Is it possible to travel AND follow a plant-based diet at the same time?
I’m living testimony it IS possible.
4 tiny days.
First stop was China for a conference on genomics for 10 days.
After popping home for 24 hours, I was then off to Brazil for four days (to celebrate my belated birthday with my sister).
Back home again for 3 days, I quickly dashed off for work meetings in Washington D.C. and New York City.
Since mid-October, I’ve had long flights and short flights (over 40,000 miles combined!).
Layovers and no layovers.
I’ve been in and out of planes, airports and hotels.
I’ve stayed as a guest with family and friends.
But the important point is that I’ve managed to stay plant-based the whole time.
Come to think of it, I actually BECAME plant-based on the road years ago. I was staying with family in New Jersey and had brought The China Study to read. As soon as I turned the last page, I decided to ditch dairy forever. Just like that. Cold turkey. And on the road.
Now I am totally aware that most people don’t travel quite as much as I do.
But that doesn’t belittle the challenge we all have: How do we maintain our plant-based lifestyle while we’re on the road—even if for only 12 hours?
How do you cope with plant-based unfriendly public places like airports?
What do you do when you arrive at a destination and have no idea where you can find whole food plant-based foods that you can eat?
What do you say to the hotel (or in the home of friends) when you are seeking plant-based eating alternatives?
Since I believe these are challenges we all deal with, I’ve decided to share some of my FAVORITE tried-and-true ‘staying plant-based while traveling’ strategies.
Rule 1: The Best Food Is Always Your Food
In other words, CARRY YOUR OWN FOOD WITH YOU!
I always carry my own food no matter how long or short the trip. It helps smooth out the unpredictable nature of travel. As we all know (too well!), even a 90-minute flight can be delayed for hours. And when you’re tired, hungry (and your willpower is low), it’s just too easy to make unhealthful choices.
And while most planes allow you to order special meals, there are often mix-ups where you get the wrong meal (or worse no special meal at all!). That’s precisely why it’s always best to fly prepared with your own food.
So make sure you are prepared; pack your food as carefully as you pack your luggage.
Here are a few ‘carry your plant-based food with you’ ideas:
- Fruits: My favorite traveling food is the apple. I always carry about a half dozen of them to “fall back on”. They’re great for starting the day if you
don’t want to eat a hotel breakfast and they’ll also get you
through the logistical hassles of travel such as long lines and layovers. You can also buy bananas at the airports, but they don’t travel as well, much like other ‘softer’ fruits like pears or grapes.
- Salads: I carry two big disposable containers of salads with me. Three salads —Speedy Summer Salad, 4-Color Crunch Salad and Roasted Corn & Black Bean–are very well suited for travel of up to 6 hours. That means they work great for East to West coast trips or the first leg of an international journey.
- Sandwiches: Some sandwiches, burgers and sides work really well when you are on the road. Hummus and Baked Tofu Sandwiches travel well on super long flights, especially if they’re vacuum sealed. Our recipes for Roasted Potato Wedges and Veggie Burgers are great choices.
- Rolls: Cucumber or Cucumber-Avocado Sushi Rolls are filling and have a handy form that easily withstands the rigors of travel.
Rule 1: Be Smart When You Navigate the Airport
Airports are a huge challenge as they are filled with fast food options. However, there are a few ways to make it in and through the airport without taking a wrong turn.
- Grab a Fruit: Most airports have coffee stands, small newsstands or stores. While they are mostly filled with packaged, high-sugar foods, you can almost always find a banana or even an apple.
- Make a Salad: Many airports boast restaurants with salad bars which is a life saver. A salad bar allows you to build your own low-calorie salad with ingredients you choose. Bring your own dressing in your purse or backpack in an approved container like this one and you won’t have to worry about oils or too many unwanted (and high calorie) ingredients.
- Check out the Airport Restaurants (before you get there): Before you go, look up the restaurants at the airports you’ll be passing through for plant-based alternatives and dishes.
- Japanese food will be the easiest for take-out because a lot of their veggie rolls are oil-free. Steamed rice & edamame and miso soup are also good choices.
- Mexican restaurants are a good choice for eating at the airport, but some of the foods might be prepared with oils.
But don’t go overboard with the Mexican. Most Mexican foods don’t tend to travel well and the strong-smelling take-out doesn’t exactly endear you to your fellow passengers.
Rule 3: Prepare for the Plane
Here are some tips on the meals you will find on the plane:
- Special Meals: A lot of flights will let you select special meals in advance. Vegan meals are often available, but the services are far from perfect and almost all the meals are prepared with oil.
- Regular Airline Meals: If you didn’t get your meal, forgot to order it or something else went wrong, you might be able to deconstruct a regular airline meal for “parts”. You can eat only the rice and veggies. Or eat the pasta and marinara sauce if the cheese hasn’t already been added.
Another Tip: Be nice to your flight attendant. Often he/she will bring you a banana or an apple so you don’t starve getting from Point A to Point B.
Rule 4: Organize Your Destination Game Plan in Advance
As we have said repeatedly in this article, having your own food is always the best food. This is particularly true when it comes to in-home snacks—and it is applicable whether you stay in a hotel or in a home with family. So here are some of my favorite ‘destination strategies’:
- Bring Your Own: If you have a favorite whole grain bread or cereal that you just have to have in the mornings, pack some in your suitcase. (Especially if you don’t know what kind of grocery store you’ll find there.) Granola travels well and is great for breakfast and snacks. Vacuum sealed baked tofu also works well on the road. Add it to sandwiches or pasta dishes or eat as a snack. Tip: make enough to share!
- Contact Your Hotel: Many hotels will be willing and able to prepare for your arrival in advance. Ask them to have things like plant-based milk or oil-free hummus on hand and stock up on cut-up veggies and fruits in advance of your arrival.
- Call Your Host: If you’re staying with friends or family, you can also make special requests. Send a shopping list in advance or simply ask for lots of fruits and veggies. If you don’t want to put them out, simply ask them not to shop for you. If you arrive late, eat something you’ve brought with you or have fruit for breakfast, then go shopping (with or without your host) later. Tip: cook a plant-based meal for your hosts during your stay – and remember the dessert!
- Prepare in Advance for Business Functions: Even if you’re traveling on business, make sure your hosts know your dietary preferences. It’s a lot less awkward to ask for what you want in advance than to show up at a business function where there’s literally nothing for you to eat.
- Shop for Yourself: If you’re traveling in the US, it’s hard to imagine you won’t find a Whole Foods or an organic grocery in town. But any other grocery store will also carry fresh and frozen veggies and fruits, plant milks and canned beans. And popcorn for a snack.
- Check out Your Neighborhood In Advance: Before you go, look up vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants on Yelp, Urban Spoon or the HappyCow. (Happy Cow offers a free online vegetarian guide sorted by country and region that includes both restaurants and health food store locations.)
- Odds & Ends: You can also check your hotel restaurant menu – many offer vegan choices. If you’re traveling internationally, do some research on the local cuisine – you’ll find many staple dishes might be vegan (they might not be oil-free, but at least they won’t contain meats or dairy products). If you don’t speak the language, consider being a card-carrying vegan with the card from SelectWisely.
Lots of ideas.
That show it CAN be done.
Once combining travel with plant-based eating becomes second nature to you, you’ll discover it is easy to ask for (and find!) what you need to maintain your plant-based lifestyle.
I’m living proof!
I have been able to maintain a whole food, plant-based diet in the middle of a savannah in Brazil, on a “glamping” trip in Baja, Mexico and at a treetop hotel in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
And in each case, all I had to do was simply ask.
Now, as you ponder your next plant-based adventure, consider joining our 21 Food Day Challenge for a great menu book for living a plant-based lifestyle.