Whether it’s a peanut allergy or an aversion to animal products, traveling with food restrictions can be a challenge. If you leave it all up to chance, you may find yourself going hungry more often than not.
That’s exactly why you should consider your food restrictions when choosing your destination and making plans to enjoy your vacation.
For you, it’s not just important to research safety issues like where drugs are coming from. You must also know where your meals are coming from.
Here are some tips to create the best strategy for traveling with food restrictions.
Do your homework on your destinations of choice in order to be able to assess the risk. If you’re dealing with an allergy, for example, you may find it helpful to know that Italian cuisine relies heavily on gluten-laden ingredients (like pasta) and dairy products. In Asia, you’ll encounter foods with shellfish, tree nuts, soy and eggs. The most commonly used allergens in Indian cuisine are dairy and tree nuts.
And if you’re trying to avoid animal products, you probably already know that certain regions are friendlier to vegetarians than others. For example, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia are known to be vegan-friendly by nature. The United Kingdom also has a large and growing vegan population, so you should find it easy to get meatless meals there.
Know the language
If eating the wrong thing becomes a matter of life and death, it’s always going to be helpful to know the language or bring a translator. This isn’t a scenario where you want to risk miscommunication. Even if you know a particular dish is typically free of an ingredient you want to avoid, there are no guarantees.
A chef may decide to grind up hazelnuts in the masala base to give it a unique flavor. And if you have a tree nut allergy, that could spell disaster for you. If you go to a destination where you can’t speak the language and don’t have a translator, be sure to bring a card with you that you can hand to your waiter. The card should very clearly state what you cannot eat and why.
If it’s a serious allergy, the kitchen staff should understand the importance. Depending on your allergy, they may not be able to accommodate you, but knowing that before you eat is better than the alternative.
Research particular restaurants
Wherever you land, you may be able to find a restaurant that serves only vegetarian or gluten-free or food that’s free of common allergens. If so, you have at least one safe space. This is much more likely if you’re traveling to a destination that hosts many international travelers.
And if you can’t find one or two safe restaurants, check reviews. Look for comments from other travelers who have food restrictions. If they’ve had a bad experience at one restaurant, avoid it. If they have great things to say, it’s a promising sign.
And if you don’t speak the local language, it’s probably best to avoid small mom-and-pop restaurants. While these can be hidden treasures, you’re more likely to encounter translation problems here. The larger restaurants are more likely to have someone on staff who speaks your language.
Shop at grocers and farmer’s markets
If at all possible, the best way to travel with food restrictions is to get a suite or Airbnb with a kitchen or kitchenette. When you cook meals yourself, you can be sure the ingredients are all allowed in your diet. This is hands-down the best way to control your diet while you’re traveling. And it can allow you to go virtually anywhere in the world without too much worry about dietary restrictions.
Just be sure to keep your ingredients simple and avoid processed foods or pre-packaged spice mixes to ensure you’re avoiding anything you don’t want. Food labels are tricky to begin with, and they can be even more confusing when they’re written in another language. Stick with whole foods instead. Farmer’s markets are great resources for fresh, local foods, but you may want to make sure you get an AC filter change if you’re traveling to a sweltering location. You could end up spending a lot of time in the car to get those fresh fruits and veggies.