Traveling with food sensitivities can be a challenge, but, most of the time, it’s not impossible!
It can sometimes be difficult to navigate day-to-day life with food sensitivities, and traveling with food sensitivities can prove to be an even greater challenge.
Our entire family is sensitive to gluten and dairy, and our firstborn is sensitive to eggs as well. My husband is also allergic to tree nuts.
Despite these food sensitivities, we have been able to figure out what to eat while spending this summer in Costa Rica (although, at times, it hasn’t been easy!).
While there are varying degrees of food sensitivities and some are so severe that travel is impossible, I hope the following tips for traveling with food sensitivities will encourage you and give you hope that you might be able to travel with food sensitivities too.
1. Call or google ahead for restaurant and even grocery store options.
Our family travels at least once per year to visit family in Mississippi. It takes us 12 hours each way, so it’s impossible to make the trip without stopping to eat.
I will never forget how we scrambled to find a restaurant where we could be sure gluten-free food was served during our first trip after we discovered our food sensitivities.
It’s best to map out your stops before even leaving your house. That way, if you need to pack your own meals (which is cheaper anyway!), you will know ahead of time.
It is pertinent to also research restaurant and grocery store options in the location of your destination.
The town where my husband’s family lives is small, so they do not have as many gluten-free options even in the grocery stores. During our most recent trip, we drove a few towns over on the first day, so I could shop at an ALDI for the food we needed for the rest of the time we were there.
2. Bring and cook your own food.
Not only is this the very best way to ensure that you are avoiding your food sensitivity triggers, but it’s also the cheapest way to go!
Earlier this summer, we met some of my extended family for a short trip to Brosnan Forest, South Carolina. Instead of relying on our options once we got there, we brought our own food.
This option isn’t possible in Costa Rica (or on any international trip, for that matter), but we have been cooking most of our own meals in order to avoid high restaurant bills and our food sensitivities.
3. Eat like the locals (sometimes).
If you are traveling internationally, research the local fare before you leave. You might just find that the locals already eat a diet free of whatever you are sensitive to.
This is mostly true for our family in Costa Rica. For example, most Costa Ricans eat a diet that consists largely of rice and beans with some meat and fruits and vegetables. They also use corn flour for many baked goods.
Focusing on these local foods has helped our family to remain gluten-free during our trip this summer.
However, if we were to travel to Argentina, where the locals eat a lot of bread and cheese, we would have a much harder time and would probably not be able to eat as many local foods.
4. Learn the words for your specific food sensitivities.
If you are traveling internationally where they speak a language other than English, it is vital that you learn the words for the foods you need to avoid.
You will need to be able to communicate to the locals that you cannot have those foods. You will also need to be able to read those words on food containers in stores where you are shopping.
5. Leave things on your plate.
There is nothing wrong with leaving certain food items on your plate. Unless you have issues with cross contamination, just eat around certain things. For us, that means leaving bread on the plate but eating the meat and produce.
I might get some flack for this, but unless your sensitivity is life threatening, this might be an option.
It is not ideal, and it is not long-term, but, especially for international travel, it’s helpful to know what foods will hurt but not kill you (at least immediately!).
For us, it’s meant dairy.
We were dairy-free for a number of years, but we have slowly added a small amount of dairy back into our diets over the past year. When I say “small,” I mean that I never buy cheese, but we will sometimes eat it or butter, etc. when we are out or served it in someone else’s home.
One way we have avoided gluten during our Costa Rica trip is to use corn tortillas to make gluten-free “wraps” for lunches. But, much to our chagrin, we’ve found it very, very difficult to locate gluten-free deli meat. The locals do not really eat sandwiches, so deli meat isn’t sold in butcher shops. The meat in the grocery stores is very processed, and nine times out of ten, it will contain gluten.
We’ve stocked up on gluten-free deli meats when we have found them, but we’ve also had to eat more cheese than we have wanted when we are in need of a quick meal.
However, we all but stopped the dairy during the third week of the trip. Our youngest daughter was breaking out in a rash around her mouth, and I could tell I was bloating. Others were getting stomach pains. It was OK for a few weeks, but we are happy to be mostly dairy-free again.
6. Be armed with supplements and/or emergency supplies in the event of an exposure.
Since our food sensitivities mainly affect our digestion, we came armed with not only a plentiful supply of probiotics (which we take daily) but also Gluten Cutter in the event we accidentally eat it.
(And several of us have taken it already as we began to feel ill after probably eating some hidden gluten.)
We also brought my husband’s inhaler and our nebulizer in the event of an asthma attack by our middle daughter. We also packed plenty of natural rash creams in our first aid kit, and we have used them on our youngest when it was apparent she had had too much dairy.
While avoiding food sensitivities is the first line of defense, it would be dangerous to travel without what you need in case of an emergency–be in an inhaler, epi pen, etc.