Eating Out And Thriving

Travelling with dietary restrictions isn’t always easy - these 10 tips can help

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Nadine Sykora
Nadine Sykora. Photo: Matt Ofstie

If you have dietary restrictions, allergies, or food intolerances, your life, while travelling, is going to be more challenging. However, it’s not as hard as it seems. I’ve been travelling around the world for over five years and have learned how to manage my dairy allergy and eat a plant-based diet. Here are some of the best tips that I’ve learned:

  1. Research your regions
    The world is a big place and local diets vary greatly. Some countries and continents are going to be more or less challenging for certain diets. A quick Google search can help you get a better understanding of the typical locals’ foods and availability for certain dietary adjustments.
  2. Learn the language
    The first words of every language that I usually learn are ‘I don’t eat meat,’ or ‘I can’t eat dairy.’ I memorize it because I know I’ll be saying it a lot!
  3. Pack snacks
    Granola bars can be a lifesaver when traveling – I always have one or two with me. Another option is to carry a reusable plastic bag with nuts, fruits or sandwiches so you won’t go hungry between meals.
  4. Rent with kitchens
    Sometimes it’s just easier to cook for yourself. Hostels typically have a communal kitchen and guest houses or B&Bs usually come with a private kitchen. They also have the necessary cooking utensils.
  5. Travel with your food
    Renting a campervan, RV, or even just bringing along a portable ice chest in your car can ensure you always have somewhere you can cook, or something you can eat.
  6. Allergy cards
    These are essentially a printed card (translated into the language(s) of your destination) that says: ‘I am allergic to this,’ or ‘I do not eat this.’ All you have to do is hand them to the wait staff so they can relay the message to the cooks.
  7. Don’t trust menus
    Don’t assume the menu lists all the ingredients in each dish. Talk to the wait staff to make sure they understand your restrictions and see if they can ask the chef to confirm the ingredients. It’s also helpful to break your restrictions into ingredients. For example, don’t say ‘no dairy,’ say ‘no milk, cheese, butter or cream.’
  8. Plan in advance
    Unfortunately, having dietary restrictions means you may not be able to spontaneously pick a place to eat. The first thing I do in the morning, before setting out, is find a restaurant for lunch and dinner, and often the following day’s breakfast. I’ll then use Google and Happy Cow and screenshot the name and location.
  9. Be understanding
    In my experience, the world understands allergies, but they don’t always understand preference. Having food preferences, instead of just being lucky to have food to eat at all, is a luxury many people don’t have.
  10. Accept that it’s not going to be perfect
    Your order may have been cut with the same knife as meat. You might be ordering a sandwich that just had the cheese removed from it. If it’s a major heath allergy, make sure to carry any necessary medication and know the local emergency phone numbers. If it isn’t a health concern, don’t stress out about each and every bit of food you put in your mouth. It’s never going to be perfect and you won’t enjoy your trip if you’re constantly worrying.

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