Travel-Friendly Foods (& Tips) for Thyroid Thrivers
Travel can pose an obstacle for Thyroid Thrivers who depend on certain dietary restrictions to feel well. For those of us who are on a healing protocol like AIP or Paleo, or who know that foods like gluten, dairy, and sugar trigger our symptoms, travel adds an unwanted layer of stress.
"I was doing well with my food and feeling well because of it, but then I had a work trip, and everything went out the window."
"How can I stay on track when I’m away from home?"
"I have a vacation coming up and am worried that I won't be able to stick to my eating plan."
Let's not forget that vacations, family reunions, and other special events are supposed to be fun!
Thyroid Thriver, I'm here to tell you that while sticking to your dietary restrictions away from home is a perplexing and common problem, it's also a solvable one. In this post, I'm going to help you do just that.
- Why Travel Can Be a Challenge for Thyroid Thrivers
- Why the All-or-Nothing Approach Doesn't Work
- The Mindset of a Travel-Ready Thyroid Thriver
- 8 Thyroid-friendly Travel Tips and Strategies
- Thyroid-friendly Travel Snacks and Meal Ideas
Whether you're gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo, AIP, or avoiding a personalized list of foods you're sensitive to, it IS possible to stay on track. You CAN thrive even while you're away from home. With a little advance planning, provisioning, and some practical tips and strategies, you can ditch that unwanted layer of stress and enjoy travel without abandoning your dietary needs and paying the price with your well-being.
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Why Travel Can Be a Challenge for Thyroid Thrivers
Sticking to our thyroid-healthy eating routine at home is easy when you're planning, shopping for, and preparing your meals. But take a Thyroid Thriver out of their home environment, and whoa! Things get wild.
I'm going to date myself here by recollecting that old 1980s Activision hero, Pitfall Harry, who swung from vines and leaped over chomping crocodiles, cobras, and scorpions to try to reach his goal.
As a traveling Thyroid Thriver with dietary restrictions, YOU are Pitfall Harry! You're dodging the temptations of candy bars, soda, cookies, pizza, donuts, burgers, and the endless gauntlet of inflammatory and highly-processed junk food. You're fighting the lure of fast food calling to you from the nationwide chains that line our highways. You're swerving around the crappy food options found in most airports and fending off those packaged in-flight snack options, which only seem to come in two flavors: sweet gluten or salty gluten.
Traveling with dietary restrictions can feel like running an obstacle course of bad choices and temptations. When we travel, our nutritional needs and restrictions often go out the window, along with our thyroid-healthy lifestyle habits. Throw in a case of the hangries for those who didn't bring their own snacks and blamo, you're Pitfall Harry, sinking into a tar pit of thyroid, gut, and autoimmune-related symptoms. Game over.
Why the All-or-Nothing Approach Doesn't Work
When we're away from home, even the most disciplined among us will be tempted to throw caution to the wind, eating and drinking foods we know aren't right for us. It's a struggle that seems nearly universal amongst Thyroid Thrivers. One common pitfall is taking an all-or-nothing approach.
I've been there myself, too many times to count: not wanting to be the squeaky wheel with dietary restrictions, not wanting to have to plan ahead for my food needs, not knowing HOW to stay on track outside the safety and control of my own kitchen.
Can you relate, Thriver? Even the shift from weekdays to weekends can throw many of us off our thyroid-healthy game.
When we're away from home, we're more likely to give in to foods we know don't serve us, and then we pay the price. We might tell ourselves we're just "enjoying ourselves," but then the price tag of the aftermath doesn't equate to those short-lived pleasures.
A familiar pattern ensues of going hog-wild away from home (or on the weekends) and then struggling to course correct when we're back to our routine, only to repeat this all-or-nothing cycle again...and again...and again.
It's exhausting. It's bad for us. It takes energy we don't have to sacrifice, and it's not sustainable.
If you're reading this and thinking, "This is me. I'm in this all-or-nothing cycle, and it's not working," don't be too hard on yourself. What you've been doing with all of that trial and error is taking steps closer to a place where you're ready to try something different. You've been moving through the phases of the cycle of change. So, if this sounds like you and you want things to be different, congratulations! You've arrived at the stage of change where you are ready for ACTION. Let's harness your readiness and do it!
The Mindset of a Travel-Ready Thyroid Thriver
Let's refresh our mindset by remembering the goal, which, unlike Pitfall Harry, isn't just to collect digital gold (i.e., points); it's to remain functional and free of what can be debilitating symptoms. You're not high-maintenance for having needs and healthy boundaries.
Here's the bottom line: Many of us NEED to stick to our dietary restrictions. It's not flippant or frivolous. It's not a fad. It's about your health.
From autoimmune flares that leave us face-planted on a hotel mattress to bothersome digestive symptoms that take us by surprise at the most inconvenient times, the all-or-nothing approach of throwing your needs out the window the minute you leave home is not a workable solution. No one enjoys traveling while plagued with brain fog, inflammation, bloating, fatigue, skin issues, headaches, digestive issues, or worse.
So, how do we stay on track with our dietary needs, especially those restrictions, when we're away from home? Because the reality for most of us is that we do have some dietary restrictions we need to stick with.
You may have already arrived at the obvious next question: What are my hard-line dietary restrictions? This is an essential question for the traveling Thyroid Thriver to answer and one we'll explore in the next section of this post.
8 Thyroid-Friendly Travel Tips & Strategies
1. Define Your Hardline
What foods or drinks can you NOT get away with? In other words, what are the foods you absolutely must avoid? Gluten? Gluten and dairy? Gluten, dairy, sugar, and soy? Something else?
Your personal hardline will vary depending on your individual needs and current goals. Knowing what your hardline dietary restrictions are lets you know where to make healthy boundaries. These restrictions are worth the extra effort, like planning ahead or making a call to the host, hotel, or restaurant.
2. Define Your Wiggle Room
Defining your dietary hardline also helps you define your dietary wiggle room. Travel is a time to use whatever wiggle room you have. What foods and drinks can you get away with? What are the thresholds for those foods and drinks you can have in small or moderate amounts? Knowing this will give you as much peace of mind and food freedom as possible.
With certain foods, the devil is in the dosage. For example, maybe you can tolerate a sprinkling of aged, raw milk cheese or goat cheese, while the nachos with half a pound of melted cheese on top will bloat your belly and make your joints ache. Knowing those thresholds is part of defining your wiggle room.
Remember: Wiggle room will vary from person to person and will likely change over time as healing occurs or new health challenges arise. Defining your wiggle room entails a lot of experimentation or, in other words, trial and error. If you slip up and accidentally eat something, or choose to throw caution to the wind, don't be too hard on yourself. Be your own guinea pig and observe what happens. Note your reactions and symptoms. You are simply in the process of defining those boundaries and getting closer to knowing what they are.
3. Schedule Your Travel Strategically if You are On a Strict Dietary Protocol
Any Thyroid Thriver who has been on the journey for a while has probably done some time on a special dietary protocol like the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) or another elimination diet. These templates are often prescribed by functional or holistic physicians or nutritionists as a temporary healing regimen. Oftentimes, these diets are used to heal, repair, and balance the gut - a foundational piece of any Thyroid Thriver's health puzzle. I can personally attest that they work when used appropriately, and have used the AIP a few times throughout my healing journey.
Being on a strict healing regimen is temporary, and while you're on it, will require extra care, time, and effort. There's no way around that. They don't serve AIP meals at truck stops or drive-throughs. I've provided suggestions for preparing for travel while on a strict dietary protocol in Tip #4 below. Ideally, it’s best to schedule these healing protocols for when you are not traveling. Give yourself the best chance of success (i.e., healing) by choosing wisely when to endeavor upon a strict healing protocol.
Remember: Therapeutic diets like AIP carry a high healing potential and will likely be worth it! They can also make travel difficult. Remember that elimination diets are temporary. Ultimately, they can help you heal enough so that you have far more food freedom the next time you travel. If you are currently on one of these protocols, give yourself the best chance to succeed by either postponing travel or planning your meals ahead of time (find a list of ideas at the bottom of this post), and know that your food choices will get easier and less limited with time and healing!
4. Plan Ahead
Stocking up on some travel-friendly items from the lists at the bottom of this post will provide foods on hand that won't wreck you (depending on your personal needs). Snacks are great in a pinch and on travel days. You'll find plenty of options to choose from on the list below.
When you need something more substantial, you can bring a few simple meals you can prepare if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen or even a microwave and mini-fridge. Find a list of quick-and-easy, travel-friendly meal ideas at the end of this post.
If you need to provision at your destination, look up the local grocery stores and see if there's one you can stop at on the way from the airport to your accommodations. Find a quick sample grocery list at the end of this post.
If you are on a strict healing protocol and must travel, you will need to plan ahead. Prepare meals in advance that you can freeze. Bring a cooler. Call ahead to ensure your hotel or accommodations have a microwave or something available to reheat your food. Call the hotel or restaurants you will be dining at ahead of time and inform them of your dietary restrictions. Anything you can do in advance will make your trip less stressful and less disruptive to your healing. Find a list of make-ahead AIP meal options at the end of this post.
5. Stay Fed and Avoid the Hangries
Getting hungry and having nothing to eat is a surefire way to fall face-first into that continental breakfast buffet of bagels, muffins, donuts, Danish, and waffles. The list of foods below, while they may not be ideal as dietary staples, can provide something to keep you satisfied, even on planes, trains, or automobiles.
Find a list of 20 travel-friendly snacks at the end of this post, or check out this Instagram Reel of what I brought on a recent road trip.
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If you’re attending an event and are unsure if food will be available that adheres to your dietary requirements, eat something ahead of time. It's like the adage about never going to the grocery store when hungry. You'll make much better decisions when you're not ravenous. When you eat something before your event or dining experience, you won’t feel so deprived or desperately hungry that you choose foods that aren’t right for you.
6. Call Ahead and Ask (Just Do it!)
If dining out, go to the restaurant’s website ahead of time to browse the menu and select what you will eat. Having a plan will help you avoid being lured off track by temptation, especially when you're hungry. This will also alert you if the restaurant has no options that work for your current dietary needs.
If there’s nothing on the menu that adheres to your dietary restrictions, either find an alternate restaurant that does, or call ahead and ask if there is something the kitchen could prepare for you. Have some suggestions in mind, especially if you're on a very restrictive protocol. The chef may not know what the AIP or Low-FODMAP is, but they probably know how to prepare a grilled steak (or fish) and veggies using only olive oil and salt. That's a recipe that can fit on a sticky note!
Some of us don't want to be an "askhole" and make these special requests, but you get to have needs. Just pick up the phone and do it!
As a chef who's cooked in several restaurants, I can assure you these special requests are not unusual. People are on all kinds of special diets for various medical reasons. When requests are made clearly, and ahead of time, they're far more appreciated than wishy-washy demands made during the middle of a busy dinner rush.
Try to be clear and concise when making special requests. Don't give them your entire health history or rattle off the 35 foods that aren't allowed on your elimination diet; offer ideas for a simple prepared meal that does work for you. Then, when you arrive at the restaurant or event, you can sit down and say, "I talked to the chef earlier..." without stress.
Remember: Your health is important, and you get to have needs. People are typically very understanding and accommodating when you're clear about these needs and give some advance notice. It will be better for everyone if you speak up ahead of time versus showing up, looking at what's being served, and saying, "Yeah, I can't eat this."
7. Lean On Those Thyroid-Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Travel isn't the time to forget your meds and supplements, your bedtime, your physical activity, your water bottle, your clean beauty products, or your stress management practices. These lifestyle habits support and buffer you through the road bumps that travel brings. They will help keep you on the up during your trip rather than down in the dumps brought on by that all-or-nothing over-indulgence.
For ideas on supportive non-food-related items to bring with you, check out my list of Thyroid-Healthy Travel Essentials. These are the things I never leave home without.
8. Don't Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good Enough
Don’t let perfectionism get in the way of your progress as a Thyroid Thriver. Getting the hang of traveling with dietary restrictions doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen over time. As long as you have a long-term mindset and stay committed to your healing journey, you WILL get there, even if you stumble along the way.
Traveling as a Thyroid Thriver with dietary restrictions is easier if you can relax and allow yourself to go with what's “good enough” when necessary. For example, a grass-fed steak is ideal, but when you're far from home and far from access to those options, maybe a regular steak can be good enough. Make sense?
Take a breath. Take some pictures. Smell the roses. Watch the sunset. Travel is meant to be enjoyed. Stressing about every ingredient and eating only “ideal” foods can be worse than eating a little bit of conventional produce at a restaurant. Consuming a small amount of refined oil or sugar (depending on your personal needs) probably isn't going to throw you for a humongous loop. Are those foods ideal? Of course not! But this isn't how you eat all the time. However you can, and as your health circumstances allow, relax and enjoy those dining experiences.
Remember: Know your dietary hardlines, your dietary wiggle room, and use them! The more restrictions you currently have, the more you must wear your game face and plan ahead. If you're in a place with your healing where you can get away with the dessert, the glass of wine, or the goat cheese crumbles on your salad, do it. Life is meant to be lived. Most importantly, enjoy your trip!
Further Reading: Thyroid-Healthy Travel Essentials
Thyroid-Friendly Travel Snacks & Meal Ideas
The lists of travel-friendly foods and meal ideas below can help you stay fed and on track while away from home. Packaged foods aren't meant to be primary in the diet, as you already know if you’ve been following me for a while, but they can be useful when traveling. These carefully chosen items can help us avoid the "hangries," so we can adhere to our hardline dietary restrictions and not turn to the foods we're trying to avoid. Because let's face it, when traveling, there’s a never-ending buffet of foods we’re trying to avoid! So, use these as you see fit and as they adhere to your personal dietary needs.
20 Thyroid-Friendly Travel Snacks:
Packaged snacks are rarely “ideal,” but I've compiled this list of favorites because I know you’re hungry for ideas and need helpful suggestions for when you’re on the road. Some of these come with caveats (which I've listed), but all the choices below are gluten, dairy, and soy-free. The vast majority are also sugar-free unless otherwise noted.
Try to avoid relying on these on a regular basis. Snacks aren’t meant to be a substitute for fresh, whole-food meals.
- Lara Bars - I like to combine these with a meat stick to add protein.
- RX Bars - These contain egg (if you can tolerate it) but have a good amount of protein.
- Coconola - This makes an easy and filling breakfast with Milkadamia (if you have a fridge) and a sliced Banana
- Epic Bison Bars - These are spendy but also clean, convenient protein.
- Epic Maple Glazed Salmon Bites - These have some natural sugar from the maple, but are tasty.
- Wild Yellowtail in Olive Oil - This is so good I eat it straight from the tin: clean, bioavailable protein and healthy fats.
- Sweet Potato Awesome - These freeze-dried sweet potato crisps can be great for when you want something crunchy. They’re also thick enough to pile them up with toppings. The garlic and dill flavor is delish! Get 10% OFF when you use the code AWESOMESAUCE.
- GoRaw Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds - Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc which is great for Thryoid Thrivers.
- NuttZo 7 Nut & Seed Butter - Not only is this delicious, it also features some thyroid-healthy superfoods like Brazil Nuts and pumpkin seeds. Serve it with a banana, celery sticks, or baby carrots for a quick-and-easy breakfast or snack.
- Seaweed Snax - These aren't filling, but they make a great mini-wrap for canned fish. They also provide lots of minerals including iodine which is essential to the production of thyroid hormone.
- Rhythm Cauliflower Bites - These contain some refined oils but provide travel-friendly, non-perishable veggies.
- Rhythm Kale Chips - More travel-friendly veggies. There are no refined oils in the original flavor.
- Rhythm Beet Chips - Again, more travel-friendly veggies. Contains some refined oils.
- Chomps Grass-fed Beef Sticks - These are currently available at Costco and have a clean ingredient list.
- Jackson's Coconut Oil Sweet Potato Chips - These feature a clean ingredient list, but they're still fried chips - a yummy snack, but something to enjoy in moderation.
- Dry Roasted Sea Salt Macadamias - Dry roasted means the nuts are not fried in refined oils.
- Bada Bean Bada Boom - These crunchy broad beans contain a small amount of added sugar and some refined oils, but this snack is a good source of fiber and protein. The Sweet Sriracha flavor is addicting (you've been warned!).
- Simple Mills Crackers - This brand makes make great GF/grain-free crackers. They do use cassava flour in their blend, which is a goitrogen, so enjoy in moderation. On the road, you could cut up an avocado to top these crackers. Add some protein (like the tinned hamachi or a meat stick), and you've got a simple meal replacement that you could enjoy in a hotel room.
- Unreal Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups - These are a treat, but a gluten, dairy, and soy-free one! Travel-friendly unless they'll be left in a hot car for a while!
- Hu Dark Chocolate - This is some of the cleanest dark chocolate available. Another treat, but with the benefits of dark chocolate.
- BONUS! Travel-friendly Produce - Avocados (can be cut with a disposable knife if ripe), grapes, bananas, apples, pears, oranges, cherry tomatoes.
These items can be found at your local health food store or online. If you have a trip coming up, do yourself a favor and order some now!
A Quick Sample Grocery List for When You Arrive
Before you arrive, check and see what kind of grocery stores are located near your destination. The list below includes simple staples that can provide snacks or meals for any accommodations with a mini-fridge. No need for a huge grocery haul; just a 10-minute pit-stop for provisions will do.
- Some kind of ready-to-eat fruit like apples, grapes, or bananas
- Some kind of ready-to-eat veggies like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, or a small veggie tray
- Avocados. These are filling and can be cut with a butter knife when ripe!
- Grain-free crackers like those from Simple Mills
- One clean dressing or sauce to keep things interesting, like Primal Kitchen's Balsamic Vinaigrette or Big Tree Farm's Coconut Aminos.
- One clean dairy-free milk option like canned coconut milk, Malk Unsweetened Almond Milk, Three Trees Almond Milk, or Unsweetened Milkadamia
- If needed, a clean coffee creamer like Vanilla Nut Pods
- Some type of nut butter like this 7 Nut & Seed Butter from NuttZo
- Some handy proteins like canned wild salmon, a rotisserie chicken, Wild Planet Sardines Packed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Lemon, or even clean deli meat options like those from Applegate Naturals.
- Disposable plates and cutlery, if needed
5 Quick-and-Easy, Travel-Friendly Meal Ideas:
A meal doesn't have to be fancy to fill you up or be enjoyable. And you'll feel great knowing you're not abandoning your dietary needs or risking food-related symptoms or autoimmune flares. The simple meal ideas below can be prepared in a hotel room with a mini-fridge and microwave, using disposable plates and cutlery.
- Bananas and nut butter like this 7 Nut & Seed Butter from NuttZo can make a quick and easy breakfast. For a lower-sugar option, substitute baby carrots or celery sticks. (GF, DF, Paleo)
- Bring a bag of Coconola (or other grain-free granola) and add dairy-free milk like Milkadamia and some banana slices or berries. Breakfast is served! (GF, DF, Paleo)
- Grab a bag of frozen cauliflower rice from the grocery store (or bring it in a cooler), reheat it in your hotel room microwave, and top it with a tin of this delicious Wild Yellowtail packed in olive oil, some diced avocado, and a splash of Big Tree Farms Coconut Aminos. (GF, DF, Paleo, AIP)
- Top your favorite gluten or grain-free crackers like these Pita Crackers from Simple Mills with some clean deli meat or canned wild fish and diced avocado. (GF, DF, Paleo)
- Grab a box of pre-washed salad greens, a rotisserie chicken, avocado, and a pint of cherry tomatoes. Throw together a salad and top it with a clean salad dressing like any from Primal Kitchen. (GF, DF, Paleo)
Freezer-Friendly AIP Meal Options You Can Make in Advance:
If you're on an elimination diet like the AIP, travel requires more preparation and planning to stay on track. One of the best ways to set yourself up for success is to make and freeze meals in advance. Pack them in a cooler, and you'll have reheat-and-eat meals ready when you reach your destination (as long as there's a microwave or kitchen to reheat them in).
- Chicken Cilantro (Serve over Cauliflower Rice, which can be purchased frozen and reheated)
- Zucchini Basil Breakfast Soup
- AIP Lamb Sausage (Can be used in many ways)
- Turkey Meatball Soup
- Chicken Bone Broth
- Banana Orange Creamsicle Smoothie (or other AIP-friendly smoothies)
In case you were wondering, you can check a cooler on a plane as long as it meets their size and weight restrictions.
Like most aspects of thyroid-healthy living and eating, the answer to the travel conundrum isn't quick, easy, or one-size-fits-all. It is, however, a fairly simple philosophy: We stay committed to the journey.
When we commit to a thyroid-healthy lifestyle, adopting a long-term mindset regarding our healing journey, we can make travel an enjoyable experience that also supports our health needs and goals. As Thyroid Thrivers, it's those small but mighty steps that eventually lead us to a place where we know how to enjoy, relax, and stay thyroid-healthy even while we're away from home. It probably won't be perfect, and you may not nail it the first time, but every step gets you closer to where you want to be.
Our strategies in travel scenarios will likely not be the same as those we implement at home, but even so, they can be sustainable and enable us to thrive and enjoy ourselves. (Those two things are not mutually exclusive, dear Thriver.)
I hope this article has given you some yummy ideas and solutions for your next business trip, vacation, or other away-from-home adventure. Those experiences are important. Your freedom to live and enjoy your life is important. You CAN find peace and solutions that serve you regarding food and travel. If you need help, I'm here for you!
Happy thriving and safe travels, Thyroid Thriver! Enjoy the ride.