Tips for Trips: Real Food While Traveling

As our family gears up to skip town this summer I know we aren’t the only ones with travel plans on the agenda. Packing up an entire family is a lot of work, and since our switch to real food I have yet one more travel detail to “stress” over: food of course.

I not only have to consider what we will eat while on the road (or plane), but also what we’ll eat once we get there…both at our “home away from home” and out at restaurants. As I learned during our “100 Days of Real Food” pledge last summer eating 100% real food while traveling is a lot of work, but luckily we have a little more flexibility now that our official pledge is over. And being out of town is definitely one of those times where we want and use that flexibility.

Now just because we can “break the rules” on our trips this summer doesn’t mean I won’t still be bending over backwards to prepare plenty of food and snacks to bring along. Even though we no longer “have to” we still plan to do everything we can on our vacation – within reason – to stick to the real food we’ve come to love and prefer.

So just in case “real food” is on your travel agenda as well here are some ideas on how to make it work:

Plan ahead

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it is important to think through the location of your upcoming trip. Are you staying with family? Renting a beach house? Staying in a hotel?

Now the first two options are a little easier to plan for because you will most likely have access to a full kitchen once you get there. Hotels can be a little trickier, but did you know most hotels offer small refrigerators by request? This is a pretty important feature for guests who need to keep certain medications or their baby’s milk cold…oh and for us high maintenance foodies too. :)

Sure, there is usually a fee involved in getting a mini-fridge, but think how much money you’ll save on the breakfast buffet if you bring along your own cereal to eat with milk that you can buy from the drug store next to the hotel. Now it certainly won’t be the local non-homogenized milk you might be used to home, but don’t forget: flexibility.

Cook ahead

No matter where my travels take me…my parents’ house, a rental house, or a hotel, I like to bring some food along. Here are some of the key items I almost always prepared in advance:

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  • Whole-wheat sandwich bread: Whether I make it myself or buy it from our local bakery, I bring decent (good-tasting) 100% whole-wheat low-processed bread along because it is one of the hardest “real food” items to come by. So rather than missing out on that first day relaxing at the beach while I drive around looking for bakeries I just bring one or two loaves of bread with us.
  • Whole-wheat tortillas (pictured): I like to make this bread alternative in advance, put them in the freezer, and then slowly let them defrost all day long in my suitcase while we travel to our destination. Sure I could make them in the kitchen (if there is one) once we get there, but again – I am on vacation and might want to actually relax instead.
  • Homemade granola: I love to start my day with a bowl of my beloved homemade granola cereal no matter where I am. Now my parents will buy the ingredients for me and sometimes even make the granola before we arrive (they are coming around!), but if I am going anywhere else I usually make a big batch in advance and throw it in a large zip lock bag in my suitcase.
  • Snacks: We love to homemade trail mix (nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and popcorn), LOTS of pre-packaged Lara Bars or homemade granola bars, applesauce squeezers, and fruit leathers. If you are in the mood you can also make (and freeze/defrost in the suitcase like the tortillas) things like whole-wheat banana bread, zucchini bread, breakfast cookies and/or muffins. Bring more snacks than you think you’ll need because you’d rather be safe than sorry.

As you can imagine I usually have a small suitcase dedicated to all this food, but there is honestly no other way if you want to actually relax on your trip and not have to cave in to processed junk. (Airport tip: If your suitcase is small enough to fit through security you can check it at the gate for free! It will come out at the baggage claim with your other stuff.)

If we will be staying at a location that has a full kitchen I usually go shopping once we get there to pick up some of the following items to supplement the “harder to come by” items I’ve already prepared in advance. Now I can’t always find my favorite organic brands, but again you must remember: flexibility.

  • Milk: For my beloved granola cereal of course.
  • Fruit and vegetables: It depends on how many meals we plan to cook, but I always like fruit with my cereal and it is also nice to stock up on bananas for an easy snack.
  • Smoothie ingredients: Frozen (organic) berries, plain yogurt, and more bananas.
  • Hummus and 100% whole-wheat crackers (like Triscuits): Both items can be found in most stores.
  • Cheese: All four of us are cheese lovers…we’ve gotta have cheese.
  • Eggs: They won’t be farmer’s market quality, but I get the best I can find.
  • PB&J: We need something to put on our good bread that we brought!
  • Ingredients for easy dinners (if you plan to “eat in”): Whole-wheat pasta dish, seafood, quiche, or quesadillas – made on those traveling tortillas!
  • Butter and other staples
4th of July Real Food Recipe Roundup! 11

Now if you won’t be traveling far you’ll have the luxury of taking a cooler in your car so here are some other perishable foods that would be great prepared in advance and brought along:

Call ahead

If you plan to eat at restaurants while on vacation you can either decide you’ll just wing it or you can spend some time researching options in advance. When eating at restaurants in general we like to find places that support local farms. That’s about as “real” as we can get in the restaurant world, because most venues will never stop using white flour and sugar!

The easiest way to do some research is to first find out what farmer’s markets are in the area and then call them to see what restaurants they supply. Or you can do a Google search for “restaurants serving local food” or some other similar search term, but that doesn’t always work as well for me.

Here are some other tips on eating whole foods at restaurants:

Pack it up

Our family does most of our traveling on airplanes, and I have one hard and fast rule: never spend a dime at the airport. This is not only good advice from a real food perspective, but from a budget perspective as well.

Okay, I occasionally buy a latte from Starbucks, but why pay $2 for a bottle of the same water that is free out of the tap? It just doesn’t make sense to me. So aside from packing up all the wonderful, transportable real food to eat once we get there I also like to pack all the food we’ll need until we get to our final destination…and then some. You never know when you will be delayed due to flight issues or traffic.

So this is how I work it for airport travel. I bring empty water bottles that will easily pass through security. I also pack non-liquid lunches and snacks like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apple slices, popcorn, raisins, nuts, crackers, Lara Bars, fruit leathers, etc.

Once we get through security I ask one of the airport restaurants to kindly fill up our empty bottles with ice and water. They never mind or charge me anything for this service. You could also fill up at a drinking fountain.

We usually take mid-day flights so once we are in the air I cover my kids’ dirty-looking airplane trays with clean placemats (you caught me I use the disposable plastic ones, which are super convenient!) and let them eat. It’s nice that this takes up some of the travel time and also fills everyone up at the same time. Oh and don’t forget an empty bag to collect all the trash.

I hope some of these tips will be helpful as you head out on your adventures this summer, but I’d also love to hear your “real food” travel tips as well. Please leave them in the comments below!

Related posts:
How to eat whole foods at restaurants
Day 35: Our biggest challenge yet
(trip planning during our real food pledge)

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59 thoughts on “Tips for Trips: Real Food While Traveling”

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  1. I use the coffee pot just to heat water and use it for instant oatmeal for breakfast in my hotel room. I know, instant. But remember – flexibility! I bring my own loaf of bread, plus a jar of peanut butter, and a brand new small jar of jelly. Wha-la – lunch! (Jelly goes in the mini frig). Bring your own fruit or buy local. And I always have almonds on me for a snack, even when not on vacay. I keep them in my purse. Dinners – always out. Just eat reasonably.

  2. So, what about a trip to Disney World with only a mini-fridge, microwave and coffee maker for one week? Am I missing a post that might lead me in the right direction?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Most of Lisa’s suggestions will work in that situation, too. You might add an electric griddle into the mix for more cooking options. :)

  3. Hi you have to try “daging dendeng” for your food travel. You can eat daging dendeng with bread or tortillas . You will love it! Only Usd 3.00

  4. When we travel it’s often from the Canada to (or through) the States which means we have to go through US customs straight after security before we even get on our flight. And they are super picky about food — no fruit allowed (I’ve had to throw out American apples!), sandwich meat — it’s insane! I swear they’ve got some kind of agreement with the few shops on the other side of security. I will now forever associate flying to visit my parents with cream cheese bagels from Tim Hortons — the cheapest thing on the other side of customs that I can tolerate.