5 Tips for Indulging Responsibly While Traveling

travel_vanMy family and I are currently day 8 into a month long road trip from Florida to Montana and back. We started our trip spending a few days in a charming, German inspired North Georgia town where I spent many summers growing up. When we arrived, I immediately wanted to indulge in my favorite foods that I remembered from visiting as a kid, including peanut brittle and a strawberry milkshake from the local road-side farm stand.
Now that I’m a dietitian I think about more than just taste when deciding whether or not to eat something, and when considering how much of something I should consume. Factoring in the healthfulness of food seems even more poignant now that I have two young girls in whom I want to instill healthful habits.
For the most part our family eats a healthful, balanced diet. But, we do travel a lot and I find myself wanting to introduce my family to foods specific to the location we’re visiting. We just left Badlands National Park and while there weren’t any indulgence foods there, I anticipate there will be some as we travel through Montana and up to Glacier National Park. While many of the foods we try on our travels may not be considered “good for you” in terms of nutrition, I consider them good for us in terms of introducing my family to a new cuisine or culture, and having a shared experience in a new place.
There’s myriad resources about healthful eating while traveling – for one, check out Sharon Palmer’s 5 Hot Tips for a Healthy Vacation (Reference)  but, what if you want to indulge while traveling? Should you just say no? Of course not! Trying foods that are unique to the place you’re visiting can help you get to know the local culture a little better, and offer you the opportunity to taste foods you might not normally try.  I asked a few other registered dietitians about their thoughts on indulging responsibly while on the road and they had similar thoughts. Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD of Street Smart Nutrition ( said, “When I travel, it’s all about the experience. I love trying new things, discovering local places, and interacting with a different culture, even if it’s somewhere close to where I live. When it comes to enjoying the full experience, I practice the same things I do in everyday life but with more leniency. I still practice mindfulness, like tuning into my hunger signals and recognizing when I feel full and satisfied. But I never pass up an opportunity to try something new, especially if I know it’s a place or restaurant that I’m unlikely to visit again.” If you’re traveling and want to try unhealthful foods, consider these 5 tips for indulging responsibly.

  1. Enjoy it while you are there, not when you come home. Order one slice of pie to savor during your trip, not an entire pie to take home and enjoy again later. This will help you associate your memories of the new food with visiting the new place, and also ensure you don’t overindulge when you get back home.

  2. Try unhealthful foods as a snack after eating breakfast or lunch. You don’t want to be hungry when opting for something that lacks nutrition, so eat a balanced meal before trying any indulgence foods.

  3. Count your bites. Emerging research indicates that counting bites may help lower calorie intake. While you may not want to do this at every meal (I know I don’t), trying this tactic when eating less healthful foods can provide awareness about how much you’re eating and when you’ve had enough.

  4. Get Moving. Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition ( in Jersey City, NJ suggests, “Find ways to be active on vacay to help balance out extra eating and to set the stage for mindfulness. Challenge yourself to walk distances under a mile or two - you'll get to see more of the location, in addition to logging extra steps! Also seek out active sightseeing, such as a kayaking daytrip or even sunrise yoga.” And, Harbstreet added, “I also strive for balance; we make sure to include lots of physical activity such as walking, bike rentals, or activities that get us moving to offset more indulgent treats. It must be said that this extra activity doesn't offset all of it, but it's helped us find many fun things to try that we may not have found otherwise!”

  5. Put down your phone and be in the moment. According to Harbstreet, “The best part of traveling is the chance to experience new things and fully enjoy the present moment. If I find a special treat while on vacation, I make sure I enjoy and savor every aspect of it - challenge yourself to use all five sense on your next trip and the memories you make will last a lifetime and make for some great stories!``

As for kids, let them try indulgence foods but within reason. Our kids are still young so we allow them the number of bites for their age. Our 3-year old gets 3 bites of something less healthful and then she’s done. It works well because it sets boundaries for her while also letting her try new things. While this isn’t a good strategy for anyone whose age is in the double digits, telling yourself ahead of time that you’ll only have a certain number of bites can help you mentally prepare to stop eating if you find you want more. And, here’s one last tip for traveling in general: if you’re planning to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for hungry toddlers in a moving car, don’t buy the peanut butter with oil separation. It will not end well.