Road Trip with Diabetes: What Can I Eat?


On July 3rd just before dawn I landed in the Philadelphia airport with my husband, three sons, and our trip-saving iPad.  After a 12 hour flight, the horror of facing an airport where all coffee shops were closed, and a long wait for a rental car followed by my sons’ fight over who would get the middle seat, we were ready to start our trip.  Fortunately, during the seat-fight the only blood shed was from my fingertips.

As expected, my blood sugar was high.  How could it not be?  Crossing an ocean and several time zones, combined with sitting still and a few bites of airplane food can lead to only one thing, hereby known as traveler’s diabetes.   (Not to be confused with traveler’s diarrhea which is defined as “as three or more unformed stools in 24 hours passed by a traveler.” I define traveler’s diabetes as three or more out of range blood glucose readings in 24 hours experienced by a traveler.)

Once my husband and I got our three boys settled in the back seat of the car and began to drive, we did what any undercaffeinated, jetlagged parents would do; we burst into a duet of Sponge Bob’s Road Song.  The kids sang along for five seconds before they went back to the iPad which, even if you feel carsick while using it in a moving vehicle – that’s far better than the nausea caused by embarrassing parents.


As we cruised onto the highway, coffee was the most important thing on our agenda. I looked for Starbuck’s signs.  Instead, I saw sign after sign alerting me to the nearest Dunkin Donuts.  At first I laughed haughtily at them, but after three weeks on the road Dunkin Donuts was a sign of salvation (i.e. coffee) and civilization.  When in the United States of Donuts, I told myself, let them eat donuts.  So, for the first time, my kids were semi-regular donut eaters.  I wasn’t happy about it, but I also wasn’t too distressed.  It was vacation, after all.  But I was truly upsest by the fact that on the road, I couldn’t find a thing to eat.

None of the quick-stop-shops we encountered had low carb food options.  There were all sorts of variations of chips, cookies, crackers, and dozens of brands of energy bars. (I call them sleeping bars because they are carby enough to spike my blood glucose to 250 in no time, which leads to that “I need to nap now feeling,” and that’s never a good thing, especially not when aiming to be safe on the road.)

So is it possible to eat healthily on the road?  The moment I was collapsing with hunger somewhere in Massachusettes and took a nibble of a glazed Dunkin Donuts Munchkin, I vowed to find out. I’ll admit, the Munchkin was up there with the best things I’ve ever eaten, and it was so tiny I didn’t think it could do much blood glucose damage. I guesstimated 3 grams of carb. Turns out, there are 8 evil grams of carb in a Munchkin.

I could blame hunger, hypoglycemia, lousy willpower, or traveler’s diabetes, for my Munchkin mistake, but it doesn’t really matter why I broke down.  What matters is that  there is nothing decent to eat, and that’s not just a problem for people with diabetes, it’s an issue for everyone.

The solution to managing a road trip with diabetes is, of course, to plan ahead and pack snacks.  But that’s not so easy when you’re staying in hotels without kitchen facilities.  And it’s pretty hard to explain to hungry, cranky kids why you’re thinking of driving 30 miles out of the way to find a store that sells expensive containers of sliced cucumbers when “look!” there’s a 0.96 cent donut for sale down the street.

My experience and recent research has led me to conclude that the best way to road trip with diabetes is to order nonperishable snacks online before you set out.  Nuts are a great choice, unless you have a nut allergy in the family.  If you are a meat eater, there are a lot of jerkies and meat snack sticks available.  And pork rinds have no carbs. If you aren’t bothered by alternative sweeteners or soy protein isolate, your options are decent, even in a regular supermarket.  But, if you’re like me and you’re looking for something all natural, meatless, and affordable (no $8 bags of kale chips!), then you’re in trouble.

I’ve found a few things that I believe would make easy road trip snacks and I’m going to list them below.  Readers, please add to the list.  There may not be a vaccine against traveler’s diabetes, but together we can stop it from messing up our trips.

Olives: These preservative-free olive snack packs from Cat Cora  claim to have no water and a resealable pouch, making them car-friendly.

Coconut Butter: Artisana sells single serving squeeze packs of coconut butter, as well as a variety of  nut butter squeeze packs.

Nut Butter squeeze packs: ASweetLife contributor Katie Bacon reviewed Justin’s nut butter squeeze packs and found them satisfying.  See here for the review.

Dark Chocolate Bars:  Mark’s Daily Apple reviews the best dark chocolate bars.  I’m a fan of Lindt 70%.

Sugar Not Cookies: Has anyone tried these?

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Jennifer Jacobs
9 years ago

I love “traveler’s diabetes.” (Or, rather, I love that phrase, not that phenomenon.) I know, as soon as I board a plane, that all rules are off and that it’s going to take extra insulin to keep myself from spiking (even if I bring my own food and take my normal amount of insulin.) I also know that I will then suffer from the flip-side of plane-ride highs: post-plane-ride lows. Nothing illustrates a delayed insulin response better than a plane ride.  Anyway, when I’m traveling I rely heavily on eggs. Many chains offer some sort of egg breakfast sandwich, and… Read more »

Mary Dexter
Mary Dexter
9 years ago

I was happy to find that Bon Pain has a touchscreen that gives the nutritional data for their menu.  Had a pain au chocolat while waiting for my train in Boston.

McDonald’s lists the nutritional info on the package.  Happy meals have tiny servings of fries, apples, milk.  They also offer salads.

Melanie E.
Melanie E.
9 years ago

Grocery stores have pouches of tuna that don’t require draining (or a can opener!).  They often have hard boiled eggs ready to go, as well.
Jimmy John’s sandwich chain has an option to make any sandwich an “unwich,” which is the sandwich in a lettuce wrap instead of bread.

Deborah Kanter
9 years ago

Yes, it can be tough traveling. A few easy things at almost any gas station/convenience store: cheese sticks, jerky & nuts. I find Blue Diamond Wasabi-Soy Almonds are really satisfying (in lieu of chips). 
I try to identify a health food store at my journey’s start & buy some healthy snacks there to keep in the car. Or hit a grocery store salad bar & load up some crudites for the day.
Recently traveled in coastal Oregon where I happily indulged in crab cocktail, smoked salmon, & fish jerky. 

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