Contributor: Kelly Schmidt, RD, LDN
I've flown to Australia a number of times (that's a 32 hour commute, door-to-door, oye) and have camped in a tent a fair-share and while making a number of mistakes, I have a good sense of how to pack and prep for travel, keeping my health goals (optimal weight and steady blood sugars) in mind.
Recognize (Good & Bad) Habits
- Use your trip and adventure to observe, learn and break negative habits. Perhaps while traveling, you notice you don't need a routine morning snack, or you may notice when you are home, there is something in your environment triggering a need to eat or drink. Observe with curiosity, learn what you can tweak and apply the positive change (skip morning snack and eat three meals a day). Snacking is not necessary for weight loss and in fact, can cause weight gain. Nonetheless, when we snack between meals, we are stacking insulin, which is not ideal.
- Eat the local cuisine and use a hunger scale to guide you on how much to eat. I say this daily to clients: "Eat when you are hungry and only when you are hungry." When we eat the right amount of food, our body can still thrive and in fact, can better extract nutrients. Depending on where I am, I will ask to box up my leftovers and will pass them onto someone less fortunate living on the streets.
Food Is Fuel - Not Entertainment
- Live a full life, so your food can be fuel (boring). Find pleasure in the new area you are visiting and activities that make you happy, so it's not the food that is the highlight of your day. When we view food as fuel, we have a better appreciation for what we are eating and listen to how much our bodies need. This is easier said than done and takes practice.
- Seek color and vegetables when and where you can. One thing about the USA, Starbucks is easily accessible, and I know I can go there to buy a salad and enjoy that for breakfast (if needed). Also, I will travel with some powders to help increase the nutrients in my food for the day.
- Pack convenient whole real food. I have a snack pack ready to go every time we hit the road. A few of my go-to's: carrots (they are crunchy, filling, and tolerate varying temps), individual pack of olives (shoutout to Trader Joe's), jerky (Epic has a number of flavors), nuts and seeds, apples, dark chocolate, canned salmon and tuna, mustard packets, plastic utensils, bars (Larabars and Collagen Bars, to name a few), and Jilz crackers.
- Have a water bottle on you at all times, and make it a point when at the airport or on the plane to hydrate. In flight and at higher altitudes, we dehydrate more quickly, which can raise our blood sugar levels. I have learned my blood sugars go up as we take off, and about 30-45 minutes after landing, my blood sugars drop. I adjust my insulin and eating to work with this.
- Pack some probiotics to help keep your bowels regular and support your immune system if exposed to new bugs. Also, pack magnesium and potentially melatonin to better adjust to a new bed and/or timezone. My suitcase always has an eye mask, earplugs and Sleepy Time tea in it.
- Slow down when you eat and take smaller bites. Use your vacation to recalibrate how quickly you consume your food.
- Sneak in movement early in the day if your plans for the day don't involve any. Pack plenty of dry-fit wear and comfortable shoes, so you have no excuse not to sweat. At the least, strive to do a number of pushups, lunges, and squats in your hotel room.
- Consider intermittent fasting to prevent overconsumption of food on your trip and to support your healthy gut bugs, insulin resistance, and blood sugar.
Diabetes Prep Specifically
- For overseas travel register with IAMAT. If you have an AMEX, you can use the concierge service to help you locate a local doctor if you run into a situation where you need one.
- If you are on an insulin pump, call your pump company and ask for a loaner pump for the extent of your trip. Also, make sure you have enough supplies well ahead of time, to ensure you have a surplus to take with you on your travels. If needed, request a new Rx from your doctor's office for anything you are running short on.
- Download a country-specific carb counting app to help measure the amount of carbs you are eating.
- Take extra supplies with you and don't leave everything at the hotel when you go for a day trip.
- Split up some of your supplies with a companion, and definitely do not check any bags with supplies in them.
- Change your pump to the new time zone as you arrive or while in transit.
- I personally use the plastic case that comes with new pillowcase sheets to hold all of my supplies, and I also have a mini cooler that's intended to keep baby bottles chilled for my insulin. Find something compact and convenient to store your supplies.
- Wear a medical I.D. and add an ICE (in case of a medical emergency) contact to your phone. Here is a how-to on setting that up.
- Travel is good for the mind, body, and soul.
- Eat things that are off your plan only if they are worth it. Just because something is local fair, it doesn't mean you have to eat it. Eat things that you really want to eat and will enjoy without guilt.
- Laugh, live, explore and enjoy the people you are with and the places your seeing. Don't let your health goal draw in any stress.
If you need any guidance for your travels and beyond, don't hesitate to contact me at Kelly@KellySchmidtWellness.com.
Kelly Schmidt, RD, LDN is the owner and Dietitian at Kelly Schmidt Wellness in Columbus, OH, and helps clients around the world. She has dedicated her career to helping those with diabetes to be confident in their management and to eat in a way that allows them to thrive in health. Her grocery list is her prescription pad, and her kitchen is her pharmacy. At eight years old, she did not find nutrition, it came to her when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She believes, from every minute of her training and managing of her blood sugar, that real food is the key to health.