Whenever I travel for business or pleasure, it’s an adjustment in many ways, including with diet. Fortunately, over the years I have started to form a bit of routine and at least plan my meals in advance. I try to follow how I eat at home as best I can while out of town. Even still, meal planning on the road can be a challenge.
Today I’m sharing my tips for planning meals while traveling. These tips will help you in terms of routine and convenience, and also with saving money. Food can be a large expense especially when traveling or out of town.
Meal Planning on the Road
Travel History and Routine
I’m not one to eat out of the norm or go for heavy meals. For me, normally usually means breakfast, lunch, dinner and usually one snack. Depending on the size of my breakfast, the snack might be mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
During one recent trip, I ended up resorting to apples and bananas for my snacks. It’s easy to purchase one on the side at eateries such as Panera. While I was hoping to eat a lot of salads to get my vegetables in, that didn’t pan out as I had thought. It’s been so cold that warm soup sounded a lot more appealing.
My diet for the week included:
- Salad: 2 times
- Soup: 3 times
- Sandwich: 6 times
I also managed to fall victim to a few sweets: brownie, chocolate cake and chocolate fondue. That’s very unlike me, but once my sweet tooth gets going it’s hard to stop. It helps to also workout on vacation or while traveling for business to counter the meals and also keep routine.
Travel Meal Planning Tips
I’m going to break my tips down further into business travel versus personal when meal planning on the road. I do find some slight variations, especially if you are traveling for your company and they are paying your meals. This can vary the routine at least for me.
Right now I am a freelancer so I usually pay for my own expenses unless I’m on a sponsored trip or the client is paying. In the past when working full-time for a company they would usually pay for my travel meals. I would end up ordering out for each meal and need to submit receipts for reimbursement.
Business Travel Meal Tips
Think about where you are traveling to and plan ahead as much as possible. I fell into a routine of sorts because I would typically stay at the same chain of hotels and knew what their food offerings were. For example, this hotel had a Starbucks inside so I knew I would be going there to order my breakfast.
For other meals I would research what was within walking distance or driving distance of my hotel and business (depending on my mode of transportation). Again, this can be done in advance so if you find a chain you are familiar with, I’ll use the Panera example again, you can pre-plan your meals.
Alternately, if you find a local sandwich shop or an eatery that is new to you, you can look at their menu online in advance to prep for your meals. Frequently, I will purchase meals with sides such as the fruit or chips and know that I will save a portion of the meal for later.
I hate to waste food even if a company is paying for it so I try to be resourceful with whatever I purchase for my meals. I also take advantage of to go packaging and the mini refrigerator in my room and a microwave if available.
Sometimes I won’t need to purchase another lunch if already have a leftover from the day before. A good example is pizza, which works well as a leftover. For beverages I might order coffee or I will bring my own water bottle and refill that during my travels for convenience.
Personal Travel Meal Tips
When traveling for pleasure I enact savings mode even more. It can be quite expensive to eat every meal out, especially if you are traveling with your entire family. For personal travels my routine has become to plan on eating dinner out each night.
We also might have a few “extras” such as ice cream from a local creamery, a coffee purchased at a local coffee shop or some drinks during happy hour. Outside of these “extras” however, and the pre-planned dinner we have other ways to cover breakfast and lunch while traveling.
For breakfast we make sure to always book a hotel with a continental breakfast, or a bed and breakfast. This eliminates planning and paying for one meal every day. I use the same routine with breakfast such as eating my meal and then grabbing a banana or a yogurt for later in case I need a snack.
For lunches we often will eat pre-purchased food. This works two ways, depending on your mode of travel and duration of trip. We will either purchase groceries at home and pack them for our trip, or we will find a grocery store upon arrival and purchase food at our destination.
I try to purchase foods that do not easily perish but are also healthy. Examples include:
- Beef Jerky
- Cheese Trays
- Veggie Trays or Baby Carrots
- Snack Packs
- Protein Bars (I really like Think Thin and EPIC bars)
- Pre-Made Salad Box or Sandwich (check the to go section at grocery store)
- Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels
- Nut Butter Packets (I like RX Nut Butter or Jason)
- Pretzels and Cream Cheese
I try to purchase what we need based on the number of days of the trip and number of meals needed. I often can over purchase so be careful not to do this especially if you aren’t able to bring any leftover food back home. Also, purchase based on the number of people in the household.
If necessary, I work through our itinerary and look at how many meals we really need. I like to buy things that are healthy, but also packaged easily for travel so I will pay more per food item if packaging is convenient. An example of this would be buying single serve applesauce cups for my daughter, instead of the large 32 ounce applesauce container.
A Note about Air Travel
Another area I wanted to cover is traveling by airplane as another means of meal planning on the road. I am not a frequent flyer but during our last big trip to Key West, Florida I implemented a few travel food tips based on current airline rules and restrictions.
The first one is bringing a water bottle for each person. For travel I prefer a disposable bottle in case it gets lost of damage so just make sure to buy a Dasani or something before you travel. You can bring the empty bottle through security then refill the bottle with water at a drinking fountain within the airport.
Secondly, bring your own snacks/food into the airport. You will need to show them to security but I did not have any issues. For the last trip I brought fresh fruit (apples), nut butter packets, protein bars and pre-packaged items such as peanut butter and cheddar crackers.
By bringing these items we avoided the expense of dining in the airport. I have found the prices are always much higher in the airport even on items such as a drip coffee from Starbucks. Also the lines can be very long.
After paying $7 for a single slice of airport pizza years ago I vowed to figure out a way to save more money while flying and eat healthier. I will add that packing/eating healthy foods while traveling makes me feel much better as traveling can be tiring and disrupt schedules.
Meal Planning While Traveling
Meal planning on the road can be challenging but does not have to be impossible. You can eat healthy and stay healthy while going on vacation, a weekend trip or traveling for work. The key is planning ahead and being strategic.
This might mean planning meals in advance, determining where a local grocery store is or even looking at menus online before you order your meal at a restaurant. With both business and personal travel don’t forget any utensils you might need or napkins.
How do you keep your diet on track while traveling?
*This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated and republished for accuracy and comprehensiveness.