Someone once told me: the best way to learn a culture is to eat it. After traveling for years now—and trying new dishes and delicacies along the way—I believe it.
Tasting foreign food is one of the most pleasurable ways to get a feel for a new place. Just by sitting down at a restaurant or sidewalk café in your destination, you can observe a locals’ dining habits, taste the spices they add to their dishes, get a read on how they serve their coffee and discover which indigenous ingredients are in season.
However, the challenge of being a true “foodie-at-large” is not becoming larger than life as you journey from place to place. While it’s all-too-easy to rationalize that “this is a once-in a lifetime opportunity so I might was well dig in now!” regularly overindulging can actually become a risk to your health as well as your bottom line. To ensure that your adventures are as good for your body as they are for your soul, put these seven healthy-eating strategies into play.
1. Shop the Markets—Every city, tiny villages included, has some kind of local market or grocery store (bonus: The smaller ones are often “local and organic” even though they’re not called out as such). Skip at least one restaurant meal each a day in favor filling your basket with fruits, veggies, freshly baked breads, nuts and cheeses. Not only are you eating like the locals do, but you’ll save a few bills for calorie-burning excursions and activities.
2. Push Your Plate Away—This may sound like a no-brainer, but it rarely occurs to travelers to leave a little something on our plates. If you’re a huge fan of the dish you’re served, don’t tell yourself that it’s the last time you’ll ever eat it. Instead, take a photo and commit to researching (or simply asking for) a recipe so you can learn to make it again after you return home. Once you’ve mastered it, serve it up to friends—we can guarantee they’ll love it even more than your photos!
3. Try a Local Dance Class—A great way to get the blood pumping, and check out local culture, is to sign up for a dance class in the country you’re in. I know absolutely nothing about flamenco, but the other day in Spain I dropped by a studio to try it. An hour later, I emerged (sweaty, yes) but I got the hang of (some of) the steps and made a few Spanish friends too! Whether you're learning tango at a milonga in Argentina, samba or capoiera in Brazil or Muy Thai boxing in Thailand, the important thing is just moving. The bonus? You’ll burn enough calories to warrant a hearty meal or an extra glass of wine with dinner.
4. Snack Every Few Hours—Often times, travelers are so distracted by what they’re seeing that they’ll go too many hours without putting anything into their bodies—then gorge themselves when they finally sit down to eat. When preparing for the day, toss a few pieces of fruit, bag of nuts, or a high-protein energy bar into your daypack and fuel up on the go. If you’re heading overseas, pack a small box of Luna bars, made by Clif Bar. They’re made especially for women with extra calcium, folic acid and iron.
5. Choose Just One Splurge A Day— When you’re on vacation, naturally you want to treat yourself. After all, you deserve it! Just remember that you don’t have to treat yourself to everything, all the time! Pick one treat each day to indulge in, something that you're looking forward to trying—a specialty cocktail, a dessert, freshly baked bread, a candy or pastry you’ve never seen before. And the rest of the time, focus on adding more produce to your meals.
6. Order the Soup—On their RTW trip, Lost Girl co-founder Amanda Pressner says she lost most of the weight that she gained in India and Africa by eating soup—everywhere at every meal—in Southeast Asia. Not only is the broth-based steamy liquid really filling (you won’t be tempted to overdo it on bread and oil-based entrees) but also chefs tend to showcase local spices and veggies in soups since they’re made fresh. You’ll be able to taste the culture, literally, with every spoonful.
7. Last Lost Girls’ Health Tip: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate—It’s vital you’re getting enough water on the road. Last year at the Vatican Museums in Rome, Italy, my little brother actually went into shock because he didn’t have enough fluids. He’s an athletic, big guy, and he was the last person I expected to collapse on the floor from seizures. We rushed him to the emergency room (terrifying, because none of us spoke Italian). He got an IV a few hours later he was fine, but don’t take this risk. If your body is triggering hunger hormones it could be from dehydration (think elevation change, flying and lack of sleep). Pack a BPA-free refillable water bottle in your backpack and always sip. If water isn’t cutting it, try GU Energy Chomps, delicious gummy fruit snacks that replenish vital electrolytes.
By Patty Hodapp, The Lost Girls (www.lostgirlsworld.com)
See also: 5 More Tips for Staying Healthy on the Road