Traveling for work can be both exhausting and exhilarating. Our series Work on the Fly explores ways to make the most out of your business trip.
My No. 1 travel tip, after 14 years spent traveling the world for work, is this: Pack your own plane food.
It will always taste better than anything served on board. On an international flight, your choices might be a goopy pasta with mystery cheese or chicken covered in cream. Most domestic flights offer overpriced boxes of crackers and cookies—or nothing at all. Even though airlines hire celebrity chefs and work with local restaurants, most of that talent only benefits business-class fliers.
There’s also the health aspect. “Traveling is really tough on the body, with sitting for prolonged periods, exposure to more people and germs, and disruption of our sleep patterns,” says SplendidSpoon founder Nicole Centeno, a chef and member at WeWork 109 S 5th St in Brooklyn, New York. “Anti-inflammatory foods are key.”
Don’t leave your health in the hands of the inadequate offerings near your gate—especially if you’re already hungry, says Barbara Ganseman (a WeWork member in Amsterdam), who runs HealthSense Amsterdam, offering private nutrition and health coaching. “You’ll eat anything if you’re hungry,” she says. “Most likely it won’t be healthy, and you’ll be hungry again a couple hours later.”
Traveling for work brings its own set of challenges—work trips are notorious for multicourse dinners with colleagues and back-to-back drinks meetings. Packing your own food sets a healthier, more balanced tone for the trip.
Over the years, I’ve discovered even more benefits of bringing my own food. If I’m traveling to Cairo or Yangon, my own food is a bit of comfort and home before I land. Plus, I’ve found that my in-flight sleep has improved. For example, on a flight to Europe, you’ll want to sleep as soon as possible, but dinner service drags on for two hours. Then they turn on the lights 90 minutes before you land for a breakfast of dry croissant and sugary yogurt. I eat my own dinner when we take off and sleep through the breakfast lights with an eye mask.
Convinced? Prep your plane food with these tips.
Prep a portable dinner
My favorite plane meal is cooked farro, roasted butternut squash, feta cheese, pumpkin and chia seeds, and white balsamic mixed with olive oil. It’s sturdy enough to hold up, keeps me full forever, and doesn’t offend fellow passengers with an aggressive smell. I order biodegradable, disposable containers in bulk on Amazon and toss them when I’m done.
Do a grocery store run
If life is too insane to cook, I pack fruit, nuts, cheese, beef jerky, and dark chocolate.
At Trader Joe’s, I pick up freeze-dried fruit for a bit of naturally occurring sweetness and Just a Handful of Olives for healthy fats. At Whole Foods, I buy unsweetened granola from the bulk bins, plus beef jerky for protein, and everything I need for my home-cooked plane dinner. And don’t forget the power of nuts. “Nuts are an easy solution for hunger,” Ganseman says, thanks to protein, fat, and fiber, which helps you stay full.
Take advantage of frozen food
Did you know you can bring fully frozen items (even if they would be liquid at room temp) on the plane? Centeno’s company ships vegan smoothies and soups (such as orange hibiscus, blueberry coconut, and red-lentil dal) everywhere in the continental U.S. “I frequently travel with a frozen pint of soup. So many of our flavors are great at room temperature after thawing for a few hours, and I’m always grateful to have a clean, hearty meal after being on a plane,” says Centeno. She offers another tip: “If I’m away for an extended period, I’ll just switch my delivery address to get SplendidSpoon delivered to my Airbnb.”
Put protein powder to work
NeatNutrition, a member at WeWork 30 Stamford St in London, offers protein-powder subscriptions with customizable blends—most important, all come in travel packets. “All you need is water,” says Cat Rayson, head of brand. If you don’t have your own shaker or bottle, ask the flight attendant for a cup and spoon to stir it up, and you’ll have everything you need for a high-protein snack.
Or make NeatNutrition’s Cookie Dough Protein Balls for a portable snack with the necessary mix of protein, carbs, and fat for sustainable energy.
Pack with hydration in mind
Planes are notoriously dehydrating. According to The Points Guy, most cabins still offer about half the humidity humans need to feel comfortable (though newer planes like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 do offer more humid environments). The solution? Drink more water. To help beat the boredom, bring herbal tea bags and add a squeeze of lemon. “The lemon helps your body hydrate more efficiently,” explains Centeno.
Fresh fruit is superhydrating, says Rayson—pack cut-up watermelon or cantaloupe, or whole apples, oranges, or peaches. Fruit makes a fiber-rich anytime snack or sweet breakfast to help you hit the ground running once you land. And it’s just so much better than a dry croissant.