My Top Three Tips: What to Pack for Your Next Airplane Trip

vegan air travel tipsNowadays, air travel can feel far from glamorous.  First you cram all that you can in your carry-on to avoid the $20/per bag checked luggage charges.  Then you have to meticulously ration your conditioner, shampoo, and liquid make-up to make it through security.  Finally, you get to the airport only to begin the process of disrobing – taking off your jacket, your shoes, unpacking your laptop…  By the time you get to your gate, it can feel like you’ve already done a day’s worth of exercise.

So when it comes to flying, I like to treat myself to whatever creature comforts I can to reduce some stress and make it more pleasurable.  The first step to making my trip stress free and happy is insuring that I have a full stomach.  Airport restaurant prices are expensive and often the healthy and vegan options are lackluster or few and far between.  Here are my top three tips for saving money and eating healthy in the air.

1.  Pack an empty water bottle in your carry-on.  Obviously a filled water bottle can’t be taken through security, but an empty one is fine.  Once on the other side, fill it up at a water fountain.  After you’re on the plane and settling in you can be sipping on water while everyone else is waiting to get to a cruising altitude for beverage service.

2.  In addition to any fruits or chopped raw vegetables you might pack, bring along at least one item that is substantive and filling.   My top picks are baked tofu, roasted chickpeas, black beans, and/or homemade or store-bought seitan.  With these hearty bases, you can either snack on them on their own, or they can be supplemented with the things you can find in almost any airport like many varieties of veggie sandwiches, bagels, or salads.  While a light green airport salad or 6-inch vegetable sub sandwich can be less than filling, when you add a cup of beans or slices of baked tofu, suddenly it’s a meal.

3.  Before you leave home, spread your spread.  If you have the time and inclination to bring your own bagel, crackers, tortilla, or sandwich, before you leave home slather on hummus, ketchup, mustard, jelly, non-dairy cream cheese, or almond butter.  Toss your salad with dressing (but not copious amounts). Separate containers of hummus or salad dressing likely won’t make it through security because of rules about gels and liquid, but if they’re spread onto a sandwich or tossed on a salad, it gets the all clear.  (If you really have to have your dip on the side, make sure it’s less than 3.4 ounces, and put it in a plastic zip-top bag with your other liquids.)

Airports seem to vary when it comes to how diligent/strict they are about liquids and gels.  I went through just fine with packaged guacamole that was over 3.4 ounces in Des Moines, but a friend had to throw out her packaged hummus in San Francisco.  For the sake of money, time, and patience, spread your spread and enjoy your sandwich.  If you’re planning on bringing pasta onboard, I recommend doing something low on liquid like an oil and vinegar pasta salad.  (Once I took pasta with a sparing amount of marinara through security in Los Angeles, and they did let me through but not without scowling at me first.)

Travel can be stressful enough on its own without adding a grumbling stomach to the mix.  With these three tips, flying can be a bit more seamless.


  1. says

    Ugh. I’m not a fan of travel and only go when I have to for work, but agree with all your suggestions! I also always have a small container of bite-sized Shredded Wheat mixed with plain almonds and a little dried fruit. It’s the perfect homemade snack mix that keeps me satisfied for hours.

  2. says

    Great ideas and advice! I so loathe flying anymore that I have to truly, desperately want to visit any place that requires flying the unfriendly skies. Don’t know when that might happen again (hasn’t happened since 2010), but I plan to refer to your great tips when it does! :-) I learned the hard way about Tip #1, and never forgot it again.

    I agree about airport food, though we’ve always enjoyed eating here when we have the time and the need while in the Denver Airport (where we typically find ourselves). Thought I’d mention it should you ever end up hungry at DIA and don’t a long enough layover to get to Watercourse Foods and back. :-)

    I’ve had TSA give my little container of sucanat the hairy eyeball, but doubt I’d have thought about spreads not making it through security! Ah yes, hummus, guacamole and marinara sauce – the favored weapons of terrorists. Actually, I myself have been heard to say*, “It’s the bomb!” when describing an especially good batch of any of them, so maybe it’s not so far-fetched after all!

    (*No I haven’t. I have never in my life said, “It’s the bomb” about anything. I just took poetic license.) :-)

    Thanks for another helpful post, Cadry!

    • says

      Yes, Itza Wrap, Itza Bowl is a great option in Denver! I flew through Denver regularly when I lived in LA. It was one of my favorites to go through, because they have a number of vegan options in several of their restaurants. They also have a cute little shopping area that’s much better than most airports. It made it easier to fill some of the layover time!

      If a person really had the inclination to bring a lot of hummus or guacamole, they could put it into several 3.4 ounce containers and slide them into their zipped pouch. It does make the whole 3.4 ounce rule seem very arbitrary. As I was finding workarounds to bring on my cashew cream cheese, I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s really making anyone safer…

      Thank you for the clarification regarding your poetic license… Tee hee! :)

      • says

        I’m surprised we didn’t run into each other in the “Images of Nature” shop! (Maybe we did and just didn’t realize it!) I loved browsing in there, and was always disappointed when I didn’t have a layover long enough to allow a visit. (Don’t usually hear people saying THAT about an airport!) :-)

  3. seannabirchwood says

    The last time I took fruit on a plane with the intention of eating it, I forgot it was in my purse, was stopped by a border patrol dog, and barely escaped a fine for 800$. I don’t trust myself bringing ANY food on a flight ever again. Not worth it.

  4. says

    Smart tips! I love the thought about sneaking in the spreads all ready on the sandwich/salad/etc so you can avoid the liquid rule.

  5. says

    I also do the empty water bottle thing too, my boss had suggested it the last time I flew, I don’t know why I never thought of it earlier! My sister works in airport security and let me know that anything in paste form is considered a liquid, so no pb or hummus :( but you can always stock up on those little packets no problem, plus she tipped me that you can buy mini icepacks at the drugstore that are under the liquid limit if you need to keep something cold. Having something go bad would be my only concern, so I thought that was great. I tend to make lots of granola bars, tofu jerky and pb&j’s.

  6. says

    Kel and I are like pack mules when it comes to traveling – sometimes I feel as if we are carrying the entire contents of a refrigerator with us! We’ve learned that unless we bring it, we’ll go hungry. Great tips, Cadry. Never thought of bringing an empty bottle – duh!

    • says

      I totally feel you! It’s much better to be over prepared than under. David used to tease me about packing our whole kitchen in our suitcase! :)

  7. says

    Great advice! I got stuck in the terrible Terminal A at Newark Airport and ended up eating a whole bunch of “accidentally vegan” junk food when we got stuck there on a delay. I’ll definitely plan ahead for the next trip! One can only eat so many granola bars.

  8. says

    Such good tips. I’m always that person with a bag full of nuts and fruits and baked goods, but heavens knows, my fellow passengers would not want to see me hungry while trapped on a plane. I love the tip about spreading your spread beforehand- I hadn’t thought of that!

    • says

      Yes, being hungry and trapped on a plane should be the real threat here instead of bottles of liquid that are 3.5 ounces instead 3.4. 😉

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