehydration that aeroplane travel is notorious for.
  • Speaking of avoiding dehydration, I grab the largest bottle of water I can find in the airport stores after I’ve passed through the security screen, and start sipping as soon as I board. Not only does this combat dehydration, it also forces me to overcome the inertia that tends to set in on long flights, as my bladder prompts me to keep walking down the aisle to the bathroom! Once I’m up, I will attempt to do a lap of the plane each time I make a pit-stop, unless the cabin crew are moving through with food and beverage trolleys.
  • I also stay on my feet as much as possible before the flight, knowing that I’m going to be confined to my Cattle Class seat for a bum-numbingly long stretch of time after we board the plane (aside from my bathroom excursions, of course). While others slump in the Departure Lounge seats, I do laps of the concourse, so I can keep my circulatory and lymphatic systems pumping until the very last minute. The risk of deep vein thrombosis from long-distance air travel is actually pretty low –somewhere between 1 in 4,656 flights and 1 in 6,000 flights – but I find that prolonged sitting just makes me feel lethargic.
  • I always pack some herbal teabags in my carry-on luggage. When the flight attendants come around offering tea and coffee, I just ask for hot water to make my own tea. I tend not to sleep well on planes (if at all), and the last thing I need is caffeine buzzing around my system while I’m trying to catch a little shut-eye!
  • Essential oils are helpful for combatting some of the unsavoury aspects of air travel. Inhaling essential oil of peppermint soothes airsickness (and other forms of travel sickness too); clary sage is wonderful for inducing sleep when you’re feeling too wired to unwind; and lavender oil calms the jitters if you’re an anxious flyer, which I’m fortunate not to be – probably the legacy of being the daughter of a Qantas flight engineer, and spending half my childhood around airports and on planes ;-). Essential oils generally come in quite small bottles (5-25 ml) so you’ll be safely under the 100 ml limit for liquids.
  • And finally, if you suffer from painful clogging and popping in your ears when you fly, do yourself a favour and pick up a pair of EarPlanes – cool little ear plugs that help to equalise the pressure on either side of your eardrums when the air cabin pressure changes as altitude drops. I bought them for my last trip to the US, and it was the first time that I’ve flown since perforating my eardrum in childhood, without suffering excruciating ear pain on the descent, and feeling like I was hearing all the sounds around me from under water for the next few days after the flight! Now I won’t fly without them, even if it’s just an inter-city hop.

2. Evading Hotel Traps


  • The first thing I do when I get into my hotel room is to clear all the soft drinks, mini-milk cartons and alcohol out of the bar fridge and replace it with fresh fruit, salads, hommous, and any other healthy foods I can pick up at farmers’ markets (for which San Francisco is famous – yay!!), health food stores or supermarkets. Likewise, the chocolate bars and packets of chips get cleared off the counter so that my daughter, who has a bit of a taste for junk food, won’t nag us to buy them.
  • When we travel, we mostly book self-contained accommodation so that I have cooking facilities. I’ll hit the local grocery shop and stock up on bags of frozen mixed vegetables, cans of beans and tomatoes so that I can throw together easy nutritious meals in 10 minutes or less. Unfortunately, this type of accommodation isn’t widely available in the US so on this trip we’re stuck with regular hotel rooms, some of them with a microwave oven. I’m not a big fan of microwave cooking – no real health concerns; I just don’t like the taste and texture of microwaved food – but if that’s the only way to cook a meal, I’ll take it.
  • We always travel with plastic plates, bowls, cutlery, a sharp knife and a flexible chopping mat, and on this trip we’re also taking a Birko food and drink heater which will allow me to cook porridge (or ‘oatmeal’, as they call it Stateside), warm up soup and boil water for beverages – annoyingly for me as a non-coffee drinker, American hotel rooms tend to be equipped with coffee makers rather than kettles!
  • I always prefer to book a hotel with an in-house gym so I can fit an early-morning workout in before my kids are awake. Exercise is my stress-buster and sanity-saver; anyone who knows me is all too familiar with the fact that I’m very grumpy if I don’t get to exercise each day! If there’s no gym I’ll content myself with running up and down the stair-wells for 20 minutes or doing a workout in my room, using a video from one of my favourite online fitness channels such as Fitness Blender orBodyRock.
  • Walking and cycling are always better ways of experiencing a new destination than whizzing past the sights in a car or bus, so whenever possible I hire a bike to get around, or just walk. Naturally, we’ll be taking a ride on San Francisco’s famous cable cars, but the city also offers wonderful walking tours of its historic sites. Hello, Haight-Ashbury – we’re gonna revisit the Summer of Love!


Car trips


After 3 days in San Francisco, which is blessed with a surfeit of vegan restaurants and cafés, not to mention numerous Whole Foods Markets (supermarket-sized health food stores bursting at the seams with fresh produce and prepared foods, many of which meet my high standards for healthfulness), we’ll be heading out to Yosemite National Park.

This long drive, and our subsequent trip to the Grand Canyon, will present the most serious challenge to staying on track with healthy eating (not to mention our sanity, with 2 kids in the back of the car chorusing “Are we there yet?”, hour after hour!). Once we leave the post-hippie vegan paradise of San Francisco, it’s all strip malls and fast food chains with nary a Whole Foods Market in sight!

  • We’re taking a soft-sided cooler bag which squishes up nicely to fit into a suitcase, and some freezer blocks. We’ll stock the cooler bag with salad vegetables, fruit, hommous, wholemeal wraps and whatever healthy pre-prepared meals we can find in Whole Foods Market before we leave San Francisco.  Roadside picnics are so much more fun than sitting in some soulless fast food outlet, eating same-old same-old pap!
  • Between the Birko and microwave oven, I’ll be able to throw together some simple evening meals using cans of beans and tomatoes, and fresh or frozen vegetables. My kids are quite accustomed to relatively fancy home-prepared meals, but as long as they have full bellies at the end of a day of hiking and canyoning, they’ll be happy enough to ‘rough it’ with simpler fare… which means I will be too!


Eating Out Without Busting Out

  • San Francisco, Monterey and all the other coastal towns we’ll be driving through, as well as Los Angeles itself, where we’ll be ending our trip, are blessed with an abundance of plant-based dining options. Café Gratitude, Gracias Madre and Sharkey’s with its famous Chef AJ vegan burritos, are all on my hit-list!
  • Although fast-food Mexican outlets serve up the same gloopy Tex-Mex slop that passes for Mexican food here in Australia, California – home to so many Mexican immigrants – also boasts an abundance of ‘real’ Mexican food outlets, featuring the corn, beans and vegetables that are the staples of Mexican food the way actual Mexicans eat it.
  • Other ethnic cuisines that offer delicious plant-based options include Middle Eastern, Indian, Thai and Chinese. I do my best to steer around the excessively oily and salty dishes, and stick to simple stir-fries, vegie curries and fresh salads.
  • All meals are provided at the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, and if last year’s fare was anything to go by, I’m going to be spoiled rotten!

So there you have it – how to survive a holiday without blowing your healthy eating plan… and coming back with unwelcome extra kilos and that “I-need-another-holiday-to-recover-from-my-holiday” feeling!