One of the biggest benefits of travel is that it gets you out of your comfort zone.
You get to experience new people, different scenery, and often new foods as well. However, when you’re on a restrictive diet, travel can present a unique challenge. Away from home, you will often depend on the food that others prepare for you. This can become an issue if you are avoiding certain allergens and the food isn’t prepared with care. Risking getting glutened for example is enough to make someone with celiac or gluten intolerance nervous to travel too far from home.
After years of following restrictive diets myself, I’ve picked up several tips and tricks along the way. With these skills, I now have the confidence to travel almost anywhere and be able to find or make food that suits my diet.
Feel free to copy-cat these sure-fire strategies to continue focusing on your gut-health while experiencing a new scene.
1.) Eat For Fuel, Not for Fun
I’m kicking off this list with a big one – Don’t make the focus of your trip about the food. If you’re following a restrictive diet and the purpose of your trip is primarily dining for entertainment, it’s likely that you’ll end up feeling like you’ve missed out. Germany without beer? France without baguettes? New York with no Coney dogs? Philly with no cheese steak? Nashville with no barbeque? Sad when you look at it that way, right?
My tip is to reposition the purpose of your trip to be about your non-dining experiences: culture, history, arts, entertainment, architecture, and the people of the place you’re visiting. You’ll experience the kind of enrichment that doesn’t come at end of a fork.
2.) Do Your Research
Trust me when I say that researching where you will eat ahead of time will save you a lot of stress and anxiety – two things you definitely want to minimize when you’re on vacay! Typically, I try and pick just one place to dine out at for each day of our trip. The other 1-2 meals are usually more snacky and something that can be enjoyed before we leave our hotel or in a park alfresco.
When choosing restaurants, I’ll look up menus online ahead of time and make sure that they can accommodate someone with eating restrictions. Many establishments note items that are gluten-free, but it’s hard to locate menus with other potential allergens listed (e.g. soy, corn, eggs, milk, etc.). From my experience, restaurants that are able to accommodate gluten-free may also be open to other special requests. For example, if a salad with grilled salmon can be made gluten-free, you can also likely have them omit soy-containing dressing in favor of oil and vinegar without too much trouble. For best results (and, out of courtesy) I suggest calling or emailing the restaurant ahead of time to give management every opportunity to accommodate you prior to your reservation.
“Reposition the purpose of your trip to be about your non-dining experiences: culture, history, arts, entertainment, architecture, and the people of the place you’re visiting”
3.) Choose Your Companions Wisely
When you are on a restrictive diet, that means you’re focus is on healing your body and reducing inflammation.
What is your priority: you and your health.
What is not your priority: making sure your eating restrictions aren’t bumming out your travel companions.
The people you travel with should care as much about your wellbeing as you do. A true friend would not want to see you incapacitated for the duration of your trip because your food was contaminated with gluten. This is why it’s important to choose your travel companions wisely and also to communicate with them ahead of time about dining on your trip.
I want to quickly acknowledge that not everyone has control over who they are traveling with. For those situations, you might have a tougher time getting your group to follow your lead to the nearest allergen-friendly restaurant. If you find yourself in a situation where you are eating out at a restaurant with no menu options for you, I’ve found one of these two solutions usually get’s me through: Either speaking directly to the chef about off-menu items that can fit with your diet (yes, this really does work), or planning a pit-stop before or after the restaurant where you can load up on hearty snacks instead of a traditional meal. It’s not ideal, but as you already know when you travel you have to be flexible and adaptive!
4.) Pack Protein
It’s relatively easy to find carbs when you’re traveling: fresh produce, dried fruit, juiced veggies, hummus, quinoa, etc. The challenge is often to find diet compliant proteins. The key benefits of proteins while traveling are that they keep you feeling fuller longer and they help prevent blood sugar from spiraling out of control.
When I travel, I like to pack protein-rich snacks in my luggage (remember to check with TSA rules to make sure your snacks are airline-compliant) and then carry one or two with me in my purse each day while exploring. Keeping these snacks on hand are a great way to give yourself food options no matter the situation you find yourself in, and they can also be turned into a meal with a little creativity! For example, I have had an Epic Bar and then complimented it with a small container of olives, gluten-free chips and guacamole, and a veggie juice.
“When you are on a restrictive diet, that means you’re focus is on healing your body and reducing inflammation.”
5.) Focus on Healthy Fats
Just like proteins, it can sometimes be a challenge to find healthy fats on a vacation. Fats can also help keep us feeling full and enhance the nutrition of the foods we eat. I always top my salads with olive oil, add MCT oil to my coffee, put avocado on my toast, and snack on olives when I’m feeling a little lean. Healthy fats can be something you pack in your luggage as well (again, check TSA rules). I like to pack individual nut butter packets (like almond or coconut butter) and individual MCT or olive oils in my bag if I think they will be hard to locate at my destination.
6.) Limit Sugar
I mentioned earlier, but carbohydrates are typically easy enough to come by when you are travelling away from your own kitchen. By succumbing too frequently to the convenience of processed carbohydrates (even those handy bottled fruit juices), you’ll likely be consuming quite a bit of sugar which can wreak havoc on your cravings, make it harder to stick to your diet, and often leave you feeling hungrier than you were before.
7.) Up The Nutrition
Unless you want to be eating constantly to try and keep your hunger at bay, I recommend maximizing the nutrition of each bite you take. Instead of just having an apple by itself, add nut butter. Instead of just eating kefir, add fruit and nuts. Rather than just coffee, add MCT oil and collagen peptides. The more you travel, the better you will get at finding the food combinations that keep you fuller longer!
8.) Stay Hydrated
When I’m on vacation, I sometimes like to indulge in little extra caffeine and alcohol. While it can be fun to savor an espresso or just one more glass of wine, it can also leave you feeling dehydrated which in turn can make you feel hungry…even when you’re not. Staying well hydrated with pure water or herbal teas will serve you well on your travels. Not only will you have more energy and mental clarity to enjoy your travel experiences, but it will also help you feel more in control of your diet.
Although I hope you never find yourself in this situation, there have been a few times where I wasn’t able to find foods I could eat and had to go several hours without sustenance (I was a rooky and didn’t have my protein packed). I kept a positive outlook and decided to treat it like a mini-fast, or detox and stayed well hydrated while continuing to enjoy my trip.
Are these strategies ones that you’ve tried on your travels before? Do you have any others that you can share? Please feel free to share in the comments below!