Powering Down On The Plane

At a Whole30 nutrition workshop last January, Dallas Hartwig said something that was just stabby enough to stick in my noggin. He was answering someone’s question about what to do about eating in an airport. The “question” was, honestly, a bunch of excuses phrased in the form of a question. Dallas patiently offered options, ranging from pretty good (garbage-free nuts from a gift shop) to acceptable (a fast food burger without the bun). And then he said, “Or you can just go hungry and wait until you get home. No one in this room is going to suffer too much if they don’t for a few hours.”

Huh. Interesting.

I like to eat.

I do not like to feel hungry.

Although those sentences are similar, they do not say the same thing. I often build my day, particularly on vacation, around what I’m eating, when, and with whom. Eating is usually enjoyable, sometimes entertaining, and always essential.

But thinking about how to manage our appetites and our real hunger on the 23-hour commute from breakfast in Austin to breakfast in Paris, I remembered Dallas’s words.

Let’s be clear: Dave and I are not fasting on this first leg of our trip. But we did pick out snacks that are more about sustenance than being “what I really want to eat.”

For me, the danger of airplane food is that no matter how awful I know it will taste, there is a point at which I am bored enough to just want the distraction, uncomfortable enough to enjoy the very fleeting pleasure of food in mouth – even if it is microwaved chicken in mystery sauce prepared hundreds of hours and miles away.

Dave and I decided that for our health and taste buds, we absolutely do not want to eat the airplane food this time. That meant we needed to pack in our own food, and we had to have enough variety and flavor appeal to make it easy to say “neither” when the flight attendants say, “Beef or chicken.” Or, more dangerously, “Chocolate croissant?” I know from last year’s experience the words “chocolate croissant” and the idea of “chocolate croissant” and imagining eating a chocolate croissant are all far more pleasurable than the soggy item that emerged from the plastic wrapping on the flight.

So we made a list of Foods That Will Hold Up OK In My Bag Without A Fridge™, then we hit up Whole Foods and put everything in individual baggies for easy eating and sharing. Our snack pile looks like this (Yes, there is some high-quality dark chocolate in there, and the meat sticks are some kind of junk-free turkey sticks we found near the jerky in Whole Foods.):

More important than the food itself, however, is a mind experiment I’m trying, thanks to that idea planted by Dallas Hartwig: What if I “power down” on the plane?

I’m going to be sitting in the same seat for approximately 10 hours from Dallas to Paris. And prior to that, I’ll be in the Austin airport for 2+ hours, the Austin-to-Dallas plane for 90 minutes, and the Dallas airport for 3+ hours. That is a huge chunk of time in which I’ll be required to expend very little energy. I’ll be in a small space, and a (hopefully) pretty lady will bring me glasses of water when I ask for them.

I’m not going to try to make the plane ride “more fun.” Let’s get real here… I don’t want to be Morose Melicious, but it’s not going to be fun. It can be endured with grace, but will not be fun. Instead of aiming for “fun,” I’m going to think of myself as garnering my energy for later. I’m going to sit quietly in body and mind, eat the minimum I need to avoid hunger, drink plenty of water, and wear my earplugs and eye mask to minimize sensory input. I’m also going to use my guided meditation recordings to meditate once or twice during the flight to help with the antsyness I start to feel around the fourth hour.

My visualization is a combination of “bear in hibernation” and a glowing golden ball, centered under my solar plexus. The more still I can make myself on the plane, the brighter and warmer the golden ball will glow, so by the time I get to Paris, I will be infused with good, pure, light energy. (That is a lot of groovy thinking, I know. But I like it!)

I’ve never tried this before, and I’m not sure if it will make a difference, but in the interest of science (SCIENCE!), I’m going to give it a go. When we’re settled on the other side of the pond, I’ll let you know how it went.

In case you’re interested, I did a lot of research on avoiding jet lag. There are the other habits we’ll try to keep in mind over the next few days to make the transition to a new time zone as smooth as possible.

Jet Lag Management

1. Re-set watches.

When we get on the plane headed for Paris, we’ll re-set our watches for Paris time and start acting as though we’re already there, i.e., eat at regular “meal time” and sleep at regular sleeping time in our destination. This starts to reset our internal clocks to our new location.

2. Drink lots of water.

And no alcohol.

3. Try to nap on the plane.

This is related to #1 above. At about 5:00 p.m. our internal time, it will be midnight in Paris. That is a good time to try to nap on the plane. We’ll see how it goes. I usually have pretty good luck sleeping on planes; the drone of the engines knocks me out. I also fell asleep in the tube during an MRI once, so… yeah. I’m weird that way. Can’t sleep through the night in my f*cking bed, but put me in a metal tube with annoying noises, and zonk!

4. Get outside at the destination.

Some natural light and movement in the new location is important, so when we get to Paris and Prague tomorrow, we’ll spend some time wandering around outside. That also helps with the next one…

5. Stay up until “bedtime.”

When we check into our apartment in Prague tomorrow, we will have been awake for about 26 hours. Last year, I felt like I had needles in my eyeballs; the desire to lie down is very strong. But according to my research (and our experience), staying awake until about 9:00 p.m. local time is a good idea. It starts to put us on the local sleep-wake schedule. Last year, Dave feel asleep on the couch, mid-bite, with a salad on his chest at about 7:30 p.m. Yes, I woke him up.

Not included in this official list is another final, somewhat groovy visualization that I’m going to try in the Paris airport. When we land, we’re collecting our bags and going through customs, then waiting a few hours before boarding our fight to Prague. I suspect we will be very tired, somewhat cranky, and disoriented. But we will BE IN PARIS. I’m going to pretend I’m a 4-year-old and that the world is filled with wonder (because it is filled with wonder). Instead of bemoaning being tired and uncomfortable, I’m going to spin and la-la-la and sing and look at people and smile and generally adopt this attitude:

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  • cindy woods says:

    Looks like a good idea, Melissa. I travel quite a lot and always try to pack some essentials as well. Especially those transatlantic flights.
    I know of the products you have pictured. Question, though, where did you find the individual packs of coconut butter? I have never seen them in a Whole Foods.

  • Ehsa says:

    I just recently used my new guided meditation recordings to get through a 5-hour flight (not that long but the degree of difficultly was amped up by being in the very last seat on the plane right next to the lav and surrounded by a family of six which included 4 noisy children from 6-months to 5-years. Yikes!) But the meditation totally worked. I had to do it every 45 minutes, and I do have have some great noise-reducing headphones from TravelSmith, but I was able to “shut down” and get to a quiet place inside me that I didn’t know was there. (When we landed, a flight attendant said to me, “Wow, you did really well!) I hope you can have the same kind of experience! So much better than arriving stressed out and fretful.

  • Suz says:

    Great post! The line that really resonated with me: “imagining eating a chocolate croissant are all far more pleasurable than the soggy item that emerged from the plastic wrapping on the flight”. That is so true! Why is the idea of these things always so much better than the reality!?

  • Marjie says:

    OK! Where was this post 2 weeks ago when I was preparing to fly from Chicago to Stockholm for a short 3 day business trip and then back on the same flight back?? I thought I planned well enough but forgetting the rule about no liquids of more than 4oz. each, I lost my 2 boxes of coconut water going through security!!! Although I realize that I was no where near prepared.
    SO with that trip so fresh in my mind, I have actually printed out your post, scanned it and attached the document to my travel plans in my Outlook calendar for my next business trip to Stockholm. THANK YOU
    From a future well prepared international traveler!

  • Melissa says:

    Perfect timing! I’m doing a long distance flight this Nov. and was needing to look up some jet lag tips. Leaving at 4pm, landing at 7 am local time. Ugh. Cheers!

  • Raquel says:

    Great write-up! I’m not a great flyer to begin with so I’ll keep this in mind on our trip to Hawaii. I noticed in your pic a Primal Pac bag. If you don’t mind sharing, where did you get that? My 3-year old loves snacking on Steve’s Original Paleo Kits with me, but we’re always looking for something new!

  • Jude says:

    I know that it is 7 months too early for me to be worried about this, but I am already thinking about how I manage the plane trip to the US.

    Great post. I will bookmark it and return to it often.

    PS I LOVE that clip of Jessica. LOVE.

    Safe travels! xo

  • Steven says:

    Yes, I want to know where the individual packs of coconut butter came from too. i have low hopes that they will pass through TSA (Almond butter is considered a gel, has to be in your zip lock baggie to go through xray)…. but we are going to Barcelona in a few weeks and I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have some coconut butter along.. YUMMY!
    Great Post – Enjoy the trip!

    • Rhonda says:

      not sure where M found the Artisana packs – but we ordered some from Amazon this summer and they were great energy food for our Mt Fuji climb…

      they were in our checked bags as Japan is just a short flight from Guam, but I imagine you are right about the TSA issues!

  • Ann says:

    Both of your planned techniques point to the power of our internal dialogue. Simply telling ourselves that we are full once we have a healthy snack/meal and then setting our watch to the current time of our destination helps to make these thoughts our reality. We get to choose what we dwell on – and be happier in the process! We did the same when we went to Paris a few years ago (setting watches, napping, hitting the ground running when we arrived) and it worked well. Have a great trip 😉

  • Sarena says:

    Those are the best coconut butters by far–especially when cold! I have searched high and low for them locally and one sore does carry them out of 5 within a 10 mile radius. I have found them online though at iherb but did find tha ordering them in summertime that way was no bueno!

    I travel often on long trips to Israel, most recently for 5 days. I always pack fpod and have even bargained with TSA officers re tuna and salmon cans/packs. I usually win in the US but had them confiscated in Switzerland of all places! Wish I would have thought of the “option” of not having food as being cool then! Anyway i never even take the tray and carry a lunch bag with me.i have brought beef patties I make, hard boiled eggs and even smoked salmon and veggies/salads, avocado, etc. I have never had a neighbor/seat mate complain.

  • Franny says:

    This is a super helpful and inspiring post for someone who has a 22+ hour trip scheduled from the Middle East to San Francisco in just a couple of weeks. I’d already been planning on following the feast/fast regimen on antijetlagdiet.com before and during my travel, but I love the idea of powering down, meditating, and wearing my eye mask and ear plugs to tune out the ever-endearing airplane environment. Thanks for sharing your Prague Plan o’ Action!

  • Katie says:

    At the risk of looking like a complete dumb@$$, I am wondering where I can find your list of Foods That Will Hold Up OK In My Bag Without A Fridge. Is the photo the list? I am trying to help my husband who has a lot of travel coming up! Thank you so much…I am new to this diet and am having fun exploring your experiences and resources! Thank you!

  • Mel says:

    Hello, everyone! I found the coconut butter squeeze packs at Whole Foods.

    For curious peeps, this is what we packed on the plane:
    – almond butter squeeze packs
    – coconut butter squeeze packs
    – cashews & macadamia nuts
    – Larabars
    – turkeys sticks (from Whole Foods)
    – Paleonola
    – dark chocolate
    – snap peas & carrots
    – Applegate Farms salami
    – oranges