Rules of (a Healthier) Road

Here’s how to keep your good-health goals while traveling.
Published July 25, 2018

Whether your family is going to visit relatives or you're going on vacay, it can be challenging to maintain your weight-loss game. Follow these guardrails to stay on track.

1. Plan

“Know roughly where you’ll be driving and what stores and restaurants you’ll be passing by,” advises Laura Smith, WeightWatchers® Program Innovations manager. “Looking up options ahead of time lets you figure out what fits within your SmartPoints budget. And knowing your food options at your destination can help you prioritize what will be ‘worth’ the SmartPoints. Part of the fun of traveling is trying new cuisines!” Seeing which menu options work best means that you can walk in with a plan—rather than having to decide while you’re hungry with the smell of barbecue or deep-dish pizza in the air.

2. Chill

Packing a mini-cooler for the car unchains you from the shelf-stable, processed snacks of the once-you-pop-you-can’t-stop variety. Fill it with the same healthy picks you rely on at home, like protein-packed yogurt, single-serving cheese sticks, water (some of it frozen to serve as ice packs until ready to drink later)—and leftovers from the amazing local cuisine at your destination, so you’re not pressured to either overeat or leave it behind.

3. Schedule

“Treat days on the road like any other,” Smith recommends. “Have a balanced breakfast, eat normally portioned snacks and meals, and keep your meal timing around what usually works for you.” Following your typical schedule helps you avoid plowing through your whole stash of goodies in hour one out of boredom.

4. Hydrate

It may seem counterintuitive when you’re stuck in the car, but creating the need for more pit stops is actually a win-win. “When we’re thirsty, we can easily confuse our thirst for hunger,” says Libby Mills, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. On top of keeping snacking under control, “Getting enough water is also key to feeling alert, and stopping for frequent bathroom breaks helps get your blood circulating, boosting alertness as well,” she adds. Aim for 9 to 13 cups of liquid a day, avoiding SmartPoints-laden drinks like sugary soda.

5. Move

If your restroom stops don’t already demand it, make a point of pulling over at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and once in between each meal—and move your body. Walking for five minutes once an hour can boost energy and mood and reduce food cravings—more so than one longer daily exercise session, according to recent research from the University of Colorado. “Take a walk or light jog or climb the stairs several times; push-ups off the side of the car can work in a pinch,” Mills advises.

6. Cook

If you can, choose accommodations with a kitchenette—find them at ehotels and motels marked “efficiency” or “extended stay.” Being able to cook what you want or reheat the rest of last night’s incredible meal for breakfast frees you from relying on huge restaurant portions for every meal of your journey.

The Healthiest Car Snacks You Haven’t Thought Of

1. Frozen Fruit
Buy it pre bagged or freeze your own grapes or berries in zip-close plastic bags. Dig in once it thaws to less than rock-hard; the fun Fla-Vor-Ice texture makes each bite last longer. Plus the still-frozen bags help keep your cooler cool.

2. Air-Popped Popcorn
High-volume and packed with stay-full fiber, three cups (without butter) have about the same calories as just one slice of bread—you can basically munch on it your whole trip. For a higher flavor profile, jazz it up with cumin, curry powder, or Sriracha.

3. Sunflower Seeds
Get them with the shells on; taking the shell off each seed with your teeth slows your roll, but you still get all the yummy, salty goodness (just, uh, keep the grocery bag for the discard pile).

4. Crudités and Dip
Cup holders: They’re not just for Big Gulps anymore. Throw a fiber- and protein-rich hummus cup in there, or blend up your own lighter version with grilled zucchini or cauliflower in place of the chickpeas. Then have at it with as many sliced peppers, carrots, and celery sticks as you want, when Pennsylvania just…won’t…end.

Forks in the Road

Pick a lane that will put you in position to make healthier choices.

Breakfast options?

Almost any on-the-road breakfast joint boasts the usual suspects—eggs, pancakes, bacon. It’s the day's most predictable meal, but also its most customizable: So Denny’s and Perkins, among others, both offer good morning meal selection. Our choice: Take advantage of the build-your-own omelette option at either one. Start with whole eggs, load up on ZeroPoints veggies like bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms, then pick one source of fat and protein such as avocado, cheese, or ham.

Ride or drive?

Take turns for safety, but don’t get taken for a ride too long: Whether it’s those obliques kicking in as you check your blind spot or those athletic hand gestures aimed at fellow motorists (hey, we’re talking about signals!), driving actually burns through almost twice as much energy as sitting in the passenger seat.

Tasty, healthy lunch?

Either Chipotle or Panera Bread can work, but fresh Mex edges out the salad and sandwich shop for the control factor—ask for half a scoop of meat on the salad, and add pinto beans (4 ounces has SmartPoints values) or corn. But for Panera lovers, the protein-rich Green Goddess Cobb salad with chicken has 6 SmartPoints values.

Recharge with a nap or coffee?

Sleep on it: A small study found that 20 minutes of shut-eye may provide a better afternoon pick-me-up than caffeine or even getting extra sleep the night before. Get the best of both. Drink a cup at a well-populated coffee spot, then lock the doors and recline for a catnap so the caffeine has time to kick in.

Snacking stop?

With Dairy Queen’s extensive menu, you can go in for a quick bite and still get out with SmartPoints left over. Get a kid’s chocolate or vanilla cone (8 SmartPoints), or a strawberrybanana light smoothie (10 SmartPoints). At Auntie Anne’s, the best option is the soft pretzel for 11 SmartPoints—before the dips!

Caffeination station?

Black coffee anywhere is, of course, your best bet. But if you really love your lattes, Dunkin’ Donuts’ small latte with skim milk (3 SmartPoints values for 10 ounces) is a more "budget"-friendly choice than Starbuck’s tall latte with skim milk (4 SmartPoints values for 12 ounces). Just bear in mind that adding in flavors can ratchet up the count, so keep things simple.

A great way to stretch your legs?

Exploring your destination on foot is one way a road trip can actually make staying on track easier. To make the most of it, hit the trail: Simply taking your walk cross-country provides more than twice the energy-burn per hour compared with strolling antiques markets or hunting for souvenirs—plus lets you get in great snaps.

Roadtrip dining?

​Arby’s is a strong choice, especially if your “budget” is running low. The roast beef chain delivers more sammie for your SmartPoints values, like its turkey and cheese slider for only 5 SmartPoints. That said, you can get a great salad at McDonald’s for 5 SmartPoints, like the bacon ranch salad with grilled chicken; but if you want to add dressing, the total creeps up.

Best place to spend the night?

You could argue that your average roadside motel is closer to “roughing it” than car glamping. Yet setting up camp in the great outdoors will let you torch as much as 2½ times more energy than you would by just lying on a lumpy mattress watching basic cable. Kumbaya!

Lodgings with a gym or a pool?

OK, so maybe you’re roadtripping to a wedding or otherwise require indoor plumbing on your journey. When you can, pick the neon vacancy sign that also promises a pool. According to a Cornell survey, nearly half of hotel guests said they planned to use the gym during their stay—but only one in five actually followed through. Our take: A pool may feel more like a luxury than a chore. You’re on vacation; let a splash of activity be part of the indulgence. Plus, swimming can burn about 400 calories an hour.

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