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How to Stay Paleo When Traveling by Plane

A couple sits at an airport with their Paleo travel meals

Our traveling ancestors had it easy. Sure, they had to hunt and gather all day long to get enough calories. But they also didn’t have to grapple with the TSA or find natural meal options in airport food courts every time they went to visit relatives either. Staying Paleo when traveling by air is one of the most challenging aspects of the Paleo lifestyle.

Airports are full of unhealthy meal options ranging from fast food and donuts to salads laden with cheese and dairy-based dressings. Even the mixed nuts are suspect, as they are usually coated in dried syrup and sugar. Fortunately, you’re used to packing your own Paleo-compliant snacks for work and know how to forage in a more complex environment than your ancestors ever imagined.

Today, we’re here to share a few smart packing, snacking, and foraging tips for hunter-gatherers in-flight.

TSA Approved Items You Can Bring on a Plane

Getting through the TSA with a special pack of diet-adherent foods can be challenging, unless you know the tricks.

  • Freezable Lunch Bag: The TSA will toss any ice pack unless it is frozen solid, but a gel-lined lunch bag is allowable. Freeze one of these special bags overnight and pack in your carry-on for a TSA-approved way to keep your meats cold during your flight and airport adventures.
  • Travel-Sized Liquid Containers: You can actually bring your own dressings, dips, and nut butters as long as they’re in 3.4oz containers and packed in a clear quart-sized baggie according to the 3-1-1 TSA rule. Everyone else is packing travel shampoos, but you’re packing Paleo guac, pesto, and almond butter.
  • Permissible Flatware: The safest choice for TSA-approved flatware is to grab a handful of picnic packs. The kind with the napkin and packets of salt and pepper. The TSA can get picky about individual knives (yes, even plastic ones that are too sharp) but picnic packs almost always get through.
  • Produce Precautions: As a word of warning, if you’re crossing state or national borders, you might have to finish all your fresh produce before getting off the plane.

Packing Paleo In-Flight Snacks

There are tons of guides for Paleo snacks in flight, but most of them are not strictly Paleo. These guides tend to include store-bought packaged snacks that are mostly Paleo but may include things like bacon and preservatives that are not adherent to the Paleo philosophy. The following snacks are both TSA and real-Paleo approved:

  • Hard-Boiled Eggs. Peel before packing.
  • Fresh Fruit, Whole or Cut. Opt for a zip-top baggie over Tupperware to take up less space.
  • Nut-Butter Packets. These travel-ready snacks are easier to find than ever.
  • Pre-Tossed Salads & Dressings. Try your dressing in a travel-sized squeezable shampoo bottle.
  • Chopped Veggie Sticks & Dip. Keep dip in a travel-sized bottle.
  • Whole Packed Paleo Meals. Yes, you can pack a Tupperware of an entire Paleo meal as long as it’s not mostly liquid/cream/gel.
  • Dried Soup Mixes. Get hot water for tea/coffee from a stewardess to turn Paleo soup mixes into hot soup.

Foraging for Paleo Foods in the Airport

Finally, you may need to find foods in the airport that can go on the plane or be quickly scarfed down when you’re really hungry and didn’t have time to pack or prep. Here’s how to hunt-and-gather your way through an airport food court:

  • Salad Bars: If you can find a restaurant with a salad bar, this is the best way to be 100% certain you’re eating only what you intend to eat by building your own plate. These restaurants often also have options to buy grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp for your meat portions.
  • Tossed Salads with Label-Printed Ingredients: Airports usually sell boxes of tossed salads with cups of dressing on the side. Don’t trust your eyes, but do trust the label. If you can read that the ingredients don’t include cheese (or the cheese/bacon/candied nuts are in separate packages), it’s Paleo safe. Ask for vinegar dressing.
  • Grilled Chicken: If you’re really desperate for protein and don’t want to blow your travel budget on a steakhouse, you can usually find a place that serves some form of grilled chicken. Most fast-food places have a grilled chicken sandwich that you can eat sans bun in a pinch.
  • Whole Fresh Fruit: Snack stops and breakfast places in airports often sell fresh whole or cut fruit. These are easy to throw in your bag and snack on later mid-flight.

Traveling Paleo is not always easy, but your lineage has been hunting, gathering, and foraging for thousands of years. With these techniques and your own natural know-how, you can make it through even the most harrowing layover-ridden airplane journey while staying true to Paleo protocols.

The Paleo Diet Team

The Paleo Diet® team consists of a group of scientists, journalists, experts, and recipe creators who stay at the forefront of nutrition science.

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