How (and When) to Pack Food When Traveling

how to pack food while traveling

Is there anything better about traveling than enjoying the local cuisines? Whether it’s fromage in France, cuy in Ecuador, or pad thai in Thailand, it’s all about the experience.

But then there’s the major downside of not always knowing what you’re eating. For example, I ordered something in Vietnam that was definitely chicken, but it still had some feathers on it and hardly any meat. Not my best meal to say the least.

Traveling with food helps you avoid some of these moments where you might go back to your accommodation hungry. We don’t recommend packing entire meals! However a few items might help your trip go a bit more smoothly.

Why Pack Your Own Food?

There are lots of reasons as to why you might want to pack food for a trip.

  • If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, as I do, it can supplement your meals until you can find an appropriate alternative.
  • You might be a long term traveler who wants to carry food to cook to save money on meals out.
  • You also might be a picky eater who wants to be sure of what they’re eating. Or you’re afraid of getting sick.
  • Packing your own food prevents hanger, which affects even the best of us. It’s how I ended up eating Burger King in Bangkok at 10 pm after a 12 hour bus ride. I worried that everything was closed, irrationally forgetting that the city is always busy, especially with food stalls. Had I thought for a moment or had some food items with me, I might not have made this mistake.
pack food when traveling
Caroline’s mystery chicken in Vietnam

How to Pack Your Own Food

Consider the types of food you can pack:

Certain types of food work best and you shouldn’t expect to carry an entire pantry with you.

Look for dried or powdered packets at your local grocery store. Outdoor stores also carry meals that can be quickly cooked with boiling water from brands like Backpacker’s Pantry. Powdered soup, oatmeal, and ramen noodles are a safe bet. If you’re looking for more substantial items, pasta and rice work well in many forms. I also like to pack instant grits (a Southern thing!), instant coffee, Pique tea crystals, dried fruit, nuts, and granola bars.

pack food when traveling
Caroline’s bag all packed up, including Belvita granola bars for snacks

Consider how you’ll actually transport these items:

I’ve carried Tupperware containers of snacks on trips as they can be reused or tossed if necessary. Sea to Summit makes collapsible containers that fold flat for storage. Just make sure they’re leak free! Utensils are also a must, including a spork, but make sure it won’t get taken at airport security.

I also travel with a reusable mug, which can be used for your morning coffee or your dinner. A cooler might also come in handy. Just remember to put liquids in your checked luggage. Look for lighter containers like packets instead of cans.

Consider how you’ll go about cooking it:

If you’re staying in hostels, most will have kitchens, but some won’t. Have a few items that don’t require heating. It’s generally easy to find boiling water, as I even found on trains in Asia.

>>Learn how to travel like MacGyver: pack these items that solve problems.

When Not to Pack Food

pack food when traveling
Shopping at local markets allows you to cook while traveling, and it’s fun!

The most important time you shouldn’t pack food is if there are strict quarantine laws around food items from other countries. Australia, New Zealand, and Canada all have laws of this sort, as does the state of Hawaii. You might be told to ditch it all upon arrival.

You also shouldn’t pack food if it’s going to take up too much room or weight in your bag. Remember that most countries will have stores selling what you need. I’ve found dairy free options in Israel, Guatemala, and everywhere in between. Give it a Google search before you leave.

Did we leave anything out? Have you packed food for travel?

packing food when traveling

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Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Margaret Lewis says

    I must always pack food as I am allergic to wheat soy gluten nuts cow dairy and can’t eat sugar at all. I Sometimes I travel for up to 6 months. A few things have ended up absolutely indispensable. I treat travel abroad a bit like camping in respects to food.
    Instant quinoa flakes: cook way faster, pack densely and light, and have much more protein than oatmeal. They taste great sweet or savory. Bring flavors and spices you can’t do without and prevent accidental msg ingestion.
    Homemade protein bars with sunflower butter, vanilla bone broth protein powder, goat milk powder, and carob. Actually delicious even though it sounds weird. Or you can do store bought, but these are usually more sugar than anything else!
    Goat milk power is amazing, I would bring evaporated cows milk if I drank it, it’s just so nice to have milk to add to tea, instant cereal, and even use dry as a thickening agent in homemade treats. Hydrate using small amount of water. I add stevia, but you do you!
    Also some kind of electrolyte powder or tablet is irreplaceable. Can hydrate you on a crazy long hike, help with altitude adjustment, is a must for air travel!
    And because I’m a weird health nut I travel with greens powder. I like vita mineral green by health force nutritionals, combined with blue green algae. You never know when your meals will be balanced on a trip, and if you do eat something weird that your system doesn’t like, greens powder can balance blood sugar issues from a sweet tooth crash, counteract a fatty junk food meal, and help relieve constipation from all that rich pasta in Italy. Shake it up in water. Chase it down with a nice flavor afterwards.
    I bring homemade real food for the flights to and from a destination, such as sandwhich crepe rolls in disposable waxed paper. And I head straight to the “health food store” when I arrive for most things else.
    For cultural immersion I eat in homes of locals, or read menus like a scrutinizing lawyer and hand over my allergy card to the cooks.
    It takes some planning but most of these items are way more compact and versatile for me than prepackaged meals.
    This last one isn’t really food but it helps the body remove things it thinks aren’t food either: activated charcoal! Don’t leave home without it. Enough said 🙂

  2. Tiff says

    I’ve read that if you have dietary restrictions, most airlines will let you exceed the carry-on allowance for medically necessary items. You can also bring extra medically necessary liquids–you just need have the TSA agent examine them separately (you might need a note from a doctor).

    I have Celiac and a dairy sensitivity, and since airlines only cater to one restriction at a time I’m planning to bring a collapsible cooler bag with enough “real food” to get me through my 9hr flight when I travel in a few months.

  3. Jenn says

    As a solo female, I never do long-term travel without a box or two of protein bars. I find you can enjoy sightseeing and touring independently so much more when you always have a handy snack, and don’t have to worry about stops or meal times. Can’t count how many times I was out exploring an area and taking pictures while the tour group was stuck in a restaurant suffering sketchy food. Not to mention buying meals three times a day adds up. In new countries I tend to eat vegetarian to adjust, so I also will bring the portable packs of peanut butter and eat one for lunch with a protein bar. Oh and always bring plastic forks and straws to countries where you have to be careful with the food and water – don’t want to put your mouth on a soda can and be in bed for two days missing your trip!! Safe travels 🙂

  4. Anouk says

    I always bring food whereever I go. I get low blood sugar so when I drive it’s the responsable thing to do. When I travel I bring cinnamon rolls, granola bars etc. The last time I flew it had been about 8 years since I had been on a plane. I forgot that my water bottle had to be empty. Luckily I can drink fast. 🙂 I filled it up at a sink when I passed the security.

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