6 Tips for Traveling With Dietary Restrictions

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)

Whether it is a much-needed vacation or a last-minute flight for work, every trip requires preparation. And for those with special diets, the packing list has a few extra items to consider. Mainly, food.

But dietary limitations don’t have to take the spontaneity or flavor out of your adventures. Or keep you at home. With these tips, anyone with any dietary needs can stay full (and healthy) no matter where the journey takes them.

(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)
  1. Prepare for food emergencies. For plane rides, layovers, and long afternoons of travel, it’s important to have SOS snacks with you, in your carry-on, at all times. Favorites include granola bars, individual nut butter packets, and chia seeds (pictured), which only need a little jam, yogurt, or even steeped tea to turn into a filling snack. Or take a tip from raw foodies and stock up on pre-washed, sturdy fruits and vegetables to keep you full.
  2. Pack smart (and flat). As for your checked bags, make sure to fill them with non-perishables items that pack flat, like rice crackers, dried soups (which only require hot H2O or a microwave), protein-rich, boxed beans (no can opener necessary), and microwavable oatmeal, rice, popcorn, or even polenta.
  3. Send supplies ahead. If you are staying somewhere for a while, send your pantry favorites to the hotel ahead of time. Sometimes you can even ask the concierge to do a little pre-arrival grocery shopping for other items, like fresh vegetables or fruit.
  4. Plan for kitchen access. Since the challenge of keeping a special diet while traveling comes from the lack of a kitchen, solve the issue by making sure your room is equipped with a microwave, a refrigerator, and an electric kettle. Or better yet, skip the hotel and rent from Airbnb or VRBO and get access to a range of kitchen options.
  5. Make a kitchen tool kit: Just like your toiletries, it’s easy (and life changing!) to pack travel-sized cooking utensils. Fill small, spill-free containers with oil, vinegar, and spice blends. Look to camping stores for tiny can openers, sporks, and collapsible containers (or lidded mason jars) for spontaneous picnics. And don’t forget a cutting board and knife, like this nifty portable one.
  6. Call on friends, in person and virtual. Even with a special diet, a little planning makes it possible to fully experience the food of a new city or culture. Ask the concierge at your hotel (or even tour guide leaders) to help you find dietary-friendly restaurants in the area — essential if you’re in a foreign country. Use social media tools, like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp!, to ask locals about diet-friendly eateries and grocery stores. Or go beyond the dining table and sign up for a cooking class or another edible activity and discover the eats that only locals know about.

I’d love to hear any other tips you have for making a vacation just as restful and luxurious with food allergies or restrictions as without!