Budget-Friendly Airport Tips for the Conscious Vegan Traveler


Riding stuffy parking shuttles, waiting in long baggage lines, and walking barefoot through a body scanner always leaves me starving and in a conundrum. It's not that being a vegan in an airport is difficult: French fries, soft pretzels, potato chips, and candy can usually be readily found without animal ingredients, and this is great! Indulging on vacation can be half the fun, but if you travel frequently, you may notice that while nutritious airport options are sometimes available, they are often overpriced and not always fresh. After paying ten dollars for a wilted iceberg salad (ordered sans chicken), two dollars for a sad, bruised banana, and most recently, a nine-dollar avocado roll, I finally learned that planning my travel snacks ahead of time could save me from a salt-and-sugar-laden coma and from emptying my wallet before my traveling had even begun.

Perhaps the reason many people do not plan their airport snacks in advance is because the rules seem tricky and subject to change. You don't want to be the woman holding up the line in tears because you had to dump out your green smoothie (err...happened to a friend...). However, simply checking the Transportation Security Administration website (tsa.gov) in advance and doing some simple preparations can save your budget and your diet. Read on for some of my favorite vegan airport-friendly suggestions that, as of publication date, all meet the TSA's food and liquid regulations.

Just as you are permitted to siphon your shampoo, conditioner, and face wash into 3.4-ounce (or smaller) containers, you can do the same with food that takes on a liquid or purée consistency.

It may seem like a very small amount, but if you look at what a 3.4-ounce container can actually hold, it's more than one serving size of many of the foods and/or condiments you might want to pack. One 3.4-ounce container is equivalent to 6.8 Tablespoons! There are many places, including Ikea, Amazon.com, and Target, where you can buy TSA-approved travel containers, but a more economical option can likely be found in your pantry. Try saving small containers from spices and seasonings, jams and jellies, condiments, and baby food after the product is gone. Wash them out thoroughly with soap and water, and if you remove the original label, note the size in ounces on the bottom in permanent marker. This will serve as a helpful reminder for you and may help the TSA move quickly as well.

Try the following combinations using 3.4-ounce (or smaller) containers for the liquid components:

a) Vegan salad dressing with pre-cut and washed veggies. Prepare slices of red, orange, or green bell pepper, cauliflower florets, celery stalks, or sugar snap peas. My personal favorite combination is pairing Annie's Organic Goddess Dressing, which is a flavorful tahini-style dressing, with Persian cucumbers. Persian cucumbers are much smaller than regular cucumbers, with thinner skin, minimal-to-no seeds, and a satisfying sweet, refreshing crunch. Because of their small size, they are easy to throw in a zip-top bag without chopping, and can be eaten just by biting into them like a carrot.

b) Almond, cashew, or peanut butter with fruit. The company Justin's sells nut butters in handy 1.15-oz squeeze packs in Classic Peanut Butter, Maple Almond Butter, Chocolate Hazelnut Butter, and more. The squeeze-ability of the packs makes them great for spill-prone kids (and adults) and makes them easy to apply to your snacks. They also sell snack packs of their nut butters paired with gluten-free pretzels. For something a bit more untraditional, Jem Raw Organics sells 1-oz jars of nut butters in exotic flavors like Hazelnut Raw Cacao, Superberry Maqui Camu, Cashew Cardamom, and Cinnamon Red Maca. Green apple slices dipped in Hazelnut Raw Cacao is a heavenly combination!

c) Hummus or tapenade with pita. Spoon your homemade or favorite pre-bought variety into a small container, or try Sabra's single-serve 2-ounce packs in Roasted Red Pepper, Classic, or Garlic, though you may want to avoid the latter on the actual airplane for the sake of your seatmates. Try stacking a few full-size pitas and cutting through them with a pizza cutter like a pie for cute triangular dipping slices.

Put all of your liquid-filled 3.4-ounce containers into a quart-sized clear plastic zip-top bag. One full quart-sized bag is allowed per person, and you can get a lot in there! It's okay if your jar of almond butter hangs out next to your shampoo, as long as everything is tightly sealed. The more precautions you take when packing your food (tape, rubber bands, bags within bags), the safer you'll feel; however, avoid wrapping anything so that it can't be seen. Though wrapped food is allowed, if the TSA agent cannot see the food through the container or bag, you'll be more likely to be pulled aside for screening.

If you're carrying-on the toiletries for the family, remember that children are each allowed one quart-sized bag, too; put the little ones in charge of the snack-filled bags, with the delicious contents serving as a reward for their responsibility once you make it through security. These rules do not apply to medications, baby formula, or breast milk, so if you travel with these liquids, remember to declare them for inspection at the security checkpoint to avoid unnecessarily slowing down the line. If you're traveling internationally into the United States, the rules are different and, in fact, oftentimes more lenient, so be sure to check www.tsa.gov in advance.

Whole and pre-cut fruit (without liquid) is allowed by the TSA, but some fruits are definitely more travel-friendly than others. Soft fruits like bananas and peaches always seem to end up squishy and bruised by the time I'm through security and ready to snack. Oranges can be sturdy, but peeling one can end in a sticky mess. Apples are reliable and delicious; if you want to use one for dipping, try cutting it at home with a segmented slicer and using a rubber band to hold the slices together in the shape of the apple so they won't brown. A little lemon juice can help with this, too. Pack easily-damaged finger-friendly fruits like grapes, strawberries, and blueberries in small Tupperware containers. Secure with a rubber band just to be on the safe side. While you can probably find fruit salad (usually a mostly-melon mix) within the airport, it is so much fresher and much less expensive to cut your own fruit at home and pack it along. Drain the juice out so that you do not have any excess liquid along for the ride and consider lining your container with a dry paper towel.

Dry snacks like trail mix, granola, cereal, and nuts are not subject to the 3.4-ounce rule, so carry on as much as you want! It is still helpful to make sure these items are tightly sealed in their original package or in zip-top bags so that you don't end up with them spilled at the bottom of your carry-on luggage. It is also helpful to remember not to bring anything too spicy, salty, sticky, or stinky, as you don't want to end up overly thirsty, with messy hands, and annoying your seatmates. Convenience foods are helpful only if you can avoid unnecessarily stressful situations; remember your comfort as well as that of your neighbors.

Here are some favorites that won't get you in a bind:

a) Seeds and nuts: I love packing old favorites like cocoa-covered almonds and raw cashews, but SuperSeedz, surprisingly tasty dry roasted pumpkin seeds, are new for me. Sold in convenient 1-or 4-oz packs, they pack quite a nutritional punch of protein, iron, and zinc. Go sweet with the Cocoa Joe or Cinnamon Sugar flavors or try the zesty Tomato Italiano for a pizza-like treat. Some of the tastiest nuts (cashews and macadamias, in my opinion) can also get quite pricey. To save money, buy from the bulk bins, or look for pre-packaged broken nut pieces; they taste the same at a fraction of the price.

b) Bars: There are many vegan bars on the market and Larabar Original Fruit and Nut Bars are some of my favorites. Their simple ingredient lists make me feel good about what I'm eating and their indulgent-sounding flavors (Banana Bread, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Key Lime Pie) really live up to their names. These chewy, energizing treats now come in mini sizes too, at less than 100 calories per bar.

c) Cereal or granola: Simply pour your favorite from home into a zip-top bag and enjoy throughout your journey. To avoid a bag full of crumbs, try a collapsible plastic container, available at camping or outdoors stores, or on Amazon.com.

Finally, no airport travel tip makes me happier than remembering to bring along my tight-sealing BPA-free empty water jug. I prefer my 34-ounce Nalgene bottle (nalgene.com) because it's huge (but light when empty), never leaks, and has a handy loop. (I am not above attaching it to my purse to avoid losing it!) It's important to stay hydrated in order to have energy while traveling and because airplane cabins can be so dry, but airport bottled water prices are unbelievably inflated. Most airports have installed filtered filling stations and all have water fountains, usually located near the restrooms, so bring along your favorite empty water bottle with a tight-fitting, preferably attached cap, and avoid paying a huge markup as well as constantly having to flag down a flight attendant for one of those tiny plastic cups.

Happy vegan travels!

Samantha Gendler is the Senior Editor of the Vegetarian Journal.