I'm all for spontaneity when traveling – going with the flow, letting the trip take you wherever it should and being open for adventure – but there's a lot to be said for preparation and planning and research. Especially when trying to stay healthy and feel great. For me, making the effort beforehand to set myself up for success – finding restaurants that will have nourishing foods and gluten-safe kitchens, finding places to sweat and move – these are the efforts that truly allow me to be fully present in the experience and soak up all that the traveling has to offer. Because I've had trips where I haven't done this, and they haven't gone well. Because Mollie that's been glutened at a restaurant or Mollie that goes 6 hours without proper fuel or Mollie that hasn't sweat in 7 days is NOT Mollie that can enjoy all that a trip should offer her. Traveling is one my deepest passions- a passion that was lit after my freshman year of college and a passion I'm positive will never quite be quenched. And so, just as I prioritize nourishing myself well to be able to live out my best life on the reg, I try to do the same to be fully present for the magic of travel.
So I'm sharing with you some of my favorite tips and tricks in how I do so. Because, I've planned a lot of trips. Like, a lot. From a 10 day spring break in Spain with my best friend. To a 12 day honeymoon with the hubs. To lots and lots and lotssss of solo work trips. Some more fun than others. Some with lots of food and culture and adventure, some with lots of work and sleep and a little bit of food. But I've really gotten a lot of experience in honing my travel planning skills because of it. So here are my favorite ways to plan:
Map it out.
I always create a “My Maps” on Google Maps for each trip (or maybe each city if a trip has multiple stops). This is my secret sauce- where all the magic happens. So I'm going to give you the dirty deets.
Let's use my upcoming work trip to Houston as an example. I'm driving down to Houston to represent TCU at 2 college fairs. This will be a quick 3 night stay. And since I'm working, I won't have lots of time for sightseeing or splurging, but I definitely want to get the most out of my time down there. And of course eats lots of good food. So here's what it looks like:
I create a map and title it for the name of the trip, then I just drop pins anywhere and everywhere. This is usually my attack plan:
I always start with the places I know I need to be. For example, with my Houston trip coming up, I dropped a pin at the two college fairs I'm working. See the layer titled “Work.” Obviously, for strictly personal trips, this layer might not exist.
My next step is to always search for healthy restaurants I want to eat at. Truly, my favorite part of traveling is experiencing the food. And I'm such a sucker for restaurant decor and design and atmosphere as much as the actual menu itself. So taking time to scour the internet to find spots with a killer menu and heart-eye-worthy digs is half the fun. I usually just google “healthy food in [enter destination]” or “gluten free restaurants in [enter destination]” And then I scour. Like deep dig scour. I read reviews, I search the menu, and I flip through allll the photos. Then any spot that I might want to visit, I add as a pin to on my map. When I'm really planning a more in depth trip (like our New York trip coming up), I also add notes to the little note section of the pin about what I'd want to eat or what meal it's good for. This is especially helpful when I've got 20+ restaurants pinned to actually plan an itinerary and know which places to try to hit up for which meals. I've recently learned that Houston is definitely scarce in trendy healthy spots, but I marked all the spots I could. (This is how I make all my epic Healthy Eats Travel Guides! You can check my growing list to see if I'm already done all the work for any city you're heading to.)
Then I try to find places I'd want to walk/hike/run/exercise at. Besides eating my way through, one of my favorite ways to experience a city is to sweat my way through it. I love to search for cool hikes or fun parks to do a circuit workout in. Most of the time this is just by searching “best hikes in [enter destination]” or “best parks in [enter destination].” Sometimes, I try to find myself a new yoga studio to try, especially if it's a long trip and I know I just never feel great if I go too long without a good sweaty flow. And especially if I can find a studio that offers a free first class. In Houston, I found 3 cool parks with trails. They also have a bike sharing system, so I might plan to check out a bike for one of those parks to bike through instead of just walk or run. I did search yoga studios, but all of the ones I found had a pretty hefty price tag for a drop in class, and considering it's only a 3 night stay, I figure I'll just save the cash and get my sweat in on one of the cool trails.
Next I add pins to any sightseeing or adventure-worthy spot. A lot of times for this one, I start with pinterest. Or just more google. But just like scouting restaurants, I'm pretty much a research ninja with adventures, too. If I'm visiting a new place, of course I want to see the must-see's, but I also hate wasting time on tourist traps. I'd much rather experience the culture and hidden gems. So it's usually a mix of the two. And obviously this looks very different in different cities, and for different types of trips, but I make sure my map includes anything I'd be sad to miss when I leave.
Choose your digs.
Stay in a place with a kitchen.
This might not always be an option, and honestly, it might not always be worth it, but it can be a huge game changer when it is. When we spend 4 days in New York, a place where I have waaaay more restaurants pinned than meals we have, I won't worry about having a kitchen. Because half of the experience will be eating out and enjoying food culture. But for this short work trip to Houston, where my priority is getting work done, keeping costs low, and maintaining my healthy lifestyle while I'm doing it, a kitchen can definitely help. If not for actually cooking meals, at least for having a full fridge/freezer to store some goods in. (This is one of the reason I'm a huge fan of Airbnb's.)
Stay close to a grocery store.
Not sure if I should be ashamed to admit that one of the things I always do when booking hotels is searching the ones that are close to a Whole Foods Market or a Trader Joes.
With this example for Houston, I booked a Residence Inn. Because 1- It has a full kitchen. So I can load up a cooler with some goods and not worry about trying to store it in a tiny mini fridge. And maybe even cook up some eggs in the morning or Siete tortilla tacos for dinner. Or at the least just save myself the cost of a latte from a coffee shop by whipping up my usual matcha or bulletproof coffee (yes, I pack my Bulletproof Superfood Coffee Creamer on the go) in the comfort of my hotel room. But I also booked this place because 2- It's a 0.7 mile walk to a Whole Foods, which is also in the same shopping center as quite a few other healthy restaurants I'm excited to try. So I'm making healthy morning choices as easy as possible. I like being in walking distance to places I want to check out. If I'm not getting full sweaty workouts in, at least I'm getting off my butt to stroll.
Request for your hotel room to be on a high floor.
Then don't take the elevator. Or at least not after the initial trip up with your luggage. Even when I stayed on the 21st floor of a high rise in Atlanta, I took the stairs. And yes, it got me winded and almost sweaty every time. But it just feels so goooood. Another easy way to squeeze movement in if it's harder to come by. Also, I like staying on high floors because the noise is usually lower. Extra bonus.
Craft an itinerary.
So now that I know where I'm staying and allll the places I want to hit up, I translate the massive map of pins into an organized itinerary. And this can be as detailed or as loose as the trip calls for. For our honeymoon in Greece and Italy, we really wanted to be able to be more spontaneous and move as the wind called us. So my itinerary was mostly all the travel details of flights and Airbnb's, and then a list of all the things we wanted to do or places we wanted to eat at in each city. So when we arrived in a new place, we knew what we wanted to see and do, but we allowed the schedule to shape itself. But for Houston, because I'm working at certain places and at certain times, my itinerary is much more detailed. In fact, I've literally planned out every meal.
This is where the notes section of the pins comes in handy. I can see I wanted to eat at abc for breakfast and xyz for lunch, and xyz is close to this college fair so I can grab a bite there afterwards. You get the picture.
As I started to compile all my packing tips, I realized it deserved its own post. My suitcase, my carryon AND my snack bag – all the healthy goodies I bring along on trips in this post: Healthy Travel Hacks | Packing Like a Pro.
Planning is such an integral part in prepping for a trip. And since I've started to take the time to plan this way, I've noticed such a difference in both my actual experience on the trip but also my feelings before the trip. I used to dread work trips because they just meant I would be far away from Casmir, without my healthy nourishment, and feeling like crap. I saw them as impeding my healthy lifestyle (because let's be honest, back then, when I was deep inside my unhealthy eating habits, they really did). But I'm super excited for this Houston trip because I know it will be a sweet few days of exploring new spots – I know I've got awesome spots to eat at (I really love fun new healthy restaurants, if you couldn't tell) and some fun parks to sweat at.
I hope these tips are helpful in planning your next trip! If you use any of these hacks in your travels, I'd love to hear about it! Leave me a comment below of how they help you soak up your adventures.