18 Power Tips to Avoid a Paleo Vacation Disaster

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Vacations are a paleo nightmare, and I’m about go on one. Family events, long days traveling and sightseeing and access to foods not normally available to me full of childhood memories and nostalgia present a triple threat to my paleo status. This won’t be the first time I’ve vacationed paleo, however, so let me share my tips with you.

A vacation from paleo?

I know some people go on vacation and consider it a holiday from their regular discipline and maybe that works for them but for those of us who need to stay on the paleo path more consistently, some warrior thinking is required.

As someone who finds that once a small boundary is breached the whole carefully constructed set-up comes crumbling down, I need to have multiple strategies if I’m not to gain ten pounds in as many days, get swollen, in pain and foggy-brained while reaching with ever-increasing regularity for the wheat, sugar and dairy that comfort me, give me energy and make me happy as I steadily feel worse and worse.

Warrior thinking

I give serious thought to how I handle my food choices while on vacation – it is not a normal situation and requires a degree of consideration over and above what we regularly deal with. Here are eighteen of my ideas; I thought perhaps they might help you and stimulate a few more of your own. Steal them, build on them, even let us know your favorite paleo vacation strategy in the comments.

Power Tip #1. Have a vacation plan.

You plan how to get to your vacation, you plan how to spend your vacation. So why not plan how to eat on your vacation? Perhaps you write your plans down in a calendar or keep a folder with the information you need. Do the same for your vacation eating plans. It will create commitment, prompt organization, and stimulate strategies and action.

Power Tip #2. Choose a vacation with the paleo lifestyle in mind.

Keeping paleo can start before you book anything. Target the vacation that will be paleo in principle. One where you camp, hike, get out in nature. It is much easier to resist temptation if there is none. :-)

Power Tip #3. Self-cater as much as possible.

Rent a cottage or suite where you can prepare your own meals. It might cost a little more but eating-in will more than offset the cost and, of course, you get the health benefits of eating your own paleo food which are gold in themselves.

Power Tip #4. Re-read this post and this post.

Apply as many of the strategies to your home-away-from-home as you can.

Power Tip #5. Buy or take a crockpot.

The idea of coming home after a long day sightseeing or traveling to cook a meal is enough to make the most hardiest of us paleo peeps run to the pub. But if you pop the meat and veggies in a pot in the morning and it is ready for you when we get back, that problem is sorted.

I am buying a crockpot on Amazon before I go and will have it delivered to the farm where we stay. It will be there when we arrive. It will cost me about $50. One meal in a restaurant will cost me at least that so, again, it more than pays for itself.  When we leave I shall either give it to a relative (and will borrow it back next time I’m there) or I’ll just leave it in the cottage. In this respect, consider a crockpot a consumable.

Power Tip #6. Keep to your regular routine as much as possible.

Plan, shop, prepare food like you would at home. Make meal plans, shop the local supermarkets (shopping the perimeter, of course) and make the same meals as you normally do.

Power Tip #7. Focus on communication not consumption.

This is a great reminder for any occasion but particularly if you are visiting long-distance family. Use this time to connect with those people. Stand away from the food, pay attention to your company, put on your listening ears and really communicate.

Power Tip #8. Decide when, where, and how great your indulgences will be.

Do this before you travel. If you are going to Italy, for example, and simply have to have some pasta or real Italian pizza, or you’re going to New Orleans and have to have a beignet or Po’boy, do so but use your self-awareness to set limits that make sense for you. How often will you eat it? How much will you eat? Is there a certain city/restaurant/day or celebration that will be the impetus for your indulgence? Ask yourself these questions and write them down in your vacation plan.

Power Tip #9. Stick to your rules by adapting your behavior.

Limit your exposure if necessary. In England, people can’t seem to go more than an hour or two without a cup of tea and a slice of cake judging by the number of tearooms and cafes. Even Westminster Abbey in London has a teashop – it is bizarre to sit on a stonewall dating from the 16th century while eating a scone made early that morning. Anticipating the threat may mean learning where the tea room is located and avoiding it, skirting the periphery and refocusing your attention on the real reason you are there. Be vigilant, notice how you focus on your food, stop yourself, and redirect you thoughts. It’s kind of like distracting a child who insists on doing something he shouldn’t. :-)

Power Tip #10. Get exercise.

No, not your regular workout – although you can do that if you really want to: I’m talking about walking, getting out and about in the fresh air. Just build it into your day. Stand instead of sit, take stairs instead of elevators, walk in the countryside, around the sights, the theme park, on the beach. You have plenty of time and probably good weather. No excuses on this one.

Power Tip #11. Pack your own food.

Take as much food with you as you can. If you are driving, put it in your cooler. Again, buy the tools you need if necessary – I will buy a cooler for our trips around the UK when I get there. Hardboiled eggs, nuts, jerky, veggies, fruit, dates, cold (good quality) sausage are good travel foods.

Power Tip #12. If you are flying, take an empty large water bottle through security.

Fill it when you get to the other side. Keep drinking from it. If you are worried about constantly using the bathroom, plan ahead if you can: book aisle seats a few rows from the bathrooms but you probably won’t need them much. Ask the cabin crew to refill your water bottle throughout the flight. I regularly fly long distance and the difference keeping hydrated makes and the effect on minimizing jetlag is amazing. It also has the benefit of filling you up so you are less inclined to eat the airplane food. I use these water bottles all the time – I get them in CVS but you can buy them from Amazon.com.

Power Tip #13. Eat a decent sized meal just before you leave.

If you are full you are less likely to eat airport and airplane or roadside food plus you get to eat real food not processed crap.

Power Tip #14. If you are flying overnight, put on your eyeshades.

Go to sleep before the food comes around. The temptation of the food cart and the boredom of the flight make for an unhealthy combination. Eat some coconut oil to feel satiated and get some sleep instead.

Power Tip #15. Eat your airplane meal with care.

You might think you are only going to eat the paleo aspects of the food but faced with the prospect of a long flight, the incessant boredom and lack of movement, chewing on that rock hard, cold bread roll can suddenly seem quite exciting.

Find out if you can select an airplane meal that is more paleo-friendly before you go. You can order low sodium, gluten-free and other types of meals on many airlines.  Personally, I’ve found starving to be preferable to the gluten-free versions but the low sodium alternative often works. Remember, you can always eat the pats of butter if you’re really stuck. ;-)

Power Tip #16. Stop being a people pleaser.

So many of us go along with what others want to do on vacation (and in life.) We aren’t really doing what we enjoy but do them anyway in order to fit in with the crowd (or family.) This leads us to look to food to relieve our feelings and it becomes the emotional antidote to our boredom and stress. We focus on it because we’re not focused on what works for us and food becomes the pleasure principle or reward for doing something we don’t particularly enjoy.

I noticed I was doing this recently when I entertained some visitors from out-of-state and in the past I have struck a deal with my husband who loves theater (I don’t) to stay in exotic B&B’s when we attended theater festivals because I love the breakfasts! Do activities you enjoy. Really think about what you want to spend your time doing and do them. Go off by yourself if you need to.

Power Tip #17. Know your weak spots…and avoid them.

Our society is sooooo focused on food. We are exposed to it everywhere we look and eating becomes an activity in and of itself – especially on vacation. Consider past vacations – how did you approach food and eating? Is food a recreational event or fuel for life?  How can you change how you spend your time so that food takes less of a leading role on your vacation?

Answer these questions and identify where your downfalls occur. Maybe problems occur at places like food trucks/stalls, airport cafes, certain places with a heavy concentration of restaurants: identify your weaknesses in advance and plan to avoid them, replacing them with activities that don’t offer such distractions.

Power Tip #18. Remember you’re not perfect.

As I write all these great tips, I find myself saying, ‘Yeah, but it’s my vacation. I wanna eat some cake. Waahhh!!!’ My inner rebel is, well, rebelling and that generally leads to an ugly mess.  It’s hard for people, especially women, to put their needs ahead of others and for mothers it is just plain difficult to have the opportunity to do so.

We can’t always control our environment, especially on vacation. So relax and accept you’re not going to be perfect. Do your best, haul in your crockpot, make lists and think ahead. Set yourself goals that are doable and not stressful. Just thinking about how you are going to handle your food while on vacation will result in an improvement in your eating habits and remember to take a long term view. Ask yourself, ‘Am I eating better than on my last vacation?’

Confession time…

Two years ago, before I went paleo, my vacation saw me eating (deep breath) three Mars Bars back-to-back: in my (rather weak) defense they taste different in the UK. I know I’m not going to do that this time. I’m absolutely certain of it. But will I eat a slice of buttery shortcake with a cup of tea at a café in London at the end of a long day sightseeing? Probably.  Will I eat the naan bread my Indian uncle makes as part of the Indian food fest he prepares in honor of my family’s visit? It would be churlish not to.

But will I also make a few meals in my crockpot rather than go get fish and chips? Definitely. Will I bring my favorite British food goodies (probably should call them ‘baddies’) like tiffin, scones, flapjacks and pasties into our cottage to eat? No. Will I gobble up huge amounts of food on the last day of the vacation just because it’ll be two more years before I get to taste them again? Absolutely not. And doing even just one of these things will be an improvement on my last visit! (Don’t judge ;-)) Small things can make a huge difference. Baby steps, baby.

What paleo failures have you had on vacation? Or do you have a ‘devil-may-care’ approach to it all? Or maybe you’re at peace with it and are simply not tempted – lucky you. Tell us in the comments!

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Written by 

Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

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