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For many with food restrictions, the idea of traveling with food allergies can induce major anxiety. I have Celiac Disease, with multiple food restrictions on top of just not being able to have gluten. Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that just because a food appears to be gluten-free – that doesn’t mean it is. Traveling with food allergies isn’t easy – especially if you don’t know the area you’re vacationing in. Thankfully, I have these simple tried-and-true tips for traveling with food allergies that should work for you too!
Why is Traveling with Food Allergies Hard?
For those who don’t have restricted diets, it can be tough to understand how serious exposure to trigger foods can be. I feel like an interrogator when trying a new restaurant because just a few parts of gluten per million can trigger a reaction for me. Using the same cooking utensils or food prep area is enough to cross-contaminate a meal. On my last trip, I got “glutened” by a stray piece of pasta in the utensil drawer.
Everyone reacts differently, depending on their diagnosis. Anaphylactic reactions are typically immediate, whereas Celiac Disease and food intolerances might not cause reactions right away. It can make a vacation go from wonderful to miserable in seconds. However, with the right planning, you can travel with food allergies without fear looming over your holiday.
Prepare Allergy-Friendly Foods Before Traveling
Depending on your food restriction and travel plans, there are several ways you can pack safe foods.
If you’re flying, shelf-stable items like snack bars, crackers, powdered coconut milk, oatmeal or granola, jerky, nuts, and trail mix. You can make your own or purchase ones already made. While most of the shelf-stable items you can pack won’t work for full meals, they’re great to have in a pinch. The last thing you’ll want to do is go grocery shopping when you want to hit the beach!
Meal prep and freezer cook if your method of travel allows it. For our upcoming trip, I already portioned out and froze several of my favorite meals when we had leftovers. Soups are perfect for this, especially since you can reheat them in your hotel room to put in a thermos for a later meal. The day before our trip, my husband is going to meal prep a few fresh meals for me. Having a fresh option, instead of just frozen, helps keep me from feeling deprived. For breakfast, I have the dry items for overnight oats assembled in containers so I can just add my favorite milk alternative when we get there.
Have a Way to Cook While Traveling
When I don’t have time to meal prep, I always plan on having a way to cook while traveling. This can be as simple as making something in a hotel microwave, or bringing my Instant Pot with us. Simple stir-fries, like this Colorful Vegetarian Wild Rice Stir Fry, are perfect for cooking in an electric pressure cooker while traveling. In most places, you can find fresh broccoli slaw or frozen veggies ready to go at the grocery store. A friend traveling while doing the Autoimmune Protocol took a small slow cooker with her to cook in her hotel room. She spent her day out having fun, and was able to come back to dinner ready for her to eat. Another acquaintance rented a camper van while traveling overseas, so they could cook and sleep wherever they wanted to go.
Use Review Sites to Plan Eating Out
While preparing your meals yourself is the safest way to avoid exposure to your food allergies, that isn’t exactly fun for vacation. When planning to eat out while traveling with food allergies, it takes some internet sleuthing to find food-allergy safe restaurants. For those who are gluten-free, there’s a handy website and app called Find Me Gluten Free. Find Me Gluten Free made our last vacation a total dream – I was able to sort restaurants by “Most Celiac Friendly”! Since other food restrictions go hand-in-hand with Celiac Disease, the best reviewers mention other options, like dairy-free. TripAdvisor is another great resource if you have allergies other than gluten and is a favorite among people with food allergies on Reddit. Yelp, in my experience, is very misleading with how they handle searching for food restrictions. When all else fails, ask in an online community for advice from locals – Facebook and Reddit are my favorites for finding advice on where to eat.
Prepare for Exposure to Your Food Allergy
Even with all the planning in the world, those of us traveling with food allergies still need to be prepared for exposure. If you’re not sure what you should do in that situation, contact your physician before traveling to put together a plan. When glutened on my last trip, I wasn’t prepared enough – and ended up in Urgent Care on an important day.
Enjoy Yourself While Traveling with Food Allergies
While we can’t escape our food restrictions, we can still make our best efforts to enjoy our trip. With planning and preparation, you don’t need to worry about your food allergies as much. Schedule activities that don’t center on food that the whole group can enjoy. Vacation is much more than just eating food!