Travelling with food intolerances can be a daunting venture. The mere thought of being away from your kitchen, your safe foods and having minimal control over the food you will be eating is gut wrenchingly scary! It’s enough to set your gut into a frenzy before you have even departed for your trip. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
I prefer to use the words ‘food intolerances’ as I find this term to be all encompassing. As someone who has both true allergies and severe food intolerances, some of those food intolerances are enough to send my body into a rapid downward spiral so I treat them as a allergy. YOU know your body best!
My first travel experience after my food allergy and food intolerances diagnosis was a complete and absolute nightmare. I was an emotional wreck, stick to my stomach before I even left, and I literally starved the entire trip. Each trip after that was a learning experience and a building block to be able to get to a place where I can now travel comfortably and worry free with food intolerances.
Each travel journey has provided me with a unique opportunity to learn new tips and experience new challenges about travelling with food intolerances. Be it business trips across Canada to staying at a resort in California or backpacking across Australia to road tripping across New Zealand or even staying in the Costa Rican jungle, I have learned a new lesson each trip.
So here goes! Because there are SO many aspects to travelling, I am going to break it down for you into multiple blog posts!
First up, what to do before you depart on your adventure!
Pre-Departure: Must Do’s
RESEARCH, research research!
I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough! If you have moderate to severe food intolerances or allergies, taking the time to do research prior to your travels will save you a lot of time, headache and anxiety during your trip.
What to research you ask?
- Find restaurants in the city that you are travelling to that cater to your dietary restrictions. For specific restaurants, check Happy Cow, Zomato or for example google “gluten free restaurants in Sydney, Australia”. Finding these restaurants ahead of time not only puts your mind at ease but it also ensures you aren’t spending time during your travels to find food options.
- Reach out! Visit restaurant websites to review their menu and contact them ahead of time with any questions you may have. The easiest way to do so is by sending them a quick message on social media with questions or by calling them during non-peak hours when they have more time to thoroughly answer your questions.
I was once on a business trip in Toronto and I knew ahead of time what restaurant we would be dining at for a group dinner. A quick twitter message and the restaurant put me in touch with the chef who offered to have a special meal made for me. It put me at ease and allowed me to enjoy the social outing.
- Find restaurants in the city you are visiting that are open late. Often times while you are travelling, you may need a late-night option. Know what places are open late and what options are available to you. There was a time when my last resort was gluten-free pizza with no cheese.
While I was backpacking through Australia, my bus got delayed and I ended up in Airlie Beach very late at night. Everything except McDonalds was closed. Thankfully I had a meal replacement protein bar on me that sustained me for the night!
- Know where the closest grocery store is and allot time upon your arrival in your destination city for a grocery store run to pick up snacks. I like to grab fruit and veggies, trail mix etc. for snacks and breakfast.
- If you are staying in a hotel, look at their room service menu/restaurant menus and call ahead to see if they can cater to your restrictions.
- Kitchen facilities – find out what is available in the hotel that you are staying at. I always get a mini fridge in my room as it allows me to store my fruits/veggies and coconut milk
I arrived at my hotel in San Francisco after spending a week in the Costa Rican jungle. It was well past midnight by the time I arrived. I had managed to grab a gluten free instant oats cup from Houston Airport during a short layover. I rang the front desk and they brought up a kettle, so I could heat up water for my oats.
- Longer Trips
- If you are going on a longer trip, you may want to book an Air BnB, rental home or hotel with a kitchenette so you can prepare your own meals.
- You can even do this for shorter trips – I travelled around Australia and New Zealand and rented rooms via Air BnB where hosts let me use their kitchen!
- To avoid allergens and cross contamination, you may want to buy a few small portable cooking utensils if you will be cooking your own food, think camping style.
- If you are travelling to a country where the language spoken is not your dominate language, take some time to search up phrases and words to help you communicate with restaurant staff.
While I was travelling in Costa Rica, I tried communicating to the restaurant staff that I had gluten and dairy allergies. One of them didn’t know what gluten free meant and the other said that they were not sure. I was grateful that my friend spoke Spanish, so she was able to translate for me. I opted to settle with a something that would have the least amount of cross-contamination possible like salad.
- Have a backup plan – let’s face it, cross contamination is inevitable. Be prepared with the right treatment options such as probiotics, digestive enzymes, turmeric capsules etc. (Blog Post on Travel Supplements coming soon!
- A reusable water bottle is a must! After crossing security, get it filled with water from a coffee shop or restaurant. If travelling in a country where water contamination may be present, opt for a bottle with a built-in water filter or purchase bottled water.
If you are using a water bottle with a straw + spout, I repeat DO NOT just flip the spout or lid open! Trust me! The water bottle will explode like a water fountain all over you.. and your seat neighbour! Slowly twist open the lid and let the pressure release!
- Take a reusable insulated coffee cup with you. Either take your own tea bag and have it filled with hot water once you cross security or on the plane. Dependent on if you have to cross customs at your departure airport or not, you can even put fresh ginger and peppermint leaves in your cup and add hot water. Sipping ginger/mint tea will help reduce and alleviate anxiety and nausea on the plane ride.
- FOOD! It is no secret that airplane food is horrendous. The last thing you want is to be starving on a plane ride with no food options. Trust me, I have been in that situation. Plan ahead and take food with you on your trips. My go to travel friendly food items are:
- Snack food such as trail mix, homemade granola or power bars
- Homemade muffins or other baked goods
- Raw fruits and vegetables with hummus or nut butter
- Overnight oats with berries, nuts and seeds
- One meal of your choice such as a sandwich, salad, rice mix or other meal – make the thermos your best friend.
- I find eating on the plane causes me digestive discomfort and makes me super bloated, so I opt to eat any big meals during layovers.
*Note, be aware of customs and airport security regulations regarding which foods and liquids you are allowed to take through security.
A full, extensive and detailed post on travel supplements for people with food intolerances is coming but, in the meantime, here are two key recommendations:
- Probiotics will help keep your gut bacteria at bay while you are travelling. Ensure that you buy shelf stable probiotics that do not need to be refrigerated while you are travelling.
- Digestive enzymes will help your digestive system do its job and alleviate digestive discomfort! As you will be eating food cooked by others, having a digestive enzyme with each meal can help you better digest your food
Travelling with food intolerances does not have to be a daunting experience. With the right planning and research, you can have an enjoyable experience travelling with minimal digestive discomforts!
If there is an area of travelling holistically that you want tips for, let me know by leaving a comment below!