Eating Frugally On the Run: Travel Day

by AJ Pettersen · 8 comments

As I head out for Spring Training in Florida, I am reminded of all the days I spent in the airport during baseball season in college. Every other weekend, we would go to the airport and travel to locations throughout the country. I enjoy eating and I need to eat consistently to stay healthy during the year, so the airport always caused a dilemma for me. Do I pack something? If I do, what can I bring? What will I drink? Is fast food sufficient? After three years of trial and error, I have learned a few things about meals on travel days.

Pack Your Meal

Airports are similar to stadiums and concert halls. They know that once you are in, they have a monopoly on the market. This leads to astronomical prices you can’t avoid. A cheeseburger that was 99 cents is now $2. The price changes are significant enough to warrant packing your own food. Keep in mind to bring foods that are:

  • Small and filling
  • Healthy
  • Energy providers

These are three things I always think about when I pack my meals for trips. For baseball trips I tend to pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some nuts and some fruit. Remember, flights are long and uncomfortable. The last thing you want is a meal that makes you feel sick. What is your favorite meal to pack for long travel days?

Bring an Empty Water Bottle

Once you step foot in the airport, it seems there is a water shortage. You have the option of a large bottle of generic spring water or a smaller bottle of Fiji water. Both bottles cost over $3. I learned from a friend that empty water bottles are huge money savers. You cannot bring liquid through security, but you are allowed to bring empty containers and fill them up once inside the gate. The water from the drinking fountain is just as good and saves me at least $6 dollars on each trip.

If You Must, Buy Healthy!

Sometimes you forget to bring a meal or don’t have the necessary food at home, but don’t use this as an excuse to buy burgers and fries. I have made this mistake more than once and sat through a long flight with a queasy stomach. Don’t make the same error. If I don’t pack food, I find a restaurant offering food that is easier on the stomach. Good examples of these foods are:

  • Trail Mix
  • Salad
  • Fruit Cups

These are just a few examples that won’t make you feel sick on travel day. What are your favorite choices at the airport?

Heading Out

Keep these tips in mind before you travel. If you travel often, these simple tips could save you a significant amount of money (and stomach aches). What other measures do you take when it comes to eating on travel days?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Karen Kay says:

    When I do a road trip, I cut up as much fruit as I can and put that in a cold container. Then I mix my nuts, raisins and some good chocolate in a baggy. I always carry bottles with filters in them and a closed container of travel coffees, teas, cereals (one serving packages), sweetener and my favorite single serving cold drink (iced tea, lemonade etc.) I also carry a jar of peanut butter and celery with me, as well as boiled eggs and cubed cheese and some crackers. This is often more than enough to get me where I’m going. Usually, if I stop to eat, I’ll find a truck stop. The food is usually plentiful, good and a reasonable price.

  • TB at BlueCollarWorkman says:

    Are you allowed to bring food through security? Actually, now that I think of it, you can. My wife and I have a backpack and usually have granola bars in it and stuff like that for the kids and us. It’s a great idea and saves us tons! (and actually, we almost never fly, we usually drive places)

  • Carl Lassegue says:

    I rarely buy food from airports but I have never thought about bringing my own food to the airport. I usually eat right before I leave the house.

  • Marbella says:

    I travel extensively in Europe, usually 3-4 hours flights. I undertake always before a well-balanced meal and I drink just enough water for the flight so I do not fill up during the trip. Plus I always fall asleep right after take-off and sleep often throughout the trip.

  • Jean says:

    Good tips. Small but filling in particular is key. I used to bring a few hardboiled eggs with me as I found even two of them to be surprisingly filling. And certainly, carrying an empty drinking water container is also very important. I am paranoid even about using disposable paper cups outside.


  • MoneySmartGuides says:

    This is the one area that always gets me. Even if I am only going out for an afternoon of running errands. I would run out the door and then get hungry and spend money on food I could have saved if I had taken 10 minutes to pack some snacks. It’s still a struggle, but I am aware of it and try to get myself to pack some snacks before heading out.

  • The Money Mail says:

    I have not been allowed empty plastic water bottles in the past. That is strange, I am wondering if you were using a sturdier aluminum bottle, Did that make a difference?

  • KM says:

    I don’t travel much, but when I had to for work once, I didn’t pack anything for the trip there, which I should have. My layover was in a crappy little airport with nasty Southern food (think deep fried everything and fresh nothing) and I would have been better off had I packed a sandwich with me or something. However, I left my house at 3am to go to the airport, so thinking ahead wasn’t the highest item on my priority list. On the way back, Charlotte was a very nice airport where I enjoyed some tasty Chinese food. So that trip made me realize: since I don’t eat out much at home and I cooked my own food during the trip, having a decent meal at an airport isn’t the worst thing ever. And having had food poisoning after eating a sandwich at an airport once, I think I will stick to real food from a mini-restaurant and not test my luck with packaged stuff. But it’s probably best to do some research ahead of time and see what the airport offers before having no choice but to eat crappy, unhealthy food.

    Also, although your points about eating snack-type food are valid for some, there is no way that trail mix and salads would fill me up and I will feel worse if I don’t eat enough.

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