Traveling with a restricted diet can be a difficult. Not only do you need to be prepared and plan more, but there is always that extra risk of having more sick days than normal.
That said, it is definitely not impossible staying healthy on the road though and in the last 3 years that I (Ebba) have been eating a restricted diet (gluten, dairy and soy free) we have done a few months of backpacking and lots of weekend trips. I’ve eaten my way through Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines, Canada, the US, France, Germany, England, Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize and of course Sweden within this time and its safe to say I’ve learnt quite a few tips and tricks. Here are some of my top tips:
Reconsider what a “normal” meal is
First of all I would advice you to stop thinking you have to have a certain type of food for a certain meal. I get that you have routines at home, but it is a lot easier to eat well and manage a restricted diet, food allergies or intolerances if you are a bit more flexible. For example, at home we always have a hot meal for lunch and dinner and I wouldn’t normally consider a sandwich, a boiled egg and a packet of chips a good, healthy breakfast. But, when you’re on the road choice is sometimes limited. Having a more flexible mindset on what a meal should include will give you more options and make you spend less time in a hungry state looking for food options. That said, most days I manage to find food options at a restaurant or in a shop that are safe to eat. But there have been days that I survive on fruit and vegetables, chips or eggs.
Stay in places where you can cook
This is probably my best advice and something I (almost) always follow: stay in a hotel, hostel, apartment or Airbnb where you can cook yourself. Cooking yourself doesn’t only allow you to control what ingredients that are used but also manage to eat a more varied (and possibly healthier) diet while cutting the costs drastically. Beware of shared utensils and plates however: make sure they are washed properly or make a habit out of always washing them yourself before use.
Learn several languages
I am not saying you need to study grammar and become fluent before you leave, but knowing enough to read food labels and ask at a restaurant in the local language helps a lot! Within the EU food containing allergens need to be labelled in a clear way which makes things easier. But there are also lots of websites that provide lists of what ingredients to look out for in several languages. Some even have cards to print and bring with you that state “I am allergic to ___ and can’t eat foods like ___ and ____” – prefect for traveling to countries where you don’t speak the language!
Google, research and ask around
Before visiting a city or country Google (and Ecosia!) are my best friends. I always look up gluten free and allergy friendly guides, restaurants and blogs that mention what snacks to buy etc. Safe options (for some intolerance and allergies) can include cafés and restaurants that serve raw food, vegan food and specialist bakeries. And if normal supermarkets don’t carry allergy friendly foods look for health food shops!
No matter where you are going, how long you are planning to be out for or how long a flight or bus trip is supposed to be – BRING SNACKS. You never know where the next place is that will serve or sell food you can eat. Bringing food has saved me from getting “hangry” on several occasions when buses have been delayed, haven’t showed up or waiters haven’t been able to answer me about what their food contains.
Bringing carry on is a must!
Flying can be a dangerous activity for anyone with an allergy. Depending on how severe your intolerances or allergies are looking up an airline that is safe for your needs can be a life saver. That said, eating on board can also be an issue for those of you that don’t have life threatening conditions. Many airlines offer gluten free, dairy free or nut free meals, but very few offer allergen free meals or meals for multiple allergies and intolerances.
For me, the best option if possible has become the “fruit platter” or the “fruit and vegetable meal” as they are two meals that include only fruit or fruit and vegetables. If this option isn’t available I go for gluten free food, and then ask to see an ingredients list on board to check if some of the food is free from dairy and soy too. As you could guess, there is high possibility I can’t eat any of the food I am served on board. Therefore, bringing my own food is a must. I often go for foods that are okey to be eaten the way they are – fruit bars, fruit, salads, crackers or foods that can be prepared easily such as a cup of oatmeal. Please keep others safe by avoiding to bring nuts on board though!
It’s all about the tools
As traditional breakfasts mainly consist of gluten and dairy, this has been a tricky nut for me to crack. At home I mainly eat allergy friendly products and foods for breakfast, which can be hard to find on the road. Fruit salads are a favorite and we carry a fruit knife with us most of the time, but I’ve found it can be tricky to feel full during an entire active morning on just fruit. Therefore, we decided to buy a small hand blender on this trip! And it really is a life saver making it possible for me to make filling smoothies in the mornings. On other trips, we’ve chosen to bring our small camping stove.
So, don’t be afraid to buy tools that help you cook easier and make sure to make room in you bag for them.