Airlines, Airports, and the Vegetarian
I’m about to embark on yet another flight – a long, 12 hour one. My preparations by now are almost mechanical; the checklist in my head honed from the need to protect myself when I venture into the meat-eater’s world. It is frustrating to be stuck somewhere, hungry, with limited options and few sympathizers. I thought a rundown of my experiences and planning tips might be of use to some of you out there. I would also love to hear tips from other traveling vegetarians.
On the airplane:
If your flight is long enough to offer an in-flight meal, airlines will allow you to reserve a vegetarian or vegan meal. I’ve done both; the vegetarian options have usually included some sort of cheesy, vegetable pasta such as lasagna (though flight attendants usually can’t verify that the cheese is rennet-free), or a boiled egg and muffin for breakfast, but airlines (even international ones) seem at a loss for vegans, whose meals often include the standard fare minus animal foods. This has left me with plates of lettuce and bread many a trip. Only one memorable flight (to Hawaii) afforded me the opportunity to sample a hummus & olive platter, which was delicious and nourishing (and $9.00).
At the airport:
Airports offer little more. If you are lucky enough to find a Burger King, a BK Veggie Burger made with a Morningstar Farms Veggie Patty is a filling vegan option if you hold the mayo. Some airports, like Houston’s, are almost anti-vegetarian in their limited choices and meat-scented corridors. You can assuage your hunger with snacks from one of the many over-priced airport shops – granola bars, chips, and the like – or Starbucks offerings like scones, oatmeal, or the cage-free egg-white and spinach wrap. When I’m taking a short flight, and am hungry enough that I don’t care about overpaying, these are doable options. However, when I’m traveling ten or twelve hours, I need to plan ahead.
Packable, cheap, security-friendly food options:
Subway. Get a footlong veggie sub on your way to the airport. Yes, it can go through security. This sub is two meals, complete with protein, just-baked bread, and fresh veggies of your choice. Alternately, you can make sandwiches at home, but I’ve found that meat substitutes like soy chicken patties tend to get stiff and chewy shortly after heating, while Subway’s veggie patties stay moist and tender longer.
Hummus. Good-for-you protein that is filling and delicious. Your typical carton of Sabra Hummus can’t go through security, though, so you’ll need to head to Whole Foods and get the dry hummus mix from the bulk bin section. I sprinkle in some chile flakes and dried parsley, as well. This dry mix is lightweight, takes up very little room, and is security-friendly. Once on the plane, either ask the attendant for a cup of water or use water from your water bottle (which you filled after going through security). I take along a pack of crackers (like Triscuits) with which to dip the hummus, and a container of olives (from which the liquid has been drained).
Oatmeal and fruit. I don’t use instant oatmeal at home, but a packet of oatmeal is another easy-to-carry, lightweight, packable meal which is security-friendly and can be mixed with hot water once on the plane. Check the nutrition labels at the store; some brands are infinitely better for you than others. Bring along cheap, potassium-packed bananas or a box of raisins to mix in.
Snacks. Once again, Whole Foods bulk bins come in handy as a cheap way to bring along organic nutrition. Mix your own trail mix using your favorite dried fruits and nuts. I also get fruit leather and limited-ingredient animal crackers from Whole Foods.
Drinks. Bring along your water bottle, which can be filled after going through security. I pack my own non-dairy creamer for the flight because oftentimes the only creamer option for coffee or tea is half and half. I also bring individually-wrapped Yogi tea bags. Tea bags are another little luxury that are light-weight and security-friendly, and infinitely better than what you’ll be offered on the plane. Alternately, there are many drink choices at the airport gift shops if you’re willing to pay.
Foods you can’t bring:
Unfortunately, many go-to travel food choices aren’t options at the airport. Anything liquid-like won’t go through security. This includes individual packs of applesauce, yogurt, peanut butter, veggie dip, and protein shakes. You can sometimes find these items in gift shops after security, but they will be pricey, and your brand choices will be limited. (For example, Yoplait Go-Gurt tubes are widely available, but contain gelatin.)
What else to pack in your carry-on:
*To-Go Ware Bamboo Utensils. Eco-friendly, reusable, beautiful. I have three of these sets, and don’t go anywhere without at least one. A set includes a bamboo spoon, fork, knife, and chopsticks. Invaluable when you pack your own food and need to mix up hummus or eat oatmeal!
*Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap. You can buy a 1 oz container of it which will fit into your allowed 1 quart ziplock bag of liquids (remember that each item in your 1 quart bag cannot be more than 3 oz.), or you can buy a larger bottle, and pour some soap into a small travel container. You’ll use this for everything – washing utensils or containers, hands, and face. Great for sensitive skin, cruelty-free, vegan, and biodegradable.
*Yes to Cucumbers Facial Towelettes. Grab a small travel pack at Target for a few bucks. These are great face refreshers for after a long flight, require no rinsing, and are security-friendly. I also use them as regular wipes to clean my hands and tray table before a meal. Great for sensitive skin, cruelty-free, vegan, and biodegradable.
*Tupperware. These reusable products are airtight, recyclable, and BPA-free. They don’t leach when filled with hot food or liquid or when microwaved. They are great for after the flight, too, when you need a reusable, microwaveable container for your restaurant leftovers. Tupperware products I carry with me include: water bottle, Vent n’ Serve sealable mug (useful for oatmeal, cereal, coffee, tea, soup, hummus, leftovers), and sealable snack containers for my homemade bulk snack mixes.
I also couldn’t live without:
*Happy Cow. This searchable website is a guide to vegetarian and vegan restaurants and health food stores the world over. http://www.happycow.net **As Valerie mentioned in the comments section, this is also an ipad app!!**
*VeganXpress. This ipad app is a great guide for figuring out what is and isn’t vegan at many fast food chains and restaurants.