Thursday, June 30, 2016

Traveling on AIP part 1: pre-trip planning

Traveling on AIP part 1: pre-trip planning

The thought of traveling while following the autoimmune protocol (or while living with chronic illnesses or conditions) may evoke fear or a sense of panic. Though I wrote a post in 2014 about travel foods while following AIP, in the time since then, I’ve done a lot more traveling & have learned many more tips and tricks. I thought it may be helpful to others to write a more in depth series about my personal experiences for traveling while following a healing diet and lifestyle—I’ve actually been working on this post for over 6 months! Car travel seems to be an easier option for most people, so I’ll be primarily covering the challenges of domestic air travel within the United States; however, many tips should also apply to other forms of travel (or to international travel, though the laws of what you can take in to a country vary greatly).

In this post (part one), I’ll cover things I do before the trip begins, from planning & researching,  to batch cooking & packing, and managing expectations. In future post(s), I’ll share strategies during actual travel days and while at your destination. You can find part two here.

Note: This post contains a lot of links, some of which are affiliate links, meaning I may earn a slight commission from things purchased through the affiliate links at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting Sweet Treats! 

Traveling on AIP part 1: TSA Pre-Check

TSA pre-check:
  • In an effort to streamline my travel further & reduce stress, last fall fall, I applied for the TSA pre-check program. Yes, it does have a fee involved, and the application process can take a few weeks for approval, but not standing in a security line as long, nor needing to take as many things out of my bag has been well worth the cost. 
  • Not every airport has the full program, but if you find yourself frequently flying out of airports that DO utilize it, I highly recommend applying. 
  • As a bonus, TSA pre-check lines generally have passengers go through metal detectors instead of the body scanners, which means I can lessen my radiation exposure.  
Booking Flights:
  • I’ve made a serious effort to make sleep a priority & to reduce stress as much as I can. While I use to easily fly early in the morning or late at night, I now am much more conscious of flight times & how they might disrupt my sleep schedule. I’m ok with getting up a little bit earlier or with pushing my bed time to just a little later, but I try not to have 5am flights or take red-eyes. I know that if I start out a trip totally exhausted from traveling at times when I’m usually sleeping, I’m much more likely to have a flare in symptoms. 
  • Not to mention, airports tend to be really busy in the early morning, so choosing to fly later can mean a less stressful experience. 
Traveling on AIP part 1: Staybridge Suites

Lodging Choices:
  • For those needing a hotel, find a hotel that has, at the very least, a mini fridge and microwave, though my preference is to find a hotel with a full kitchen. Some hotels with kitchens that I have used include Staybridge SuitesResidence Inn by Marriott, and Homewood Suites, though there are probably many others too. 
  • Most hotel rooms with kitchens have a stovetop/microwave/dishwasher but do not have an oven. I either plan to cook things that don’t require an oven, or I bring along pre-cooked food that can be re-heated in the microwave or on the stove. 
  • Another great option is to rent a condo or house via a site like Airbnb or VRBO. If you choose to rent a condo or house, I recommend contacting the owner or rental company before you leave to find out what kitchen equipment will be provided. 
  • Staying with family or friends is another popular option, but if your loved ones are not familiar with AIP or food allergies, it’s a good idea to have a conversation ahead of time. Because I have such such serious gluten and dairy sensitivities (we keep our own home free from gluten or dairy), I’d prefer not to be preparing allergen-free food next to someone who is slicing bread or making pasta etc. Not every person will understand or be accommodating, but I find it is better to be upfront with what you personally need ahead of time to avoid any uncomfortable conversations or run-ins when you arrive. I don’t expect my family or friends kitchen’s to be entirely AIP compliant, but it is nice to ask if they would consider making a few adjustments for your stay, or if they can find a “safe corner” for food prep. I also travel with a decent amount of pre-made food or ingredients to make food, so make sure your hosts have enough fridge or freezer space to accommodate what you’re brining. 
  • Whatever lodging choice you make, choose one that is best for your stress levels. While we love to stay with family and friends when traveling—it’s great for spending more quality time together, it’s less expensive—there are times, with those who are not as accommodating to my dietary restrictions or who do not understand the limitations those with chronic illness may face, when having the sanctuary of a private hotel room is completely worth it. 
Traveling on AIP part 1: Allergy Card

Researching Restaurants 
  • For the most part when I travel, I prefer to bring my own safe food to reduce the risk of unintended cross contamination (no one wants to be sick while on a trip. However, sometimes, especially on a trip, it’s nice to take a break & not have to cook or clean up. Very rarely do I just walk into a restaurant and hope there’ll be something for me. Instead, I research restaurants ahead of time to see if there are any with decent options. Most restaurants have menus online, which makes weeding out the “not possible” options relatively quickly. 
  • Once I find a restaurant that looks like it may have options, I call or email ahead to make sure they can accommodate my meals. I designed allergy cards  to communicate with servers and kitchen staff about my particular limitations & I’ll often email my allergy card ahead. I have had a couple restaurants flat out tell me not to eat at their establishment, but more often than not, so long as I’m nice and friendly in my communications, not rude/demanding/entitled, most restaurants are willing to work with me.
List making
  • Write out a clear meal plan before you go & tentatively plan out each meal. I always error on the side of taking along too much food rather than not enough. 
  • If you plan to get groceries once you arrive at your location, make the grocery list before you go. Even grocery stores from the same chain may have slightly different products depending on location so also plan back-ups in case you cant get that favorite product at your destination. 
  • Before the trip, make a list of what you’re bringing (I do this on my iPad or in Google Drive). Then, at the end of the trip, record what you used or didn’t use. Keep that list for future trips & modify it as necessary to make things easier. 
Traveling on AIP part 1: Travel Batch Cooking

Batch Cooking
  • I really prefer to eat my own food when traveling, which usually means a large batch cooking session (or sessions) before the trip. I chose foods that travel well & that I can eat either warm or cold. Some of my favorites to batch cook include:
Traveling on AIP part 1: Safe Treats
  • I also make a few “safe” treats to take a long because I know I’ll be more tempted to splurge on something sweet when traveling. Some of my favorite “safe” treats include:
  • I package the prepared foods in individual portions in  freezer safe ziplock bags because they’re lighter than the glass jars I typically use at home & I don’t have to worry about taking home empty containers after the trip is done. 
  • I freeze most all of the food before the trip & pack it into thermal containers, mostly in my checked luggage, before air travel. Alternately, for a car trip, I’ll pack the frozen food into coolers & can add additional ice as needed.
Traveling on AIP part 1: AIP convenience foods

Convenience Foods
  • Convenience foods I plan to pick up once at my destination, if I can
    • naked rotisserie chicken (I’ve only purchased this at Whole Foods) 
    • salad greens
    • green juice 
    • kombucha
    • avocado
    • additional fruit
    • water
Traveling on AIP part 1: Kitchen Tools

Portable Kitchen 
Traveling on AIP part 1: AIP Portable Pantry
My last few planning suggestions deal more with mindset & communication

  • Adjusting Expectations: 
    • Make peace with the fact that for someone chronic illness, there are certain life changes that occur. While I have healed a great deal & many of my symptoms are no longer as prevalent as they once were, I still have to be careful, especially while traveling. The last thing I want is to experience a flare while on a trip. I still need to eat a very clean diet (currently: AIP with a  few reintroductions). I still need to guard my sleep. I still need to watch that I don’t over exert myself (even if I am eternally optimistic about being able to do more, haha!).  
    • Let go of the fact that you may not be 100% in control of all your meals. If you choose to eat in restaurants, chances are food will be cooked in less than desirable oils, or meat may not be grass fed/pastured/wild caught, or fruits/veggies will not be organic. Don’t stress too much, because stress is just as bad as a poor diet. 
  • Communicating with family and/or travel companions about meals ahead before the trip
    • When my husband, who follows AIP/Paleo guidelines with me at home but doesn’t have any specific food restrictions. and I travel just the two of us, I batch cook some of our meals ahead of time (planning enough food for two). For some meals, husband picks up his own food from restaurants while I eat pre-cooked meals. We decide about which meals we’ll eat out together and where. We get ingredients to make his breakfast (usually eggs) in our lodging. 
    • When we travel to see family, I often plan to cook meals to share with those around me. If I’m planning to do a lot of cooking/cooking for more people, I may bring more kitchen tools or more pre-made things. I don’t mind volunteering to do the cooking, but I do like to plan ahead for it. If I’m repeatedly cooking large meals for a group, I’ll get more tired & may need to adjust my travel schedule accordingly. 
    • AIP food is really delicious, so don’t be surprised if those around you want to try your food or want you to cook for them. I just find it is easier to try to figure these things out before traveling to help manage everyones’ expectations. No one wants to feel completely kitchen-bound, slaving over meals, on what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation. 
    • If you don’t have the energy (or budgetary ability) to cook for others, be honest with people & set that boundary. 
  • Make sure people know your limitations. 
    • If you follow a specific sleep schedule & need to go to bed early or not get up at the crack of dawn, tell your family/friends/travel companions ahead of time. 
    • If you have a regular meditation routine or yoga practice or exercise regimen that you’d like to keep up while traveling, communicate the situation with others.
    • If you need to take certain supplements or medications at certain times, build that into your schedule. 
Ok, that's it for this first part of my series on traveling while following AIP. If you have any additional tips or tricks, please leave a comment. Knowledge is power ;) I'll be back in future posts to talk about (part 2) travel days themselves  & how I handle things at my destination

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting Sweet Treats.