Traveling safely with food allergies can be tricky. You have to either make sure there will be food at your destination that you can eat, or pack your own food. As daunting as that may seem, you don’t need to let a food allergy diagnosis stop you from enjoying life. With a little planning and research up front, you can be sure to enjoy safe, nutritious food while on the go.
I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies and sensitivities in January of 2010 – primarily dairy, gluten, and egg whites. In addition I try to avoid soy as much as possible, and I avoid peanuts now as well. Soy and peanuts did not come back positive on my allergy test, however I believe they are best avoided for me as I seem to be sensitive.
It would seem that this doesn’t leave me a lot of options of stuff that I can eat. Actually it’s not as bad as it seems. Yes, while there are probably thousands if not tens of thousands of processed food items that I can no longer eat, this doesn’t bother me really because why do we need that many choices anyway? Plus most processed food is extremely unhealthy for you. I do just fine with my limited choices, which consist of meat (usually either chicken, pork, beef, or fish), egg yolks, raw or cooked vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, and non-gluten grains (usually quinoa or rice, and occasionally corn).
All is fine when I eat at home, as I cook most of my meals from scratch. But traveling can be difficult to say the least. Following are a few tips that I’ve found helpful to me when traveling:
Pack Enough Food For Travel Days
When flying, be sure to pack enough food for at least two meals in your carry-on bag. You most likely won’t be able to eat much at the airport or anything the airline serves, if they do serve anything during your flight. And I always take plenty of food in case my flight is delayed for some reason.
If you’re driving, make sure you have enough food and snacks on hand so that if you stop at a restaurant that doesn’t have allergy-friendly food, you won’t starve.
Research and Plan Ahead
Plan ahead for every meal you’ll need to eat while away from home. This is probably the hardest part because you really have to think about every meal and snack in advance and bring enough food with you. But if you are religious about this, then you’ll never face the horrible dilemma of eating nothing vs. eating something you know will make you sick if you run out of food and can’t find any safe food where you’re at.
It’s also a good idea to research restaurants and grocery stores at your destination before your trip. You can call restaurants if they don’t publish their allergen information online. If you know you’ll be able to find safe food once you get there, you don’t have to bring as much food with you.
Book a Room With a Fridge
If you’re able to get one, a refrigerator in your hotel room is a godsend for people with food allergies. This way you can go to a nearby grocery store and get healthy and nutritious food to store throughout your stay, and you won’t have to subsist on allergen-free processed food.
Getting a room with a full kitchenette is even better! These have become more common in the last few years. I got one a few years ago when attending a training class and was able to cook all my meals while there and even bring leftovers to class the next day for lunch.
Communicate With Restaurant Staff
When eating at restaurants, be sure to mention to the server any food allergies that you have. Even more helpful is a business-sized card that you can hand to the server that lists in detail what you are allergic to, and what is safe for you to eat. The server can then deliver this to the cook, and they don’t have to worry about remembering exactly what you told them, making sure that nothing gets lost in translation.
I always carry a backup supply of food to restaurants as well, just in case they don’t have enough on the menu that I can safely eat. In fact if you were to inspect my purse, you’d find that I always have food in there. Always.
Don’t Be Embarrassed or Afraid of Offending Someone
This one is tough as well. At first when traveling to relatives’ homes, I felt like I would offend my host if I didn’t eat what they served, especially if they made an effort to accommodate my allergies. What I found was that I was still feeling crappy the next day, either due to hidden gluten/dairy or cross contamination (let’s face it, unless you have allergies you really don’t understand the concept of cross contamination or all the hidden sources of food allergens and what names they go by).
Finally I just started bringing some of my own food to family gatherings and explained why. I’d rather eat food I know to be safe for me, and not put the burden on the host to identify and prepare food that I’m able to eat. Everyone has been very understanding of this and I’ve not gotten sick after dining with relatives since.
Always Have Grab-and-Go Food On Hand
Purchase ready-to-eat (RTE) meals and snacks that you can quickly throw in a bag on a moment’s notice. I used to take these with me when I went to my children’s basketball tournaments and baseball games. They’re also great when visiting relatives, going on all-day shopping trips, or anywhere away from home where you will need to eat a meal. The key is to identify things that will work for you and have them on hand at all times, so you can just grab and go.
A few of my favorites to have on hand are GoPicnic Ready-to-Eat Meals and St. Dalfour Gourmet on the Go. Both of these have gluten-free and dairy-free options, but you’ll need to read the labels carefully before ordering because some are not. I also really love Nick’s Sticks meat snacks. They have grass-fed beef and free-range turkey snack sticks, and both come in regular or spicy.
I hope these tips help you if you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with food allergies or sensitivities. Traveling can be stressful enough, but if you eliminate the stress of worrying about what to eat while traveling, it will be a lot easier.
Have any other tips you’ve found helpful when traveling with food allergies? Share them in the comments below!