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T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
Travel tips for healthy snacks & meal planning

Travelling is exciting. You get to meet new people, experience different cultures and most of all,try interesting foods. Maintaining a whole foods, plant-based diet while eating on the road can be challenging but I’ve had some practice and know ways to make it easier for you.

First of all, do not over-think.
Stressing about your food will only make you grumpy and you won’t enjoy your trip. As well, being worried might make you sick so give yourself some meal leeway. You can’t expect to eat exactly the way you do at home. Instead, rely on fruits, canned foods, nuts or seeds and vegetables that you can eat raw and you’ll be fine.

Dining and shopping

To take some of the pressure off, research your destination beforehand. These days with the internet it’s easy to search for grocery stores close to where you’ll be staying. Also, look online for restaurants and cafés offering plant-based meals. Before my trip to Valencia, Spain last Christmas I did my research to find: a bakery, organic supermarket, and some cafés/restaurants that offer plant-based food near our apartment. I was especially happy to find an organic bakery named “Ingredients” offering great quality at a very reasonable value.

Research before travel comes in handy if arriving late or travelling with kids and need something quick. A great online resource is Happy Cow an online vegetarian restaurant and health food store guide. I use it often when navigating my meals in a new place. For example, the Happy Cow mobile app. came in handy when we were in Valencia and our kid was absolutely determined to dine out. We found a great restaurant “Kimpira” just a five -minute walk from where we were standing. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they promoted macrobiotic food and even had leaflets on tables about plant-based nutrition with Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s photo in it!

If by chance you can’t find any vegetarian friendly places and you have no choice but to eat out, opt for Asian or Italian restaurants. These places should give you at least some, if not many, options for a plant-based meal.

When travelling abroad make sure to learn food names in the local language, especially the foods you’re trying to avoid such as meat, dairy, oil, cheese, poultry, eggs, butter, milk and sugar to avoid any confusion.

Choosing an accommodation

Having access to a cooking area helps you to have control over your meals so whenever possible, choose an accommodation with a kitchen. With a kitchen you’ll have a fridge, a stove-top and possibly an oven. With these amenities you’ll be able to stock up on healthy food and cook your own tasty meals. I always opt for an apartment when travelling.

When you’re stuck in a hotel room without a kitchen, you’ll at least have a kettle. Boil some water for a quick and easy oatmeal breakfast if you can’t find anything at the breakfast bar.

Use the mini-fridge in your room to store food that you buy from the supermarket.

Traveling by car

If you’re travelling by car, make sure you pack as much as you can before leaving home. Last year for my husband’s two day road trip from Tallinn, Estonia to Barcelona, Spain I packed enough food to last a couple of days. The fresh and delicious list included slices of buckwheat bread, chocolate muffins, potato-leek quiche, pure grapefruit juice, bananas, pears, apples, dark chocolate, iceberg salad, canned beans and tomato-basil sauce. Now doesn’t that sound better than a bag of chips and a bottle or two of sugary pop?

Along your route, visit grocery stores. You can always get fruits, salads and canned beans from a store. You can make a simple meal without cooking a thing. As well, check gas stations. Some service stations will surprise you at what they sell. My husband found lentil salad at a gas station in a small town in Germany. Every gas station has some fruits at least.

My road trip foods:

  • Oatmeal. It’s a super easy breakfast because all you need is hot water, some nuts and seeds, dried and fresh fruits and/or berries
  • Pre-cooked grains such as quinoa, buckwheat or barley
  • Fresh fruits and/or berries and vegetables. If you can’t wash them, then look for ones you can peel like bananas, oranges and avocados
  • Whole-grain, oil-free cookies or crackers
  • Sugar-free energy bars
  • Nuts, seeds and dried fruits/berries/vegetables
  • Canned beans and lentils. It’s ideal to wash them before eating but if you can’t, feel free to make an exception
  • Ready-to-use sauces in jars. (Make sure to watch for high sodium and oil.)
  • Hummus – either self-made or store-bought (Again, watch for high sodium and oil.)
  • Tea bags, especially herbal teas like camomile and peppermint as many places only offer green and black tea
  • Organic broth powder – if you can’t find anything to satisfy your appetite, you can always make yourself a warm comforting drink
  • Herbs and spices – it’s especially good to have these handy for your first morning. You’ll want cinnamon or ginger on your morning oatmeal or in your favorite smoothie.

For longer road trips, consider buying a pressure cooker, electric mini-travel freezer or portable cooler. Also, bring along some cooking utensils so you can create meals for yourself. Don’t forget a knife, chopping board, can opener, spatula, a bowl, spoons and forks.

Traveling by air

If you’re travelling by airplane, some airlines will let you pre-order a vegan meal. However, these are often expensive, small and packed with oil, salt and sugar. To avoid the extra cost to your wallet and waistline, cook and pack meals at home prior to take-off. I packed oven baked vegetables (cauliflower, turnips, beets, potatoes, squash and carrots) and black rice for our flight. At the airport, we’ve enjoyed tahini muffins with chocolate as a snack.

The easiest meal to pack is hummus with sliced raw vegetables such as red bell pepper, cucumber, carrots, celery and cauliflower. If you’re on a morning flight and looking to eat your bowl of oatmeal, ask for hot water to pour over your dry ingredients.

I suggest packing some snacks for the plane. A few great ideas for food-packing are cookies, energy bars, granola, nuts or seeds, dried fruit, other dried food (such as banana chips) or breads.

You might not have room or time to pack food so remember most airports have plenty of cafés and restaurants. You should be able to find at least some plant-based options such as vegetarian sushi, salad, a vegetarian pizza without cheese or pasta with vegetables. You can always ask to have a plant-based sandwich prepared or collect bits of your meal from different places around the airport. Buy your bread from one place, your vegetables from another and then a salad from a third. Voila! You just created your own meal.

Don’t forget to drink water, a lot of water. This will help keep you hydrated. You can even splurge a little and have some wine with your pre-packed meal if you’re feeling decadent.

At your destination

While on a short trip, don’t let it become an excuse to let exercise slip: stay active! One of the best ways to keep in shape and see a city is to walk. Find maps online or go to a tourist centre for a paper one. Also, many hotels these days have fitness centres. Make sure to pack your sneakers and plan a time to hit the gym.

If you’re in for a longer stay, locate markets and stores that suit your food needs best. Find out which farmers deliver directly to your home. I did just that with the help of Facebook group when we moved to Barcelona. It was such a treat to receive the basket on our first Saturday in the city and it was another way of meeting new friends.

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