For most people, eating when traveling is simple; just hit the nearest market, or venture out for some local cuisine. With the Autoimmune Protocol and other specialized diets, we have to be mindful of what we eat, and don’t have the option of partaking in whatever is offered. It can make traveling tricky. Because of this, some people find themselves reluctant to travel – whether it’s a weekend jaunt, or taking that dream trip to Paris. But should we forgo our travel dreams because finding the right foods might be difficult, or fall off the AIP wagon and eat anything while we travel? In my opinion, those options exact too high a price. Some locations do pose challenges to an AIP diet, but with some careful planning and research, you may find it easier than you expected.
The topic of AIP travel could fill a book. In this post, I’ll focus on trips that happen on home soil, suggest some guidelines for planning ahead, and offer ideas for foods that travel well.
Priority: Put Your Planning Hat On!
For a short trip, you may get away with a handful of AIP bars, plantain chips and some fruit and veggies, but the longer the trip gets, the more solid your diet needs to be to sustain you throughout. Planning ahead is key. The more you know about your destination, the better prepared you’ll be, the better you’ll eat, and the better you’ll feel during – and after – your trip.
First, consider where you are going: Is it a hotel stay for a convention? A long weekend at grandma’s house? A luxurious week at your favorite ski or beach resort? A 3-week road trip across the country? Each type of trip has its challenges and benefits. No matter the destination, research what kinds of resources might you find there. Get online and use your Google-fu to dig up info about the locale, find out about restaurants, groceries, markets and local farmers, and make contact with any local resources that might be of help – the AIP community is growing, and more and more resources are available for AIP travelers, including Paleo/AIP restaurant lists, apps and forums.
Below are ideas for how to navigate various on-shore travel scenarios.
1. Trips where you can bring a cooler: Bring your own food.
- Make a complete meal plan for your trip, with foods that either freeze and defrost well, are easy to fridge and re-heat, or don’t require refrigeration or much preparation.
- Make your food ahead of time, and label everything specifically, such as “Saturday lunch”. Use a waterproof labeling method if you’re using a cooler.
- For meals that can be frozen, freeze thoroughly before-hand with clear labels.
- Write up a detailed menu to take with you, so you are organized and know exactly what to grab from your cooler or food box.
- Two handy ice options: Fill plastic gallon jugs 4/5 full with water, and freeze (full jugs will expand so much they pop the lid off) – they make great ice blocks, and don’t make everything wet when they melt. Then you have extra washing or drinking water if you need it; or, you can use sturdy gallon-sized plastic bags filled with ice, and when they melt out, just stop at the nearest convenience store and refill the bags. Bring extra bags in case they break or tear.
- For frozen items, dry ice is your friend (grocery stores in warm states tend to offer it most often).
The Art of Cooler Packing:
Some of this comes from the river rafting world – where keeping food cold for days and even weeks is an art form!
- Use a high-quality, foam-insulated cooler; it’s truly worth the money you’ll spend.
- If you are using one cooler for both frozen and fridged items, put the freezer food on the bottom (cold air sinks). Put some kind of insulation (folded bath towel or thick foam mat) between the two layers, to keep the cold in the bottom level. With your handy frozen water bottles for ice, your towel won’t get soaked. I recommend using two coolers whenever possible – one for frozen, one for fridged. That way, your freezer food can go in with dry ice or extra ice, and you only open it when you need a specific (well-labeled!) freezer item. The fridged food cooler gets opened separately (likely more often for snacks and veggies), allowing the freezer food to remain cold for longer.
- Or, use one cooler and have each meal packed up neatly in one bag/container; pack the meals you will have last on the bottom of the cooler, and the meals you’ll have first on the top; this way, when you open the cooler, it’s only for a moment to grab a well-labeled meal. For a multi-day trip, use the separator option mentioned above.
- If you are on a long road trip with family, where curious little hands may open the coolers a lot digging around for snacks, consider packing and labeling one cooler for each day or two (frozen stuff on the bottom!), so that coolers for subsequent days never get opened until that day; label and duct tape them closed so nobody opens them and wastes precious cold.
2. Trips where you cannot bring a cooler: Do your research.
Access to familiar grocery stores
Find out if your destination has the grocery chain you normally shop. If there is some item you can’t live without, call ahead and make sure they sell it. If they don’t, bring it along or ship it to yourself at your destination. Write up a menu and shopping list ahead of time, so when you arrive with a travel-weary mind, you can get your shopping done easily and quickly. A quick batch cook session can cover you for a few days.
Call ahead: Do they cater to gluten-free and allergy-alert customers? Ideally, stay somewhere with your own kitchen, know where the closest grocery option is, and land with a menu and shopping list in hand. If you have to cook your own food, plan for simple meals, to save time and energy for having fun.
Short Trips With Few AIP Grocery Options
Ship yourself as much non-perishable AIP food as you can. I do this when I visit family. It saves me when I roll in after a long travel day to their non-AIP kitchen and I need a solid meal. Research ahead of time for local markets or farmers that can fill out the menu.
Long Trips With Few AIP Grocery Options
This may take a little more digging, but research what your local resources might be. What AIP foods will and won’t be available? How can you modify your diet safely to accommodate the gaps in food options? Are there farmers markets, groceries, or local farmers who sell direct? Look online for a local resource in the area that can guide you to good AIP options (the AIP community is world-wide, after all!). For some longer trips, you can ship yourself key items ahead of time – call about general delivery to a post office if you don’t have a specific landing address.
Easy Foods that Travel or Ship Well
Whether you are making food to carry in a cooler, shipping food to yourself, gettign to our destination with snacks in hand, or finding it on the way, here are some easy ideas for travel food to get you going; these are mostly snacky items, but they contain the basic protein, carb and fat building blocks you need for healthy eating. At the bottom of the page are links to ideas for more complete meal options, as well as great advice and personal stories of traveling on the AIP.
Prepped fresh veggies
Plantain/cassava/coconut quick breads, crackers and tortillas
Beet and sweet potato chips
Canned sardines, tuna, oysters, salmon, chicken
Sauerkraut (sealed jar)
Coconut oil (caution; the airport confiscated mine!)
Powdered coconut water crystals
Apple cider vinegar
Olives (sealed jar)
Nuts (if tolerated)
Almond butter (if tolerated)
Since I can’t possibly cover all the great ideas and information available out there about AIP travel here in one article, below is a list of links containing more ideas for full menu options, as well as some great additional info on AIP travel. Every article has valuable information that comes from the individual experiences all the authors had – no two trips are the same, and you can glean something from every post.
Phoenix Helix has a great link list that leads to numerous AIP travel options.
Grazed and Enthused writes about how to turn travel snacks into a meal.
Kaiku Lifestyle talks about traveling on a special diet.
Sweet Treats talks about AIP traveling essentials.
Joy-Filled Nourishment writes about eating AIP at Disneyworld.
When you search the web, you’ll find many articles about people’s experiences with AIP food and travel. My advice; filter for non-AIP info, and pay attention – sometimes it’s the little tips that make the most difference! Good luck out there, and remember to plan ahead, keep it simple and enjoy every day!