Travelling when you have food restrictions is not easy, but it is do-able. There is no reason that travel needs to mean compromising on your health. The secret to success however, is to be really well prepared.
I have been gluten free now for almost 13 years, and have been diary and egg free for probably close to 6 years. I regularly travel to both the USA and Australia among other countries, and these are not short flights from the UK. So, I am going to share with you now what I personally have learned to do over the years, to make travel successful for me.
1. You have to take food on the plane.
Unless you have just a single food restriction, you cannot rely on the plane meal. They only allow gluten free OR dairy free OR vegetarian etc. If you have more than 1 thing going on they cannot accommodate you. And even if you only have a single restriction, it’s still not a reliable service. I once had a fruit-only meal booked by the airline accidentally, and that was to Australia. Let me tell you, by the end of that 24 hours I wanted to cry when I saw the plate of apple, melon and pineapple headed my way. I have also had my GF meal, lost or accidentally served to another passenger leaving me with nothing to eat for 8 hours. After a while I just refused to get on a plane without a day’s worth of food ‘just in case’.
I always try and pack as many vegetables as possible, roasted, baked, steamed or chopped up and raw, plus fruit, protein, healthy fats and something snacky, like nuts and seeds, raw crackers or a larabar or two.
This photo was from a trip to Australia, with my then 11 month old, and I was 5 months pregnant. It was too much food for the trip, but I was very worried about making sure there was enough for us. There is: Smoked salmon plus lemon, chopped cherry tomato, buckwheat noodles with avocado pesto, fresh berries, roasted cauliflower, chopped red pepper and cucumber, roasted sweet potato, nuts and dried fruit, oatcakes plus salmon and mustard, nak’d bars, herbal tea, raw crackers, raisins.
This was from a solo trip I took a while ago. I was very rushed in the lead up to the trip so my food-prep was minimal. I wanted to show what’s possible if you’re relying on commercial products. Falafel, salmon and salami, olives, hummus (less than 100g each), nuts, mango. And then chopped veggies, plus celery with nut-butter. The other pic is what my hand-luggage looks like in that scenario. Food bag plus hand bag.
2. Scope out the neighbourhood in advance.
Always google each location you will be staying ahead of time, to see where the closest supermarkets, health food shops and healthy cafes are. Then when you arrive, as soon as you can, pick up some basic supplies there. Eg fresh fruit and veg and water.
3. You have to pack your suitcase a little…. differently.
Here are some of the things that I never travel without.
- A very small chopping board
- A cheap paring knife
- About a metre squared piece of plastic tablecloth to create a clean surface and avoid gluten contamination in shared spaces.
- An immersion blender (and a universal adaptor)
- A wide mouth jar or smoothie cup that fits the immersion blender in.
Just remember that you have to pack all these things in your suitcase. Please don’t try and get on a plane with a knife or a blender in your hand luggage!!
4. I take pre-prepared smoothie kits, with all the various powders measured into single smoothie portions in ziploc bags
Then I just have to add water, coconut water or other liquid plus a banana or fresh berries – whatever is available easily locally. This way I know that no matter what happens, I have a sound, nutritionally dense breakfast and possibly another meal or snack in case I get into some kind of food emergency and need something to tide me over. In the photo, I have protein powder, maca, spirulina, chlorella, acai powder and some powdered supplements. It doesn’t have to be so complicated. You can just use protein powder and add a banana and some water for a very simple and completely adequate version.
5. I decant out my supplements to save space.
You can see what this looks like in the photo. I use a tool-box that I got from a hardware type store, with movable partitions and I make sure to label what is in each compartment. This saves me a lot of room in my suitcase from not taking individual bottles and it’s also less hassle with regards to actually taking the pills every day. You just have to remember how many of each to take and at what time – but you could have a printed sheet folded and enclosed in the container pretty easily if you thought you couldn’t remember.
For powders or liquids, I wrap them individually in ziploc bags and then inside plastic shopping bags or similar. In the top photo I have MCT oil and fish oil wrapped up this way, probiotic powder and glutamine powder, plus smoothies (one unwrapped so you can see it) and iron. I probably could have measured the probiotic powder and the glutamine powder into the smoothies to save more space if I needed to.
6. Don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough.
What I mean by this is, travel is not a time to get really hung up the the minute details of your program. You will need to consider where the hard lines lie, and where there is flexibility. If there is a dish that is gluten and dairy free, but contains mushrooms or rice and therefore is not ‘AIP’, then it’s probably ok in this instance to choose that. Keeping to the ‘good enough’ will likely keep you on track and help you avoid severe symptoms or health consequences, and stressing about not being perfect will not only ruin your trip, the actual stress will probably negate the positive effects of the good food. So relax, focus on making the best decisions in each circumstance, prioritise good self care, choose nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory foods and have a good time.
Just a little extra note:
I used to just use a small carrier bag for the food, but now I am travelling with a little one and with more protein and fresh fruit etc, I recently bought a proper cooler bag for long haul flights.
I bought a larger bag I took that and a back-pack as my hand luggage. It has tons of pockets and room for lots of things. The interior wasn’t as spacious as I hoped once I had the ice-bricks in there, but I think if you used gel-packs they would take up less room, I also may have used too many of them. The only complaint I really have about this bag is that once it had all the frozen bricks plus all that food in it, it was pretty heavy. But I also have to add that I was carrying a ton of things with me. Baby in a sling, nappy bag, backpack, food bag, her bottles etc. Also, I had packed way too much food for the two of us, and I had about 6 ice-bricks in there too, which in hindsight was overkill – probably just needed 2.
I felt like the junior version was really just for a single meal – like to take lunch to work or something like that. For long haul I wanted something more, but for 1 person who packs smart I can see how it could work too.
I am not particularly endorsing this bag over any other, just to let you know that I used this one and I thought is was pretty good. It’s very well made and sturdy for travel which is also a bonus.
Alright, over to you. What have you found to be a total life-saver when you fly??? Let me know in the comments!