How to Pack the Ultimate Carry-On Bag of Snacks

December 28, 2018

As we head into the long holiday weekend, we’re reminded of the time our co-founders Merrill Stubbs and Amanda Hesser jetted off to Japan on a 14-hour flight—and the magical Mary Poppins bag of plane snacks that Merrill packed. We asked her how she managed to plan such a feast. Here are her tips.

Merrill's 10 Commandments of Eating While Traveling

  • Plan your picnic ahead of time and buy as much as you can before you hit the road/air. You'll be less stressed, and odds are you'll spend less and end up with much better options. A wedge of good cheese and a baguette can easily be shared among three or four people and should set you back less than two soggy airport sandwiches.
  • Choose items that can last for a while at room temperature without suffering (e.g. cured meats instead of fresh, crackers instead of bread, hard cheeses instead of soft). Even for a short flight, you'll need to account for the additional time spent getting to/from the airport, going through security, etc.
  • Plan for several mini meals instead of one or two large ones. We (and our kids) tend to get peckish while traveling—normally we're not proponents of eating out of boredom, but these are extraordinary circumstances!
  • Pack your food in appropriate containers. Either use disposables like foil or old deli containers that you can toss immediately, or—even better—reusable bags that you can wash and press into service during your trip (we take lots of these silicone bags, which can hold snacks for our kids throughout the trip—also great for wet bathing suits!).
  • Include a couple of special treats—now's the perfect time to splurge on those fancy Italian chocolates or handmade spelt crackers you've been eyeing.
  • Focus on things that don't require utensils, or a transfer from one container to another. Dried fruit, nuts and seeds, cut up veggies, and homemade pita chips and hummus are all good options.
  • Pack things that range the full flavor spectrum to keep things interesting (see #3 re: boredom above). This will also help you avoid eating too much salt, which can cause uncomfortable fluid retention.
  • Opt for assertive flavors (olives, herbed or wheaty crackers instead of plain, aged cheeses). Your tastebuds are less sensitive when traveling, for a whole host of reasons, so you'll want to stay away from bland foods.
  • Eat the most perishable items first, and work towards the least perishable. If you only get part-way through that prosciutto and fontina baguette with arugula or you're left with a bunch of battered bananas, those will have to go straight in the trash when you land. Leftover nuts or rice crackers will last you the rest of the trip.
  • Pack some napkins and wet wipes. If you bring delicate produce like tomatoes, peaches or plums, wrap the fruit carefully in the napkins to keep them from bruising or splitting.
A peek inside Merrill's snack bag.

This Is Good, Too

What snacks do you pack while traveling? Let us know in the comments below.


Lindsay S. January 5, 2019
I once saw a french family at the airport eating hard boiled eggs. I do this now, ha. If you cook them properly they don't smell strongly. I made "Louisa's peach cake" and took frozen leftovers with us and we ate it once we got to the hotel, it was so perfect still! Also I have always loved the french ham and butter on a baguette as a travel meal, and also the Italian version with prosciutto plus a san pellagrino limonata! :) Can't get much yummier than that!
Helen October 6, 2018
I like to make my own trail mix of toasted or raw nuts, different kinds of raisins, roasted chickpeas, pumpkin seeds etc. It is easy to carry, eat and doesn’t smell. Peanut butter on triscuits are good too. I think avoiding strong smelling food is really important. Sometimes i pack a few dried apricots, apples, figs for something sweet that isn’t messy. I buy water in the airport past security and am good to go. I usually avoid meat and fish when traveling but a few slices of cheddar are good if you eat early enough. I prefer to eat vegetarian than risk food poisoning on a trip. Been there done that. Homemade trail mix, peanut butter crackers, dried fruit, hard dark chocolate and water are my go-to snacks.
Bonnie T. September 10, 2018
I like to make breakfast burritos or bean, cheese, veggie + avocado burritos. Wrap them in foil, they can handle being jostled, will stay warm (but aren’t bad at room temp) and satisfying. Homemade granola is good too, you can add milk on the plane or just eat it as a snack.
Cecilia September 9, 2018
My favorite on-board snack is oatmeal. I take regular rolled oats and chop them up a bit in my food processor to convert them into instant oats (or I just buy the individually wrapped packets of instant at the store, but I don't usually have these on hand). I then pack a serving of oats in a small container along with some salt and cinnamon, flax seeds, etc. On the plane, I'll ask a flight attendant to fill the oatmeal cup up with hot water (I wait until any service is finished, then go back and ask politely. I have never had anything but an enthusiastic and gracious response). It's a lovely warm, comforting snack for me, and can help me fall asleep if it's a long flight. It's also endlessly customizable, and I can pack a few packages of instant oats to last different legs of the trip. Bonus: the same method can be applied to packages of instant miso soup from Trader Joe's.
Lazyretirementgirl October 5, 2018
Great idea. Thanks!
Michelle S. September 3, 2018
Stuffed pizza wrapped in foil, w wet naps or wet paper towels, Fruit ( pre peeled oranges or a large fruit cup) mints, m&ms, granola bars. skittles. We take long flights.
M S. September 3, 2018
Nice. Trow some anchos on that baby. Onions?
Deborah B. September 2, 2018
My standard in-flight snack bag contains a package of pre-sliced apple wedges, individually wrapped non-smelly cheeses like mini bonbels, granola bars, good chocolate.
Sam1148 August 31, 2018
Take some large paper towels, shop towels, or a good bit of regular towels. Wrap those around the packages with some rubber bands. Use that to lay out on your tray table.
Your flight attendant will appreciate when you clean up and put everything in zip-lock to hand them at the end of the flight.
Lazyretirementgirl October 5, 2018
Very good method. Thanks!
Marty L. August 31, 2018
Tuna baguette looks great, but it seems like it would not be easy to eat while travelling. All the little pieces falling out.
Pat R. August 31, 2018
Not to mention, you might be the most-hated, tuna-smelling passenger on the plane.
MelissaH September 1, 2018
Seriously, if anyone in my airspace brought tuna on board, I would probably hurl all over them.
M S. September 3, 2018
Would not be the most hated passenger on the plane no matter what the smell if Trump-ers are aboard.
Esvee August 31, 2018
Hummus and veggies was always my preferred traveling food, but I was required to throw away my hummus when I went through security before a flight a couple weeks ago. Such a bummer! It was quite thick too, homemade.
Author Comment
Merrill S. August 31, 2018
Great point! I often buy my hummus in the airport, since there is typically a decent option like Sabra.
Lynn E. March 22, 2019
I was wondering if hummus could make it through security today at the grocery store! Thanks for clarifying!
Ginger H. August 31, 2018
When I travel, I take protein bars, hard boiled eggs, nuts, fresh or dried fruit and cheese. I NEVER take anything on a plane that would smell up the cabin which basically means anything freshly cooked like pizza, hamburgers, chili, any kind of fish including tuna.
Author Comment
Merrill S. August 31, 2018
Excellent point -- and I'm sure your neighboring travelers are appreciative!
Carry B. August 31, 2018
Hard-boiled eggs reek! Wouldn’t bother me but I imagine other people wouldn’t like it. I like Goldfish crackers and seeing the picture of the Cheez-its gave me another option.
labingha August 31, 2018
I'd add: make sure you pack something packaged and non-perishable that you can keep until the final leg of your return trip, i.e. when you and maybe children you are traveling with are completely done waiting, standing in lines, and are facing another hour on public transportation!
Author Comment
Merrill S. August 31, 2018