Travel is all about exploring and immersing yourself in a different culture. You probably don't want to spend your time worrying about your diet. But food allergies and dietary restrictions can be tough to manage when you're away from home. The good news is, all it takes is the right preparation to keep it from spoiling your trip. Here are a few ways you can prepare.
Research Before You Go
Before you even book your flights and hotels or plan your itinerary, you want to do a little research. This way, you can insure your diet gets in the way as little as possible so you can just enjoy your trip.
If you're flying, find out what kind of food will be served on the airline. MapHappy has a list of the "special meals" served at 15 top airlines, categorised by vegetarian/vegan, medical, allergy and religion. United, for example, has a menu that caters to vegetarians and vegans, and they also serve Kosher meals, Halal meals, and meals for passengers with a gluten intolerance. Their full list is included here, but this is just one airline. You'll want to check the one you're flying with (and any you connect to) to make sure they offer something for your diet. From there, you'll probably have to request the meal when you book your flight, but check the airline's webpage for specifics.
If you're allergic to peanuts, check the airline's website to see if they have a specific policy for nuts; many of them do. And here are the allergy policies of 13 major airlines.
Of course, that's just the beginning -- you need to research your destination too. You don't necessarily want to plan your travels around your diet, but it helps to at least know what to expect from the local cuisine. Fodor's elaborates on this:
If you're travelling to Italy, for example, you'd expect to find lots of pasta and pizza. But Italian food is so much more. If you're gluten-free and craving starch, eat polenta or risotto instead. And don't forget about all the other tasty locally made foods, like prosciutto, cheese and gelato, not to mention farm-fresh vegetables and fruits. It turns out that Italians also consider gluten allergies to be a medical condition, so neighbourhood pharmacies often carry gluten-free products.
Research the food labelling laws of the country you're visiting too. If the country has loose regulations, it might be hard to track ingredients in any food products you buy.
Once you pick a destination, research nearby hospitals and doctor's offices. Look up the ones closest to your hotel and points of interest, in case of an emergency.
Pack Some Necessities
When you're at the mercy of your allergies, there are a few must-haves for your trip. You obviously want to pack any medications you might need, but make sure you bring enough. For example, if you use an epipen, you may want to carry multiple doses, just in case. The Food Allergy Research & Education organisation also suggests checking the regulations for bringing medication on your flight. The TSA allows epinephrine, for instance, but recommends that the medicine is clearly labelled.
You may also want to bring a doctor's note. Ask your doctor to write down your allergic condition, medical history and the steps to take in case of an allergic reaction. Here's a sample letter. Depending on the severity of your allergy, you might even want to bring a medical ID bracelet.
We've suggested carrying a card that explains your dietary restrictions when you travel. You can present this card on flights, hotels, or at restaurants. Independent Traveller refers to them as "Food Allergy Translation Cards". They explain how to order one or make your own:
Several companies offer these wallet-size cards, which explain your allergy or other dietary restriction in the local language of wherever you're going. They usually can be customised to include multiple allergies and food restrictions. Be sure to order multiple copies of your travel cards in case you lose one or leave one at a restaurant.
The following companies offer food allergy translation cards:
You may also be able to make your own cards. Some travellers print out photos of the foods they can't eat and draw a large X (or a circle with a slash) over them to indicate that these items are prohibited.
Similarly, an app called Allergy FT does the same thing, via your smartphone. Plug in your allergies and language choice, and the app will create a virtual card for you (though it's currently only available in English, Spanish, French, and German). Even if you aren't learning the language of the country you're visiting, it's not a bad idea to learn how to pronounce words related to your particular condition.
Pack some of your own allergy-friendly snacks too. The Kitchn's Emily Han suggests packing more food than you anticipate you'll need, so you can snack between meals and still sit with friends and family when they go out to eat at places with a limited menu. Just make sure to check the customs regulations of the country you're visiting. Some of them don't allow you to bring in certain fruits, veggies, or meat products.
Pick Allergy-Friendly Lodging
In considering your dietary restrictions, there are certain features you might want to look for when you choose lodging.
For one, you might consider finding a place with a kitchen. Cooking your own meals can help you avoid a lot of the hassle of dining abroad; plus, it's kind of fun. If you like to cook, you can try your hand at dishes based on local food products. Of course, you probably want to make sure you know how those ingredients were made or produced. Services like Airbnb and VRBO make it easy enough to find lodging with kitchens.
If you prefer a hotel, see if they have a concierge who can make recommendations for you. For hotels that offer breakfast or other dining, check to see if they have special menu options, or can accommodate your needs.
A bed and breakfast isn't a bad option, either. Since the properties are usually smaller, owners may be a bit more accomodating. Independent Traveller suggests that the owners may even give you access to their kitchen, if you feel like cooking your own meals.
Of course, there's a wealth of information online about nearly every travel destination. Chances are, if you do a little research, you can find at least a handful of restaurants and eateries that cater to your allergies. For example, AllergyEats lets you look up and rate restaurants based on their "friendliness" to certain food allergies and diets.
Depending on how severe your allergies are, you might not be able to avoid thinking about your diet completely when you travel. But with some preparation, you can make sure it doesn't get in the way of thoroughly enjoying your trip.