Food Tourism & Travelling with Dietary Restrictions
Once you establish a comfort zone in your own town, traveling with dietary restrictions can feel like starting over. But you *can* still travel and even enjoy a little cuisine-tourism without eating things you shouldn't.
Some countries are more aware of allergies and dietary restrictions than others, so doing a little legwork in advance will save you a lot of time and stress once you're on your way! If nothing else, I highly recommend looking into the most common foods served wherever you're thinking of travelling to before starting to plan a trip there. While it can still be done, I know I would feel very unsafe the whole time if, for example, I travelled to a country where tree nuts or peanut oil were common ingredients in most of the foods. With my severe nut allergy, I might instead want to look into countries where nuts are not as prevalent so I can more easily enjoy a much wider variety of the local cuisine.
If you are planning on going on your first adventure since developing or finding out about a dietary restriction - or maybe you're travelling with someone with an allergy for the first time - here are some quick tips for having a much less stressful (and much better-fed!) journey:
1) Research & plan key meals ahead of time. Especially if I'm going to a brand new place I've never been before, I spend a good amount of time researching the food in that area. I'll make note of any designated specialty or allergy-friendly places, check out different establishment's menus, and even make a couple reservations for key meals before I arrive. For example, if I know I want to have one really nice meal while I'm visiting the area, I'll find a restaurant that can feed me (and feed me *well*), contact them in advance with allll my dietary and allergy info, and plan with them so they know exactly when I'm coming. This gives me something too look forward to, and at least one place I know will take care of me.
Generally, I like to have a list of places I know I can eat at before I travel so plans can be flexible and we can try different things on the fly, but if I'm getting hungry and it's starting to feel like I have no options, I always have my list to fall back on.
2) Connect with communities before your arrival. Other than just Googling food places where you're going, you might also be able to tap into some dietary-restriction-specific communities for guidance. For example, Happy Cow is a fantastic website (and app!) that operates very similarly to Yelp and Google Maps, and will recommend vegan & vegetarian-friendly restaurants and food service locations close to you, all over the world. When I was in Ireland for my honeymoon in 2019, my husband and I relied heavily on the reviews and recommendations from Happy Cow and ate *very* well. It was also very comforting to be able to just stand on a street corner, open the app, and see a map of all the vegan-friendly restaurants in the area. Very, very cool stuff.
I also 100% recommend tapping into your hometown dietary-restriction-based communities (like the FB groups I mention in this blog post) and asking if anyone with your allergies or food restrictions has already travelled to where you're planning to go. Getting as many recommendations and tips as I can from people that have "been there and done that" has always been invaluable for me in the past!
3) Know your go-tos & best-bets. You know how I recommended finding some typical take-out meals that are safe for you by default? (Like how Mexican, Indian, and Italian food is usually easier to make vegan?) The same thing can apply to your international travels too! Spend a little time before you leave making sure you know a couple go-to menu items or foods that are going to be very likely safe & easy for you to find, as well as the names of common dishes that are super not okay for you.
For example, when I went to Greece with my high school (back when I "only" had a nut and shellfish allergy), I knew that in general, meat (pork, lamb, beef, chicken) and rice or potatoes with a side of veg was 100% safe for me. That doesn't mean I didn't ask every time before food was served, but it gave me a certain level of comfort and confidence trying new restaurant after new restaurant. I also learned that baklava, a very common Greek dessert, was made with chopped nuts, so I knew in advance to avoid something that was offered to us a lot.
4) Learn your allergens/dietary terminology in their language. If you are travelling to a place where you do not speak the language, *please* look up the words for your allergens/foods you want to avoid in advance. You can use this when reading ingredients, but also if you need to communicate your restrictions to servers or even locals you're asking for recommendations.
Yes, I was a also minor travelling with a school group, but when I went to Greece my mom made me carry laminated cards that said "I have a deathly allergy to all nuts" and then listed alllll my allergens (yes, each and every tree nut) item by item, all in Greek, just in case I needed it. Most of the places we went spoke English anyway, but it also came in handy a couple times. Was I SUPER embarrassed to just hand someone a card and then sit there awkwardly, drawing attention to myself? Oh yeah. Did I go the whole trip without having a single reaction or allergy-scare? Also yes.
5) Stay somewhere with at least a kitchenette. This is more of a safety-net maneuver and a cost-saving tip for me, but I always try to make sure the hotel room, BnB, motel, wherever we're staying has at least a microwave and a mini-fridge. Back when we could travel, I used AirBnB for most of my trips so I could specifically book a place that had a whole kitchen I could use. Being able to feed yourself and store a couple groceries (or even restaurant leftovers to consume the next day!) can save you a lot of money from not having to eat out for every single meal, and can be a safety net for if you cannot find anywhere you can eat out that day. In the end, you know you've got good, safe food you can eat at your temporary home-base.
6) Bring snacks. Okay, yes, this is my general policy for life, but it's also a good move when you're travelling. Especially while you're in transit! Most plane & train travel that provides meals have started to accommodate some dietary restrictions - like offering a vegetarian option, and/or a gluten-free option - but I can't recommend relying on them being able to feed you, especially if you have multiple/overlapping concerns (in my experience, the GF option is very rarely vegan, the vegan options rests heavily on gluten-full ingredients, and neither are free from both nuts and soy).
Throw a couple non-perishable snacks you know you can have (and you know you like) in your carry-on and you'll have something to munch on if you don't have any other options!
Looking for a cheap, homemade travel-safe snack? Here's my recipe for roasted chickpeas!
CRUNCHY ROASTED CHICKPEAS
(vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free)
- 1 can of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
- 1 tbsp olive oil (as needed)
- Seasoning of your choice! I've used:
lime & black pepper
cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, & salt
smoked paprika and cumin
cinnamon and sugar
turmeric and ginger
salt and vinegar
taco mix (chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper)
1) Drain, rinse, and dry 1 can of chickpeas (or 2 cans if you want lots of chickpeas!). If you have a day to prep these, you can lay the chickpeas out to dry on a baking sheet in the morning, and the white 'skins' will dry up by the time you return to complete this recipe in the evening. If you don't have 8 hours to wait, you'll need to remove at least most of the white skins after patting the chickpeas dry. This can be time consuming, so I suggest making a station in front of a screen, throwing on an episode of a show you've seen, and sitting down to do this. OR, you can just leave them on - but removing the skin is key for getting the chickpeas *crunchy*. ;)
2) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie/baking sheet with parchment paper and spread your chickpeas out on it in a single layer (use two baking sheets if needed to give them the space they need to roast). Roast them in the oven for 30 minutes, gently shaking the baking sheet(s) every 10 minutes.
3) As the chickpeas roast, combine your seasonings (adding your desired spices to olive oil if, unlike the lime or vinegar flavours, they do not have a liquid included in the mix already).
4) After roasting for 30 mins, remove your chickpeas from the oven and carefully put them in a bowl (the chickpeas will be HOT). Toss your chickpeas with your seasoning mixture of choice, and then return them to the parchment-paper-lined baking sheet(s) for an additional 10 mins in the oven at 400 degrees.
5) Let cool, and enjoy! These chickpeas are best if consumed within a day or two of roasting, BUT if you want to stockpile and store some for later, put them in an air-tight container and freeze them. Then, when you're ready to dig into your chickpea reserves, take them out and let them defrost before consuming (or you can pop them in your air fryer or oven to warm 'em up faster if you're impatient like me). ;)