What’s more challenging, food choices at home or on vacation? Food is a rich medium and eating out often serves as entertainment, and a way to explore a new environment or experience the culture of an unfamiliar region. Many travelers find themselves packing on pounds as they pack and unpack their belongings, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
INDULGENCE AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY
Too often vacation time is code for permission to indulge, and the hospitality industry aims to please. Hotels offer free continental breakfasts loaded with pastries and other starchy treats. Some venues place chocolates on the bed, while last year a Doubletree front desk employee handed me a sleeve of warm chocolate chip cookies at registration. I have walked into lodgings offering an overflowing basket of welcome goodies, and sometimes a surprisingly thoughtful mix of snacks.
To make matters worse, traveling usually means eating out. Restaurants serve enormous portions, with caloric content equal or close to enough energy for an entire day. In between meals snacks and treats beckon from every street corner and every entertainment venue. In the end, vacation time doesn’t have to spell dietary disaster, but it requires a different mindset along with strategic planning to avoid a metabolic mess.
A DIFFERENT MINDSET
I start by booking accommodations with a kitchen whenever I can, and then take advantage of time and space to enjoy more physical activity. Lastly I pointedly slow down to savor a more relaxed pace. The impact is tremendous.
I feel more grounded, often recalibrating my sense of hunger and what it takes to feel satisfied. Less angst and stress translates into less desire to grab food in a fractured attempt to calm my spirit. It is easier to navigate “enough” when my environment allows me the space and time to pay attention. The subtle cues that tell us it is time to eat– as well as when we feel satisfied– literally get steamrolled by the hormonal tsunami triggered by stress. No wonder so many people don’t eat until they are starving, and keep eating far beyond enough.
My work obligations framed 0ur spring break vacation this year. Speaking engagements in Sacramento this weekend follow work in San Luis Obispo last Friday and Saturday. We plotted our vacation up the California coast in between. I booked a two bedroom house through vrbo (vacation rentals by owner) for the first four nights and planned to cook more than a few meals. What a treat to discover the San Luis Obispo’s farmers market on Thursday evening, buying fruit, vegetables, and milk for the next few days.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES TO EAT LOCAL
Curiously no vendors offered meat, chicken or fish, so I started asking around. No one seemed to have an answer (and I have a suspicion that there is more to this story), but eventually I spoke with Cal Poly food science students selling chocolate who offered another option. Cal Poly students operate a meat processing plant on campus and sell their wares to the public. On Friday afternoon I drove to campus and navigated my way to the new processing facilities, passing pastures of cattle, dairy cows, and ewes with their baby lambs on the way. Cal Poly’s motto “learn by doing” takes full expression in these “classrooms”. My student guide led me back to the store where I purchased lamb chops, pork chops and flat iron steaks for the rest of our stay.
We packed sandwiches, fruit and the ubiquitous bag of baby carrots for picnics during bike rides and long hikes on the Central coast, and again as we left town to navigate the Big Sur coastline. This first night in a hotel included a small refrigerator, helping to bridge the gap to our next stop. Again we packed sandwiches and the usual accompaniments to sustain us as we explored the fantastic Point Lobos State Park along the way.
Next we check into a sweet casita named Casa Olema on the grounds of Point Reyes Seashore Lodge. Now established further north, with no farmer’s market for a few weeks, I gamely headed to Palace Market in Point Reyes Station. What a pleasant surprise, and yet so reflective of the farm to table sensibilities of West Marin County. Grass fed meat, organic raw milk, local and organic fruits and vegetables place next to national brands and Chilean produce. There are choices for everyone, and I appreciate the owner’s effort to offer choices that work for a wide range of shoppers.
TIME TO MOVE
We took advantage of the amazing geography to explore the Earthquake trail, and bike then hike to Arch Rock. After a lazy morning reading at Casa Olema the following day, we spent the afternoon walking a 5 mile round trip to tide pools at low tide.
We packed on Friday morning and made our way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse climbing down and then back up the 300 steps… all the time wondering why they don’t count long stretches of steep that are paved flat. Later that afternoon we hiked through pine needled woods and the marshy Estero. Sandwiches partnered with apples and bananas and the occasional stray bag of chips fueled our excursions. In between we reinforced ourselves with nuts, peanut butter, bananas, and a few indulgent pieces of dark chocolate.
As we navigate our last two days in Sacramento, we will take advantage of the fitness center unless it stops raining this afternoon.
We will eat out most meals, navigating overabundant options. I will continue to struggle with our premium suite that offers internet access and free snacks, primarily because the vending machine offers mostly chips, candy and soda. True, the selections include an almost empty basket of fruit and bottled water, but hardly the range of choices I was expecting. We will likely hit a market before we hit the road to travel home tomorrow.
SPACE AND TIME FOR BALANCE
Today it rains, and in the stillness of our hotel room I am reminded that with adequate physical activity and enough quiet I more readily stay tuned to my body’s needs. Eating mostly our own food allowed us to enjoy delicious meals without excessive calories or cost. Without the press of our usual work and school demands, we indulged ourselves with enough time to eat, to sleep, to move and to rest. Now I face the consistent challenge after every vacation: How long will I be able to hold onto this delicious sense of balance and equilibrium?