An Herbivore Abroad: Keepin' it Healthy at the Airport

If I could go everywhere by train, trust me, I would. But since there isn’t an underwater railroad (yet!), we all need to deal with planes & airports for most of our travels. And for the vegans and healthy eaters out there, there really aren’t many options to choose from when it comes to food.

What’s a herbivore to do?

For starters, my homies over at PETA have a pretty comprehensive guide to vegan offerings at U.S. airports, even down to the terminal number. This guide usually determines how my time will be spent during a layover or where my first stop will be when I land, hangry and dehydrated. Be warned: it has been my luck so far that, without fail, the one item that’s making your mouth water is as far away as humanly possible. Nothing like breaking a sweat by power-walking from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5 for a green goddess bowl!

LAX is by far my favorite airport food-wise (they have a Real Food Daily!), and San Francisco and Denver are pretty baller, too.

But something we all know about airports is that every item is priced ridiculously high. I know you’re not trying to blow your trip budget on some silly salad at the airport that was probably made two weeks ago and doesn’t even taste good. So to prevent any unnecessary madness, packing your own food for the airport is the way to go.

You’re going to want to bring things that are filling, varying in nutrients, and will last a long time in your backpack without falling apart. We’re talking salads, bowls, sandwiches, burritos, Olive Garden breadsticks (yup, they’re vegan!), fruit, sliced veggies, and lots of little snacks. Be gentle with them, because there is nothing worse than a PB & J that looks like it’s been sat on and beat up in an afterschool fight.

If you’re departing from home, this obviously gives you all of the freedom in the world. But even if you’re heading to the airport from somewhere that’s not home, local grocery stores are also a great way to stock up! If you have a favorite restaurant in the city you’re visiting, order a little something to-go before heading out. This will be a lot cheaper than anything at the airport!

The infamous pre-airport Chipotle run

If you want to bring oatmeal for an early morning flight, that’s a fantastic idea! Just keep the oats dry until after you get through security. Then, you can ask for some hot water from a coffee shop or flight attendant!

And remember – in order to get through security without the risk of public humiliation, you can only bring solid food items. So you’re going to need to chug that smoothie before you get in line. Other possibly problematic items are jars of jam or nut butter, and any containers of sauce larger than 3 oz. I normally get pulled aside because my bag of snacks looks suspicious under the x-ray, but after the (classic) raised eyebrow, I’m back in business.

Me ft. my snack bag in Central Park

Now that you’re through security and reclaiming your dignity as you put your shoes, belt, jacket, and scarf back on, you won’t be as tempted to shell out the big bucks on airport food! And if your flight is delayed or (God forbid) canceled, you’ll really be thanking yourself for taking the ten extra minutes to buy those dark chocolate-covered pretzels at Tesco.

A.K.A. Where the Magic Happens

Most international flights that normally provide meals have some sort of vegan or vegetarian offering, though they need lots of advance notice. It would make lots of sense if this could be arranged when booking your flight, but it usually requires some sort of phone call. And I’ll be real with you; just because it’s vegan, doesn’t make it any more appetizing than your neighbor’s cafeteria-style reheated lasagna.

What’s the deal with airline food?

In my experience, airlines have been big on serving vegan curry or mystery meats… which is usually my cue to pick apart the stale bread and politely hand my tray back to the flight attendant half an hour later as if everything else isn’t completely untouched.

Nobody said it was easy!

But don’t you worry, because when the snacks come around, we’re in luck. Of the standard snack offerings on airplanes, the following are “accidentally” vegan: peanuts, pretzels, Fritos, Belvita biscuits, Nutter Butter, and Oreos. (Yes, Oreos are vegan! No, I have no idea what the “cream” is actually made of. I’ve found it best to not ask that question. Also, for whatever reason, they are not vegan in Japan. There are no rules, apparently!) However, if these snacks are all you fill up on, you’re going to be a lil’ cranky and greasy by the time you land.

Speaking of cranky and greasy, that’s how I seem to be by the end of every flight, regardless of what I’ve eaten. So, I always bring an apple with me to eat while we make our way to the gate. It helps me feel like more of a human and also wakes me up from the cabin-pressure haze so I can look somewhat like myself when I hop off!

Now, these are all, of course, just suggestions, and if anyone followed every single one of them without fail, I wouldn’t trust them for a second. More often than not, I’m the sucker waiting for my flight with a Clif bar in one hand and a $14 Jamba Juice in the other. We all have our vices. But if you’re gearing up for a return trip and realize you have $100 less than you thought, or you’re saving money for a trip ahead, these options are always on the table to keep you full & frugal.

Do you have any other healthy travel tips to share? Comment below!

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