Plant-Based eating when travelling?

Do you travel, for work?

I used to travel a lot for work that it got so mundane criss-crossing the Atlantic as if I was travelling into my office in Central London. Having done the “regular commute” from London to Toronto for two and a half years, a little like a chubby ping pong ball being batted back and forth thanks to the efforts of British Airways.

When I did that, I was not plant-based and although I would often avoid airline food, I would eat indulgently when out, my workout routine would go to hell and my health went down the tubes. I had almost a year of illness. It was a standing joke that when I went to our offices in San Bruno, California, Barry would be ill and so I was. So Ill on one trip that I was almost hospitalised and flown back and wheel-chaired off the flight and then off work for 6 weeks with severe viral pneumonia. That took some getting over. Lucky for me, my company were so concerned that I reduced my travelling substantially and for the past 12 months have had only a few trips from time to time, working predominantly on deals in the UK and Europe.

So how come I am typing this at 33,000 feet then? En-route to Johannesburg in South Africa? I am taking on a new role that requires my traveling more. Not as much as before and this is my decision but I will be doing a long haul flight every 5-6 weeks, and staying away from home for about 5-6 days per trip. I have to say that working from my home office or the company office in Central London once a week, as has been my habit of late, has become a pleasant habit, allowing me to get good quality sleep in my own bed, see my trainer once or twice a week, exercise regularly and for the past few months stick to my plant-based diet, even when dining out with clients. This has resulted in a huge improvement in my health and fitness and my quality of life.

So what am I going to do differently now that I am eating a plat-based diet and planning to run 5km in 4 short weeks? To be honest, I really don’t know, but here are my thoughts so far:

Eat before you leave home
I know this may sound so stupidly obvious, but I am lucky that my flights leave at night, so I had my breakfast and a snack and before I left, I had an early dinner. I had a heavy starch dinner which completely filled me up. In fact, I am still full now, several hours later. If I were at home, I would not have anything else before bed, so why should I eat on my trip? Just because its “free” doesn’t mean I either want to or have to eat it.

Eat at the airport or grab and go?
Heathrow T5 has a plethora of places to eat, including several that do plant-strong food. Maybe not as good as home cooked, but infinitely better than what is on offer on the plane. There is an Itsu where you can get really healthy food, several Cafe Eats and a Wagamamas.

Airline Lounge Food
Being a frequent flier with British Airways I have access to their lounges. Unlike US airline lounges, the ones in Europe generally provide more than just peanuts. Some of the food is processed, high in fat, or meat heavy, but there are lots of choices that are suitable, including sandwiches, soups, fruit and salads. In fact I was a regular at the First Class Lounge Salad Bar, dressing my salads with balsamic vinegar. It’s not easy but you should be able to find something that works for you even if you cannot be “plant-perfect”. Remember the odd bit of mayonnaise or fat in a bowl of soup won’t kill you, so be a little bit relaxed about it. I just remember that I do not chose to eat meat and dairy and try to stick to that If I can, if not a bit cheese or fats may be consumed, sometimes unknowingly.

My test for BA will be to find if they will be able to make me porridge in the lounge with water or soy milk – that might test them, but for now I have no morning flights planned. If no, then it’s lots of fruit for breakfast.

Talking of fruit, that’s another top tip. The lounges often offer a range of fruits and today in my bag, I took a banana, an apple and a small orange. If you don’t have lounge access to “steal” your fruit (i think if it more like liberating the fruit), you may be able to buy fruit at one of the air side shops or coffee shops, or bring some from home.

On board the plane
If you are on a “full service” flight where food and dink are served, you can usually order a “special meal”. I chose not to do this as I was advised that as a frequent traveller that if you do, I may not get upgraded as if you have a special meal request they will not move you as they won’t have your special meal option in the next cabin. I’d rather get a better seat and deal with the food my own way. You could choose a special meal although I am unsure what BA offers by way if plat-based or vegan food options, and I am sure all other airlines vary.

So equipped with my fruit, do I look like a “right sad ol’ git”? It’s strange but the flight crew often commented on my not choosing to eat the food, mainly because many of them don’t either! BA now routinely offer a vegetarian option in economy, but it is typically a risotto swimming in fat or white pasta covered with cheese.

Take a snack on board
This is a first for me on this trip. I baked some plant-strong flapjacks and brownies this morning, so rather than leaving them for Mr G to eat, I wrapped some in foil and bag and popped them in my hand luggage. So along with my fruit which I can have, I also have a healthy treat and something better for breakfast as we approach Johannesburg tomorrow morning rather than the awfully unhealthy breakfast served in board of a breakfast muffin or breakfast box.

At my destination
So on this trip I have done something that I have never done before. I have some food in my checked luggage. I am unsure if I can officially take food in with me, I know some countries are very strict in terms of protecting their agriculture. The US does forbid the importation of food stuffs, but I do no know about SA. I have some more flapjacks and brownies, which will last in their wrappings for about 5 days plus two packs of cooked mixed grains. They can be eaten cold or microwaved. Why have I got those? I have been to SA before and know that unlike the US and the UK it’s no somewhere you can easily just wander out of the hotel and walk to the nearest supermarket for provisions. I will be eating out a lot with my colleague and with clients, so I just thought that I might eat a little of these before I go out, so if my only food choice is a rather meager salad I won’t be starving. I also thought that if I came back from a meal hungry, they are an easy way I can fill up on quality nutritionally-dense food and not CRAP (Calorie Rich And Processed) food.

Ask, smile and ask
I had a look online and there are vegan restaurants in Johannesburg but I can hardly drag my clients half-way across a huge city so I can satisfy my food choices. I’m going to have to be like those awkward Americans I know, who always ask for something off menu – and why not? It’s so bloody British to just “put up and shut up”. Well, no more. What’s the worst that they can say? “No”. If I do not ask I will never know if they can for example give me balsamic vinegar instead of the house dressing or provide the dressing on the side, or remove the cheese from a dish etc.,

Talk to others
I plan to talk to my colleague so she knows about my dietary choices and can guide me on where I can eat, or where we take clients etc., I also plan to talk to the hotel staff regarding breakfast once I see what is on offer, although I usually find that the easiest meal of the day, especially if it is a buffet.

What about exercise?
One of the challenges that I found on business trips was how could I maintain my exercise regime. One colleague is brilliant at doing that, but I always struggled with the jet-lag, how busy i am and worst of all, the tiredness. This trip involves 2 overnight 11 hour long haul flights in economy/coach, and I find it almost impossible to sleep on flights. So this is going to be interesting. Quite a challenge in fact. I have asked my trainer for a gym programme that I can do anywhere regardless of the equipment in the gym, as it is a hotel that I am unfamiliar with. My thinking is to use my new level of fitness to just do something every day. I am also going to try to use some relaxation apps etc., to rest on the flights – any tips?

What are your tips and experiences?
Can you share your tips and experiences if you are vegan, or like me, eating a no added fat, wholefood plant-based diet and traveling for business or pleasure. I will report back my experiences as comments or other blog entries as the trip progresses. I’m only away from Sunday night returning home on Friday morning, and if I am not plant-perfect that is not the end of the world. I do think that it is important to remember that what I am doing is not a diet, it is a lifestyle and if I cannot be perfectly plant-based a la practically perfect Mary Poppins – it really doesn’t matter. It’s all about the balance and what I am fueling my body with for the majority of the time. It is not about being good or bad, it’s about progress.

More later…..on how I got on.

So, what did happen?

Well nothing earth shattering. I did not eat on the flight. My hotel offered a plant based dish of roasted artichokes, lentils, broccoli with some nut curd (who knew you could make nut curd). It did come with some rather odd croutons, but was very nice otherwise.

I could not find anything wholemeal. I had a veggie pizza – delicious but white flour. I had balsamic on my salad. Pasta was all white flour but hey ho.

Breakfast was easy, as I had suspected with some great options. Plus one day they made me porridge with water instead of milk.

I had a couple of meals on the client sites which were ok. One was rice and veggies. Polished rice and overcooked veggies. That afternoon I had one of my flapjacks to fill me up.

One night I had an indulgent meal. The starter did not say it had butter and Parmesan in it, but it did. I lived!

I drank a bit more than I should have one night, but we were out letting our hair down after a particularly long and difficult day. I also had some fried bits with my veggie burger.

I ate before my flight on the way home. The food in the lounge at Johannesburg was ok. Not perfect but good enough. I just had my flapjacks and fruit on the plane. I got quite jealous looks as the food served looked and smelled awful.

I did not need to use the packs of cooked grains I’d taken, so they’re now back in the larder.

My only regret was that I did not do much exercise as I was so busy, plus you travel everywhere by car for safety reasons. The furthest I walked was to the shopping centre, 5 mins away.

All in all, a good week.

What has your experience been?

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2 replies
  1. jenerrico
    jenerrico says:

    When I fly I always order the raw food option if I can. Not all airlines have this but I like eating :) and find the meals break up the flight. It can be interesting to see what the airline chefs consider raw food though. On one flight (from Nepal) with three changeovers and four meals we had a good laugh. You know how your airline meal is made up of four little containers, starter, main, desert, snack? We’ll for every meal each container was filled with exactly the same thing – tomato, green pepper, cucumber and lettuce and that was it!
    Other airlines have been much more imaginative though.

    • bhoneycombe
      bhoneycombe says:

      I like eating too, but with my status with BA, I’d rather hope for an upgrade. I don’t think they do a raw food alternative. I wish they did. Thanks for the comment. Hole you like the blog. Barry.


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