Healthy Travel 103: Backpacking Essentials

For more on the healthy travel series, check out packing for success and staying on track away from home, backpacking essentials, camping and eating well.

One of the major stresses I dealt with before leaving for India was what type of food would be available for a protein hungry, gluten-free, dairy-free lady like me. I had a legitimate fear that I was going to starve to death, be tricked into eating gluten, or consume peanuts and die from an anaphylaxis attack.

To ensure I wasn’t going to go hungry or be panicked when I ran out of my favorite things, I started stock piling snacks, meals, and health products months before my departure. In retrospect I went a bit overboard, but I had no idea what to expect!

I swear it looked like a lot more than it was. I was surprised too when it all fit into my backpack…

mind you that bag weighed WAY too much. My gosh, it was heavy.

I placed similar items together and sealed them in a large Ziploc bag. I had a protein bag, snack bag, healthy fats bag, etc. It worked great to keep everything organized.

I’d assumed that keeping my food in Ziplocs would keep it safe from the critters in India but I was dead wrong. Thankfully, I’d brought a vacuum seal bag that was originally intended for my clothes but ended up being an anti-bug lifesaver! Best $10 I’ve ever spent.

Out of everything I brought with me, these were the essentials…

Protein and fats

There wasn’t a lot of fat or protein in the food at the ashram so I’m so thankful that I brought my own. Also, all they served at snack time was tea or; if we were lucky, a small bowl of fruit. I always brought a Simply Bar with me for morning snack and a bag of hemp hearts with me in the afternoon. 5 hours of yoga a day requires far more calories and protein than what they were providing.

  • Hemp hearts – went really well with the coconut oil drenched rice.
  • Savi seeds – also went really well with the coconut oil drenched rice.
  • Pecans – went great with my morning oatmeal.
  • Egg white protein – there was a snack center at the ashram where you could purchase fresh fruit shakes. I bought one every night, poured it into my own container, added egg white protein, and stuck it in my fridge for the morning.

Not so essential:

  • Steve’s Original paleo kits – I brought them with me but didn’t have any while I was there. I could see how they could be beneficial for many backpackers, I just didn’t feel like eating meat.


As I mentioned, there weren’t a lot of meals at the ashram, so I was happy that I brought snacks and breakfast items to fuel my yoga. Even when I left the ashram, it was nice to have my own food so I didn’t have to rely on restaurants for all of my meals.

I purchased a lot of fresh fruit, dried fruit, and honey at the various markets that I used for breakfasts and snacks but it was harder to find fresh vegetables. Carrots and tomatoes were about the only things available, even in the various shops I visited in Mumbai.

  • Gluten-free oatmeal – such a great idea. I alternated the oats with the egg protein smoothies for breakfast. I seemed to gather quite the collection of oat toppings too – from stuff I’d brought from home and random fruits and nuts I purchased along the way.

Many of you had asked about holy crap cereal last time I posted these images. I believe they ship all throughout North America, but best check on their website. I don’t generally buy it as it comes with a pretty hefty price tag, but you’re not able to bring seeds into the country without them being packaged, so bringing my normal bulk bag of chia seeds was out of the question.

Not so essential:

  • LARABAR – I didn’t eat too many of these because there was so much fruit to be had in India. Having said that, I could see how other backpackers would find them useful. For next time, I’ll stick to my Simply Bars for added protein and save some room in my pack.
  • Jennie’s coconut macaroons – create a hot mess in your bag in the India heat. The oil melts away from the coconut, the packaging leaks… oh man, so many bugs. Definitely will not be taking these with me anywhere, ever. But they’re great at home!

Other things

  • Printed out itinerary – many of the airports will not let you in unless you have a printed out copy of your travel details. I printed off 3 copies and placed them in my various bags, just in case.
  • Canada flag patch – it was so awesome to start up a conversation just based on the patch on my bag, connect with other Canadians, and talk to locals about our igloos and pet polar bears ;)
  • Laundry soap sheets – you can find soap everywhere in India, but not the sheets! They were so handy to have with me not only for my clothes, but I washed my dishes with them, too.
  • Extra Ziplocs – you can never, ever have enough bags. Ever.

  • Antibacterial wipes – there were no soap dispensers in any of the washrooms I went to. I always kept a pack of wipes with me on one side of my sports bra and a couple sheets of toilet paper in the other.
  • Mosquito net – many places will provide you with one, but expect them to have holes!
  • Blister treatment kit – came in handy on multiple occasions.

  • Immodium – I didn’t have to use it, but it was good to have just in case.
  • Chlorella – just in case I got a parasite of some sort.
  • Rooibos tea – you’d think that tea would be easy to find in India, right? My gosh… it wasn’t. At least not the herbal stuff. I’m so happy I brought my own.

  • Probiotics – I seriously believe this is why I didn’t get sick even after eating all the street food. These babies don’t require refrigeration so they’re perfect for traveling! They’re a bit expensive, but worth every single penny. Seriously. If I were only allowed to bring one thing with me, this would have been it.

And of course, it’s highly advised that you indulge in your favorite meal before you leave home for a month.

My choice? Hawaiian pizza on a gluten-free rice tortilla!

What is one thing you can’t leave the country without?

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Comments | Leave Your Comment

  1. This post is so helpful!

    I always pack the same stuff but I’ll be adding to it on my next trip—I want to try those Simply Bars and check out hemp hearts! Thanks for the suggestions.


    I also really want pizza now…

  2. I’m totally bookmarking this post for my future travels. Such invaluable information here, especially since I’m still working out the kinks of my diet. I’ve never heard of Hemp Hearts (and many of the other things you have listed here) and will be sure to look into them.


    And I never leave home without probiotics either. They are the best :)

  3. Great post Leanne! I just stocked up on Simply Bars for my Australia trip – cinnamon pecan are my faves by far! I take Chloressence as well… do you take it daily or just once in a while for its detox benefits?

  4. Great, great post!

    It’s comforting to know that it’s not only me who worries about food, food intolerances, etc. when I travel! Do you have any tips for traveling and staying with family – family who wants to “fatten” you up just because you don’t eat the way they do…?

    Thank you m’lady!

    • That’s a tough one. Not all of my family members support my eating style and food choices, but I stay persistent when I go to visit. I do my own grocery shopping if need be, and just take over their kitchen. They’ve always came around to the idea after I make something delicious. And, I always pack a couple of snacks with me just in case the kitchen option isn’t available. I hope that helps :)

  5. The Simply Bars…ok that’s good to know that you just love love love them, will check them out.

    And the probiotics. That specific brand, also will check out. I’ve been taking one I order from iherb for the last 5 yrs or so (Jarrow brand) and I too SWEAR by them and they’re what keeps me from getting sick eating street food in Mexico City or traveling all over…seriously, such a lifesaver!

  6. I’ve never left the country! But these are great tips if I ever do since I’m intolerant to gluten and soy! I’ve definitely learned to bring bars, nuts and oatmeal with me when I travel though!

  7. I’ve bookmarked this post for my next trip. I too am always freaked out I’ll never find the right kind of food. I have a question for you though. Would you do a post about protein powders? I’ve been using Genuine Heatth whey for years, but want to switch to Vegan, so I’m now using their Vegan brand. The taste is definitely something to get used to. Are they all like that? I can’t tolerate any kind of sweetener except Stevia.

  8. Thanks for the post Leanne. My husband makes fun of me and my “travelling pantry” when we go overeas, but I can tell you he’s the first one to ask for a snack when we’re in the middle of nowhere and nothing is familiar ( : You found some great items that I need to incorporate into my bag as well!

    • haha Kevin is the EXACT same way. I see nothing wrong with a traveling pantry.All of the food came in handy too. Something I didn’t mention, I used some of it in exchange for things I needed from other travelers. Advil, cold medicine, socks, shorts, fresh fruit, it was like my currency :)

  9. Oh such a great post! I am all about packing my own food for trips because the last thing I want to do when I’m vacationing is be stuck eating foods that dont make me feel very good. I love seeing everything you packed!

    • Thanks, Marla :) I was pretty darn prepared, that’s for sure. I’m going next January, you’re more than welcome to tag along!! Maybe you can fit in my backpack along with all my goodies? You definitely won’t go hungry :)

  10. awesome tips! I’ve been wanting to give the paleo kits a try. have you had them since you’ve been back yet? and dinner sounds fabulous too :) I’m sure you missed some of those fresh veggies and homecooked meals despite being so well prepared.

    • I was eating the kits for months before my trip but have since kinda adapted a vegetarian eating style… lots of eggs, milk, and curries!! So I haven’t had the kits since. I sold the rest to a friend. They’re great though and would definitely recommend them! The only thing I really, really missed was the fresh veggies, but that was solved once I got to the beach. I could have stayed in India forever without missing an ounce of homecooked meals haha which is so unlike me to say!!

  11. Oh man, this is possibly the best post ever! Slash, I wish it had existed c. the beginning of November. I was on a 10-day tour in Jordan, and probably would have legitimately starved in the desert if I haven’t brought a gigantic jar of almond butter, 10 tins of mackerel in tomato sauce (I’m living in Denmark, it’s like PB to these people…), and assorted others. I was not aware, however, that such things come in squeezable form?? Magic! I will have to stock up next time I’m home in Canada – thanks for the tips! :)

  12. Wow!! SOmeone packs exactly like I do!! Just returned from a herbal conference and packed almost the same items down to the chlorella!!! The one odd thing I do pack is organic restaurant sized EVOO. I can use it in my salads, hair, body, as a makeup remover etc. My family says I am a human salad. LOL I like the packets because they are versatile and I don’t have to worry about spillage!! I do the same with vinegar. Just wish Bragg’s still made the ACV packets!

    • I’m the same with my coconut oil. Never, ever travel without it. I’ve found gluten-free tamari in those little packets. Just can’t remember the name of the company… but it’s out there!

  13. One thing I never leave home without is rehydration salts. You can get flavourless packets at the drug store but I prefer something tasty and sugar free like Nuun. When I’m trudging about with my house on my back there are days where I’m thirsty and drink litres of water but never quench my thirst. That’s where the rehydration salts come in because it’s not the fluid I’m missing but the electrolytes. When I was in SE asia, Auz, and NZ they saved my bacon multiple times… Helpful for a hangover too!

  14. Great Ideas!!
    I’ll definitely make use of your tips next time we go on a backpacking trip… when the baby is a little older!!
    Love the laundry soap sheets idea… never would have thought of that!

  15. You are so organized. I love these tips! Now I’m going to have to go on vacation just to use them :) I always bring hemp and chia with me too. And stevia. I’m much happier with stevia.

  16. Ooh, this list looks great! I’m thinking of going to Vietnam with my parents this summer (or in 2013, you know, if we don’t die from the Apocalypse ;) and because I eat a completely different diet (not to mention foods) from my parents and other Vietnamese people, this list will come in handy!
    Now…just to convince people that I’m NOT crazy for bringing a whole backpack full of things like almonds, cashews, and oats. Especially oats :]

  17. what an awesome post, thank you!
    question. at the ashram, you said you were fed 2 meals. lunch and dinner? and there are restaurants nearby where you can also get food? and for breakfast, was there a kitchen were you could get boiling water for your oats and tea?
    good to know about the tea…never would’ve thought.

    • Hi Lou – yes, we were fed lunch and dinner. There is 1 restaurant nearby, about 40 rupees on a rickshaw or 40 minute walk. The kitchen is not open to visitors I had a room that had a kettle and a fridge which really, really came in handy!

  18. I was wondering why the probiatics in your picture look different than the ones that pop up on the amazon website? thanks Marcy

    • Hi Marcy, the ones on the amazon website are the US version and the ones in my picture are Canadian. Same product, just different packaging.

  19. I went to Southeast Asia in December and I too am so thankful that I brought probiotics with me! I didn’t get sick at all despite eating several things that in retrospect i shouldn’t have eaten (like cut-fruit from a street-cart -eek!). I wasn’t nearly as prepared as you were, though. But dried fruit, nuts, and bars really helped a lot since i couldn’t always find healthy snacks when I was hungry.

  20. Do you pack any facial wipes/cloths with you on your travels? If so, do you recommend any?

    • I had some with me, April but I never used them! I just picked up a 3 pack of dove facial cloths at the drugstore before I boarded my first plane and came back with an unopened package. I did go through a lot of antibacterial wipes though!

  21. Some great tips there. Last year, I walked the Camino de Santiago with two friends. I’m afraid our eating options ended up becoming rather junky though as we really could not carry much and you couldn’t always get healthy eating options along the way. Given the fact that we had to carry all that we needed for 30 days, our backpack could not weigh more than 14lbs. For tips on other lightweight essentials, you may find this post we put up helpful

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