The Guide To AIP Travel: Road Trips

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Traveling while on an elimination diet like the Autoimmune Protocol can be challenging at best. In this series, I will be covering three areas of travel with AIP — road trips, plane trips, and international trips. 

Part 1: AIP Road Trips

This article will serve as a resource for those who are traveling by car. We’re starting here because I feel that road trips are the easiest way to travel while in the elimination phase of AIP. Of course, you can’t always get away with a road trip (especially if your destination is quite a distance, or if you don’t have someone to share the burden of driving), but you can pretty easily accommodate your food and comfort needs.

Why is road tripping so autoimmune-friendly?

Less inflammation. I don’t know about you, but traveling through busy airports and sitting on crammed flights always has me needing a day or two to recover. While road travel can be difficult too, especially over long distances, I find that if I keep time on the road to five hours or less per day and make sure I have plenty of time to stop and walk around I feel a huge reduction in fatigue and puffiness. More often than not I arrive at my destination ready to enjoy what it has to offer, instead of needing to rest or spend time recovering.

More packing space. You can take so much more in a car than you can in your luggage when traveling by plane! Beyond being able to bring a good amount of your own food, you can also have room for cooking tools, not to mention other items that might make managing your illness while traveling more bearable (like a heating pad or foam roller).

Bringing food is easy. You don’t have to worry about going through security and can pick up ice at just about any gas station, so you can pack a cooler full of goodies and keep them cool for days without a refrigerator if you need to. There is no restriction on the liquid items you can take. Plus, there is that space benefit again!

I just LOVE road tripping! I can’t always get away with driving everywhere, but I definitely go out of my way to plan as much around my preference to driving than flying.

Examples of trips I took while I was on AIP

I wanted to share some of the road trips I took when I was in the early days of my recovery and still in the elimination phase of AIP. The first year following my health crisis, I wasn’t strong enough to travel by plane, but I wanted to spend some quality time with my husband and experience a little change of scenery.

Olympic National Park – my husband and I rented a cozy cabin for two nights near the national park which was a 4 hour drive/ferry ride from Seattle during winter. This was the first trip we took after my health crisis, and I wasn’t well enough to do any hiking or adventuring. We brought all of our food with us and cooked it in the cabin with our own pots/pans. We walked around the nearby town of Port Townsend, drove to Hurricane Ridge in the park for a gorgeous snowy overlook, and spent a lot of time resting, reading, and knitting.

Washington Coast – this trip was a little longer than the last, five days and 8 hours driving, and we drove down the Washington coastline staying at two different rentals at different locations along the way. Like the trip before, we brought all of our food/tools and cooked everything we ate at the rentals (no eating out). I had some more energy for this trip and it was spring time, so we did some short (~1-2 mile) hikes on beaches and at the various national parks.

California Road Trip – this was a two-week trip that differed a little from the previous ones because we stayed with a lot of friends and family along the way. We did most of the big drives in 5-6 hour days. We brought a lot of snacks to eat in the car for this trip, but since we were going to be in areas with great grocery stores and accommodating restaurants (LA and SF) we didn’t bring any ingredients with us. We also stayed with friends and family who were either gluten-free themselves, or worked with us to ensure their kitchens were safe, so we didn’t bring any cooking tools.

You can see as my health improved and I got better at planning and executing a trip that where I would both have my food and health needs met, I started to branch out and expand a little.

Planning your trip

Before we get into a discussion of tools for travel and what kind of snacks to pack, there are some things you should think about before you even start planning your road trip. Here are some things I consider early on in the process:

Will my accommodation have a kitchen? AirBnB and VRBO are two websites that I use regularly to rent apartments and houses when I travel, paying careful attention to the kitchen and provided tools. I can swing a night or two without a kitchen if I have to, but really feel most comfortable supporting my own food needs when I have a space to cook. At the minimum, I look for a refrigerator/freezer to give my ice packs a “recharge” and a way to heat things up if needed.

Will I need to bring any of my own cooking tools? While I do stay at rentals that have cooking tools provided, I like to take precautions to be extra sure about gluten cross-contamination and make sure I am set up properly to cook my own food. I’ve brought my own cast-iron skillet, chef’s knife, cutting board, and Instant Pot with me on road trips before.

What kind of grocery store options are available in my travel area? If I will be traveling to a remote area, I might have to pick up groceries on my way in or bring items with me. I like to make a list of shopping options before I go, along with my meal plan so I can accurately gauge if I’ll be able to find those items where I’m going.

Will I need to bring any of my own ingredients? In addition to tools, I might want to bring my own cooking oils, like a small bottle of olive and/or coconut oil as well as some of my favorite spices. If I will be traveling somewhere that I am are unsure of finding compliant or high-quality meat, I might consider bringing some with me to cook when I reach my destination.

Will I be eating out at all during my stay? If I know there are some restaurants where I am going that can accomodate AIP, this will decrease the amount I’ll need to rely on my own cooking. I investigate options before my trip so that I know what to expect and can pack appropriately.

Tools that make road-tripping way more fun!

You can take a pretty minimalist approach to your car travel and get away with just a cooler, but if you are going to be spending an extended amount of time in the car, or are going to be bringing a bunch of food with you, some of these items might make things easier.

A quality cooler. I use this 20-quart cooler from Rtic to keep my food cold when I travel. The higher quality the cooler the better it will be at keeping your food cold for long periods of time. I also like the capacity – not too large for me to handle, but large enough to take some meat with me in addition to my travel meals.

Camping utensils. I like to have a set of travel utensils to use on trips. They are lightweight and easy to clean.

Water bottles. I like to purchase drinking water by the gallon and refill our stainless water bottles instead of going through a bunch of plastic bottles while we are on the road.

Reusable bags. You likely have these for grocery shopping, but I like having a few of the Baggu bags in a couple different sizes because they are great for organizing food and snacks in the car.

Food containers. I generally use glass for food storage at home, but I like BPA-free plastic containers for travel because it is less weight to carry. Don’t forget to pack extra containers if you plan on needing them to store leftovers when you cook at your destination.

A portable meal heater. The Hot Logic Mini is a portable meal heater that can be purchased with an option to plug into the dash of your car. I personally don’t mind eating cold food while traveling, but if you are looking for something to warm up soups and stews while you travel this might be a good option for you.

What food options should I bring with me?

Just like on a week-to-week basis, meal planning for your road trip will help you feel less overwhelmed about finding food options while you are traveling. You’ll want to plan both your snacks for travel days, as well as at least a rough idea of what you will be cooking for your main meals so you know what to either bring with you or shop for once you reach your destination.

My favorite AIP-compliant road trip snacks:

In addition to snacks, if you will be spending longer than 3-4 hours in the car you will want to plan to have a quickly-assembled meal available. I like to stop at rest areas to sit down at a picnic bench and put together one of these options.

Here are some quick-to-assemble AIP road-trip meal ideas:

  • Mason jar salads – simply portion a salad in a mason jar with dressing separate. When it is time to eat, pour some dressing into the jar, close the lid, and shake to toss. Eat out of the jar and clean later when you reach your destination.
  • Dip and crackers – bring an AIP-friendly, nutrient-dense dip, like my Bacon Beef-Liver Pate or my Chicken Liver Mousse and eat with any chip option or fruit/veggie slices. Or, take a can of sardines or tuna and mash with some olive oil and salt.
  • Meat and veggie stacks – take any AIP-friendly lunch meat (like chicken, turkey, prosciutto, or salami) and arrange on a cucumber slice topped with avocado.
  • Seafood “rolls” – place some tuna, olive oil, sea salt and avocado in a seaweed snack paper and roll up.
  • Leftover meat and veggies – anything easy to eat cold will work here. Think proteins like sliced steak and shredded chicken, and veggies like roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, and zucchini.

Shopping and cooking once you get to your destination

Once your travel day is over, it is time to assess the situation where you are staying and procure some ingredients to cook meals during your stay.

Like I said above, you should have already identified what kind of grocery options are available to you. Once you know what you are dealing with as far as kitchen setup and the tools/ingredients you bought at home, you’ll want to visit the store to do your shop.

Here is a list of items I usually get to cook at rentals:

  • Meat to cook (ground beef, chicken thighs, salmon fillet, etc.)
  • Easy cured protein options (prosciutto, smoked salmon, etc.)
  • Compliant rotisserie chicken (check ingredients carefully here)
  • Pre-washed lettuce/greens
  • Sauerkraut
  • Beverages (kombucha, water kefir, sparkling water)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Veggies for cooking (carrots, kale, zucchini etc.)
  • Bone broth

Since you will already have brought your own oils and spices, you won’t need to worry about getting new jars of those for your trip.

I don’t like to worry too much about making complex recipes when I travel – I stick to the basics, a meat option, some veggies, and some fermented veggies/beverage to round things out. I much prefer spending my time exploring!

I hope this article has helped open your mind to the possibilities of road travel while on AIP. When I first started planning my first trips, I remember feeling overwhelmed and stressed at the idea. Like many other aspects of AIP, once I developed a routine it didn’t seem so difficult anymore, and being able to travel to either recharge my batteries or see friends and family that I love had a positive effect on my wellbeing.

Check out the next article in this series, The Guide to AIP Travel: Flying.

About Mickey Trescott

Mickey Trescott is a cook and one of the bloggers behind Autoimmune Wellness. After recovering from her own struggle with both Celiac and Hashimoto’s disease, adrenal fatigue, and multiple vitamin deficiencies, Mickey started to write about her experience to share with others and help them realize they are not alone in their struggles. She is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner by the Nutritional Therapy Association, and is the author of The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook, a guide and recipe book for the autoimmune protocol, and AIP Batch Cook, a video-based batch cooking program. You also can find her on Instagram.

11 comments

  • McFife says

    I’m curious to see other people’s comments as we’re planning for our first family car-camping trip. So 6 people, add in another family of 4 with no dietary restrictions…and trying to stay on budget. 🙂 We’re away 3 nights and my biggest concern is just how to pack all those veggies! I made a salad in the food processer yesterday (cauli/carrots/etc.) so I’m think that’s an easy make ahead. Any other ideas for quick and easy prep and take that will work well for 3 days (rather than pre-packaged stuff)? And does anyone have any lovely ideas for CAMPFIRE FOOD?! My kids feel a little deprived sometimes as they’re used to seeing other people eating s’mores…
    Thank you!

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Hey! Sounds like an adventure! For veg I would do a lot of raw veggie slices and dips, like maybe bring some pate and olive dip for the AIP folks and something else for those who eat whatever. You can use carrots, celery, sugar snap peas, apples for dipping.

  • Cherie says

    These are such great tips! I really appreciate this post. Thank you!

  • Wendy K says

    The guide and tips will come in handy for the next road trip. Yes, it’s important to keep AIP easy and simple on the road trip. Thanks for the article!

  • Dephinah Sirako says

    Thanks for the information.

  • Suni H says

    I’m looking into traveling in a van and was wondering how I could stay compliant. Thank you. You made it easy!

  • Julie Gaff says

    What do I look for when I am picking up a compliant lunch meat product? I didn’t know lunch meat was safe to use.

    • Mickey Trescott says

      Julie – I usually look for prosciutto as the ingredients are usually just meat and salt (but always check!).

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