The challenge of eating healthily while travelling on a budget

Fresh takeaway produce is so welcome, but it's not often we see it Fresh takeaway produce is so welcome, but it's not often we see it

Having been on the road now for 250+ days, we have discovered eating healthily while travelling on a budget is almost impossible. Back in Melbourne Chris and I made a conscious effort to live a healthy lifestyle and we enjoyed doing so. We both exercised regularly (ok, so truth be told Chris was a little more consistent at this than I was), avoided processed foods, purchased a lot of organic produce, lived a low sugar, low gluten diet and even stopped drinking alcohol. I had high hopes on our travels we would maintain this, if not even improve on it. How wrong I was!

The love of street food

Not all street food looks that  appealing

Not all street food looks that appealing

Food for me is one of the greatest experiences you have while travelling. When we arrived in South East Asia I couldn’t wait to eat all the delicious street food, try out regional produce and be introduced to different flavours. In the beginning it was so exciting as not only was the food so yummy, it was also cheap. When you can feed the family and have left overs for less than AU$5 and it doesn’t come from a fast food chain it’s hard to say no.

But the novelty does wear off after weeks and months of living on a diet that is foreign to you and your body. Even with the occasional treat of a meal that was not Asian cuisine didn’t quite cut it. So when we arrived in Chiang Mai to settle for a couple of months we were looking forward to the simple pleasure of going to the market to purchase fresh produce and cooking our own food. We even made it a priority to find an apartment that had a kitchenette even if it cost a little extra, we thought we could make savings by eating in rather than out.

After our first shopping experience, we discovered it’s much cheaper to order street food than cooking the simplest of meals at home. And whilst cost was not the driving factor of cooking our own food, when you are travelling on a budget it comes into play with every decision. So we began cooking our own breakfast and snacks, but heading out for lunch and dinner. After the first month of doing this, we even left our apartment for a room in the heart of the city without a kitchen, just a fridge instead.

No rice please

By the time we left Chiang Mai we didn’t think we could face another bowl of rice. The locals were shocked when we began asking for ‘no rice’ to accompany our meals. I started to experience the effects of living what to me was an unhealthy diet of refined carbs, sugar, salt, msg sauces and the occasional fried foods. By body was packing it in and screaming for a change.

After a break of travelling in Abu Dhabi, we were back on the go and moving from hotel to hotel every couple of days throughout Europe. Staying in budget accommodation, it is not often you will have a kitchen and if you do, it is fairly basic. Plus when you are moving so often, the thought of trying to squeeze food supplies into our packs was out of the question.

Hot dogs, pizza, kebabs

Hot dogs, hot dogs and more hot dogs

Hot dogs, hot dogs and more hot dogs

With Europe being way more costly than South East Asia we had to be even tighter with our pennies. This meant we would head to the supermarket in the morning, pick up stables of veggie sticks, fruit and nuts for our snacks and water for the day. We even started buying a loaf of bread and some fillings to make sandwiches for lunch as buying a cheap meal was often difficult. The cheapest food on offer in Europe is hot dogs, pizza or kebabs, and if you go to a restaurant then chicken schnitz and chips or bangers and mash would most likely be your budget option. And if you want anything on the go, you can be sure it will be something fried, full of carbs and loaded with sugar.

By the time we arrived at our first house sitting gig in France where we could stop for a while, I couldn’t face another piece of bread. I also was getting sicker and had ruled out any bug taking over my system…diet was now to blame.

Pizza is one of the cheapest foods you will find on the road

Pizza is one of the cheapest foods you will find on the road

So we had to make changes for me to get healthier. That meant no gluten, no refined sugars, no inflammatory foods, no preservatives and definitely no delicious French pastries or foie gras. It was back to basics and back to whole real foods and I couldn’t wait. But when I went to the organic store to purchase a whole chicken to make a humble roast, at €25 I discovered eating healthily while travelling on a budget was going to be a challenge and I was going to have to re-evaluate how I approached healthy eating.

Organic is mostly out of the question, but we do buy some staples from the Bio store to eliminate the preservatives and additives. Still our weekly grocery shop always shocks us and there is always a little fear our credit card will be rejected! But I have come to the realisation that if our travel fund runs out early because we are looking after ourselves and trying to lead a healthy lifestyle than so be it.

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