“Oh, this sounds good—and it’s got bread crumbs in it. But what about this? Oh, it’s got cheese and milk.” As someone with wheat, corn, and dairy allergies, this is my thought process—even when I’m at a completely familiar, safe restaurant.
It’s hard enough to deal with these struggles when you’re close to home, but how do you combat these feelings when you’re in a place that’s completely new? A place with not only different dishes but also different allergy laws and different words for food? To help ease your mind, I’ve compiled a list of tips for worry-free eating when you’re traveling both in the United States and abroad.
Research is the number one step when you’re traveling to a new place, especially if that new place has a different language. While it’s usually safer to start your travels abroad in a country with a familiar language, researching your destination’s common food and allergy laws can give you a leg up even if you can’t read the menu.
Staying in a place where you have access to a kitchen is also a great way to avoid allergens. Shopping and cooking for yourself ensures that the food you are eating is allergy free.
Waiters can be your best friends when you have allergies. If you can, calling ahead and telling the staff about your allergies will make for a smoother experience. When you arrive at a restaurant, make sure to tell waiters (and other staff) about your allergies. They may be able to direct you to menu items you can eat.
Also, don’t forget to keep your allergy information on a chef’s card (a simple card with a list of allergens you react to and some common foods that they are found in). If you are traveling to a country where you don’t know the language, take the time before you leave to translate your chef’s card.
Figure Out Go-to’s
Packing snacks in your suitcase—especially your carry-on—means you don’t have to try to traverse the airport or train station to find somewhere to eat. Prepackaged food is generally fine going through security, but remember that liquids have to be under 3.5 ounces (1 kg).
Once you arrive at your destination, do your best to quickly establish what restaurants near you offer food that you can eat safely—bonus points if it’s similar to a safe restaurant back home. It is a lifesaver to have a taste of something normal when traveling; it establishes a base for you to always return to. And, once you feel comfortable enough, it may allow you to try local cuisine!
Traveling with allergies can be daunting, but your dietary needs don’t have to prevent you from fully enjoying your trip. With a little research and planning, you can sample local cuisine without having to worry about having an allergic reaction. So pack your bags for your next adventure!