10 Tips for Eating Healthy and Exercising on the Road

20141122_114953Traveling and choosing good health seem to be two things that do not easily go hand in hand, and I think I know why. Eating healthy foods, choosing small portions, and exercising daily are things that require a lot of intentional planning and attention, and traveling is something that, even in its most spontaneous form, requires an element of attention and intentional planning in itself. The results is that even the most organized person can easily get off track. So, we’re sharing a list of 10 ways to eat healthy and exercise while traveling, and all are revelations we have arrived at by making some pretty big mistakes.


1. Take a water bottle. Everywhere we go, we take along a water bottle or three. Not only does this save a fortune because of our thirsty kids, but it also saves countless calories. I get carsick pretty often – always have, which is pretty terrible for someone who travels full-time. So, for years I would sip a fountain Coke in the truck every time I felt the queasiness coming. And while it did help the nausea, it never failed that I was left with a sick, sugary taste in my mouth afterwards. Recently I tried replacing it with a very weak version of limeade (frozen Minute Maid limeade concentrate with heaps and heaps of water), and I’m happy to say that this works way better! Now I don’t have to wreck my good work for the day just because I’m queasy, and I don’t have the sugar hangover either! Packing water bottles on every trip is also a very easy way to help kids drink more water. My kids love to drink sweet tea and juice (we are from Georgia after all), and they tend to only drink water when they’re extremely hot or right in the midst of an activity. But when water is all there is in the truck while we drive, it magically gets slurped down. Amazing how that works.

20150102_1006282. Pack snacks – healthy ones. In most cases, a hungry person is not capable of thinking clearly enough to make healthy choices. We have learned this lesson over and over. That’s why we try to keep tiny carrots, apples, pears, clementines, pretzels, granola bars, peanuts, goldfish, and anything else remotely healthy in the camper or truck. What happens when we don’t plan well and can’t find these healthy things close by? We pull over at a gas station and buy some M&M’s or Bugles, usually accompanied by Gatorades and Sprite. I cringe just thinking about how expensive that could get traveling as much as we do! I also cringe thinking about myself and my family becoming like the super round people on the spaceship in the Wall-E movie.  I think I’d rather spend the time planning snacks now than at the doctor in later years trying to correct all the damage we did by eating junk.

3. Decide where to eat before you get hungry. Packing a lunch is probably the best option (for health and budget too), but if we choose to eat out, choosing the restaurant before we get hungry is the best way for us to make a wise decision. Recently we were traveling in Nashville, TN, and we chose a great local farmer’s restaurant for lunch based on Yelp reviews. As we were walking toward the restaurant we got separated and ended up entering the restaurant an hour after our normal lunch time behind a school group of 50+ kids! Needless to say, we had to make a change of plans and fast. All 4 of us were starving and grumpy, and we decided to look around close by and see what we could find. After all, we were in downtown Nashville for crying out loud; there must be good food! But we couldn’t find anything remotely decent, which probably shows how hungry we were. So we chose Margaritaville, ordered whatever we thought would be fastest, and ended up spending $70+ on less than mediocre food (I actually wasted over half of my burger because I ordered bleu cheese, which I hate). Lesson learned.

20141117_1433394. Set an exercise goal – any exercise goal- even if you know it’s not achievable every day. Without a goal it’s impossible to be consistently active (for me, at least). My daily goal is to walk outside for 60 minutes before anyone else in my family is awake. This obviously was not possible when Matthew was working nights for the Amazon camperforce, and it obviously doesn’t happen when we’re moving the camper and I have to rise early just to get everyone dressed and fed before Matthew hitches up and pulls us away. (Men are so efficient and driven on moving day!) Actually, the number of days per year that the 60 minutes before breakfast actually works is way under 100. Mainly because in the winter the sun rises pretty late, and I am not willing to walk in the dark (especially not while staying in cities, towns, and countrysides that are completely new to me). So I set the goal and at the very least, I try to get moving at least 60 minutes a day. Sometimes it’s really easy to do, like when we’re at a state park with a million hiking trails or when we’ve planned to walk the streets of a cute little town for the afternoon or take walking tours in a big city. Other times I have to look for ways to make it work -frisbee, soccer, pacing while on the phone, yoga moves in the bathroom, skateboarding, scooter riding, swimming laps in the ocean, kayaking on the lake, hiking during the kids’ movie time, walking in circles around the playground, playing catch, joining the kids’ foot races, you get the picture. (Can you tell I’m the mom of two little boys?)

20150102_1028185. Get real, reliable feedback – not perception- a.k.a. the scale! It never fails that every time my scale is out of commission (on the blink, broken or lost in the Airstream storage compartments), I gain weight – a lot of weight, and I feel incredibly crummy. I’ve somehow learned over the years how to trick myself into seeing what I want to see in the mirror. It goes something like, “Wow. I don’t look so bad,” which leads to, “Yes, I can eat that extra slice of cake, and those chips,” and so on and so on. The mirror is not real, not reliable, and therefore not the best feedback for me. What doesn’t lie is the scale. Not the “I’m going to starve until I’m back to my high school weight” kind of scale watching, nor the super-obsessed, thinking about it all day long kind of thing. Just the “okay, where am I at today” kind of check-in. That’s what helps me.

6. Know what tempts you and decide how much (if any) you’ll do. Our biggest temptation since we started full-time RV traveling seems to be Cracker Barrel. Maybe it’s the homemade biscuits, ever-flowing coffee, cozy fireplace, or Mama’s pancake breakfast, but whatever it is, we seem to be drawn there nearly every time we are on a long trip. There is something for everyone, and it’s so easy! Another temptation for us is frozen pizza. There’s nothing faster or cheaper than two frozen pizzas for $8 total that can feed 4 people in 15 minutes or so. Then there are the hubby’s favorites Papa Johns and Pizza Hut, and my all-time numero uno –  Mexican restaurants. These are pretty easy to pass up when you’re snuggled in at home and would have to make an effort to get everyone ready and out the door, but when you’re already out and getting hungrier and hungrier, they become incredibly hard to pass up. None of these are terrible every now and then, but all of them would be extremely bad for our health and terribly draining on the budget if we chose to go this route every time we travel, because every time we travel is almost all the time. (Even when we take camphosting jobs for 2-6 months at a time, we use many off days for field trips and fun day trips, so we’re still traveling a few times a week on average.) So we talk about our plans before we go out, and we decide together what we’re going to do for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes we still end up at Cracker Barrel no matter what we decided we would do, but I’m sure it’s far less often than it would be if we didn’t have any plan at all.

20120709_1000577. Do the little things to build easy positive momentum. I park in the furthest parking section and walk. I choose the walking tour over the bus. I choose hiking over a movie. I sometimes pick a baked potato (not loaded) or steamed broccoli rather than fries. If my entire family wants Zaxby’s and I just can’t stomach another salad, I can order something small or fix a PB&J in the camper. If I have a huge craving for something really unhealthy, I can share it with someone so that I don’t overdo it. This builds momentum in the right direction. Unfortunately, it’s just as easy to build momentum in the other direction as well. If I choose to eat a large order of fries once, it’s easier to choose them again. If I choose ice cream, toaster strudels, bagels, BBQ chips, a sky-high mound of mashed potatoes, fast food, processed junk, candy, or piles of cookies once, it becomes so much easier to choose them again. Momentum can be scary good or scary bad, and we can change it at any moment.

8. Listen to your body. This one is probably the most important for me. If I start feeling bad, weird, or dizzy, I don’t run to the doctor to diagnose me (I’ve wasted far too much money on that already). I think about how much I’ve been moving and how much junk I’ve been eating, and usually I can adjust in a couple of weeks or so. I know that some people do have serious health issues and therefore rely on doctors and medicines, and I am not trying to underestimate or discount that in any way, but because I’m healthy and intend to stay that way, I can pretty much tell when I’ve gotten off track and what effect that has on my body. Our bodies were created for health, and I believe we can go a long way toward health and healing by making good choices.

9. Never diet. Never. Health is a lifestyle – not a fad, and unfortunately I have learned this the hard way. I can’t count the number of times I’ve deprived myself of something I really love (like bread or sugar or cake or chips) for a month or even 6 months just to lose a few “extra” pounds. The result is that the pounds disappear, and I rebound with more junk than I would have eaten had I not deprived myself for those months, and consequently more weight than I had in the first place. So I decided a while back that if a change needed to be made (cutting out something completely, choosing smaller portion sizes, making better dessert choices, not eating late at night), it was a change that deserved to be permanent.  So I don’t do fads. I don’t eat south beach or paleo or vegan or vegetarian, and I won’t unless I decide that it’s something I need to do for the rest of my life (which I might one day). Research says diets don’t work, so I’ll stand with the nerds on this one.

20141225_13213910. Be yourself. This is a list of what works for me (when I actually follow it, that is). But the reality is that these things may not work for you. Be yourself. Find out what you need. Everyone is different, and I think that’s the best thing about being human. I’m me, and you’re you, and we were created that way for a reason. It may take a year or more to find out what works for you, but it’s worth the journey. Choose health, whatever that looks like for you. You can do it!

So there you have it. Clearly I’m no health expert, definitely not a size 2 (never have been), and most assuredly not a body builder, super athlete, or trainer. I’m just a regular gal trying to keep the body I have around long enough to accomplish all the dreams in my heart. I would love to hear from you about how you stay healthy on the road too. Happy trails!


A short footnote on eating disorders: Choosing health is something that unfortunately turns into an eating disorder for many people. If you think you might have an eating disorder (if you worry and think about food, weight, or appearance all day long, starve yourself, binge, purge, etc.), it’s important that you get help immediately. Take it from someone who struggled in this area for a year or more in high school (15 years ago), there is freedom and so much more to life.

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