Into the Danger Zone: How to travel with food and not be arrested!

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.

As I began writing this, I was on yet another flight, headed to yet another location and tomorrow I’ll be back at the airport. Since 2004 when I started my consulting and training business, I’ve spent at least 200 days a year on the road. I have traveled around the world and provided training in multiple locations throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. I have had many people tell me that I have their dream job; this lifestyle is so “glamorous” and that I’m incredibly lucky.

I love to travel. I love to teach.  I’ve seen some phenomenal things and met some amazing individuals. In those regards, people are correct. I’m lucky.

I also see in my newsfeed, though, comments like “I haven’t seen my husband in 11 days.” “I haven’t been home in two weeks.” That is a routine schedule for me, nothing out of the ordinary at all. When I AM home for 11 days in a row that is news! I don’t go home at the end of the day when I’m done working. I spend a lot of time surrounded by people yet all alone. I spend a lot of time driving. I spend a lot of time flying and running through airports. I have been known, due to flight delays and cancellations, to sleep for 30-60 minutes in my car in the parking lot prior to teaching all day. I’ve slept in more than one airport. Trust me when I say, it’s really not “glamorous”. I’m not on vacation and most people would not want to do this if they knew what it actually entailed. I hear people say, “I love to travel but I love to get home and sleep in my own bed.” To be honest, the Hilton bed feels more like “my bed” than the one I have at home.

I’m not sharing all of this so that you will feel bad for me. I own the company. I am doing this 560126_3460823671844_576210077_n-2by choice – in theory at least, but that’s another story. I am sharing it to make the point that I’m somewhat of a travel “expert”. I, though, like many of you also have fitness goals I am trying to attain. It’s competition season and all of this travel makes preparation quite complicated, if not downright difficult. The choice to compete is also a personal one. I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m just saying it’s not easy. It’s not for any of us.

Travel never is. In fact, it’s something I get a lot of nutritional questions about.   Many of my clients do fantastic as long as they are in their typical environment, with a set schedule. Going out to eat or traveling is when they start having problems. That’s when many panic or just give up. I hear things like, “Oh no, we’re going out to dinner. This is going to be a disaster!” “I’m traveling for the next two weeks. It’s going to be really hard to eat nutritiously and there is no way I can exercise.” “What do you have for ideas of healthy choices that don’t need to be refrigerated or warmed up?”


I’m not talking about going on vacation, kicking back for a while, and enjoying yourself. If you’re doing that, relax!!! Have desert. Get a drink, or two. Try the local cuisine. Don’t worry about it.  I’m just saying, don’t use travel, or going out to eat, business meetings, office events, or anything else as an excuse to “have to” eat poorly. You never have to. You are a grown person. You are in charge of your decisions. Own them.

Be mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth. Don’t obsess over it. You don’t have to count every calorie or worry about every tiny morsel, if you’re not preparing for a competition. You do need to be aware that your choices (including food, water, sleep, and exercise) do have an impact on you, though, and it’s not merely physical.


I realize that I am neither typical nor “normal”, and that’s okay. You can say that I’m crazy. Lots of people that I love, do. Though my niece says I’m, “just a little eccentric” and I prefer that 🙂  If nothing else, maybe this post with make you laugh.

If I’m not on vacation, traveling requires a little bit of forethought and planning. With time and travel, I simply can’t always pop into a local restaurant for something to eat. Believe it if you want to, but there are not a lot of options in some of these very rural places, especially late at night!!

I never check a bag so all of my food has to be carry-on approved. I have been stopped very, very few times by TSA, but I make sure that I am following the rules. I do not carry liquids or creams – that means no peanut butter, cottage cheese, or yogurt. Knives are not allowed!!! Forks may be frowned upon on international flights too (both Spain and Italy had issues with my fork).

As an aside, TSA also frowns upon metal dumbbells in your luggage. Evidently a 10-pound weight “makes a very good bludgeoning tool”. They will question weighted handle jump ropes (which might look like “dynamite”…..I’m not sure who carries that on the plane, but, okay….) but you are allowed to have them so long as you explain, “what you plan to do with them.”


I.  Plan ahead. If I am going to be on the road for 5-7 days, I bring most of my food with me. If it’s longer than 7 days, I will need to make arrangements to restock my cooler at some point.  The food is pre-cooked and partitioned out into servingIMG_9638s. I have a food sealer that I use because it makes the food flat, and I don’t have to worry about leakage. I carry a pair of nail clippers to open the packages.

II.  Lean protein is typically the hardest thing to find on the road. My go-to options include pre-cooked chicken/turkey breast, ground meats, or meatloaf. Know that you can make just about anything into a pancake or muffin. I make egg white and veggie muffins, mini loaves from eggs and oatmeal; and these minced broccoli, tuna, and egg white concoctions. They freeze, they’re easy to pack, and they’re easy to eat even if I’m on the road.

Craziest TSA moment: There are two when it comes to protein. (1) I bought a couple pound turkey breast somewhere in my travels but didn’t end up eating it so I was carrying it home. TSA said that because it showed as a solid mass on the screen, it looked suspicious and “almost like plastic explosive”. Fair enough J (2) I was traveling through a very rural part of Montana one year right after Easter. The grocery store was selling colored, hard-boiled eggs on clearance so I picked up a dozen. I probably had 6-8 in my carry on. Those, evidently, “look a little like hand grenades.” It does appear evident to me that given this input, perhaps I should be a little concerned about all of this travel!!!

If I am near a grocery store, I will grab some tuna or salmon packets (not cans unless I can find them with pull tops). I sometimes also pick up a whole rotisserie chicken from the deli and keep that in my hotel fridge for a few days. Note that the best place to find a grocery store is typically not too far from the airport, so that’s my first stop off the plane.

III.  Finding carbohydrates without a ton of fat is probably my second biggest challenge. This is easy to fix by bringing pre-cooked sweet potato fries, plain instant oatmeal, cut up veggies, rice, or quinoa.

Craziest TSA moment: More than once I have carried an entire spaghetti squash in my carry-on. One time in Los Angeles, I was pulled out for supplemental screening. The TSA agent and I talked about spaghetti squash for about 10 minutes and I gave him two recipes before I left IMG_9637the security area.

If I am near a grocery store, I may pick up some rice cakes, Minute Rice cups, black beans, fresh (or frozen – no sugar or additives) fruits and veggies, or tortillas. I don’t typically carry a lot of fresh fruit with me merely because it bruises easily and can be messy.

IV.  Finding fat is always easy but healthy fats vs saturated can be a challenge if you don’t know what you’re looking for. I carry unsalted nuts in my suitcase (typically almonds, although sometimes also brazil or walnuts). Shredded coconut is easy, and can be mixed into fruit or yogurt.

If I am near a grocery store, I may pick up some olive oil, nuts, cottage cheese, yogurt, and natural peanut butter.

V.  If your hotel has a refrigerator and/or microwave, you’ve got it made!  Let me tell you, though, that I am living proof that things need to be refrigerated far less than we think they do. I’m not giving you advice here; I’m just saying that I personally think nothing of carrying chicken, turkey, eggs, etc., in my suitcase cross-country. I freeze most of it before I leave home, and do carry it in an insulated cooler bag, but none-the-less. Depending on where I’m teaching, I may or may not have access to a refrigerator for several days. This really freaks my sister out so last year she bought me a small cooler that plugs into the cigarette lighter in my car. It’s fantastic for road trips but I don’t bring it on the plane.

If I am near a grocery store, I will pick up a cheap Styrofoam cooler, and a bag of ice to use for a few days.  If I’m not near a grocery store, I have extra gallon zip lock baggies in my luggage. I fill those from the hotel ice machine and put them into my cooler bag with my food.

VI.  I bring protein bars (and powders) in my luggage but many grocery stores and even gas stations carry them these days. The important thing is to read your labels! Some of those bars are just high calorie candy bars with the word “protein” on the label so you’ll buy it – you might as well just buy a Snickers and be done with it.

I am working on a review of my favorite protein bars now. That will be going out to the e-mail list within the next few days.

VII.  If I’m on a long drive, I’m not a fan of stopping at restaurants for a lot of sit down meals. That simply chews up time that I don’t have. Chipotle, or Panera are my favorites for hot, healthy, and fast food. Subway also works (my favs are chopped chicken or tuna salads) as does Wendy’s (chili and a side salad).


Vanilla Greek yogurt, fresh raspberries & water

VIII.  Drink your water!!! I drink lots of water every day but especially on days that I’m flying. I may buy one at the airport and refill that bottle for the week; or I bring a deflated and flattened bottle in my suitcase.

IX.  Use the hotel and think outside the box. Most hotels have a complimentary breakfast of some sort. I can pick up fruit, hardboiled eggs, yogurt, bagels, and individual servings of peanut butter here.

I’ve asked to use the front desk’s microwave when there isn’t one in my room. The glass plate in the bottom of the microwave (once washed) makes a perfect dinner plate. The small coffee pot serves as a bowl. On road trips, I have discovered that in addition to cooking protein waffles in my waffle iron, I can also cook 99% fat free burger meat!

X.  Buy extra cooked food when you are near a restaurant. If I have a chance to get to a restaurant, I will order one meal to eat there and another to box up and bring with me. Applebee’s, Chili’s, Outback, Panera and Chipotle are a few of my favorites. Many of the Whole Foods have hot bars where you can pick up fresh cooked food as well.


If you have no control over WHAT you eat, you can still control HOW MUCH you eat. Be mindful of portion size and choose the best alternative among those available to you. Again, don’t obsess. Don’t stress about it. Do the best you can do. I just want you to be aware that the excuse, “but I was traveling and had no choice” is just that – an excuse.  You are in control.  


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.