Updated: Jul 28
Guest post by Kendall Dennis
If you’re anything like me, maintaining a well-balanced diet while traveling can be a struggle. It can be even harder to find appetizing plant-based and vegan foods while on the road. Even with snacks packed in the luggage, finding delicious and plant-based meals while moving through airports, gas stations, and hotels can be difficult. With the spring break on the horizon, you may be gearing up to hit the road, or air, and wondering how you can still eat foods that will make you feel energized. We’ve compiled this list to help make eating plant-based while traveling a little bit easier.
Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
Firstly, let's talk about the snacks. Bringing snacks with you on your journey is one of the easiest things to do to make sure you don’t end up ravenous, irritable, and making unhealthy last-minute choices. Fruit, such as apples, bananas, and pears, are easy to pack for short trips and can offer a hydrating and nutrient-dense snack. Packaged dried fruit is another option for packing in your bag and may be better for longer trips. Dried fruit is great because it's a natural source of energy and provides lots of plant-nutrients to keep you nourished. However, since fruit is comprised of mainly natural sugar, consider eating a handful of nuts with it as well to balance out your sugar intake. Adding some carbohydrate (like fruit or whole grains) in addition to plant-based protein and healthy fat (like nuts and seeds) can help to keep you full until your main meal and keep your blood sugar balanced. Other easy-to-grab options include almonds, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, trail mix, granola, protein bars, homemade energy bites, crunchy baked chickpeas, baked sweet potato chips, and whole-grain crackers.
Mix and Match
If you’re a frequent flyer, you probably have the airport food markets memorized. While these markets offer books, mints, and other traveling essentials, they can also offer decent snack options. In these airport shops you can find most of the snacks we mentioned above including nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, and baked chips. Many of these shops also have prepackaged food like sandwiches and crackers with hummus. While not always ideal, at least you have the option to grab several different snacks and pre-packaged foods to mix and match to create a meal.
If the markets in the airport aren’t well-equipped, many airports have sit-down restaurants. While there aren’t always a lot of plant-based options, depending on which airport you're traveling, most places will at least have salads. To spruce up a salad, you can add purchased nuts or hummus from the markets or the homemade chickpeas you brought for the trip. If you didn’t bring your own salad dressing (I mean, probably not) and the dressings are dairy-based, you can always ask if the restaurant will give olive oil and vinegar or lemon instead. If they have several dishes that incorporate veggies, like sandwiches with tomato, onion, and avocado, then ask them to add all the veggies from the kitchen. They may have some canned beans or nuts and seeds that they use in other dishes. Ask for a side of beans and nuts or seeds for your salad. Not only will you boost the flavor and texture of the salad, but you'll also get protein and healthy fat, which will be much more satisfying and energizing than just leafy greens alone.
Staying Nourished and Hydrated in the Air
If you were unsuccessful in finding any food you like in the airport, the snacks offered on the plane might be able to hold you over until you arrive at your destination. If you’re flying Delta, you will likely be offered some sort of protein bar, pretzels, almonds, and Biscoff cookies. If you didn’t want the protein bar or nuts from the airport market, you probably won’t be interested in them on the plane. However, if you want something sweet, surprisingly, the Biscoff cookies served on the plane are vegan. You can ask for a couple of cookie packages along with water to hold you over and stay hydrated until landing. Other airlines outside of Delta have similar offerings during flights, including some variety of nuts and pretzels.The moment you're halfway through your flight and the hunger monsters start to rear their ugly head is when you realize the importance of packing your own healthy snacks! So, if you planned ahead, you can enjoy some of those snacks you packed in your bag during your flight. Personally, a dark chocolate bar and bag of nuts are my easy go-to snack of choice for plane-munching.
Eating on the Road
If traveling by car, gas stations and fast casual food spots will likely be your source of food while in the car. Gas stations have very similar options to the airport markets, providing fruit and pre-packaged snacks. However, you may also be able to find some more variety in foods offered at gas stations. Some gas stations have larger sized portions of snacks like popcorn or whole grain crackers and may have jars of protein sources like nut butters. Many of these may be filled with palm oil and sugar through so make sure to check the label. Bringing your own whole wheat crackers or whole grain bread along with a jar of nut or seed butter is always a great option when traveling by car.
Gas stations also typically have microwaves for use. If traveling by car, you can prepare more elaborate meals ahead of time, like rice and bean dishes, hummus wraps, or bring leftovers from the night before. You can use the microwave at the gas station to warm up prepared food if you prefer a warm meal. One of the benefits of eating plant-based is that many dishes can be enjoyed cold or warm. If the gas station food selection leaves you still feeling hungry, or you didn’t prepare your own food ahead of time, fast casual restaurants like Chipotle and salad bars may be your best bet for grabbing a quick meal on the go.
Check Your Accommodations Ahead of Time
Before you hit the road, investigate the food options at your destination, whether it's a hotel, Airbnb, or resort. If meals will be provided, can you make arrangements ahead of time to ensure there are plant-based options available? Or, look to see which restaurants or grocery stores are close to where you're staying.
Choice of accommodations can be an important part to nourishing yourself. If you have an option between a hotel or Airbnb, an Airbnb may be a better option when it comes to eating healthy. An Airbnb provides a kitchen, which includes refrigerator, oven, microwave, pantry, and cooking utensils. This is a game changer for being able to buy and prepare food yourself while away from home. With this flexibility, you can shop and cook plant-based food for yourself, or store restaurant leftovers safely for eating later.
If you’re staying with families or friends while traveling, informing them ahead of time of your dietary restrictions is a good move. This way, they can prepare for your arrival and be sensitive to your preferences. Although informing family and friends of your dietary choices is important, managing expectations for how your family and friends will accommodate your choices is also important. If the host isn’t used to reading nutrition labels or looking at ingredients in products, it can be overwhelming to adopt this behavior for a short-term guest. Taking photos or sharing links of a few favorite products can alleviate stress for both you and your host. Understanding your role as a guest and the control you have over your own diet is key. Perhaps you can simply ask the host to carve out a small space in their fridge or cabinet and you can grab a few food items when you arrive. This way, the host's only job is to welcome you with open arms!
Traveling can offer an opportunity to try flavors and foods you normally don’t eat. If traveling in an area that specializes in cuisine unfamiliar to you, use this as an adventure to explore with your tastebuds. The Happy Cow app and website allows you to find vegan restaurants wherever you are with ratings from others who have visited the restaurant before. The website even has traveling tips for vegans that may be helpful for finding additional tips.
Finding balanced and yummy food while traveling may require a little extra work, but it can still be accomplished. Thinking ahead, embracing change, and being okay with eating a few more packaged snacks along the way will help. If you keep your options open and enjoy a sense of adventure, you may even find your new favorite food on your journey!
Are you traveling anyplace fun this spring? Please share! We love travel stories. :-) If you want to plan vegan-friendly travel outside of the U.S., check out this helpful guide from loveholidays.
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Hi there! My name is Kendall Dennis and I am a graduate student in Georgia State University's Coordinated Program for Dietetics. I'm passionate about plant-based eating and the power our dietary choices have in impacting animals, the environment, and ourselves. I'm so excited to be pursuing food and nutrition as a career path. When I'm not studying, you can find me hiking, playing with my dog, baking, or binge-watching mystery shows.