Learning how to travel with a gluten-free, dairy-free diet can be challenging. Here are some tips for making it easier to travel with ease, and not have to worry about worsening your symptoms.
Vacations are around the corner, road trips and long flights will be aplenty, and you are probably already stressing about how you will safely eat when you have food sensitivities and restrictions. This topic is one that I have a lot of experience with, being both a frequent traveler and someone who has certain dietary needs in situations where it’s not always available.
Traveling is one of my favorite things, but I will be honest in saying it is not always easy to travel eating dairy-free or gluten-free.
Being unable to try certain things when you’re exploring new places is always going to be a bit of a letdown, but having an idea of what you can enjoy as an alternative and planning ahead is the only thing you can do to ensure not feeling like total crap.
I’ve worked in restaurants for the last few years, and people who would ask me a million questions about the ingredients used to drive me nuts. Now, needing to make the same awkward requests when I eat out, I can safely say that I sympathize with them. And the servers.
Traveling with dietary restrictions (dairy-free, gluten-free, etc.) can be challenging, to say the least, but if you can plan ahead and prepare for the journey, it doesn’t have to be difficult or daunting, and it’s absolutely achievable!
My Experience Traveling GF/DF
My story with dietary restrictions began right before I set off on a 12-month trip around the world. I left for the trip feeling pretty healthy, but something happened shortly after the trip started that I did not plan for – I got glutened.
I have always been able to eat whatever I want, and usually not end up with a stomach ache. I’ve gone through my bouts with dairy, but I still ate cheese and yoghurt here and there, and I definitely didn’t let it stop me from enjoying whatever I wanted when I went out to dinner, along with the occasional late night pizza and ice cream.
Low and behold, about two months before my flight to South America, I started experiencing really horrible pain on the right side of my stomach. It felt like the worst side ache I’ve ever had; like when you run or swim after drinking a ton of water.
I wasn’t really in tune with what could be going on as I was more focused on getting ready for the trip, but after a few weeks of experiencing these side aches, the pain hadn’t subsided, so I took further action.
I went to a general physician and explained this pain, and ended up getting an ultrasound, bloodwork, and had a whole panel of tests done to eliminate the more serious problems it could be. Everything came back normal.
So of course this left me feeling frustrated, dissatisfied, and actually pretty scared as I was about to embark on this journey traveling around the world, leaving my comforts and familiarities behind.
I started to cut back on alcohol and bread, and the pain noticeably subsided. By the time I left for South America, I was rarely experiencing those pains at all. But then I got lazy. I was in small towns with little to no options for healthy grocery stores, no access to a kitchen, and I was traveling on a budget.
I had free breakfast in a lot of places which usually consisted of bread, yoghurt, cereal, and buttery pastries (YUM.) A lot of times at lunch or dinner, I would eat bread before my meal because I was so hungry from not being able to find healthy snacks.
The beer was cheap, the bread was free, and I thought I was getting away with it.
I had pretty regular stomach aches along the way, but I didn’t experience anything too severe, or at least severe enough to make a change. Not until about 4 months into my trip.
Right after my hiking trip in Patagonia and arriving to New Zealand, I started to get the side ache pain again, along with headaches and bloating. Luckily, New Zealand was one of the first places where I had access to health grocery stores and a kitchen.
I was able to buy plant milk, gluten-free and dairy-free snacks, organic fruits and veggies, etc. I finally started to feel better after weeks of near debilitating stomach pain.
I know how hard it is to travel with food restrictions, and I honestly never thought I would be the person who had to look up restaurants before-hand to make sure they had diet-friendly options, but here I am!
The number one thing I’ve learned from this is to not let your dietary needs feel like restrictions or burdens, and to focus on what you CAN eat that makes you feel good and full of energy instead of focusing on what you can’t eat.
The biggest struggle with traveling is that a lot of times you’re unable to cook your own gluten-free and dairy-free food. Trying new foods is one of the perks of traveling, but only if you’re confident in knowing what you’re eating and are able to get what you need and be properly informed of ingredients.
Keep reading for some general tips on traveling with your dietary needs.
Tips for Safely Traveling With Food Restrictions
(gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, the list goes on!)
- You can plan ahead and find restaurants and stores before you get to your destination. Trying new restaurants in a city I’ve never been to is one of my favorite things to do when traveling.
- Do your homework! Pre-select restaurants and stores that will accommodate you ahead of time, so you know you will be accommodated. Don’t just show up and hope for the best because those are the times when I end up disappointed and usually will sacrifice my dietary needs in order to eat whatever is there.
- Use Trip Advisor, look at blogs, use Google Maps and look at reviews/photos of a handful of places that you can keep in your back pocket.
- Along the trip and at your final destination, seek out health food stores and local markets where you can purchase fresh, local, organic produce.
- If you have access to a kitchen and pantry at your destination, make as many meals as you can for yourself (gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.) so you know you are safe and won’t ruin the remainder of your trip by getting sick.
- If you are staying with friends or family, it can be both stressful on you and your hosts. You may be concerned about them not fully understanding your restrictions and how serious they are. I know from experience it could take the entire duration of your vacation to explain it.
- Consider printing up a quick list for them that specifically lists out all of the things you can and cannot eat, or maybe even emailing it ahead so they can be prepared.
- I still feel like a burden sometimes because the last thing I want to do is inconvenience someone, but it makes everything a LOT easier when you’re able to plan ahead. I suggest even bringing your own food to your host’s house.
- If stores are limited in certain countries that you’re traveling to, consider buy a few staples to bring along with you. Seriously, I’ve been carrying around the same bag of food and restocking when I need to so that I always have a snack on hand.
I probably sound crazy to those of you who DON’T have any issues with food, but for those of you that DO, you get it.
To top it all off, I’m one of “those people” who gets hungry every few hours no matter how big of a meal I previously ate, so walking around the streets of a small South American village or an island in Asia all day without a snack or accommodating restaurants can actually be really frustrating (and dangerous for my travel partner.)
Whether you’re camping, traveling in a van, taking a long road trip, or backpacking around the world, plan ahead.
Make as much food (dairy-free, gluten-free, etc.) as you can that doesn’t need to be cold or in a cooler that can just get tossed into a backpack: protein bars, snack mixes, fruit, nut butter packs, healthy crackers, etc. And if you DO have a fridge or a cooler, keep a few staples that you can “repurpose” and make for multiple meals.
These are a few of my favorite tips to make eating healthily and following your dietary needs while traveling easy and achievable. If you have any additional questions or want some more tips, feel free to reach out!