I’m interested in the practical aspects of food on your international trips. I’d love to hear what you bring with you and what suggestions you have. I eat very carefully for my system to function well, from necessity. We went on a family mission trip last fall where we had no access to a grocery store. The meals were prepared for us and my system didn’t like it (not very healthy food with very few fruits and vegetables). We are going again next month and I’m trying to plan what to bring that is allowable in my suitcase (even like a hotpot and oatmeal). Thanks. -Karen D.
That’s such a great question! And in the multiple international trips I’ve taken over the past two years, I’ve definitely discovered that it can mess with your system — especially if the food is very different than what you’re usually eating, if your sleep is interrupted and fitful because of big time differences, and if you’re tired because of not getting enough sleep and long days.
I’ve learned a few tips that have made a big difference for me in how I feel while on international trips:
1. Drink Lots of Water
Every since I quit coffee (going on 10 weeks now, can you believe it??), I’ve been drinking a lot more water. In fact, I aim to drink 1 and 1/4 gallons of water every day.
This felt like a massive amount of water in the beginning, but as it’s become more and more normal for me to drink this much, I’ve noticed that I’m a lot thirstier and it’s becoming an ingrained habit to have downed at least 3/4 of a gallon of water by early afternoon!
There’s so much more I could say of the benefits of no longer being dependent on coffee and how much healthier and more energetic I feel by completely changing my eating as well as drinking a lot more water, but I’ll save that for another time. What I did want to say is that when we went to South Africa recently, I made drinking a lot of water a huge priority and I noticed a big difference in how I felt overall — not only did I have fewer stomach and digestive issues, but I also had more energy and slept much better.
I brought a water bottle with me everywhere I went and filled it up every opportunity I had to refill it. Because we were staying at a location that had good water, this worked well. When we were out and about during the day, we brought extra water bottles with us.
If you’re going to be somewhere where you won’t have access to really clean and safe water, I’d recommend bringing a water bottle with a filtration system, asking the locals what water is safe to drink, and also buying some extra bottled water at the airport in the states and just carrying them on the plane with you. It’s not great to have to lug them with you on the flight, but it’s a way that you’ll have some backup water bottles if you aren’t able to readily have access to good drinking water for parts of your trip.
2. Get as Much Rest as You Can
Your body needs sleep in order to digest your food well, among a number of other very important things. When you don’t get enough sleep — especially while traveling internationally — it can wreak all sorts of havoc on your body and inhibit your ability to really be able to make the most of your trip.
If possible, try to work out your sleep on flights so that it adjusts to what time zone you’ll be in. This has been very helpful to me on my last two trips, especially. I will keep myself awake for as long as I can so that my body more easily switches to a new time zone.
I’ve tried a LOT of different things when it comes to sleeping on long flights and the thing that I’ve found to be most helpful is to wear comfortable clothes, use an eye mask, put comfortable headphones or ear plugs in, bring your own travel blanket, and use a travel pillow like this one. I prop my feet up on my backpack, drape the blanket over me, put my seat back (the little amount that it will lean back in coach!), put my headphones in, snap the travel around my neck, and then put on the eye mask.
I’m able to sleep pretty well like this. It might not work at all for you, but I’m grateful that I can usually sleep at least 6-8 hours on a 15-hour flight to South Africa. It makes a BIG difference!
Last time around, I used this Non-Drowsy Natural Dramamine for the flight and it caused me to be a little sleepy, took away the motion sickness, but kept me from feeling completely drugged like regular Dramamine makes me feel.
When we get to our destination, I try to acclimate to the time zone as quickly as possible by only letting myself sleep during normal bedtime hours. I know that it can be tempting to want to crash at 2 p.m., but unless you’re someone who can take short naps very successfully, I’ve found it’s better to push through and make myself stay awake until at least 8 p.m. so that I can hopefully get a good night’s rest at normal bedtime hours for that time zone.
If you’re on someone else’s time table and schedule, at least try to make sure that you’ll have at least some days on the trip when you can wind down early and sleep in, if need be. I also will occasionally take some kind of sleeping aid if I’m really struggling to sleep.
Last trip, because I followed the above protocol (and was no longer drinking coffee!), I actually didn’t have any trouble sleeping at all! Which was my first international trip to not have any sleeping issues on!
3. Choose the Best Food Options You Can
You might not have a lot of food options for some (or all!) of the meals, depending upon the nature of your trip. But in many cases, you’ll at least have some options — and when you have options, choose the best options you can.
If someone is offering you food that you’ve not eaten before and it would be unkind to refuse it, you can always say, “Can you just give me a really small serving?” Or say something like, “Thank you so much. I’d love to try a little bit!”
When you have the option to eat food that you know will sit well with you, eat that. If it’s food that you feel is a little risky, take the smallest serving you possibly can while still being polite to your hosts and then eat your own snacks when you get hungry (Obviously, eat your own snacks at some time when you can do it discreetly so you’re not being un-gracious to your host… I’ve even eaten in bathroom stalls before! Sometimes, you do what you gotta do!)
4. Bring Your Own Snacks
One of the lessons I learned from my trip to Israel and Italy earlier this year is that you should always bring some snacks on international trips — especially if you’re someone prone to stomach and digestive issues.
This last time around, I made up 30 baggies of homemade trail mix — with dried fruit, nuts, and a little coconut and cinnamon. I also brought lots of Wasa crackers.
I ended up not needing as many snacks as I thought I would need, but I was so happy to have them available in my backpack as backup when we were out and about throughout the day or for an early morning breakfast if I woke up a few hours before breakfast was available at the lodge we were staying at.
5. Get Some Tummy Rub
I cannot sing the praises of Tummy Rub highly enough! This is a blend of popular oils assists your digestive system.
If you’re feeling sick to your stomach, if you have diarrhea, if you’re feeling constipated, or if your stomach feels off, massage a few drops onto your abdomen area in a clockwise direction to help alleviate symptoms. (This oil blend is already diluted with 70% coconut oil so you don’t need to worry about diluting. However, you can also make one of the recipes listed here.) I usually will apply it 2-3 times throughout the day until the symptoms clear up.
What advice or input do the rest of you have for Karen? Leave a comment with your input!
P.S. I want to bring back the Q&A posts I used to do — maybe even on a weekly basis. If you have a question you’d love for me to answer in a post (on any topic), leave a comment on this post and I’ll consider it for a future post!