My husband and I love to travel. We recently got back from two weeks in southern Utah, where we saw amazing geology in some fairly remote places. We don’t like cities very much. We prefer back roads, small towns and interesting hikes off the beaten path.
It’s great to disappear into the wilderness for a few days, but the further you get from civilization, the harder it is to eat when you have dietary restrictions. One of the wonderful things about visiting big cities is that it’s fairly easy to find food that is gluten and dairy free. In the little towns we’re used to visiting, it’s very hard to find any vegetables much less specialized food. At this point, I consider myself a pro at being able to outfit us for a week on the road and it’s not as hard as you think. It does take some advance planning, so be prepared to make a few lists and inquiries well ahead of your trip.
Here is my roadmap to having a great and stress-free vacation when it comes to food.
- Think about which meals you absolutely need to eat in restaurants as opposed to making yourself. On our trips, we like to get up early, grab breakfast, make lunch to take with us and head out the door. We are usually hiking or driving around all day so there’s no time (or place!) to have breakfast or lunch out. That is why my first tip is to get a rental or hotel room with a kitchen or kitchenette. A full-sized fridge is important for all the food we bring with us, so we usually rent a stand-alone cabin or small house. That way we can get up when we want, make our food and head out the door. Many places we go have limited accommodations in the area, so we try to rent as far in advance as possible to ensure we can get a rental with kitchen facilities.
- Bring your cooler as a carry-on. We have a small cooler that we pack with non-perishable snacks such as nuts, energy bars, dried fruit, cookies, cereals and other items that might be hard to find along the way. We bring the cooler as a carry-on and that way we can unpack the snacks in our rental car and have the cooler available for lunches and veggies while we’re on the road.
- Bring a good knife! I never leave home without my chef’s knife. I pack it in my suitcase in a sheath, and that way I can cook wherever we go.
- Research restaurants ahead of time. We usually have dinner out because we’re too tired to cook at the end of the day, so we research the restaurants in and near the towns we are staying to see which might be most appropriate for us. I have a history of getting sick from restaurant food, so I have to be very careful about what I eat. We always check Yelp and TripAdvisor to see reviews about the quality of the food. In general, I stick with places where I can get food that is as simple as possible because sauces set me off. If I can get a simple salad, grilled chicken breast or steak that is usually the best. I often forget that the fancy and expensive restaurants use a lot of wheat and dairy so we check the menus online carefully before we go and put all the information into a travelogue with notes that we can reference on the road.
- Purchase your groceries before you leave town. Usually, we fly into a big city, rent a car and head straight to the nearest Whole Foods to stock up for our trip. The idea is to buy enough food for breakfasts, lunches and snacks before we head out into uncharted waters. This is where our little cooler comes in handy to transport perishables to our final destination for the day.
Here are some of the items we usually purchase for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. These are simple items that are easy to pack, don’t take a long time to cook and can be easily transported.
- Gluten-free instant “oatmeal”. I’m a big fan of the little cups of instant oatmeal you can purchase and just add water and some fruit in the morning. There are a lot of brands and many of the mixes are low-sugar and have a variety of grains, not just oats.
- Bacon or turkey-bacon
- Greens like spinach or chard which is more hearty. I find that a few days in I’m desperately missing my greens and sautéing up some greens to eat with your eggs is a great way of getting your veggies
- Fruit – bananas, apples and tangerines all keep great and don’t need refrigeration. We also get fruit that is easy to transport until you can cut it up and put it into the fridge like papayas, melons or water melon. Berries usually are ok in the car for one day until you can store them in the refrigerator.
- Potatoes or sweet potatoes for a change of pace to fry up with an egg in the morning.
- Granola and cereals – great portable breakfast options
- Non-dairy shelf stable milks. We usually stock up on boxes of “so delicious” unsweetened coconut milk as they don’t need refrigeration until you open them, and they don’t have carrageenan.
- Yogurt – easy to transport and great for breakfast.
- Even though I don’t normally eat bread, my husband needs his toast in the morning!
- Tea or coffee
- Sandwiches or wraps are a great option. There are some great gluten-free breads available and even grain-free wraps that can be used for sandwiches. Or, there’s always my favorite standby – lettuce leaves or collard greens for wrapping.
- Sliced meats – turkey, ham, chicken, etc. Check the ingredients to make sure there’s no carrageenan. Great for sandwiches or wraps or even on a salad.
- Roasted chicken. We always get a roasted chicken and my usual lunch is a piece of de-boned chicken with some type of salad. I put it into a ziplock bag in the morning and if we’re hiking somewhere, it’s easy to put into my backpack and doesn’t take up much room.
- Pre-made coleslaw or broccoli slaw or even a head of cabbage and some carrots. Usually we purchase some pre-made salads that keep for a few days and I take a portion each day for lunch.
- Oil and vinegar, salt and pepper for salad dressing (and cooking).
- Veggies – baby carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, radishes are all veggies that are portable and keep very well.
- Cheese – if you eat dairy, cheese is a great travel food.
- Canned soups – a great lunch option even if there’s no way to heat it up. Make sure you get the cans that open by themselves and don’t need a can opener!
- Jerky – great source of emergency protein and no refrigeration needed!
- Potato chips or tortilla chips – We don’t normally eat this much starch, but it’s nice to have an option on the road if you’re starving.
- Nuts, dried fruits and seeds
- Granola and granola bars – fuel for a long hike!
- Plantain chips
- Veggies – I make a mix of baby carrots, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes and take it with us in a ziplock bag so it doesn’t take up a lot of room
- Coconut water – good for electrolytes after a long hike!
- Regular water – make sure you have plenty of water in the car, especially if you’re planning on hiking in warm climates or in the summer.
My experience is that if you plan ahead to be mostly self-sufficient in regard to food, you can go anywhere and do anything you want, without stress and without health issues. So get out there, enjoy your vacation and bon appetit!