On a cross-country flight a few years ago, I paid $11 for the world’s grossest Southwest salad.
It was next-level disgusting: waxy tomatoes, tasteless iceberg and a “zesty” (slimy) vinaigrette. Since then, I’ve been on a quest to find ways to skip the airport food court and bring my own food.
And it makes sense. I’ve already saved up my miles, researched the cheapest flight and pounced at the right moment to get a great fare. Why would I go to all that trouble to save and then waste my dollars at a greasy pizza stand?
I’ve found that a little pre-trip prep helps. Here are my best tips for saving money on your travels, and eating better in the process.
1. Skip Reuseable Containers
That Tupperware’s just one more thing to keep track of while you sprint through the terminal to make your connection.
In the weeks leading up to my trip, I stockpile clean disposable containers from things like cream cheese and sour cream. I pack my travel food in these tubs and then ditch them in trash (or recycling) cans along the way.
The holy grail of disposable containers is one of those tiny honey jars from hotel coffee stations. They’re perfect for dressings and sauces. I also save a couple of empty disposable water bottles to refill when I get through security.
2. Spice Up Your Water
Once you’ve refilled your bottle, you might be looking longingly at the soda machine.
But rather than splurge on an overpriced beverage, pack a few packets of powdered flavoring. Just add to your bottle of water, and you’ll be ready to settle in at your gate with a trashy magazine.
3. Take Advantage of the In-flight Hot Water
I learned this tip from The Kitchn, and now I do it every time I fly: Before you head to the airport, spend three minutes packing lemon slices and ginger, and add some honey. In a pinch, bring along some teabags.
Either way, once you’re on the plane, ask the flight attendant for some hot water. You’ll have a soothing drink and a good reason to skip Starbucks during your layover.
Hot water is also your friend if you’re in the mood for breakfast — just bring along a few packets of instant oatmeal or cream of wheat.
4. Keep It Light
It’s a mystery to me why airport food courts are stocked with heavy, greasy options. When hurtling through time and space in a metal cylinder, I usually feel better if I’ve eaten something fresh.
Pre-washed apples and pears travel pretty well, and you can avoid being slimed by the core if you tuck the fruit in a baggy along with a folded up paper towel. This trick also works with hard-boiled eggs. Just put the shell in the baggy and discard it the next chance you get.
Salads are also totally doable. Employ the salad-in-jar methodology but, instead of a jar, whip out one of those plastic containers you’ve been saving. Dressing goes on the bottom, followed by tougher veggies and protein, and then any ingredients you don’t want soaking. Top it off with greens, and you’re good to go.
Other great choices are sandwiches or wraps. This is a great time to go through your fridge and make use of any food that will spoil while you’re gone.
5. Purloin Some Silverware
If you happen to get takeout in the weeks before your trip, squirrel away a few of those packages that include silverware and a napkin. Some airport food vendors are wising up and putting the plastic silverware behind their counters, but if you ask the staff, they’re generally happy to slip you a fork.
6. Stay Cool
No one wants to eat a warm salad. Instead, fill a baggie with ice right before you leave for the airport. Once it’s all melted, either toss or pour it out in a drinking fountain, and refill with ice at one of the restaurants.
Another TSA-approved option: Wet and freeze a sponge to use as a replacement ice pack. As long as it’s frozen solid when you go through screening, you’re all set.
7. Bring Some Dry Snacks
Be strategic about when you eat what. Eat the cold items first, and then supplement with room-temperature ones.
Grab packs of nuts, granola bars or beef jerky in advance. It’s straight-up silly how expensive this stuff is in the airport shops, so why not stock up before you fly?
Your Turn: What are your best money-saving tips for airport eating?
Lyndsee Simpson is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She’s eaten her last in-flight salad, thank you very much!