Saturday, February 20, 2016

8 Tips for Traveling with Food Intolerances

Are you gluten-sensitive, lactose-intolerant, egg-abstinent, grain-averse, meat-opposed, GMO-outraged, or just one of those new-fangled orthorexics? You’re not alone. Since I discovered food intolerances were causing my fatigue, thyroid problems, acne, headaches and joint pain a few years ago, I've been sitting all high and mighty at the top of my food pyramid like a banished queen. But food sensitivities and unpopularity be damned. I have palaces to go and rice cakes to eat—even if I am flying solo.

If you're traveling with food intolerances and dietary restrictions, there are ways to relieve your angst besides shock therapy. All it takes is a little forethought. Will you be driving or flying? Will you have a kitchen? A car? Are you leaving the country? Will there be a Whole Foods salad bar on your Fijian island? With these eight tips for traveling with food intolerances, you'll be able to keep calm and carry on.

1. Carry food and pack provisions.
If you’re flying, pack a few items in your suitcase for breakfasts, snacks or stand-in meals for when you're in a pinch. And make sure to carry enough food with you to eat while you're waiting at the airport and for the duration of your flight. You don’t want to have to choose between turning into a starving, shaky shrew and eating something that’ll turn you into a convulsing Linda Blair. A cooked whole yam is a convenient hand-held, gluten-free, paleo-friendly, vegan snack. Sure, you’ll be the only one on board clutching a yam, but you won’t care when you're happily sated from that nutrient-dense, beta-carotene bad boy.

2.  Bring a cooler.
If you're taking a road trip, a cooler full of snacks and provisions will be your salvation. On my last trip, I packed gluten-free bread, a tub of hummus, ripe avocados and pre-washed fruits and veggies. I didn't even need a kitchen to make filling breakfasts on the road (make sure to get a room with a fridge and access to an ice machine). You can always re-stock at grocery stores along the way. I also packed a box with handy items like bananas, rice cakes, energy bars, packets of nut butters, honey, tins of sardines and canned rice-stuffed grape leaves.

3. Research restaurants online.
You know all the time you spend reading Yelp reviews and perusing restaurant menus online? Well, channel that time suck into your destination meal planning and you'll be prepared. If you use good key words, you might find just what you're looking for. When I was passing through Sedona at mealtime, I googled “organic food Sedona” and found an organic, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO restaurant that royally catered to all my queenly proclivities. You can also look for health food stores, co-ops and local farmers’ markets to pick up fresh produce and regional specialties.

4. Plan your cheat days.
It's maddening to be wandering through a foodie wonderland with your lame rice cakes, unable to partake in the local delicacies. But only you can decide if eating something you’re sensitive to is worth the risk. It's your body, and you should know if you're going to grow a third eye. But if you're going to succumb to temptation, try to do it on a low-impact day. For instance, if you expect gluten to turn your stomach upside down, don’t eat it before you go bungee jumping, skydiving or zip-lining. Better yet, save it for dinnertime and sleep it off.

5. Carry remedies with you.
Sometimes an offending food will announce itself to you even when the menu didn't. We're simply not privy to every ingredient when we're out and about, so bring your meds and holistic remedies, and have them especially close by on a cheat day. Whether it’s migraine meds, an inhaler, Immodium, skin ointments  or gluten defense digestive enzymes, be ready to quash the offenders like you're pulling the mike plug at a Donald Trump rally.

6. Learn to negotiate the menu. 
When you've got multiple food sensitivities, it can be hard to find anything on the menu—especially if you're trying to go with the flow of your fellow travelers. If you don’t see an entrĂ©e that caters to your diet, ask if you can make substitutions (free of charge) or order a few a la carte items. When I was at a teahouse in Denver, I was treated like a queen with a special vegan, gluten-free high tea that I ordered in advance. It cost the same as the regular high tea, and my tolerant companions weren't so tolerant when they saw that my offerings were more regal than theirs. 

7. Learn to communicate in a foreign language.
If you don’t want to turn into Linda Blair on an international flight, call the airline in advance and order a special meal. From vegan and vegetarian to gluten-free and kosher, they offer several choices to keep your head from spinning. Once you arrive at your destination, how will you announce how special you are? You can buy laminated translation cards that come in 60 languages with very specific messaging for food and drug allergies and dietary restrictions. Need to say you can’t eat gluten in Swahili, peanuts in Portuguese, eggs in Estonian or shellfish in Fijian? No problema!

8. If you loved a restaurant, go back.
Think you should be adventurous and try a new restaurant for every meal? If you got weak in the knees from a certain Mediterranean hottie one night and you’ll be in town for a while, why not hook up again? Maybe it’ll be even hotter the second time. Not to mention the hottie will probably have some pretty savory friends. But don’t get too attached. Remember, you're leaving town, you heartbreaker.

Related Link:
My Therapy Session with Dr. Sigmund Food (Food Intolerances)


  1. #9 Travel with friends. There is power in numbers. GREG

  2. I have never heard of a vegan, gluten-free high tea before. Just brilliant. Great tips!

  3. You are brilliant! These are all fabulous! Love!

  4. I love your list of items to pack in a box for a road trip. Next time I'm off on a trip, I'll be back to review your entire list. Nice work!

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