Why I Always Take Snacks “To Go” On International Flights

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

People always ask me how I deal with jetlag, and the simple answer is that I don’t. Because of my work I always try to be up at least partly during US east coast business hours, since that’s when I’m busiest, and it’s also when most of the news in the airline and hotel industry breaks.

This can get tricky when I’m in Asia, which is largely 12 hours ahead of the US east coast, since 9AM-5PM in New York is 9PM-5AM in Beijing.

Given that I maintain a weird time schedule when traveling, I have a bad habit of getting hungry in the middle of the night. And usually when I’m exhausted and jetlagged, I don’t make the healthiest decisions in terms of what I order. Often there aren’t even very many fresh options on the overnight menu, since there’s often not a chef, but rather just items the overnight crew can reheat.

Hilton-London-Heathrow - 48

The thing is that I’d probably settle for a snack, but when you’re in a hotel room, your snack options are limited.

Anyway, I’ve finally found the trick to avoid ordering unhealthy room service at 3AM. And that trick is to just take a few snacks off the plane when I’m headed abroad. If you’re traveling in first or business class (and on some airlines even in economy), most airlines have a snack setup between meals, with packaged items. For example, on my Dallas to Beijing flight a couple of days ago I grabbed coconut oatmeal cookies, fig bars, and packaged nuts.


Admittedly that’s not the healthiest snack selection, but the few hundred calories from eating a couple of these snacks is much healthier than what I’d probably order through room service.


For the past two days that has indeed tied over my hunger until the club lounge opened for breakfast.

Ideally I’d probably pack granola bars or something from home, but if you’re on a never-ending trip, that’s not quite as practical. 😉

Bottom line

I know this tip might sound silly or obvious, but it’s something I’ve only recently gotten better about. When people think of what to pack for an international trip, snacks are usually at the bottom of the list. That’s because people tend to be aspirational, and assume they’ll be able to battle jetlag, when waking up at 3AM is a reality for many people traveling abroad.

Bringing snacks (even if they’re not especially healthy) can save you a lot of money and can also be significantly healthier than what you might otherwise order from an overnight room service menu.

Am I the only one who tries to bring snacks with me when traveling internationally to avoid ordering room service in the middle of the night?

  1. Fig bars from the AA snack baskets are clutch on business trips. Great if you’re in a hurry at the hotel or just working late. I always grab a few when I know I’ll have long days, even if I’m not abroad.

  2. Always do the same thing. A cup of instant ramen noodles can save a lot of $$ vs 3am room service.

  3. Do it all the time, with water, too. As you travel more and more, you learn the little tricks that help make your travel more comfortable. Of course, have a elite status at the hotels never hurts – usually the hotels will put some nice treats in your room to munch on.

  4. I always hoard “emergency food” on trips. I never know when my next meal opportunity will be or whether there will be palatable options. Plane snacks usually have no problem making it through security or being jammed in my bag for a few days.
    If I don’t eat regularly, I get shaky and sick feeling. Stowing snacks is the way to go.

  5. Just remember not to bring any fruit from the flight into the US! There is a serious penalty for simply taking an apple of banana from outside the US and not declaring it.

  6. I have a Ziploc of items that stays in my suitcase: at least one granola bar, couple of packages of instant oatmeal, some nuts of some sort, and some dried fruit. Since I am grouchy if I do not have my tea, then I always have a couple of black tea bags with me in case the hotel is on a “healthy” kick and has herbal tea.

  7. I usually pack some water bottles and snacks in my checked luggage for international trips. Both come in very handy.

  8. Not unusual – I bring snacks with me, too (mostly because I’m too cheap to order room service!)

  9. Never used room service. When I am in Hong Kong, I just leave the hotel and get some street food for cheap. Many business are open pretty late in Hong Kong.

  10. Sometimes we do that, but usually hold out for better stuff.

    We usually bring some stuff from Trader Joe’s (almonds, dried fruit, our favorite energy bars) in ziploc’s from home if on a trip for more than a few days.

  11. Funny, just realized why I am always hungry in the middle of the night on my international trips! I normally pack granola bars, trail mix and/or crackers. Also deplane with the fig bars and extra snacks I might not have eaten during the inflight meals and snack services. I take full advantage of the fruit, if offered in the hotel room and also grab anything from the breakfast buffets that will not spoil by the evening.

  12. My wife is hypoglycemic, so I almost always travel with a bag of assorted snacks (nuts, energy bars, a bit of candy and a couple mini bottles of whiskey). Usually I collect them from various flights and lounges, but also from well stocked tech startup offices that I visit.

  13. Yes, if travelling international though, be very, very careful about this. Big penalties apply for bringing airline food into various countries, packaged or not.

  14. Oh no now it’s snack arbitrage. Get those snacks while they last! Soon every blogger will be talking about living off snacks and the snacks will be gone for everyone.

  15. I usually keep KIND bars and Trader Joe’s mini-bags of nuts & cranberries in my carry-on. But… our daughter has lived in Japan for the last few years. When we go to visit, I’m always up and hungry at 2 AM the first night. That’s when I’m grateful that Japan has a 7-11 every 20 feet. Maybe it is childhood nostalgia, but, the ham sandwich with iceberg lettuce and mayo on spongy white bread in a plastic box gets me through that first night of jet lag. The last time we went, I ran across the street to the 7-11 to get my sandwich before turning in for the night. It saved me the hassle of getting dressed and going out again at 2 AM.

  16. Its not easy finding good pizza slices in most airports so I like to order a pizza the day I am traveling and put a couple slices in a plastic bag in my carry-on. Delicious. Even if I scarf it down before I get on the plane its well worth it.

  17. LOVE the fig bars! Kudos to the marketing person who got them included in the AA snack baskets – I may never have discovered them otherwise.

  18. I have grabbed a couple of those AA fig bars on just about every recent trip I’ve taken. They’re just about the only thing in the snack selection I go for nowadays!

  19. @stan waiting for airlines to start issuing press releases, blaming the removal of snacks on travel snackers.

  20. I never take those rubbish snacks from the plane, nor consume them on board. Like others, I pack a ziplock or 2 with things I want and won’t be easily/quickly able to find where I’m going: maybe some macadamia nuts, walnuts, protein bars, 99% chocolate, sometimes even rye bread.
    Emirates is the worst offender when it comes to snacks: nice that they make the effort with the personal mini-bar but the selection is so grim and unhealthy.. In any case they offer so much (generally good) food at meal time, the snacks are a wasted addition. Sometimes less is more.

  21. I always travel with some nuts, sometimes dried fruit and a couple of small bars of dark chocolate, plus a few tea bags that stay in my carryon for caffeine emergencies (I won’t drink brewed coffee on the plane). If there’s a packaged cookie on the meal tray I’ll probably save it for later, but it does seem tacky to raid the snack basket.

  22. I bring a Ziploc bag of bulk low sodium trail mix from home with me when I travel. When crossing a border I always tick off YES on the customs form that asks if I am carrying nuts and when the officer asks for an explanation I say “I have some dry trail mix,” and they send me on my way without an issue. I sometimes bring graham crackers too, but they take up more space.

  23. #stalker but I was thinking about this exact thing this weekend when you said you were in Beijing. I wondered aloud how you keep from starving if you’re up at all hours of the night.

  24. Lucky, why don’t you plan ahead? (okies, I guess you do now. lol)

    I think the issue here is not room service at 3am, but rather, if you have the chance to buy some decent snacks (when nearby supermarkets to the hotel are still open) to feed your hunger in Asian Hours (since you will work in their night-time), and we all know almost nothing works (even if there is room service) at 3am.

    For me, if on arrival it will be after 9pm at the hotel, I will plan ahead to get some water and snacks (including instant noodles – just add hot water, + some can food). This would solve a lot of problems.

    Yes, healthy food bars from plain helps. But in cold night hours, I like a cup of hot noodles and maybe some tea.

    And oh, grab more of those Asian Cup Noodles while you are in Asia. They frequently cheaper and better than in US and Europe. (Or so, I think. Cheaper definitely.)

  25. I always lost time at the beginning (and return) of a trip due to jetlag. Water and snacks are the norm. It wasn’t until I was checking out another travel site that had international crew members making recommendations, that I learned about Sprayology’s Travel Essentials. Tried it on my last European adventure and was amazed. Upon arrival I was ready to go, and usage on the return made my arrival back in the USA was equally painless. Just an experience, not an advertisement.

  26. I asked “are you Ben?” and you said yes. It was nice to see you on the flight from PEK-DFW today 4/5/16.

  27. just be aware that some countries – especially new zealand – use sniffer dogs on EVERY passenger, not just on the suspicious looking ones like most countries. They caught me with a banana, someone else with a very small, sealed pack of nuts and a new zealander coming home who packed half a sandwich from the plane. Very unpleasant situation, took 40 minutes and I was fined the minimum of 250 USD. It would have been so much faster and cheaper to just always grab a banana and snack bar at one of the shops in the arrival hall for 4 USD for my last 50 trips…

  28. I have just started traveling weekly (domestically, coast to coast) for my job. One of the first things that I learned was to pack snacks and Starbucks VIA coffee. When I get into town for my 72 hour stay, I stop at a Walmart and grab some tuna and other health items for lunch and dinner, then eat breakfast “on” the hotel or United Club. I have managed to not eat at a restaurant at all during my last 3 trips. Talk about saving money and calories!

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