I had the pleasure of going on a quick business trip a few weeks back to a lovely small town in Louisiana that is not known for having many vegan options, or as my client put it to me “they haven’t seen a vegetable that hasn’t been dipped in oil, beer battered, and deep fried. Prior to my trip I consulted with the one and only Susan V. of Fat Free Vegan who lives a mere 150 miles away. Surely SHE would know of good vegan, oil-free or just vegan, oil-free, or just vegan restaurants or heck, I’d settle for vegan-friendly, in the area. I’ve come to find out that she has struck out nearly every time she’s tried to eat vegan there. And she said to not even try to find oil-free. Ugh. What to do?
I’d like to share what I did and also arm you with a list of Plantivores’ handy-dandy vegan business travel tips to help you maintain a plant-based whole foods diet while traveling for business. I am differentiating from leisure travel because when on business travel one does not often have the same freedom to go in search of things that one would have while on personal travel or vacation. There are business meals and lunch meetings and even in a relatively “healthy” city like Denver, I am typically hard-pressed to find anything at a catered lunch meeting that I can eat that hasn’t been doused in oil. Or chicken.
Here are our best vegan business travel tips for maintaining your plant-based whole foods diet:
Bring Your Own Food
It isn’t always convenient or possible to do this, particularly on a long trip. I was fortunate to only have to go away for one night but I was also on a very tight schedule. Since I wasn’t confident what kinds of food I was going to find I brought a few things to supplement any fresh fruits and vegetables I could find along the way.
- First, portable oatmeal packets. I like this brand, Better Oats. They are easy to carry and the pouch acts as a measuring “cup” as well. They come in many different flavors and are whole grain. All you need is a bowl, spoon and a microwave or some hot water.
- Zone Perfect Perfectly Simple Peanut Crunch bars. You can get these at Target and they only have six ingredients and no added sugar. They are handy for a quick snack. They have two other flavors that have added oil, so take your pick based on your preferences.
- Dr. McDougall’s vegan dry soup containers. These are great on the go or when you don’t have time to pack a lunch for work. They come in a variety of flavors. Just add water, mix in the seasoning package and microwave. They are also oil-free. Yum!
- Travel size plant-based milk. Silk Pure Almond or Soy are good choices. I try to find the ones with as little added sweetener as possible. This brand comes in four-packs that we stock up on and keep in the pantry. They are also handy when visiting a restaurant that doesn’t have plant-based milk for your coffee. Disclaimer and warning–I left mine at home on this trip as the TSA will either make you open up liquids for a scan or will require a full body pat down. I find both of these overly invasive and time consuming and didn’t feel like bothering with it on this trip.
- Fresh fruit—clementines and apples always travel fairly well. You can usually find bananas at the airport if need be.
- A quart-sized resealable bag of Plantivores’ favorite “trail mix”. Ready? Get a bag, add in 2-3 different kinds of your favorite cereal, some dried fruit or raisins, and some nuts or seeds. Seal, shake. Done. Healthy, easy to pack, and filling snack on the go.
- Other easy snacks with which to travel:
- Energy bars
- Pita sandwich with hummus and veggies
- Make a “burrito” by putting some veggies, beans, and guacamole inside a tortilla and rolling it up
- Dried fruit
- Nuts, seeds
Do Your Homework Before You Go
Find out what restaurants are in the area before you leave town. The last thing you want to do is drive around a strange city while starving and attempting to use the maps on your phone to get someplace that *might* have something you can eat. Here are a few ways to check:
- Happy Cow — probably the most comprehensive listing of vegan and vegetarian restaurants on the web.
- Trip Advisor — type in your city and the type of cuisine for which you are searching. It doesn’t list vegan specifically but lists vegetarian. Many restaurants with vegetarian foods can often veganize them by leaving off the cheese or dairy.
- Veg Guide — a community-maintained, world-wide guide to vegetarian and vegan restaurants and shopping.
- Vegan Restaurant Finder — Enter your city or zip code and away you go.
- Google “vegan restaurants” and the city you are visiting.
- Google health food stores. Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s are always good bets. In this case I struck out on both cases. I did find a local health food store and didn’t have time to visit it but it was nice to know it was there. If you can find a Whole Foods they frequently have at least one or two pre-prepared items that are oil-free. If you aren’t oil-free there are often many more options.
- If you don’t find anything that fits the bill I have found that Asian restaurants are usually a good way to go. Most Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese places, even in the middle of Louisiana have rice, veggies, and often tofu. Frequently they can be convinced to leave off the oil if you need that.
- Be sure to check and make sure that any restaurant you want to visit is still open.
- If you find a place for dinner with tolerable food, consider ordering another entrée for lunch the next day and take it with you. That way you know you’ll have something healthy you can eat while the rest of the folks chomp away on their sliced processed meats and cheeses.
Keep Your Food Fresh on the Road
- Ask for a refrigerator in your room if you are traveling with food or can buy some while on the road. Sometimes finding a container of soy milk or almond milk, a container (bowl, mug, plastic cup, etc.), a spoon, and some cereal can make for a healthy, easy, plant-based breakfast. Add a banana or a package of raisins and you’re off and running.
- If you can’t get a mini-fridge, many hotels have refrigerated mini bars. I have used these on many an occasion and stashed my healthy fare in and around the candy and sodas.
- Consider traveling with a small, soft-sided cooler bag and a reusable ice pack. This lets you keep perishables chilled. When you arrive, either pop your ice packs in the mini-fridge to re-chill them or fill an ice bucket with some ice and do it that way. Even if they don’t completely re-freeze, it should be good enough to get you back home at the end of the trip.
Eating in or Near the Airport
Finding vegan food in or around an airport can be a challenge. Some suggestions:
- Many news shops or snack stands carry portable cereals in a plastic bowl. You just get a spoon and pour in the plant-based milk you are carrying with you. Raisin Bran is a good option that is whole grain, with no oil and is one of the “healthier” processed cereals you can find in an airport.
- You can also find trail mix at these places. Be sure the read the labels to look for sneaky ingredients that you don’t want.
- Lately I’ve started seeing hummus containers with some pretzels or fresh veggies.
- What I did after looking at the only two places to eat in the tiny airport I was in was go to the “grill” and ask for a veggie sandwich. Many people really find this quite perplexing but here is what you do. Ask for bread. Ask for any veggies they have: lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, black olives, pickles and tell them not to be stingy. Most folks just want to put a tiny piece of lettuce and one little slice of tomato. Don’t be shy; tell them to load that thing up! If you are really lucky you can find some guacamole, which is just about heaven.
- If you must, Taco Bell or any Mexican place can usually get you some type of tortilla with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and salsa. I can’t believe I just suggested that but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.
- Find a Starbucks in or near the airport. What you can eat at Starbucks:
- Oatmeal–great for breakfast or a quick, healthy snack. It comes with a packet of nuts and dried fruits.
- Latte with soy milk or steamed/cold soy milk with syrup for a little flavor.
- They usually have several kinds of nuts. I found almonds and cashews.
- Vegan granola bars made by Two Moms in the Raw.
- Dried fruits and bananas.
There you have the list of Plantivores’ handy-dandy vegan business travel tips. What ideas or tips do you have that have worked for you while traveling?