Why Padma Lakshmi Always Packs Her Own Food for Flights
Welcome to the T+L Carry-On, where we take a look inside the luggage of jetsetters—and gain a few expert tips along the way.
This week, we caught up with entrepreneur, model, author, and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi at the Four Seasons New York Hotel Downtown.
Lakshmi travels several times a month — many times bringing six-year-old daughter Krishna along with her. Read on for her travel tips, and the very unique item she never travels without. And once you're done, don’t forget to check out our last column with Mr. Robot star Carly Chaikin.
On traveling with a young child
“My daughter is an Olympic traveler — I’m so proud of her — she’s traveled since she was six weeks old. I have so many people who are like, ‘I didn’t even know there was a child behind me!’ when we get off the plane. If there are movies, the deal is that she can watch one — as long as it’s appropriate — and I’ll usually sleep. But if there are no movies, we both love Play-Doh. I’m a really good Play-Doh sculptor. Play-Doh is active; it requires her creativity, imagination, and fine motor skills, and we do it together. We usually travel with the half-sized neon pack.
I bring these little colored pencils that are dual-ended, too — they have a set for me and for me daughter, because we both like to color on the plane."
Her travel essentials
“I treated myself to this Louis Vuitton carry-on when I finished my memoir. It took me four and a half years to finish it, so that was my gift to myself. And I know it’s really old-fashioned, but I like to always have a kerchief. You never know what the cushion/pillow/seatback situation is going to be like. You want to have something soft to lay your cheek against — it’s just a little insurance.
I never have time to read magazines and stuff, so I like to bring all my food magazines. I also carry my own stationary, because it’s nice sometimes to write a note to somebody. I always pack this Belkin splitter so that my daughter and I can watch a movie together. Then I always carry my fine jewelry in my carry-on, because God forbid I lose my luggage — I don’t want to lose my sentimental items that are often not replaceable.
I used to have a jewelry company and these green bags are what you got the jewelry in—they’re beautiful bags, so I just kept them. For exercise, I bring my jump rope, because a lot of times I can’t work out or you don’t know where the gym is — but you can always jump rope.
An iPod was given to me by my cousin before Krishna was born; he loaded it up with a bunch of classical music, and I used to put the ear buds in my jeans when I was pregnant. I think that’s one of the reasons she’s so musical. She recognizes Mozart because I used to play it for her.”
Why she packs her own food for flights
“I’m always appalled at how expensive some of these first and business class tickets can be, and the food is still atrocious. I’d just rather have something that I bring, know is going to fill my stomach, and tastes nice whether you eat it at room temperature or hot. Then, I just toss the plastic container out and go to sleep. That way, I don’t have to wait. If I have a six-hour flight, that hour becomes critical. So as soon as I put my seat back, I just gobble that up, drink tons of water with a pack of Vitamin C in it, and I’m done. I bring my pre-made Padma's Easy Exotic rice because it’s not saucy — you just need a spoon and that’s it.”
Her go-to travel style
“I have a bunch of jumpsuits — like a dozen; I’ve been wearing them for travel ever since I was a model. The one I’m wearing now is by Frame, and I have the same one in denim for winter. I love them because of the pockets. I have to have my passport, ID, boarding pass, a lip balm — and I don’t want them to go in my bag. I have long legs and I need all the legroom, so I put my bags overhead. And I fold my eye mask in my back pocket — I’ve got it down to a military operation. I know how to pack clothes for any climate, because I don’t like having a lot of baggage.”
The beauty products she never travels without
“I don’t know how to do my hair very well, so I like Oribe’s Texturizing Spray and Superfine Hairspray, because they just keep everything neat. And I use Living Proof’s Prime Style Extender Spray, because it really makes your hair last longer between washes.
I love this Vitamin C serum by Mad Hippie — my dermatologist gave it to me; it’s just simple, and I like that it’s not too big. My two favorite skin people are Tracie Martyn and Christine Chin — they’re both facialists in New York and I use an equal amount of each of their products. Depending on how my skin is feeling, I’ll mix them. I love the Lotusculpt Quick Fix Eye Pads — you just activate them with the Quick Fix Eye Pad Activator, and if you’ve got something like a big event, it just gets rid of your tired eyes.
I have a cranky back, and depending on how cranky my back is at the moment, I’ll take either Thermacare Heat Wraps, or a real heating pad that I plug in for the flight. But I like Thermacare’s because they make different shapes and you don’t smell of linoleum — they’re also good if you have cramps in the front. I’m not a big fan of powder, but sometimes you get paparazzi that are right at the airport, so Alcone Professional’s Face Matte Oil-Absorbing Sheets are great because they get the oil off. And I always bring a Mason Pearson brush.”
How she keeps herself entertained in-flight
“I really love biographies and memoirs, so I love to pick a juicy one and have that be my book on a flight. I just recently finished Gloria Steinhem’s — My Life on the Road. I love that book. Right now, I’m reading Being Mortal and The Gene: An Antimate History. And I always carry a little notebook, because I don’t want to have to take my phone or computer out. A lot of weird ideas come to me when I travel — I’ll start daydreaming about recipes, or I’ll just put down a combination of ingredients. I’m a big list maker — I always make lists of things to do or things to pack.”
Her travel rituals and traditions
“There’s a tradition that my mother and my grandmother started. They carry these little containers — in this case, it’s a pillbox full of cloves and green cardamom pods. You know how your breath gets stale when you’re flying? This is a great mouth refresher, and also a digestif. You could also use fennel or anise seeds.
I stopped doing it now, but for a while, every airport we went to, I’d take a picture of my memoir — Love, Loss, and What We Ate — in the airport bookstores. I write cookbooks normally, so this was a new experience.”
Why she always travel with spices
“A lot of people, when I visit them, they ask me to make Indian food — which is fine — but if I’m in some strange city and they don’t have an Indian grocery store and I’m cooking for somebody, I want it to come out well. So I bring my own curry powder, kafir lime leaves, curry leaves, and green mango powder. Also, herbs de Provence. If you have herbs de Provence you can basically make any Mediterranean dish — it’s a good all-purpose seasoning I like.”
On her most recent book, “The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs”
“One reason the book is the size that it is is because it was important for me for people to be able to take it on vacation. When they’re going to some foreign city, I want them to have this in their luggage so that they can look up any strange flora or spice that they’ve acquired while they’re walking through the spice market in say, Marakkesh or Merada. If they find some beautiful seed or pod that they don’t know what it is, they can look it up here.”