food, October Challenge, travel

October Challenge: Travel Edition!

In which I attempt to uphold the October Challenge during travel to a far-off land

Welcome to the travel edition of the October Challenge! During this past week—the third week of the challenge—I flew to Arizona for a three-day conference, which meant that not buying restaurant food suddenly became a lot more challenging than it had been for the first two weeks of the challenge. I leave it to you, reader, to judge whether or not I followed the rules.

Ok, so as I mentioned in the initial October Challenge post, conference travel is a little different than regular travel: it’s considered a “research expense” because the point of going to the conference is for me to present my research (which has nothing whatsoever to do with yachts or student debt!). And I am fortunate to have a small research fund at my university that will reimburse me for conference expenses, including conference registration, hotels, plane fare, taxis, and food while I’m there. Recall that the rules of the challenge are that I can’t purchase any restaurant or takeout food, but that eating free food is acceptable.

So, one option (like if I wanted to pretend like the challenge didn’t allow free food?) was to try to find a supermarket, buy groceries that I could keep in my hotel room, live off of them while I was there, and throw the rest away (I HATE wasting food). Another option was to simply take advantage of the free food. And the winner is….free food (as it so often is). My justifications, for your consideration, are:

  1. I was super nervous about my conference presentation and so spent all my free time revising and practicing it, leaving me with extremely limited extra time to figure out grocery shopping.

    scary road
  2. The conference hotel was located outside the city, and there were no sidewalks in sight, which meant that in order to get anywhere I had to walk along this road (see photo—these cars are going about 55-60 mph). I checked it out once at dusk, as you can see from the photo, but felt that walking along this road in the dark—my only possible grocery shopping window—was not an option.

So, with those general comments out of the way, here is a rundown of each day this week. Food that I purchased but am getting reimbursed for—which I’m counting as free food—is followed by an (R).

10/16 (Friday): Had breakfast at home, packed my lunch, and cooked myself a dinner of salmon and a LOT of greens, as I had to use up everything from Thursday’s farmshare delivery that wouldn’t last until I got back from the conference.

10/17 (Saturday): Man, was I proud of myself that day. I got up at 6, ate breakfast at home, and headed to the airport at 8, armed with what I thought was an entire day’s worth of food (see photo). I had been laboring under a misconception for many years that the TSA is likely to confiscate most food that you try to carry on a plane, but I did some research online last week and found out that sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, and salads are typically fine. As you can see, the only liquidy thing that I packed was salad dressing, which I put in its own container, and I took the container out of my lunch bag when I went through security.

airplane lunch
Two hummus-cheese-escarole sandwiches, a salad and dressing, carrot sticks, pumpkin bread that my housemate made, and five Kind bars (one for each day I would be gone)

In the end, this food didn’t quite last me all day. I was hungry when I got to my hotel in the evening, and since cooking was not an option, I bought a tamale (R) at a local takeout place.

10/18 (Sunday): I ate the free breakfast and lunch provided by the conference, as well as one of my Kind bars. In the evening I went to a networking-type dinner (R) at the hotel restaurant with some colleagues and other researchers.

10/19 (Monday): I ate the free breakfast and lunch provided by the conference, as well as another Kind bar. The conference also included a free reception in the early evening, during which I ate a lot of appetizers and so didn’t need dinner. (Transforming free reception food into a meal is one of my best talents.)

10/20 (Tuesday): I accidentally missed the free conference breakfast because I was practicing my talk, so in order to avoid fainting from hunger, I got a muffin at the little hotel snack shop (R). Later I ate the free lunch provided by the conference and skipped dinner because I wasn’t hungry.

10/21 (Wednesday): Since the conference was over, there was no free breakfast, and so I ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant (R) and bought a snack box lunch on the plane (R).

10/22 (Thursday): Back at work, and back to normal. Ate breakfast at home and packed my lunch, per usual. Cooked flounder and vegetables at home for dinner.

10/23 (Friday): I had two friends over for dinner and cooked a delicious squash dish. I got the recipe for this from another friend: basically you roast some cubes of winter squash and then mix them together in a huge bowl with kale, quinoa, chickpeas or edamame, feta, any other raw vegetables you have, plus olive oil, and voila!

Ok, evaluation time. I feel that I *technically* followed the rules of the challenge this week. However, the experience reminded me how difficult it can be to avoid restaurant food when traveling. If I hadn’t been able to submit receipts for reimbursement, I would have had a much harder time. scary hole in ground

That’s it for Week Three – only one week to go! Next week I will post the final totals to see how much money I saved. In the meantime, I will leave you with this terrifying photo that I took in Arizona. Now that I am no longer standing next to this hole, I am interested in knowing who lives here. Any ideas? A rattlesnake? Giant ants?

What do you think—did I follow the October Challenge rules?
Any ideas about inhabitant(s) of the giant anthill-type thing in the sand?

9 Comments on “October Challenge: Travel Edition!

  1. I think you did a great job sticking to your challenge while also adjusting to reality. The research talk clearly was your highest priority so it wouldn’t have made sense to prioritize the challenge over it (i.e. NOT practicing your talk so you could go to the free breakfast). Also, I think it’s really cool you do research and get to present findings. My wife’s dream job is a college professor mainly because she loves doing research.

    1. Thanks, DC! Navigating the reality of the actual situation is always the ultimate challenge, isn’t it? And yes, research is fun and I was glad I got the chance to present. That’s cool to hear that your wife enjoys doing research too! Perhaps one day she and I will both be college professors. 🙂

      1. That would be awesome! She’s getting her masters right now but would really like to get into a psych phd program. She applied right out of college but didn’t get in (the acceptance rates were so ridiculous! much lower than elite MBA programs). We’ll see what she ends up doing after she finishes up her masters, but gosh she would love to be able to have a job that is more research-based.

  2. I am ALL about the reimbursed food when I travel for work, so I think you did an awesome job following the rules of the challenge while you were at the conference! I’m super impressed at how much you brought with you on the plane too – I’m in the “omg security will take all my food” camp so I’ve never tried to bring this much with me, but with some personal travel coming up this summer I’m going to follow your lead and do research about it!

    And turning appetizers into a meal is my go-to networking dinner strategy. The only hard part I’ve ever found is finding people to talk to who don’t mind watching you eat, haha. I’m usually pretty straight with people that ok, I can’t figure out how to make this giant appetizer into a two-bite affair, so please look away but keep speaking to me.

    Half of the time, it works every time.

    Congrats on presenting your work too – I agree with DC, prioritizing practice time over grocery shopping is for sure a great strategy! It’s what you were there to do, after all.

    1. Hahaha, yes, I have yet to perfect the art of networking without displaying my half-chewed food.

      I was so surprised to learn that it is possible to carry food on a plane. I once was told to throw a sandwich away (about 8 years ago), and I just never tried again after that because I figured it was a lost cause. I think they might have relaxed the rules a tiny bit since then. A couple of websites I follow that have good food-packing travel tips are My New Roots and Oh She Glows:

  3. I can attest to bringing tons of food through airport security, and having very little confiscated (though it often will get additional scrutiny, especially if packed in glass or metal containers like mine usually is — it takes more time, but I always get to keep my food!). I travel every week for work, so this is a way of life for me (I also have celiac, so can’t always rely on meeting food — hence bringing so much even when work would pay for my meals).

    I was chuckling at the idea of you walking with no sidewalk along a high speed limit road — I have definitely done this! I often choose my hotels according to their proximity to Whole Foods or other natural grocers when traveling for work, but sometimes the sidewalks don’t turn out to be what I expected… and I still walk to Whole Foods anyway. 🙂

    I agree with others — you did a great job sticking to your challenge. Some food purchases are inevitable while traveling, and you did a great job maximizing what was available to you.

    1. I seriously could not believe that they didn’t even look twice at any of my food. To think of all the airport food I’ve eaten (and paid for!) over the years when I could have just brought sandwiches from home. :/
      That road was so scary! Being from Boston, which is extremely pedestrian-friendly, I kind of don’t know what to make of it when there aren’t any sidewalks. Plus someone at the conference told me they saw a scorpion in the sand, which freaked me out even more. I don’t like creepy-crawly things. I probably *could* have managed it though if I’d set my mind to it and located a decent flashlight. Next time, perhaps!

  4. I have developed an allergy to paying for airport or airplane food (except in Chicago, where there is a totally fabulous sandwich place that I happily drop about $15 on every time I fly through there. Which adds up.) I just avoid bringing things that look liquidy, like yogurt, which is annoying since I like yogurt — but oh well. I usually pack fruit, cookies or brownies because I hate flying, some kind of grain-vegetable-cheese salad, and anything else I have around the house that is really delicious (because I hate flying.) About 90% of the time I remember to bring my reusable water bottle so I can fill it at a fountain once I’m through security. The only thing worse than paying for airport food is paying $4 for a bottle of water. Bloodsuckers!

    1. Oh right, I forgot to mention that I did, for once in my life, remember to bring an empty travel mug! People working at coffee shops are pretty nice about giving away hot water for free (or free plus a tip, maybe).
      Also, flying is TERRIBLE. 🙂

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