Don’t Give Up the Goat! Tips for Traveling with Dietary Restrictions

make your own food by Lyz Pfister

Whether it’s an aversion to mushroom caper cream or a serious gluten allergy, don’t let a tremulous tummy keep you from seeing the world.

Research the local cuisine

Take a bit of time to read about what food is like where you’re going. If you’re a vegetarian and traveling to India, for instance, you should have no problem meeting your dietary requirements, as a majority of the population is also vegetarian. If you’re going to South America, on the other hand, you might spend the trip living on beans, rice and plantains. By figuring out what the typical regional cuisine is like, you have a better idea of how extensively you need to plan ahead, or what menu items to look out for. If you’re going to a meat-centric country as a vegetarian or vegan, for instance, you might want to keep in mind to ask about foods cooked with meat for flavoring.

Become a card carrier

If you’re traveling to a country whose language you don’t speak, carry a small card in your wallet stating your dietary preferences or food allergies in the local language. You can either purchase a card for a small fee from a company such as Dietary Card or Allergy Translation – or make your own using an internet translator or a resource such as the International Vegetarian Union, which has lists of useful phrases in many world languages. If you have a severe allergy, it’s always a good idea to carry a medical emergency card for worst case scenarios.

Utilize local resources

Check online for local groups who share your dietary restrictions or food allergies. Often, these groups will have message boards where people share tips on restaurants, grocery stores and hotels which cater to your needs. If you’re staying in a hotel, ask your concierge for recommendations. Often, if you call in advance to let them know about your needs, they can do some research on your behalf.

Stay somewhere with a kitchen

Especially if you have a severe food allergy, it might be best to stay somewhere with a kitchen. Look for house exchanges and vacation rentals, which are almost guaranteed to have a kitchen you can use. If you’re looking for places to stay through Airbnb or Couchsurfing, make sure that you’ll be allowed to use the kitchen. If you’re staying at a bed and breakfast, be sure to tell your hosts in advance about your needs. Some will even give you access to the kitchen if you ask.

Do your own shopping

If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, it goes without saying that you’ll be doing your own grocery shopping. However, even if you’re eating out for most of your meals, stock up on snacks or sandwich fixings in order to pack safe-to-eat snacks for underway, thereby ensuring you won’t go hungry (or at least not too hungry…). Health food stores can be a great place to start your shopping trip, as these often cater to people with food allergies (gluten and lactose, especially) and strict diets (such as veganism or vegetarianism). If language restrictions are an issue, write down a few key words in the local language so you know what to avoid on a nutrition label.

Book a food-specific tour

To travel without having to give your food allergy or dietary restriction a second thought, book a food-specific tour. Bicycle Beano, for instance, offers biking tours around the countryside of England and Wales for vegetarians, while Kosherica is an all-Kosher cruise line which offers packages to Baltic Russia, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or Alaska, among others.