Whether it’s unwinding by a glittering pool or pursuing adventure in a far-off jungle, when we travel we all hope to leave the worries of our day to day lives behind us and embrace everything the world has to offer. But for those of us who have dietary restrictions, heading off on vacation and away from the predictability of home can be a little intimidating. Away from our own environment, keeping track of what we are eating can become a persistent concern, and the worry can even lead us to limit our travel choices.
You may need to avoid certain foods due to an intolerance, a commitment to a vegan or healthy diet, or a food allergy. Whatever the reason behind your dietary restrictions, eating as you travel needn’t be as fraught an undertaking as you may believe. With these helpful tips and some sensible forward planning, you can have the carefree travel experience you’ve been dreaming of.
Plan before you travel
Perhaps the first thing to do before you jet off to a beautiful destination is to conduct a little research and get to grips with the local cuisine. For example, if you’ve cut out dairy, this won’t be too challenging in East Asian countries, where milk and cheeses are traditionally rarely used—but it might be more of a problem if you are heading to rural France.
You’ll have to be more conscious in Japan if you don’t eat fish, as it’s used as a base for many broths and sauces, while India (with 500 million resident vegetarians) should offer you plenty of amazing meat-free choices. Arming yourself with knowledge beforehand can give you an idea of what to expect, and the go-to foods to order which are in-line with your diet.
If you have an intolerance or allergy you should also make yourself aware of the medical facilities in your location (like the nearest hospital and pharmacy), and ensure you have comprehensive insurance and a full supply of antihistamines and epipens. Ask your doctor to write up a document explaining key information regarding your allergy/intolerance and medical history, just in case you should fall ill.
When choosing your accommodation, bear in mind that it can be far more convenient to have the facilities on hand to cook for yourself. With nearly endless options for self-catering accommodation—from luxury villas to holiday caravans—there’s something to suit every budget, and you can rustle up your favourites without much fuss.
Of course, exactly how you approach this will depend on the nature of your dietary restrictions, but one simple option is to take your prefered cooking oil and some spices in your luggage, and stock up at the local shop or market on simple whole foods like your favourite fruit and vegetables. This removes some of the anxiety of trying to decipher long lists of ingredients in a foreign language, and gives you all you need to throw together simple and healthy dinners.
Have a Plan B at airports
If you suffer from an allergy, you should give your airline a heads-up in advance. For most food restrictions, however, you may also need to come prepared. Airlines aren’t always particularly good at catering to different diets, so snap up a few snacks in the shops before boarding the plane, and carry some cereal, protein or fruit bars/energy balls for that extra boost if you need it.
Research the local restaurants
While not always the case, many restaurants now provide their menus online—and you can always ring ahead to check how they cook certain foods (for example, if they fry in butter) and whether they will be able to cater for you. With some forward planning, you should be able to compile a list of the restaurants in the local area that are best suited to your needs.
Once you are travelling, try to attend restaurants and cafes a little outside of the busiest times, as they will find it easier to accommodate any special requests. You can also get creative with your meal by mixing appropriate side orders and starters to put together something tasty and satisfying.
Also, remember that while some things have been made earlier in the day and will be difficult to change (like soups or sauces), for the most part if an ingredient is on the menu, it is in the kitchen. Most places will be happy to whip up something simple for you (such as an omelette, or grilled meat and salad) using the stocks in their refrigerators should you be really struggling for choice.
Just in case you get caught out, remember to carry some emergency snacks. Taking an avocado out with you, for example, offers a great source of fats and energy if you need to skip lunch.
Learn key phrases
If you’re traveling to a country where you don’t speak the local language, food allergy translation cards can be hugely important—even a lifesaver. You can also find free vegetarian and vegan phrase cards, while the International Vegetarian Union (IVU) has compiled useful phrases across a vast range of languages.
While eating as you travel is always going to need a little more thought if you have dietary requirements, you shouldn’t let this put you off from creating the travel experience you dream of. With some local knowledge and the means to express yourself, you’ll soon find that making the right food choices on vacation comes as effortlessly as it does at home.