If you have food allergies or intolerances you know how disconcerting it can be just getting invited out for dinner with friends – never mind the thought of travelling to parts unknown! Recently having learned of my own Gluten intolerance I’ve found out quickly, the hard way, that you really have to look out for yourself – you can’t rely on a restaurant or chef’s understanding of the term Gluten … and I’m sure this goes for many other food allergies as well.
With a new-found sympathy for the subject I thought it was time to put a few pointers together for travelling with food allergies.
As you might have guessed – preparation and planning is the key!
#1 – Book a room with a kitchen or at least a fridge. While it may take a little of the relaxation out of a vacation, plan to stay in accommodations where you can do some of your own cooking, or at least where you have access to a fridge. If you suffer food allergies or intolerances you’ll likely agree with me that it’s well worth spending some time in the kitchen if it makes you feel well enough to enjoy the rest of the day! Don’t rule out accommodations such as guesthouses or apartments – you’ll find a lot of these are just as affordable as a regular hotel room! (Try FlipKey.com or HomeAway.com)
#2 – The search for food. Once you’ve booked your accommodations be sure to find out what restaurants are in the area. If there are chain restaurants, check their websites in advance to find out what foods meet your allergy criteria (there are surprisingly more and more restaurants that share their food sensitivity menus online these days).
If you can, book your accommodations near a grocery store or local market, or know where they’re located and plan to make a visit as soon as you arrive in the area. If all else fails, get back to basics with good quality fruits, vegetables, nuts and berries.
#3 – BYO – Bring Your Own. Yes, this will take some planning and possibly the sacrifice of some space in your luggage (if you don’t want to pay for additional baggage), but remember – what’s available at your local supermarket may not be available where you’re going – and the market may not even be open when you arrive! That said, you should always pack some basics to keep you going for a day or two until you get your bearings.
My suggestions for more extensive (largely Gluten Free focused) packing:
- Gluten Free Bread (and toaster bags to avoid cross contamination)
- Peanut Butter or other Nut Butter
- Protein Meal Replacement Drink Powder and a Shaker Bottle
- Good Quality Protein Bars such as LaraBars, KIND, etc.
- Packets of Gluten Free Oatmeal or Cereal
- Gluten Free Crackers
- Gluten Free Cookies or Brownies
- Dried Fruits
- Almonds and Sunflower Seeds or other favorite simple sources of protein
- Powdered Drink Mixes
Remember – this is checked baggage – be sure your precious cargo will survive the trip! I pack my food stuffs in good quality lock-top plastic containers that will take the abuse of being thrown around and protect the contents from being squished by other items in my suitcase.
#4 – On the Way. If you’re travelling by plane remember that every airline is different. Some may offer allergy-friendly alternatives, others may not, so it’s always best to call ahead.
If you arrange for an allergy-friendly mean at the time of booking, it’s best to verify your request a day or two before your departure in order to avoid disappointment. Always remember though that you can take your own food (home-made meals or safe pre-packaged foods – even fresh produce – so long as you consume it on the plane) even on international flights – just bear in mind the TSA guidelines regarding liquids and certain foods and you’ll be good to go!
An important note – expect the unexpected! Be sure to pack enough allergy-friendly food in your carry-on luggage (both ways) to tide you over in the event of flight delays and even unexpected lay-overs. Concentrate on good quality proteins that will keep you going.
#5 – In Case of Emergency. It goes without saying that when you travel you need to keep your medications with you at all times … right? Air travel with allergy and other medications should not pose a problem – just be sure to keep your meds in their original packaging in case of inspection.
If your allergies are severe and you need to travel with an EpiPen, ask your doctor for a note explaining the medication and why you need it. Additionally, for severe allergies, be sure to research your destination for local doctors and hospitals and keep these emergency numbers with you at all times.
Finally, make sure you’re covered! Be sure that your insurance or travel insurance will cover the cost of out of country or overseas medical care should an emergency arise.
For those of us with Gluten allergies or intolerance there’s really not a lot we can do if we get “glutened”, but for some with other sensitivities, something as simple as digestive aids or enzymes can do the trick. Tummy Drops or Gin-Gin brand ginger candies can help with the nausea of cross-contamination, and I’ve found Slippery Elm capsules or powder to be effective in dulling the pain.
#6 – When in Rome. When travelling to parts and languages unknown you may want to be able to “talk the talk” when it comes to your food allergies. Easier said than done – I know – but there are some excellent websites out there offering help in the form of translations of allergy information and allergy cards in a variety of languages. Be sure to check out http://glutenfreepassport.com/ for more travel advice with a variety of food sensitivities.