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How to Eat Intuitively on Vacation (Recent Eats)

I know that many of my clients stress about eating when traveling or when on vacation. It can be a challenge to engage in intuitive eating ways for many who haven’t tuned in to their hunger or fullness cues. Or, for those who don’t quite trust themselves and their food choices.

Going somewhere new often means a new routine and a change from your “safe” and normal way of eating. And I get that this can be very scary and hard for some people.

BUT, I do think that eating intuitively while traveling is the perfect opportunity for intuitive eating, and let me tell you why.

Having Control Of Everything While Traveling is Hard!

My biggest piece of advice for meals while traveling is to just try to go with the flow. Easier said than done, I know.

But, when you get to the point of food freedom where you relinquish control over every single thing you eat, it’s way less stressful and way more enjoyable.

On the flip side, it’s actually really difficult to control everything while traveling. You may be impacted by whether or not you have a car to drive places, or you have to walk/get delivery.

Maybe you have to plan your schedule around other people and controlling what they do/eat would be difficult. Maybe you’re at the mercy of your kids, and what they like or dislike.

Maybe no “healthy” options are near where you’re staying. You get the gist. There’s a lot of stress involved when you think you have to control every single eating decision.

So, where do you start?

I tell my clients, the less you think, the better! Traveling is a great opportunity to tune into YOU. Is it summer or winter – do you want something warm and comforting, or cool and refreshing?

Do you want a cocktail before your meal? A hot fudge sundae after?

Do you want something you can’t make at home, or are you craving a familiar favorite?

Honor Your Hunger

For me, this means keeping snacks on me at all times when traveling – I keep meaning to write a post about this and what I pack. I ALWAYS recommend keeping a stash of snacks available when traveling.

You never know when you’ll deal with a flight delay or get stuck in traffic if you’re driving. Honoring your hunger means you don’t skip meals or snacks when hunger strikes. Generally, that means not going 2-4 hours without food.

Keep food you like available. The last thing you want is to go into a dinner where you’re looking forward to the food, and you’re so hungry that you don’t even taste the food or enjoy the experience.

Some of my favorite portable snacks: fruit, dried fruit (raisin, apricots), bars (Clif Bars, Kind Bars), portable nut butter packs, nuts/seeds, dried chickpeas, jerky.

Think About Satisfaction (not Fullness)

What foods are you really craving? What sounds satisfying to you? And even if you know what you want won’t satisfy you (that’s ok!), what can you add to it to make it satisfying?

An example of this is a crazy amazing sounding salad. The only way I’d order a salad at a restaurant while traveling is if it’s something I can’t make at home.

So, let’s say a restaurant makes a salad with homegrown heirloom tomatoes, watermelon radishes, pickled cherries, blueberry balsamic goat cheese, lavender roasted pepitas (or something unique), freshly caught trout, etc etc.

I’d probably order that because it sounds unique and like something I would never get anywhere else. I would definitely enjoy it, but it would leave me wanting more substance.

A salad may fill me up temporarily, but rarely satisfies me. I’d want to add another dish (probably something carb heavy) and/or a dessert. 

Thinking about satisfaction doesn’t mean you ignore fruits and vegetables – you want fiber. But, it means you get a wide variety of food that hits your pleasure center – protein, fats, carbohydrates.

Satisfaction is a little different than fullness. It’s satisfying a craving or whatever you wanted in the moment. It brings emotion into it. Are you happy with your choice?

Is there something missing that you just can’t put your finger on? If so, you’re probably not satisfied.

Forget Rules of Any Kind

Eating 3 meals a day, no dessert before dinner, no eating after 8 pm – you know the rules that have worn themselves out and only add more stress to your life if you deviate outside of what they call “normal.”

You know the principle choose satisfying foods? I like to tell people to think about it like this – choose foods you like, but choose new foods too!

Maybe there’s foods you’ve been wanting to try in a certain place, or you’ve had your eye on a certain dish at a restaurant that comes highly recommended. Heck, maybe it’s not satisfying but it’s what you thought you wanted.


Intuitive Eating does not mean perfection. You have the ability to order something else or eat something else if your first choice wasn’t what you thought it would be.

Try Something Local

What is your destination known for? If I’m in Maine, you betcha I’ll be getting lobster. If I’m in Austin, tacos, duh. If I’m in Chicago, gimme all the pizza. Try the local fare – that’s part of the fun in traveling!

One of my favorite exercises for being spontaneous is asking a local where to eat/what to order. Or, when ordering at a restaurant, asking what the waiter’s favorite item is, or the special of the day.

As long as you don’t have allergies or intolerances, try something new to you!

Don’t Stress About Fullness

One of the I.E. principles is to respect your fullness. Intuitive eating encourages you to recognize your body signs, whether they be hunger and/or fullness. But, I think thinking about this too much when traveling can backfire.

The respecting your fullness principle is interesting here because if you’re traveling, you want to enjoy the experience. Sometimes that means eating when you’re not hungry, or eating past fullness, and that’s totally okay.

Sometimes that means eating ice cream before dinner, or crepes at 3 in the afternoon because they were a “must eat.” Or, sometimes that means having an extra bite of the brownie because you’re celebrating your spouse’s birthday and enjoying the moment.

In my case, it meant donuts as a second breakfast because I love trying local donuts everywhere I go. I wasn’t necessarily hungry for them, but I enjoyed them. They tasted really good.

For me, eating intuitively while traveling means a lot of “hands off” work and eating without a schedule. Vacations are meant to be enjoyed – how can you enjoy your food?

When we stress so much about food, is it even a vacation away anymore? If anything, it’s the time to try stressing less. While less routine and structure may be extremely hard, especially for those of us who are Type A, try viewing it through a different lens.

Acknowledge that “yes” it’s hard, but it’s baby steps. Small growth. Trying something new. Being a little uncomfortable. For many, it may be easier to do this in a completely new environment.

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?

Favorite food item from a trip? I think I have to say an elderflower neufchâtel cheese puff from our trip to Vancouver two years ago.

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  1. Such a well timed post for me, Sarah. As I just got back from two weeks away, I really did have the goal to be more intuitive – in every way, but definitely including what I eat. Like you, when I travel, I WANT to experience the “best rated” or “must haves” of that area. Maybe I don’t even end up liking them, but it feels fun to do this, and like an accomplishment. So even if I didn’t love the item, I feel good because I ticked off a “goal” in a sense. On this trip I really tried to blend in eating what I was craving and hitting my little foodie “goals.” You’re such a great inspiration for this – thank you!!

    “Is there something missing that you just can’t put your finger on? If so, you’re probably not satisfied.” –> oh man this was so me last night. I had eaten a really lovely, delicious dinner. And my stomach was “full” but I soooo knew I wanted something else, yet couldn’t put my finger on it. I then shared some fries and that feeling went away. It was exactly what I needed to end the meal satisfied.

    1. I’m glad the feeling went away when you shared some fries. I never knew how to describe this feeling to my clients, so I ended up saying, it’s just a feeling where something is missing but you’re not quite sure what.

  2. I think my favorite food item from a trip was steak frites in Paris! The restaurant was absolutely amazing and only served that as a meal option.

    Thanks for the tips! My family just book a trip to Europe at the end of the year, so I’m definitely going to have to reread this post before the trip.

    1. A food memory in Paris sounds very worthwhile! And Europe as a family trip — lucky you!!