How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

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The majority of the food options available in airports, service (gas) stations or on the road, are often high in refined carbs and sugar, making sticking with a ketogenic lifestyle feel that more difficult.

Having spent around 9 months myself travelling around the world by air, rail, car and boat, it meant I had to get creative on how to maintain a low carbohydrate lifestyle on the go.

Below are some of my own tried and tested tips and ideas of what you can do before, during and after you travel to help you maintain your ketogenic way of eating.

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Before You Travel

Pre-Planning

Planning out your meals is not only a good tool to use in your day-to-day life, but can also take a lot of the stress out of travelling as well. The first part to plan out is the meal that you are going to have before you set off on your travels.

Having a well formulated low carbohydrate meal before you travel, will ensure you keep any hunger or cravings away; this is especially helpful if you are going to be on a long journey and aren’t necessarily used to or like to fast (more on this a little later).

Secondly, make sure you have been consistent with your ketogenic lifestyle before you travel. This not only means your food intake, but also your fluid intake, stress levels and sleep patterns. If you are off on any of these then it can make travelling a little more stressful and cause issues around cravings.

The final part to planning is looking at what foods you can take with you. For some people there may be some logistics involved in what you can and cannot take depending on what mode of transport you are using and for how long you will be traveling.

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During Your Travels

The key to maintaining your ketogenic diet whilst you are traveling will be in the types of foods that you pack. Sometimes though, taking any food with you may not be an option. The below lists will cover foods/snacks that you can make and ones that you can always pick up on the go, depending on what mode of transport you are using

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

1. Traveling by Air

For many people, flying is probably one of the harder ways to travel and maintain this form of lifestyle. Most countries have certain restrictions on what you can and cannot take through security, particularly around fluid options.

Likewise, baggage restrictions can also make it a little more difficult to take certain food items with you. Below are my tried and tested, go-to foods for when you are traveling by air.

Meat Roll-Ups

This can be any form of cold meat such as ham, Parma ham, salami, turkey meat etc. topped with 1-2 slices of cheese (depending on how large the meat is!).

You can either roll as is or you can add a couple of slices of tomato, cucumber or lettuce. In my experience, the less amount of ingredients the easier it is to eat. Once rolled, wrapped them in some foil or cling film as this will save space in your hand-luggage — just be sure to keep it somewhere they won’t get too squashed.

Cheese Sticks

Take 1-2 snack size pieces of cheese pre-bought or cut cheese from home before leaving (around 30 grams in weight). Again, this is a snack that you can pre-pack but many airport shops actually sell cheese sticks (brands such as Cathedral, Babybel etc.) now so you can pick them up on the go.

Dried Meat Snack

Biltong, salami sticks, kabanas sausages and even pork rinds. Again, this is a snack that you can easily buy before you travel and carry with you without the need for refrigeration. This is also a snack option that is becoming more common in certain shops within some airports. You can even make your own meaty snacks:

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds including almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pili nuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. (Here's a complete guide to nuts & seeds, including carb counts and nutritional information per serving.) These are perhaps one of the saviours of travel foods. Try where possible to still always choose options that are low carb friendly by being plain, roasted or salted i.e. no other coatings or flavourings.

Whilst some airports do provide plain or salted nuts, a lot of the options do have coasting or added sugars on them, or only offer peanuts as the nut option. These two recipes are great nut options that you can make at home and then easily transport with you. You can make your flavored nuts or seeds:

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Vegetable Crudités

Cucumber, celery, peppers or carrots. Cutting up some vegetables into batons can make a nice snack to take with you. Be advised though that due to them being classed as liquid options, things such as dips or nut butters would not be allowed through airport security

Dark Chocolate

Have 2-3 squares of chocolate above 70% cocoa (ideally 85-90%, the darker the better). Whilst this by no means will constitute a full snack, having a sweet option to hand can help especially if there are any travel delays or if you are feeling a little tired and think cravings might hit whilst traveling.

Vacuum-Packed Olives

You can now buy olives form most food outlets that come in a handy vacuum package. This means they are not only easy to transport, you can also get them through airport security and be sure to have a good, high fat snack with you.

Dried Coconut Flakes or Flaked Almonds

Opt for plain (raw or toasted) options only, and avoid sweetened products. Having a snack along with you that includes coconut means that you will have access to a quick, high-fat energy source on the go.

Always be sure to check the labels on anything that contains coconut as often added sugar ingredients can sneak in. You can even make your own Quick Cereal, Keto Granola or Coconut Chips.

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Coffee and Cream

Americano (hot or cold) with added cream (pouring or heavy whipping). There is pretty much a Starbucks or Costa Coffee in every airport in the world now and I have failed to find one yet that can’t do a simple Americano with cream.

If you haven’t managed to pack any snacks or find anything at the airport, then this can act as a great saviour to keep you going until you get to your destination.

Low-Carb or Ketogenic Snack Bar

Low-carb and keto friendly bars such as Quest, Adapt or Perfect Keto Bars and great for traveling. Not all bars are truly keto so beware of hidden carbs and starches — always check the labels to make sure there are no blood sugar spiking sweeteners such as Sorbitol, Maltitol and IMOs.

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

2. Traveling by Rail

Taking the train can free you up a little more with regards to the restrictions around what you can and cannot take with you. Granted there may still be some restrictions on the baggage options which you may have to bear in mind when you are pre-planning. Also, whilst the train station can have some shop bought options, generally the on-board food options to buy are limited so I would try and make sure you pack as many of your own foods as possible for this mode of transport.

All the options contained within the flying mode of transport would also be good to take with you when traveling via rail. Other options include:

Greek/Natural Yoghurt

Most places you can now buy small or individual yoghurt pots that are great to take with you on the go. Either having them plain or adding a handful of nuts and seeds make for a great snack or light meal. Just be sure to pack your spoon and try and have this close to setting off on your journey if you aren’t able to take a cold lunch bag with you.

Crackers and Dips

Before you travel, make a large pack of crackers to take with you. Pairing them with something simple like a cream or cheese based dip or some guacamole will make for a great light snack that is easy to carry and consume on the train. And let's not forget nori seaweed crisps, another low-carb staple! Here are some links to extremely tasty and easy to make ketogenic crackers and dips.

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Nut Butter Snack-Packs

Almond, walnut or hazelnut butter, plain or mixed with coconut oil are all great low-carb options. The individual sachets of nut butters that you can buy online are also becoming more popular to pick up from your supermarkets and would make a great go-to, high fat snack.

Be sure to select ones that are either plain nuts or mixed with coconut oil and avoid ones that contain chocolate or honey as this will have sugar in them. Serve on its own, with dark chocolate or even fresh celery stalks.

Snack Pots of Berries

Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries are all low in carbs. This may be one that you absolutely need to pre-plan. Having a packet of berries with you can work as a good snack on their own, or can be added to something like yoghurt or topped with some nut butter.

Smoothies & Shakes

If you are struggling a little on luggage space then this may not be the best go to option. However, if you can, packing a homemade smoothie can act as a great meal on the go for when you’re traveling. Here are some great ketogenic and low-carb Smoothies & Shakes. You can even make your own dry keto protein shake mix and add liquids just before serving. Plus it's a great option for traveling by plane!

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Canned Fish

Salmon, tuna, sardines or mackerel are all healthy and convenient options. Tins of fish can make a great food travel companion as they don’t take up a lot of space and they can last for quite some time! If you are taking this option though, be sure to get one that has an opening mechanism on the top. To read more about the best choices, check out our Complete Guide to Healthy and Sustainable Fish & Seafood.

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

3. Traveling by Road

If you can travel by road, especially that of your own car, then it can make sticking with your ketogenic lifestyle that much easier seeing as you can pack a lot more. Likewise, foods that normally require chilling you can also take with you in a cool bag.

Again, all of the food options listed in the air and rail travel would be ideal for traveling by road as well. Remember though that if you are driving to make sure you are careful and pull over when necessary to eat and drink.

Boiled Eggs

Take 2-3 hard-boiled eggs. These sound simple but they make for a great, high protein snack when you’re on the go. Either have them whole or mix with some homemade mayonnaise. Try and boil these either the night before or in the morning before you travel and be sure to keep in a cool bag

Avocado

Cut in half, keeping the pit inside and squeeze some lemon or lime over the inside. Put the halves back together to prevent browning. All you need is a spoon and optionally a pinch of salt — a healthy keto snack ready to be served!

Egg Muffins

Take 2-3 egg muffins. This type of egg-based dish is really easy to pack and means you will have a great and nutritious meal for the journey.

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Sandwiches & Wraps

If you have a few minutes for meal prep, pack a healthy lunchbox with you by simply filling it with any of your favourite keto foods. Unwich or ham & veg roll-ups are all great options for keto on the go. Try some of these options:

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Keto Bread & More

If you have more than a few minutes, bake some savory low-carb muffins or keto bread and use it to make low-carb sandwiches. Try some of these options:

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Keto Sweet Treats

Take 1-2 baked goods with you. Having a sweet treat along with you on your journey really can help you avoid any temptation from gas stations.

For many people, traveling can become a little tiresome and as we know, we don’t always eat for reasons of hunger. Making sure you have access to some sweet treats can help with any type of emotional eating. These recipes are great keto sweet treats that you can make and take with you:

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

After You Travel

Now you have reached your destination and although the hard part is mostly over, how you follow up with your eating once you have been traveling is just as important.

If you have only had some snacks with you when traveling and you aren’t used to fasting, then you may find that your hunger levels are a little higher than normal. Likewise, if you have been traveling and changed time zones, you may find that your internal body clock has gone a little haywire as well.

As soon as you are able to, make it a priority to eat a well-formulated low carbohydrate meal after you have finished your journey. This will of course not only help with any hunger that you may be feeling, it will also get and keep your body clock more in check. As part of your pre-planning, make sure you have checked out some good, go to restaurants of where you are heading to and get to it ASAP once you arrive.

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Fasting as a Tool for Traveling

For some people, intermittent fasting may be the better option to try when they are traveling.

Who it is good for:

  • People who are used to more extended periods of fasting (18 hours+) or just fasting in general
  • Those who can’t take or pack any of their own snacks with them

Who is it not good for:

  • People who have never tried any form of fasting before they travel
  • People who can get stressed or are nervous at traveling — fasting can be perceived as a stressor to the body and so could exacerbate this

If you are going to use fasting as a tool for when you are traveling, then it is important to remember these points. If you haven’t been doing so, get your body a little used to the concept of fasting at least a week before you travel. The length or type of fasting to do would depend a lot more on the duration of your travel.

If you are going on a long-haul flight, then trying a bit more of a longer fast (such as a 24hour fast) would be of benefit. If it is a shorter trip, then just following a 16:8 feeding/re-feeding window could be a better option. For a full overview of what different fasting options look like, check out this article on fasting.

Exogenous Ketones

The final tool that may be beneficial when traveling is using exogenous ketones. Exogenous ketones are still relatively new to the market and so there hasn’t been an extensive amount of case studies around people using these whilst traveling.

However, the extra ketones may well help keep hunger and particularly cravings that may come around especially if you have a long travel and/or are changing time zones.

How to Stay Low-Carb and Keto When You Travel

Take Home Message

Whilst traveling can seem a little daunting to try and maintain your ketogenic way of eating, it need not be impossible and should not be a barrier to why you can’t or shouldn’t travel.

The most important thing is to make sure that you have pre-planned accordingly before you set off anywhere. If you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.

Always remember to factor in the after part of traveling as well to ensure all your efforts are maintained.

For more tips on staying keto while eating out, check out our Guide to Dining Out on a Low-Carb and Keto Diet!

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Emily Maguire, BSc, MSc
Creator of lowcarbgenesis.com

Emily Maguire

After completion of her BSc in Nutrition, Emily went onto study for an MSc in Obesity Science and Management. Author at lowcarbgenesis.com, she is keen to share the myths and truths surrounding the ever confusing and interesting topic of nutrition.

With over 7 years of experience working within the commercial weight loss sector, she has unprecedented insight knowledge into the use of alternative nutritional therapies, particularly that of the ketogenic diet.

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Comments (8)

Just wondering about the Quest bars suggested. Some of the Quest bars do seem to have sucralose and they have soluble corn fiber.  I know (as this blog generally advocates anyway) that we should stay away from the ones with sucralose.
However, I am confused about the corn fiber- I thought corn was off the list for more than just it's carb properties. Or is this an instance like Erythritol and not really a corn product anymore? Same thing with the soluble tapioca fiber in the Perfect Keto bars. Thank you for your help in understanding this!
I am in maintenance if it matters. I went from 220lbs (Nov '17) to 139lbs (June '18) solely following this blog.

Reply

That is amazing Crystal!! What an amazing transformation! I'm so happy for you!
Quest bars are not my personal favourite because most of the flavours I've seen include Sucralose.  Also, they often cause bloating. Having said that, it can be an option if you travel and can't have a proper meal. The "old" Quest bars used to have IMOs and the net carbs were much higher than labeled but IMOs have been replaced with Erythritol and stevia in the newer version. When it comes to soluble corn fiber, I've seen mixed opinions on this. I'll be looking into it over the next few weeks and testing blood sugar to see the effect.
I do like Perfect Keto Bars. They are my favourite and they don't taste like "protein" bars. Similar to arrowroot powder, tapioca on it's own is not an issue but it can be problematic if you use too much (high in carbs). The amount used in Keto Bars is negligible and has almost no effect on the carb count.

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Thank you so much! I really do owe it all to the information on your blog and in your cookbooks. For my body type that was going from a size 20 (American) to a size 4.
I appreciate the clarifying info too and look forward to your findings.
Sometimes I work in facilitates that don't allow contracting therapists to have access to a fridge or storage and I have yet to find a cooler that holds up to Florida summer heat in a car for 6 or more hours. Something I can keep in my therapy bins for emergencies would be wonderful.

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Thank you so much, you made my day! So so happy for you! I have to say I'm jealous about Florida - I live in rainy England! Would you like to share your story with our readers? If you do, let me know by sending an email! 😊

Reply

Very useful article, Emily. I've made a list of all items for plane travels and I've keep it in my phone. I always can access to it whenever I need it. Thank you so much!
BTW, including a simple list (without pictures or descriptions) in a pdf would be great!

Reply

Thank you Catalin! I'll try to do that in the next few days if time allows! 😊

Reply

Thank you for this article; it came at just the right time.  My husband and I will be traveling to Rome from NY and returning to NY from Tel Aviv.  The Rome flight is about 9 hours and the Tel Aviv flight is close to 13 hours.  We have decided to fast on both flights because I just recently read an article that said fasting eliminates jet lag!  We are used to intermittent fasting, but just to be sure we can do the long hauls, we are trying it on a flight from Alabama to New York in a few weeks.  That, with stops, runs about 7 hours; so it will be a good test.  However, your suggestions of what to take are excellent, and I plan to take a few items just in case the fasting is too difficult.  Long flights tend to be boring, and boredom tends to lead to cravings.  So having a meat/cheese rollup, hard cooked egg, and keto muffin of one kind or another in a "survival bag" just is case will be our safety net.  I very much appreciated the article and know that I'm not the only one!

Reply

That sounds like an amazing trip Marilyn! I fasted that on the way back from California (traveling to the UK) and I did feel much better. Also I think it was the time because our flight was late in the evening so we were not hungry. This is keto unrelated but do get noise cancelling headphones - it's a game changer. Have fun and keto on! 😊

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