Healthy Tips for Planning, Packing, and Traveling to Your Destination (Healthy Travel Part 2)

How to Plan the Healthiest Trip of Your Life

My family rarely traveled when I was a child. As in only a handful of times in my first 18 years and only once outside of New York State. Seem strange?

Blame it on the cows. Dairy cows that need to be milked twice a day, 365 days a year. That and the constant struggle to turn a profit keeps many dairy farmers, especially those who own small family farms, close to home. Both the time and the money to travel simply did not exist.

Somehow, I went from knowing little beyond the rural town where I grew up to literally crossing the globe many times over. In 17 years of working for both government and international NGOs, I’ve touched down in at least 70 countries, many of them multiple times. Those trips have run the gamut, from high end luxury travel to shoestring low budget travel.

Rachel Raba overseas travel pictures

I’ve stayed in every type of accommodation, from opulent 5-star hotels to threadbare hostels with no electricity to converted shipping containers in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There was also the time I pitched a tent outside of a tukel in the mountains of South Darfur and hiked to meetings with rebel groups that were recruiting and using child soldiers. In fact, it was this tukel:

Tukel in Jebel Marra, Sudan
I’ve eaten beautifully prepared meals in the fanciest of high end restaurants; grilled meat at roadside stands in rural Africa and Asia; local food in generous and hospitable people’s homes; food I prepared myself in Airbnb kitchens; and, at last resort, packaged food completely out of my suitcase.

In short, I’ve just about seen it all when it comes to travel and could regale you for many hours with outrageous, completely true stories. Every trip has been unique and the unexpected and sometimes bizarre usually happened. Along the way, I learned a bunch about how to stay healthy and committed to my wellness goals while traveling. About how not to derail, even in an unfamiliar place when my normal routine is COMPLETELY out of whack and I have little control over my schedule.

Want some of my best tips? Read on!    

If you’re not intentional about it, travel for both business and pleasure can wreak havoc on your health. The good habits you’ve worked hard to develop in your everyday life are easily upended when you leave your familiar surroundings and routine. Away from home, it’s so easy to fall into the trap overindulgence, little exercise, inadequate sleep, and toxic chemicals.

However, there's no need to throw up your hands in surrender! With a little research, some smart packing, and basic prioritization, you’ll be on your way to the healthiest trip of your life. These tips (and those in an upcoming blog) will help you make good choices and feel less likely to derail physically or mentally while in transit and once you reach your destination.

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If possible, book a hotel room, apartment, or house that has a full kitchen. That way, you can prepare fresh meals during your stay and have more knowledge and control of the ingredients in your food. This doesn't mean that you never eat out... just not three meals a day plus snacks! You will be amazed the difference it makes in terms of how you feel. 

Airbnb is a good option for finding a full kitchen. However, many hotels – such as Residence Inn and Homewood Suites – also come with full kitchenettes. 

TIPS FOR SELECTING A GOOD AIRBNB: I’ve stayed with Airbnb across the U.S. and overseas and had wonderful experiences. Be sure to carefully read the house description and look at the kitchen pictures closely to ensure they have the appliances and utensils you need. Also thoroughly read the reviews other renters have left to confirm they have had excellent experiences with the location, the property, and the host. I also reach out to potential hosts to ask questions, such as whether the house has a blender or other appliances I may want to use. This will help you better plan your meals.  

If you absolutely cannot get a room with a kitchen, bring a mini cooking device to warm your food, such as this mini crockpot or a 3-quart Instant Pot. You can cook everything from eggs to rice to whole chickens to soup in an Instant Pot. It's virtually an entire kitchen in one small appliance! 

If your hotel room does not automatically come with a refrigerator, you can still request a mini-fridge. Every hotel has some in storage for guests with medical needs for refrigeration, so calling or making the request ahead of time is best. If necessary, explain that you have food allergies. 

Prior to your departure, search online to locate grocery stores at your destination, such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or local organic grocers or natural food co-ops. Then you can easily stock up soon after you arrive. In fact, I’ve been known to choose a hotel or Airbnb solely based on its proximity to natural food stores. When I traveled to London to speak at a conference on modern slavery in March, I purposefully selected an Airbnb that was three blocks from the Whole Foods in Piccadilly Circus so that I could easily walk to pick up groceries.

Piccadilly Circus with soup from Whole Foods
View from my Airbnb overlooking Piccadilly Circus. Delicious soups found at Whole Foods in the foreground.
Prepare a list of healthy restaurants and their locations in advance. If you are trying to eat on the healthy side while traveling or have food allergies, sensitivities, or digestive conditions, research the best restaurant options before you arrive. This prevents a mad, stressful scramble for something decent when you’re tired, hungry, cranky, and don't yet know the lay of the land. I know this from experience!
  • Take full advantage of travel review sites, such as Trip Advisor and Yelp. Reading reviews ahead of time and searching for terms such as organic, grass-fed, farm-to-table, juice bars, locally sourced, or gluten-free in conjunction with the city you’re traveling to can help take the stress out of deciding where to eat at the last minute. 
  • Check out my Healthy Restaurants Pinterest Board that has options in cities all over the world. Definitely follow this board, as I'll be continuing to add to it!  
  • There are also a number of bloggers, such as For Gluten Sake and Paleo Helix, that offer helpful global restaurant guides for those following particular diets or with specific food sensitivities.  
  • Sadly, most servers do not fully understand food sensitivities or the ingredients from which the food they are serving are made. If you’re gluten-sensitive or have food allergies/sensitivities and are traveling overseas, print a card that lists your dietary needs in the local language. This way, you can more clearly communicate your requirements to the staff in a way that they will better understand. 

I’m “that person” who stashes a shopping bag filled with home-cooked food under the seat in front of me. Partially to avoid eating totally unhealthy, poor quality, and allergen-laden airline food and partially to avoid wasting food that will go bad while I’m gone. Sometimes I’ve even been able to eat the first 24 – 48 hours exclusively from food I carried with me on the plane and in my suitcase! Most foods, such as cooled roasted veggies, will be fine for the day out of the fridge, particularly if accompanied by an ice pack. Just be sure to get them back into the fridge upon arrival.
Most food items are perfectly acceptable in carry-on bags, so don't hesitate to bring healthy food with you for the plane ride. Only liquids, semi-liquids, or gels become problematic. If you’d like some new snacking inspiration, check out my blog on healthy travel snack ideas! You're certain to find something you hadn't thought to take with you on the road.

WARNING: Do not attempt to fly with an entire jar of almond butter or anything of similar consistency in your carry-on. Nut butter is classified as a gel and will be confiscated, even if it is unopened. Definitely learned that one the hard way! It’s fine, though, to put an unopened jar in your checked luggage. It’s also fine to put a small amount of nut butter on a sandwich or in a container with apples or carrots for eating on the plane. For a comprehensive list of what foods are not allowed in your carry-on, check out the TSA’s latest guidance.  

Use clear containers that allow your food to be easily inspected by airport security. I get flagged for enhanced security screening EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. because of my large bag of homemade food. The inspections process goes faster when the TSA agents can easily see that there is food inside and don’t need to open each and every container. If you are trying to avoid plastic (please do!), 
silicone food storage bags and collapsible silicone containers are great for both everyday use and travel. Once empty and washed, both of these options also fit easily in your luggage for your return flight home.  

Be mindful about flying to foreign destinations with fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, meat, or dairy products, as there are many restrictions about bringing these into other countries (or back into the United States). Make sure you declare any such food products upon arrival! It’s far easier than having it detected after the fact by the luggage sniffing dogs! In general, I plan to eat such things before I get off of the plane.  

Bring a sanitizing spray and paper napkins to clean your seating area. Armrests, tray tables, and seat belt latches are rarely sanitized and terribly germ infested. I always carry this 
sanitizing spray, made from alcohol and essentials oils, in my purse. It dries quickly, smells like cinnamon and orange, and is .9 oz., so perfect for your carry-on. If you want some for your trip and don’t already have a doTERRA wholesale account, reach out and I’ll get you set up! Or you can make your own using this simple recipe: 

Travel Hand Sanitizing Spray Recipe with essential oils

Wash your hands frequently while in transit. Again, planes and trains see a revolving door of people and their germs. While I am not terribly cautious about contact with germs in everyday life, I do take extra care in the air, especially before consuming food or touching my eyes or mouth. Thorough hand washing with soap and water goes a long way to reducing the likelihood of getting sick. However, I don't love exposing my body to the health-compromising chemicals typically found in public restroom soaps. So, I carry my own travel-size foaming soap! 

You can easily make your own foaming soap using these bottles and the recipe below. If you don't have grapefruit or spearmint, use your favorite essential oil combination to make hand washing an experience you look forward to. [TIP: To avoid leakage while traveling, take care not to overfill the bottle. Leave plenty of room for the pump to do its job.] 

Travel-Size Foaming Hand Soap Recipe

Pack a halved lemon or two in your carry-on. Fix yourself lemon waters throughout the flight to keep your digestive system functioning. This also serves as a tonic for your body. 

Don't forget the greens! If you’re going a distance, you consider packing a high-quality superfood/greens blend to mix with water for a nutritional boost. This one by Subi has great ingredients and is tastier than many of the greens blends on the market.
Stay hydrated. We all know that staying hydrated is key to feeling our best. Aircraft cabin air has a VERY low humidity (as low as 10 percent), which makes it VERY dehydrating to your body. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids, even if it means you frequently asking the person next to you to get up so you can visit the restroom (I choose an aisle seat for precisely this reason!). As an added bonus, staying fully hydrated prevents your body from confusing thirst with hunger and accidentally overeating. 

Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks. These are diuretics that interfere with the body’s water-regulating hormones, dehydrating you even more.

Bring an empty refillable water bottle. While you can buy bottled water once you pass through security screening, you can easily refill a stainless steel or glass bottle in many airports. Some even offer filtered water refilling stations.   

Apply a natural lotion and lip balm. The low cabin humidity is also dehydrating to your skin! To combat this, I frequently apply a natural lotion, such as this Citrus Bliss Spa Lotion (perfect travel size), to my arms and legs. I also love these lip balms! [CAUTION: They taste so good that your toddler may try to eat them when your back is turned!]

Do some yoga or stretching. Stay limber and keep your blood and lymph circulating by moving around at least once an hour. This is another good reason to select an aisle seat! Walk the aisles. Do some yoga or stretching, either in your seat or the galley area, if it's open. Check out this 
Pinterest board for some great examples of yoga poses or stretches to do during your flight or train ride. Yes, other passengers may look at you strangely, but your body will thank you! And you'll feel more like this than a sardine by the time you're finished. 

Yoga for Your Next Plane Ride -- Find Peace in the Air

Inhale or apply essential oils as needed. Essential oils are great for helping to decrease the stress and tension associated with flying (or encountering other passengers!), supporting your immune system, dealing with motion sickness, and assisting you in falling asleep. For instance, inhaling Ginger essential oil or applying it to your abdomen with a carrier oil is useful for queasiness. Copaiba or On Guard are wonderful for bolstering your immune system while in the close quarters of an airplane (check out this blog post for how to use them!). And Lavender, Cedarwood, and Vetiver are idea for sleep (find some great blends in this blog post). 

TRAVEL TIP: Making an inhaler of your favorite essential oil blend will allow you to enjoy and benefit from your essential oils while not offending other passengers who may not love the aroma as much as you do. Use 15 drops for adults and 10 for children.  

If you don't want to carry a lot of essential oils in your carry-on, make my "magical" roller bottle blend. It's useful for just about anything you'll encounter on the road!  

Magical Roller Bottle Blend for Travel with essential oils

If you don't already have the supplies on hand, I like these roller bottles and this fractionated coconut oil. Need the essential oils? Shoot me a message! I'm happy to help you select the oils that will best serve you and teach you how to use them safely and effectively. Who better to learn from than a certified aromatherapist?!?  

If you’re traveling long distances by road, a car diffuser can make the journey happier and less stressful for everyone inside. My favorite is the
ZAQ Tour Essential Oil Litemist Aromatherapy Travel Car Diffuser. For a beautiful, lower tech model, check out these car diffusers by Drops of Joy. You’ll love that the scents lasts for weeks! Regardless of which diffuser you choose, drop in your favorite blend and stay calm, awake, and in the moment. Or try one of these!

Travel Diffuser Blends for Road Trips
Ready to plan your next trip? Leave me a note below and let me know what you found the most helpful, what questions you have, or any tips for planning that I missed. Would love to connect with you!

If you're interested in trying essential oils -- for your upcoming trip or otherwise -- but feel overwhelmed or confused by which oils to start with or how to use them, let a certified aromatherapist be your guide (that's me!). 
  • Feel free to email me at
  • Want to talk on the phone? No problem! I'm happy to answer your questions. Click here to schedule a free 30-minute chat! 
I'll get you headed in the right direction for you and your family! 

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