I fly 7 hours to shop at Trader Joe’s in the US. Here are the 10 things I always pack my suitcase with.

Trader Joe’s is my first stop when I’m in the US.Lola Mendes

  • I live overseas so I like to stock up on Trader Joe’s vegan gluten free products when I visit the US.

  • It’s usually cheaper to buy specialty ingredients, like hemp seed, at Trader Joe’s.

  • I also grab my favorite treat, dark chocolate sunflower seed cups, when I’m at the chain.

Trader Joe’s was my favorite grocery store when I lived in New York.

The writer holds a bag of Trader Joe's dark chocolate, sunflower oil, and sunflower seed cups on an airplane

As a travel journalist, I return to the US periodically, and when I do, my first stop is always Trader Joe’s.Lola Mendes

Before I left the US in 2015, I bought my groceries at Trader Joe’s in New York’s Union Square for seven years.

I currently live in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, so I don’t have access to Trader Joe’s stores, which are only located in the US.

Sometimes I rely on my friends who come from the US to bring me Trader Joe’s goodies back, but other times I can head to the chain myself.

Most recently, I boarded a seven-hour flight and traveled over 1,800 miles to Overland Park, Kansas. I was there to visit friends from high school, but my first stop was at Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s is so important to me because it offers allergy friendly options.

The writer is reading a product label at Trader Joe's

I’ve made sure that a trip to Trader Joe’s is worth it.Lola Mendes

I actually cry tears of joy when I get to Trader Joe’s because my allergies can make it difficult to maintain a well-balanced diet abroad.

I follow a vegan diet and am allergic to wheat, corn, kiwi, peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds. Trader Joe’s clear labeling and affordable prices allow me to stock up on gluten-free and vegan food products that can be hard to find overseas.

I can also find specialty items that may be more affordable and available in the US.

I don’t get to visit often, but when I do, I pay to check out a suitcase full of goodies.

The writer drives a shopping cart full of items to Trader Joe's

I am limited in what I can bring back to Mexico so I have to shop smart.Lola Mendes

The only time I will pay for a suitcase is when I fill it with Trader Joe’s goodies. Also, I have to be careful what I buy.

Items such as fresh fruits, vegetables, meat or seeds cannot be transported from the US back to Mexico. I also avoid putting powdered products in my carry-on, as I’ve had yerba mate confiscated before.

I also check TSA guidelines for any products I’m unsure about and refer to local laws to see if my destination has strict lists of what can’t be carried across the border.

Here’s everything I stocked up on to bring back home on my recent trip.

Trader Joe’s raw sunflower seeds are great for salads.

Trader Joe's Raw Sunflower Seeds

Trader Joe’s Raw Sunflower Seeds have a nice crunch.Lola Mendes

Trader Joe’s has some of the best-priced nuts and seeds I’ve ever seen, so I usually grab whatever I’m missing. I might take brazil nuts, cashews, or sunflower seeds.

This time I went with Trader Joe’s raw sunflower seeds to sprinkle on salads and eat on the beach.

A packet of sunflower seeds costs $3.

Trader Joe’s Hearts of Palm Pasta soaks up the flavor.

Trader Joe's Hearts of Palm Pasta

Trader Joe’s Hearts of Palm Pasta helps me maintain my vegan diet.Lola Mendes

I love palm hearts and eat them almost every day because they are high in protein and other nutrients.

Trader Joe’s hearts of palm linguini have a great texture and I usually serve them with a homemade garlic cashew cream sauce. The noodles themselves don’t have much flavor, so they absorb the flavor of the sauce.

I picked up Trader Joe’s hearts of palm paste for $3.50.

Trader Joe’s Rice Hearts of Palm can be a good substitute for fish.

Trader Joe's Rice Palm Hearts

This was my first time seeing rice hearts of palm at Trader Joe’s.Lola Mendes

This was the first time I had seen Trader Joe’s Rice Hearts of Palm, so I was excited to try it.

I plan to use it for vegan ceviche or tuna. I usually break up hearts of palm with a fork to get a fish-like texture, but this product seems to eliminate that step.

Trader Joe’s Hearts of Palm Rice is $3.50.

Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Spread is a great alternative to peanut butter.

Two jars of Trader Joe's Sunflower Oil

Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Spread has a delicious nutty flavor.Lola Mendes

I’m allergic to peanuts, but I find that Trader Joe’s sunflower oil has a similar nutty flavor.

I love making fudge with sunflower seeds or adding a tablespoon of it to my smoothies for an extra dose of protein and healthy fats.

Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Oil is considered a liquid and not suitable for carry-on, so I put it in my checked bag along with most other products I buy.

I grabbed two jars of Trader Joe’s sunflower oil for $5.50 each.

Trader Joe’s Organic Hulled Hemp Seeds are a protein-rich part of my diet.

Trader Joe's Organic Hemp Seeds

I find that Trader Joe’s Organic Hulled Hemp Seeds work well with both savory and sweet dishes.Lola Mendes

I recently got into hemp seeds as they are high in protein. I love tossing Trader Joe’s hulled hemp seeds over sweet and savory dishes or using them to make a creamy dressing.

A package of Trader Joe’s hemp seeds costs $6.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sunflower Butter Cups are my favorite treat.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Sunflower Seed Butter Cups

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sunflower Butter Cups remind me of my childhood.Lola Mendes

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were my favorite candy as a kid, but now that I’m vegan and allergic to peanuts, I can’t eat them. However, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sunflower Butter Cups are just as good and bring me childlike joy.

I got a pack of butter cups for $4.

Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Snickerdoodles are delicious.

Trader Joe's Soft Baked Snickerdoodles

Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Snickerdoodles are made without milk or eggs.Lola Mendes

I’m crazy about Trader Joe’s snickerdoodle soft cookies—they’re amazing for vegan desserts. Unfortunately, the Trader Joe’s I visited didn’t have vegan marshmallows (they cost about $10 USD a bag in Mexico), so I’ll eat them plain.

They remind me of my childhood because snickerdoodles were my favorite cookies.

I picked up a box of Trader Joe’s snickerdoodles for $3.

Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Sunflower Butter Cookies have a sweet, nutty flavor.

Trader Joe's Soft Baked Sunflower Butter Cookies

You can pair Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Sunflower Butter Cookies with tea or milk.Lola Mendes

Trader Joe’s creamy and tangy Sunflower Butter Cookies go great with a cup of tea.

They are soft, not too sweet and remind me of peanut butter cookies. I’m allergic to several types of nuts, so I’m glad I can still eat a nut-flavored cookie.

A box of Trader Joe’s Sunflower Butter Soft Cookies costs $3.

Trader Joe’s gluten-free all-purpose flour allows me to experiment with baking.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Flour

I’m trying recipes with Trader Joe’s gluten free flour in my air fryer.Lola Mendes

I don’t have an oven, but I have experimented with gluten free baking in my air fryer. So far, Trader Joe’s gluten-free all-purpose flour is the best substitute for the traditional version that I’ve found.

I picked up two bags of gluten free flour for $4 each.

Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Foam is a must.

Trader Joe's Organic Brown Rice Penne Pasta

I’m glad I can find pasta that’s vegan and gluten-free at Trader Joe’s.Lola Mendes

Trader Joe’s brown rice penne is the best and cheapest gluten free pasta in my opinion.

It has the same texture as wheat pasta and absorbs a lot of flavor. If I could find it, I would pair the penne with Trader Joe’s hot truffle sauce.

I grabbed three bags of Trader Joe’s brown rice penne for $2.30 each.

I returned home to Mexico ready to enjoy my Trader Joe’s treats.

A suitcase full of Trader Joe's items

I filled a suitcase to the brim with products from Trader Joe’s.Lola Mendes

Luckily, none of my items were picked up by customs, so I was able to enjoy my treats, including my favorite sunflower oil cups, in Mexico.

Having my Trader Joe’s groceries overseas has made it easy for me to whip up healthy, quick meals on the go. I can’t wait to go back to Trader Joe’s and buy more pantry staples the next time I’m in the US.

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