I am a 'real food' freak. I buy local, organic, fresh ingredients and I cook 90% of my meals. Whenever possible, my beef is grass-fed, my salmon is wild and my eggs are free range. I avoid most dairy, choose complex carbs and rarely eat anything that doesn't a) come from the ground or b) have a mother.
When addressing the question: Is it possible to eat healthy while backpacking?
First, ask yourself how well you're willing to get to know your destination. Tasting the local flavors plays a massive role in cultural immersion. Not only does a meal train your taste buds to recognize the staples of a local dish, It surrounds you with local people who can teach you even more about customs & traditions! Asking 21 questions to a person trying to go about their day is called badgering. Ask the same question to a person who you're sharing a meal & a glass of wine with and your cultural curiosity becomes much more charming.
I learned my lesson in avoiding local staples the the hard way
As a junior in college I spent a semester on the Gold Coast of Australia at Bond Univeristy. I attended Uni during my infamous vegetarian phase. There were two problems here -
1) I was not yet interested in health & wellness and therefore had not done my research on the healthy way to remove the major source of protein from my diet.
2) I was on a meal plan at Uni & I would be eating from a cafeteria for the next 6 months.
If you've had the pleasure of attending an American University you know what the term "Freshman 15" means. In a desperate attempt to avoid meat, I would mainly load up on carbohydrates and (as the Aussies did) alcohol.
It never occurred to me that every time I marched my rapidly expanding behind to the school cafeteria, that maybe I should just eat like the locals did - protein, veggies, limited carbs - and I would not gain an Australian 20. I refuse to translate that into kilos for the sake of my fat kid PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It's not that I thought PETA was going to come at me with a pitchfork if I ate a kangaroo burger, it was more that I wanted to prove to myself that I could keep up my new protein-deprived, iron deficient, life style.
Open up to new things!
Fast-forward several months to Cape Town, South Africa where I was slowly but surely reintroducing meat into my diet and not turning down a single local dish. I tried curries, traditional South African Pap & deep fried Malay food from Bo Kaap. I came home looking like my normal self! Proof that portion control works in all countries.
You may be making healthier choices than you think
When it comes to European food, the saving grace for Americans is that (most) European foods have ACTUAL laws against food additives. For us, the FDA allows additives that "haven't been proven harmful," while in Europe they regulate additives that "haven't been proven safe."
What a concept.
I recommend this video on that subject because I could go on for days:
One of the things I loved about eating a mediterranean diet in Europe was that no matter how much you ate in carbs, you would probably burn it all off and then some with the amount of walking you do. Are you honestly going to turn down a baguette in Paris or a spaghetti bolognese in Rome? Highly doubtful. Instead of panicking about missing out on your Women's Health inspired breakfast of greek yogurt, berries & granola, go directly the local cafe for a croissant and espresso and savor every moment!
Health conscious travelers, have no fear. I have the perfect trip for you.
Whether you're into hiking, swimming, scuba diving or paddle boarding, Maui provides the perfect setting.
My top pick for an active adventure on the island would be a Surf Yoga Maui. The couple who founded the company, Eduardo & Summer, collaborate to provide you the perfect retreat for body & soul. Eduardo will teach you the ways of the waves, from etiquette to paddling & popping up on the board. (Side note - there will be a professional photographer in the water with you so you can bring a full disc of photos home!) Summer will help you detoxify, strengthen & clear your mind. You'll be standing taller, breathing more deeply & feeling more at peace to enjoy your Hawaiian vacation.
Have you ever been hiking? How about hiking on a remote volcanic coastline? That's what is waiting for you at the end of the Road to Hana. You can swim in caves, jump from waterfalls & explore a black sand beach. Nothing compares to falling asleep under the stars and waking up to the sun rising over the ocean, right outside of your tent.
The benefit of an island with such a consistent climate is a fresh crop. That's why it's easy to eat healthy in Hawaii! Locals (at least along the road to Hana) keep fruit stands on the side of the road where you can drop some money and take some of their fresh crops - bananas, avocado, etc. At one side-of-the-road stop I had popcorn and rose mint tea & another had these meals ready to go...
Most tourists stay in 5 star resorts and enjoy cuisine prepared by famous chefs.
Don't worry about a thing budget travelers, I'm with you. My go-to meal quickly became "poke bowls" from the local grocery store. For $5 you get a bowl filled to the brim with fresh raw fish marinated to your liking.
If you are in the middle of planning a trip and you were packing your bag with foods from home for fear of something new, I hope this made you change your mind. Trying local cuisine won't only make you a better traveler, it will turn you into a better chef!