Travel and Lose Weight? The Revolutionary Road Trip Diet

<<< Apparently most people gain weight when they go on vacation. >>>

Sound familiar? Certainly it has happened to me.

After most of my trips, however, I not only do NOT gain weight, but I LOSE weight.

How can that be?

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I like to visit bakeries, BBQ joints, ice cream stands, and diners. So deprivation and eating healthy is not the secret.

I do have different habits on the road than at home.

Going on vacation and losing weight will be the focus of some upcoming McCool Travel posts.

I will cover strategies for eating, drinking, exercising, and related topics.

The Road Trip Diet Introduction

After most of my trips I not only do NOT gain weight, but I LOSE weight. Deprivation and eating healthy is not necessarily the secret because I usually visit bakeries, BBQ joints, ice cream stands, and diners while traveling.

great travel experiences: exploring dirt roads
McCool’s Subaru Forester in Loudoun County, Virginia
  • My Road Trip Diet series posts will be organized into three primary categories: Food, Drink, and Exercise. However, I do not have an editorial schedule so there will not be a definite order to the posts. There might be a Food post followed by 2 Exercise posts then a Drink post (or not).
  • The Road Trip Diet posts will be quick reads, shorter than my regular posts (Seth Godin style). One topic, short explanation. Hopefully, powerful. That is better for you and for me.
  • Road Trip Diet posts will be interspersed with other how-to travel posts. I will not write only about Road Trip Diet.
  • Lastly, I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or other diet expert. I will discuss things that have worked for me. They may not work for you (YMMV). Before truly undergoing a drastic lifestyle change regimen, consult a professional.

Road Trip Diet #1 Eat More Produce

In previous Road Trip Diet posts, I said that deprivation is not the secret to losing weight while traveling.

OK, I also said eating healthy is not the secret but stay with me here. You can still eat junk but make this simple addition.

When possible, eat produce (fruit and veggies).

It may be something simple like adding a banana to your hotel waffle breakfast. Or grab an apple from the front desk to eat as a mid-morning snack.

One of my Road Trip Diet standard practices is to visit grocery stores to buy produce: a bag of mini carrots or snap peas, a bunch of grapes, or, yes, apples and bananas–because not every place I stay has complimentary fruit.

Perhaps it is a secret ploy but eating more produce alleviates some of my guilt about visiting diners, BBQ joints, and ice cream stands. Indeed, I even likely subtly alter my unhealthy eating habits by starting the day with produce.

I would not call that deprivation. I call it common sense, the Road Trip Diet.

Sure, I will still hit that BBQ or diner; just not for lunch AND dinner.

That is Food Tip #1. Eat more produce. What do you think?

Road Trip Diet #2 Drink More Water

When possible, drink more water.

Drinking a sufficient amount of water keeps your body and skin healthy, prevents diseases, and reduces existing ailments.

The human body is 70% water and will quickly perish without it. We can live for weeks without food but only a few days without water.

So how much water?

8 glasses of water a day is a common answer. However, I have always wondered two things. 1) how big should the glasses be? and 2) this general statement can not apply to everyone. Would a 100 pound woman and 250 pound man need to drink the same amount of water every day?

My favorite is drink half your body weight in ounces.

If you are a 100 pound woman, drink 50 ounces of water per day. 125 ounces for the 250 pound man.

Here is a great water calculator that accounts for your daily exercise and other factors (altitude, pregnant/nursing, etc.).

One of my Road Trip Diet standard practices is to visit grocery stores and buy a gallon of water with my produce.

Road Trip Diet #3 Exercise 30 Minutes Per Day

This is likely the easiest Road Trip Diet tip to follow. Exercise 30 minutes a day. That’s it!

When traveling it is difficult NOT to move 30 minutes a day. Walking around a city, museum, or the airport are some examples.

When I am on a road trip, I allocate time for hiking and exploring. Sometimes I bring my bike.

In the unlikely event that I must do a full day of driving, I will do movement exercises in my room, hotel gym or pool, or walk around a mall or other public space.

The theme of the fantastic recent viral video 23 and 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health? is that exercising 30 minutes a day will help curb most preventable modern medical issues.

Road Trip Diet #4 Skip Buffets

Never Eat At Buffets.

Yes, that is a general rule. On the Road Trip Diet, however, I stay away from buffets.

Yes, I used to visit buffets. Home and when traveling. I do miss Indian buffets but a vindaloo or chicken tikka masala dish would suffice.

Yes, there are exceptions. Hiking the Appalachian Trail would warrant buffet meals. I could see trying a sushi buffet.

Neither situation has surfaced so I simply skip buffets.

Road Trip Diet #5 Reduce Packaging

Food packaging is bad for the environment and seldom the best choice for your health.

Packaged foods contain more chemicals, additives, sodium, fat, and other unhealthiness.

Seek fresh, sensible alternatives to packaged foods whenever possible. For instance, at a convenience store, instead of a bag of chips, crisps, or candy, buy a piece of fresh fruit or a bag of cashews or almonds.

Road Trip Diet #6 Move Often

You know that you should exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.

The great news is that you receive the same cardio benefit from two 15 minute sessions as one 30 minute session. Another study showed more weight loss when exercising twice a day for 10 minutes versus one time for 20 minutes.

On road trips, I typically spend much more than 30 minutes walking, hiking, cycling, etc.

Even on days with horrible weather or long periods of driving, my rule is to move around every 2 hours.

For instance, if the weather is bad (rain or snow), I will stop at Welcome Centers, rest areas, or malls. If the weather is nice, I will take a short 15 minute stroll.

At least once every two hours!

How about at home or at work?

Try not to be immobile at your desk for more than one hour. Set an electronic reminder to stretch or take a five minute stroll every hour. It is a great time to refill your water glass.

Walk around while talking on the phone. Or stretch every time you hear the cuckoo or hour chime. If you take a 5 minute stroll six times a day, you have added 30 minutes exercise to your standard routine. Congratulations!

Road Trip Diet #7 Reduce Liquid Calories

One scientific study showed that 22% of daily calories are from liquids. Wow.

Another study showed that better weight loss occurs by reducing liquid calories. Mayo Clinic agrees!

So, skip double half-caf lattes, sugary sodas, and juices.

Drink more water. Eat more produce.

This article lists six ways to reduce liquid calories. I am sure you can think of more.

Road Trip Diet #8 Eat Unfamiliar Foods

When we encounter a familiar pleasant taste, our brain craves more. Yes, often to the point of over saturation (overeating).

That is one of the dangers of packaged or processed (especially mass produced restaurant) food.

We can trick our brains by eating unfamiliar foods or changing the taste of familiar dishes. For instance, add seasoning or spices.

The result is that we will eat less but still be content.

This principle is explained in many other places, including as part of the Shangri-La Diet.

Road Trip Diet #9 Slow Down

It takes the brain 20 minutes to receive signals from the stomach.

When we eat too fast, we eat too much.

Eat slowly and give your body time to adjust. We eat less. We eat better. And, yes, we should lose weight.

Here are some Road Trip Diet tricks to help you slow down and eat less:

  1. Eat an apple or some baby carrots before ordering food. I often nibble on produce while driving.
  2. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Drink extra water before ordering.
  3. Order soup, a salad, or a healthy small starter dish to satisfy immediate hunger.
  4. Eat with friends. Share road trip experiences or ask locals about what to do. If you are more introverted (like me!) then bring a book, map, or SmartPhone.
  5. Eat like a French woman. French women don’t get fat.
  6. Eat after exercising. After long drives, I tend to crave treats. After a long hike or bike ride, I want to refuel.

Any other tricks that you use?

Do you find that you eat less when you eat slower?

Road Trip Diet #10 Treat Treats as Treats

The Road Trip Diet does not eliminate your favorite treats.

After all, what is a road trip if not an opportunity to try new foods?

However, while traveling and at home, treats should be eaten in moderation. That is common sense.

Food Rules by Michael Pollan is an outstanding book. His food rules are powerful, effective, and simple to understand and remember—with one of my favorite rules being Treat Treats as Treats.


Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too, just not as your breakfast, lunch, AND dinner.

Road Trip Diet #11 Sleep More

Did you know that a good night sleep helps you maintain a better diet?

According to Dr. David B. Augus, from his book, The End of Illness,

Sleep deprivation essentially disconnects our brain from our stomach, leading to “mindless eating.”


When people snooze just four hours a might for two nights … they have a marked increase in hunger and appetite, driving them toward calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods such as a sweets, salty snacks, and starchy foods.

Dr. Augus also describes the “wonder drug” for overall health is not a drug but a regular schedule. He says that it is important to eat, exercise, and sleep at the same time every day.

When traveling, it is easy to lose track of time (jet lag, for instance) and not stick to a schedule.

I love the idea of a free wonder drug. After reading his explanation, I will try to maintain a consistent schedule—at home and on the road.

Road Trip Diet #12 Smaller Portions

About the only academic thing I remember from the blur of my university years is the economic principle of diminishing returns.

If you have been walking across a desert for two days with no food or water, you would pay an infinite amount for a drink of water.

You would pay less for the second glass.

And even less than that for a third glass.

And so on, until you would pay nothing.

Eating food is like that, even when we are not ravenously hungry or thirsty.

The flavor is contained within the first few bites. After awhile you are just finishing off a task.

A smaller dish or cone of ice cream offers the same satisfaction. I must remember that!

When on the road, split a meal and appetizer with someone or order smaller portions, such as tapas.

Remember, it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it has had enough. Remember tip #9 SLOW DOWN!

For meals at home, switch to smaller plates. You WILL eat less.

Road Trip Diet #13 Recognize Triggers

For me, I almost always have a salty snack after a sweet snack. One of my eccentricities.

So, if I eliminate the sweet stuff, I eliminate (mostly) the salty stuff, too.

Double win.

Road Trip Diet #14 Set Limits

If tortilla chips are your downfall (like for me), then set a limit on the number you will have and be done with it.

Instead of mindlessly eating the basket of chips before the meal arrives, limit yourself to 3, 7, 10, a dozen, whatever number of chips.

… and, eat slowly, savoring each taste.

A friend now only eats sweets that are wrapped. While it is easy to mindlessly eat a bag of M&M’s, she says, unwrapping a single Hershey’s Kiss…

Road Trip Diet #15 Check Labels

When you buy fresh produce or items from the bakery or deli, there are no labels to check.

Let’s be realistic, though, we will buy pre-packaged food and drink. At least we can scrutinize labels and consume less unhealthy items.

When comparing packaged items, I look for lower levels of sodium, saturated fat, and sugar content. I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup.

You cannot, nor should not, completely eliminate sodium, sugar, and fat. Instead strive for healthy amounts.

One way to be in charge of your health is to scrutinize labels and buy only products that match your values.

If you value a healthier lifestyle, you can find products to support you. If you value convenience over health, you will also find those products.

Road Trip Diet #16 Measurement Theory

I have a theory about why the Road Trip Diet is successful.

My theory is that away from home (on a road trip, when traveling), we measure food but not exercise; at home (our normal routine), we measure exercise and do not measure food.

When traveling, exercise is constant and not measured. We can walk around San Francisco all day, getting a better hill workout than any gym machine provides. When we eat, portions are smaller because there is no “home” to take leftovers to.

Personally, even though I eat more “bad stuff”, I drink much more water and eat more produce away from home than at home.

At home, we exercise for a certain number of minutes, miles, laps, or milestones. When we eat, our portions are larger and snacks are omnipresent. If you work in an office, temptations of bagels and doughnuts, celebrations, and snack machines dominate.

Road Trip Diet #17 No Equipment Necessary

You have everything you need to exercise. You do not need any special equipment or services.

You can just as easily walk, hike, jog, run, swim, and otherwise exercise while traveling (or at home), as you can read this post or roll out of bed in the morning.

Walking around San Francisco, on a Grand Canyon trail, or the Northern Ireland coast is a better workout than stair climbing at the gym. More fun and better views, too!

Grandview Park View of San Francisco CA above 16th Ave Steps
Grandview Park View of San Francisco CA above 16th Ave Steps

Cycling along The Strand in Southern California, the Monterey Peninsula waterfront, on Hilton Head, or in Amsterdam is better than riding a stationery bike at the gym.

I have a neighbor who goes on long runs during cruise excursions. He has run with villagers in Africa and in the most scenic areas of the world.

You can do resistance exercises in your hotel room, in a park, on the beach, or practically anywhere–push ups, sit ups, leg lifts, tricep dips.

When staying at some hotels, you can use their fitness centers, swimming pools, or sports court.

What do you REALLY need to exercise?

Great walking shoes and comfortable clothes. That’s it! Of course, some say walking barefoot is better than any shoe.

And, there is a clothing optional travel segment. So, truly, you really do not need anything!

I think I will stick with shoes and clothes, though.

I usually pack a swimsuit in case I stay at a place with a pool or visit a beach, lake, or swimming hole.

You definitely do not need travel weights from SkyMall, gym memberships, or fancy yoga gear.

Road Trip Diet #18 Reduce Syllables

Monoglycerides. Calcium Propionate. Pyrodoxine hydrochloride.

C’mon Man. Get rid of those chemicals and eat real food. Replace with Honey, Oat Flour.

Road Trip Diet #19 Reduce Number of Ingredients

One thing to check for on labels is the number of ingredients. Products with more ingredients are usually less healthy. Not always—but usually.

Here is a description of chemicals used in commercially prepared breads and why.

Here is another image and description of ingredients in Wonder Bread.

I sometimes make bread at home in a machine. The basic bread ingredients are flour, water, sugar, butter, salt, yeast. I often make a cinnamon raisin bread, adding cinnamon and raisins to the list.

My homemade bread does not have processed items (like HFCS) or chemicals, so it seems healthy to me.

Of course, it is easier—more convenient—to buy bread from a store.

Although I buy Pepperidge Farm bread at supermarkets, as much as possible I try to visit bakeries—especially on road trips.

I am fortunate to have two Great Harvest Bread locations near my house.

Here is a label from a loaf of Great Harvest bread:

I prefer products with labels having simple, short, natural words—like flour and sugar—instead of processed terms—like sorbic acid and calcium carbonate.

Road Trip Diet Appendix: Destination Diet Plans

Have you noticed that many popular diet plans are named after destinations?

South Beach DietMediterranean Diet.

Are travelers more likely to need diet plans? Do exotic destinations indicate a better diet?

Here are some other “destination” diet plans.

  • Scarsdale Diet. Park Avenue Diet.
  • Beverly Hills Diet. Hollywood Diet. LA Weight Loss Diet.
  • Martha’s Vineyard Diet. St. Tropez Diet.
  • Wall Street Diet. New York Diet.
  • Hilton Head Diet. Sonoma Diet.
  • Italian Diet. Jerusalem Diet.
  • Japanese Diet. Okinawa Diet.
  • Best of all (IMHO) is Shangri-La Diet.

Road Trip Diet Resources


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2 thoughts on “Travel and Lose Weight? The Revolutionary Road Trip Diet”

  1. This road trip diet ideas would be a huge help for you to still be able to travel and lose weight at the same time. This would surely mean a lot. Thanks for sharing this one out.

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