Healthy Outlook: I failed traveling healthy, but I’ll do better next time

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

I recently traveled to Phoenix for the Association of Health Care Journalists’ annual conference, and I learned quickly that I was not prepared to stay healthy on the trip.

I travel so infrequently that I didn’t realize I needed to check my bag before I got into the security line at the Kansas City airport. Thus, my trip began with a mildly embarrassing, panic-stricken moment, but otherwise it was off to a great start.

Yet I hadn’t even considered how starving I’d be by the time I got to my hotel. With a quick glance at the room service menu, my eyebrows hit the ceiling, and although I debated whether I really need my 401(k), I decided to find a cheaper option.

It was already late in a city I didn’t know, so I thought delivery was my best bet — and yours truly settled on ordering from a fast food joint. Optimal? Definitely not, but it was sustenance.

That was the start of my travel troubles. I wasn’t prepared for the long weekend ahead, and a week later, I’m still “in recovery.”

So here are some things I learned through this trip — a four-day venture to Phoenix for the Association of Health Care Journalists’ annual conference, which was beyond amazing, but I’ll save that topic for another day — and some things I’ll try to do better next time I travel.

Here’s where I failed, and what I’ll do better next time:

Make a food plan. Find food for check-in day ahead of time, especially. If I’d done some research on what was available near my hotel, I could’ve found options that didn’t reek of desperation.

Plan ahead to either Uber to a local grocery store when you arrive or make a list of places to dine that fit your budget and your nutritional goals. (Hint: In many markets, websites such as, and will let you input the location of your hotel, so you can easily see what can be delivered there long before you arrive.)

Stick to a healthy bedtime. Jetlag is a real concern — even when there isn’t a huge time difference between home and your destination — but try your best to keep your normal circadian rhythm intact. I barely slept during this trip, then slept nearly 10 hours the night I returned. That’s not healthy.

A sleep mask can help with this, but you also have to discipline yourself. You might also consider taking a melatonin supplement– ask your doctor first, and make sure you know how it will affect you before you take it while you’re traveling.

Try to stick to workout plans, too. If your hotel has a fitness center or you can plan to go for a run in the great outdoors, try to do it. I packed two days’ worth of workout clothes but ended up not using them, which further threw off my body’s balance and has made it a real struggle to hop back on the treadmill. I regret not taking even a half-hour to squeeze in some cardio.

Let go and enjoy — with limits. As strong as our resolve may be at home, it seems infinitely more difficult to say no to a molten chocolate lava cake when we’re on vacation … am I right? Enjoy as you see fit, but limit yourself, and remember that the more you “misbehave” while you’re away, the harder it will be to regain self-control upon your return.

Most importantly, don’t give in to the call of the minibar. Chocolate that is available around the clock is doubly dangerous, and three times pricier, than that which is restricted to gift shop hours.

I did have a few health successes on this trip, though. Here’s what worked:

Bring all your normal vitamins and supplements. Of course, these pills can’t replace the nutrients you should get from food, but they can certainly help offset the imbalance of being away from home and unable to make your own meals.

Take a refillable water bottle. The best move I made was packing a stainless steel bottle that kept my water ice-cold all day. Staying hydrated is also one of the best ways to avoid certain discomforts that can come with traveling.

Pack snacks. I took plenty of healthy energy bars with me, which were especially helpful on the plane trips.

Coming home counts, too:

Keep stock at home. Depending on how long you’ll be gone, try to keep at least a couple of healthy options on hand for your return so you don’t have to immediately scramble for food.

Plan to return well.Set aside time and plan a trip to the grocery store shortly after your return. It’s much easier to continue ordering food, but it’s a slippery slope. It’s best to get back on track as quickly as you can.

Hopefully this advice will be helpful to my fellow homebodies out there. A bit more planning and self-control will go a long way toward making your trip — and your return — healthy and happy.