Lessons Learned From Traveling With Dietary Restrictions

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When you have severe or multiple dietary restrictions, traveling can be frustrating, depressing ... or a lot of fun, especially if you do some advance planning. Here are a few things I've learned from personal experience on the road and in the air. 

Although I discovered my intolerances to gluten and dairy in the past year, I'm also a lifelong vegetarian, highly sensitive to sugar and caffeine, and allergic to all sorts of foods like nuts, chocolate, some mushrooms, and some fruits. So I can't speak to all dietary restrictions, but I do know what it's like to get hangry or weak while traveling and to feel left out or, worse, like a big drag to my travel companions. Yet food and travel are among my greatest joys in life. Here's how I approach things: 
  • Research, research, research. Yes, it takes some of the spontaneity out of travel, but prior research can make the trip more enjoyable for yourself and your traveling companions. Check out restaurant locations and menus online, map out the nearest grocery stores, learn about the local cuisine and what foods you might want to seek out and steer clear from. 

  • Bring plenty of nutritious snacks. Never assume that your dietary needs will be covered. I've learned to pack more food than I think I'll need, and to snack between meals so I can graciously sit with friends and family at restaurants. Some personal favorites: instant miso soup, chia bread, peanut butter, and my Cakey, Oaty Energy Bars Packed with Fruits & Seeds.

  • Visit farmers' markets. Even if I can't eat at every restaurant, I love visiting farmers' markets because I still get a taste of local flavors and culture. I can eat most fruits and vegetables, so I like to put together a picnic of fresh foods from the market alongside my pre-packed snacks, find a place to sit, and people watch. 

  • Find accommodations with a kitchen (or some means of cooking). Staying in a place with a kitchen, or even just a fridge and a hot plate, can make a big difference — plus it's fun! I've stayed in some really unique rentals thanks to Airbnb and VRBO and have fond memories of cooking foraged berry jam in the galley of a boat and frying breadfruit in an electric skillet on the lanai. 

  • Pack things to soothe your tummy, skin, etc. Inevitably I do end up eating something that doesn't quite agree, so I always carry backup, like herbal teas for digestion, a bottle of bitters, and skin salve for hives. 

Do you or a family member have dietary restrictions? What lessons have you learned from traveling? 

(Image: Artazum)