How to Eat Plant-Based while Traveling: Think Outside the Box!

Most people following a plant-based diet will agree: it’s the easiest to follow when we can cook all of our meals at home, in our own well-stocked kitchens. However, life interferes, and we may find ourselves stressing over food while getting ready to travel to a new destination that may or may not accommodate our veggie-oriented eating.

Travel Tips main picAs you know by now, earlier this month Rob and I moved from our 3+ year home in Alabama to the wild and woolly frontier just outside Seattle, WA. During our transition, we spent a week in hotels equipped with only a microwave and a small fridge (okay, it’s better than nothing), first in New Orleans, Louisiana, then in a little town on Whidbey Island in Washington. Quite a bit of time was spent researching places where we could go eat next, all while trying to keep our meals healthy and affordable. Thankfully, we’re not in hotels anymore, but the experience made me wonder if we could have done anything differently to be better prepared for the challenges of eating plant-based while traveling.

After asking Vegan Runner Eats Facebook fans and poking around on the internet, I came up with the following list of no-BS travel tips for the health-oriented plant-based vegan folk. Hint: with some planning ahead, anything is possible. (A big thank you to Kathy from FB and Plantivores blog!)

Tips for Staying Plant-Based while Traveling

1. Come Prepared. It’s always best to have some snacks on hand, like assorted veggies and fruit, granola bars, homemade trail mix (healthier than most store-bought mixes – combine raw nuts and  dried fruit with a handful of healthy cereal, bring with you in a zip-top bag). If you can, bring a small cooler with an ice pack, and stock it with some hummus, chickpea salad sandwiches, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, pasta salad, etc. Rob and I never had a problem bringing a cooler with food on the plane – it’s ok with TSA as long as you’re not bringing in liquids.

2. Do your research. Before you leave, do a quick online search of vegan-friendly restaurants, health food stores, etc. at your destination place. Your best bet is to write down whatever you find because the internet connection might be less than perfect at the place you’re visiting, so making a few notes (name of the place, address, etc.) may come in handy later. Some sites can come in handy in your research: check out Happy Cow, Veg Guide, Trip Advisor, and see if there’s a local vegetarian or vegan society/meet-up in the area.

3. Don’t get lost at the airport: even if you didn’t bring any food with you, airports usually have at least some veggie-friendly options. Of course, larger airports have a better choice of restaurants, but even in smaller airports I was able to find at least some hummus with crackers and some refrigerated carrots and broccoli. A bag of nuts will do in a pinch (if possible, choose raw unsalted), as well as a latte with soy milk at a coffee shop. Most sandwich stands can put together a veggie sandwich for you, and if there’s a Mexican restaurant on your way, you’ve hit a jackpot with a bean and rice burrito!

4. Get creative in hotels. Interestingly, even if your hotel room isn’t equipped with a kitchenette (that’s most often the case for us), you can still find ways to eat fairly well:

– Throw in some oatmeal packets into your carry-on, and make yourself a decent breakfast in the morning by microwaving oats with water or non-dairy milk (if you were able to find it at nearby grocery stores). No bowls? Use a paper cup instead. No microwave? Heat up some water in a coffee machine that most hotel rooms have these days.

– Aside from oatmeal, you can make lunch and dinner right in your hotel room with Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods line of soups, entrees and breakfasts that can be easily prepared in a microwave. Dr. McDougall’s entrees are made with real ingredients and can be found on Amazon in packs of 6.

– For those of us who have to stay in hotels for lengthy periods of time, I found this tip from Lindsay Nixon of Happy Herbivore blog: if you’re traveling by car, bring a pressure cooker, and have a fresh, home-cooked meal every night! Most pressure cookers can also be used for sautéing and slow-cooking, so you can either load it up in the morning and come back to a slow-cooked chili or a stew, or take advantage of the quick-cooking method and make a meal in less than half the time it usually takes. Lindsay swears by this pressure cooker by Cuisinart and also brings with her a small chopping board, a knife, a can opener, a spatula, as well as a reusable bowl, a plate, and a spork. Most of the grocery shopping (veggies, cans of beans, etc.) can be done at any stores nearby.

– One more creative tip for hotels I saw online: use an iron (!) for making paninis or warm sandwiches if you must!

5. Go ethnic when eating out. All right, if you find yourself in a city that’s considered a vegan mecca, then you can find your way around without my advice. If not, consider dining in Asian, Indian, African, or Mexican restaurants: most of them will have at least some options that don’t contain animal products. If you’re in a group of people heading to a steakhouse, all is not lost: a baked potato with a side salad can make a healthy and satisfying meal.

6. Take notes. If you’re traveling abroad, consider learning beforehand what the words for ‘meat’, ‘eggs’, ‘milk’, ‘butter’, etc. are it the language of your host country. Your life just might get a little easier when you avoid screaming ‘DAIRY!!!’ at a waiter who’s clueless about what you’re trying to say. There’s also a very handy book called Vegan Passport (you can read the whole thing here) that you can bring with you, and just show the appropriate page to whoever is making your food so that they knew what you’re looking for.

All right, I think I’ve covered most of the aspects here, but if you’d like to add any of your own tips, please do in the comments below!

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About Alina

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.
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14 Responses to How to Eat Plant-Based while Traveling: Think Outside the Box!

  1. Janice says:

    I find looking up a restaurant’s menus on-line is a big help. Many places have salads, soups or sandwiches, that with the omition of cheese work well.

    • Alina says:

      You’re right, Janice – having an option to look up the menu in advance is a big helper! Another thing that’s often overlooked – checking if the restaurant is still open 🙂 I myself had bad experience with this a couple times when the places I wanted to visit had gone out of business, so now I know better to call them!

  2. Ellie says:

    I love all these tips! The one I use most frequently is rice and beans. Really any grain (or pseudo-grain like quinoa) and some veggies is a really healthy vegan filling meal. Do you have a bar preference? I sway towards Clif Bars

    • Alina says:

      Ellie, I find that I used to eat all kinds of bars more often before I went plant-based. I don’t have a favorite bar right now, but Clif bars are good, and I also liked Picky Bars that are made by Lauren Fleshman, the girl who set 2-time American record for women’s 5k.

  3. Shannon says:

    Careful with the rice and beans at Mexican restaurants. Sometimes the beans are made with lard and the rice is made with chicken broth. At times even tortillas have lard. Ask your server how the ingredients are prepared.

  4. Kerry Foley says:

    the Physician’s Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has a list of healthful food options at various airports. Also, I’ve had closed containers of hummus taken from me by TSA.
    Silver Palate website has instant oatmeal with no additives in packets

  5. Megan says:

    Great tips, thank you! Have done the oatmeal packet trick many times, including on a plane (just ask for hot water). I also like to pack my own tea bags. For granola or protein bars, I prefer the kids’ sizes, like Z bars. I usually pack some fruit leathers as well. Happy travels!

    • Alina says:

      Thanks Megan! I always pack my own teabags too, and often bring a mug from home if we’re going to stay in hotels because I’m not a fan of their disposable cups. I probably have forgotten stashes of teabags in every travel bag I own 🙂

  6. Angel says:

    I have been health conscious eater for most my life, started a job in 2012 that requires 75% travel. Pack a small cooler on fly days and TSA will take ice pack away because it is considered gel or frozen liquid. It happened in several airports. Just be aware.

    • Alina says:

      Sorry to hear this happened to you, Angel! I’ve had more successful experiences with frozen gel packs for my cooler – I’ve flown with them at least 5-6 times, and thankfully they’ve never been taken away.

  7. Janet Raycraft says:

    To avoid the ice packs on flights, I freeze some cooked beans in quart baggies to keep my food for the flight cold. When I arrive I have beans ready to heat for additional meals! I have also used packets of frozen chili! I have to be especially careful since I eat WFPB with no added oil. After five years the tiniest bit of oil will make me sick. My husband and I still travel across the country yearly! When driving it is easy to keep a stocked”pantry” in the back of our van along with a tub of kitchen tools. When flying, I resort to packing oven ready potatoes, boxes of beans and soups, homemade oatmeal packets, and a microwave bowl.

    • Alina says:

      Wow Janet, your travel tips are so impressive! I never thought of freezing cooked food and using it instead of conventional ice packs! Thank you for sharing your vegan travel wisdom!

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