RSJ contributor Dana Bruxvoort relays her experience as a gluten-free jetsetter, and provides six incredible tips to allay your food allergy fears while abroad. Dana may be saying nyet to crepes and baguettes, but you won’t find her sitting at home anytime soon!
You buy a plane ticket and start planning your itinerary, mapping out all the beautiful sights you’ll see, the places you’ll stay, the things you’ll eat….errr, wait. The things you’ll eat?
While most people with travel plans dream of eating mountains of pasta in Italy, piles of crepes in Paris and drowning in a sea of Asian curry, the nearly 12 million Americans with food allergies – and millions more with food intolerances – are asking one question: Will I be able to eat anything?
As a gluten-free jetsetter, I get occasional questions from fellow food allergy sufferers asking how it’s possible to travel and still survive on a restricted diet. “It’s hard enough to eat in America…how could I go anywhere else?!” they ask. Well, it may take a little extra work, it may involve a little extra luggage space and it may call for extra understanding from your fellow travelers, but believe me, you can do it. Read on to see some of my tips for traveling the globe without accidentally eating something that will make you spend precious sightseeing hours curled up in bed. And you won’t even have to start eating two weeks in advance to build up your food stores. (But if you want an excuse to eat more chocolate, definitely go for it.)
Tip #1: Research before you go
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of doing your homework. I don’t visit any new city in America without doing my local food and restaurant research, let alone any foreign country! Research the local cuisine and begin making lists of the things that will be safe for you to eat – like delicious, naturally gluten-free macarons from French bakeries. (I consumed an impressive amount of them.) Internet searches will bring you a plethora of helpful websites and dining tips. You might even find a local health food store in Switzerland or a gluten-free restaurant in Montmartre.
Tip #2: Call airlines
Many airlines offer meals and snacks that are free of the most common allergens. Check into those options before you book your tickets, and you may be able to eat an actual meal on the plane instead of a whole box of granola bars. (Guilty.)
Tip #3: Bring snacks
I don’t go anywhere without gluten-free snacks. There’s nothing worse than a random hunger pang striking and realizing there’s nothing safe to eat within miles. When I travel, I load my carry-on with all sorts of snacks (airport food is too expensive, anyway), and I cram nonperishable food items into the cracks and corners of my suitcase. (And when the workers at the airline ticket counter ask why your bag is overweight, tell them if you don’t pack all that food you might encounter serious medical issues when you’re abroad. Like anaphylactic shock or, yep, even death. That should make them overlook those few extra pounds.)
Tip #4: Find a supermarket
Ask where the closest supermarket is. When all else fails, I just buy raw fruits and vegetables until I find “real” food I can eat. You may even find an allergy-friendly snack at the store, like gluten-free “choco wafers” in Florence, Italy. (Best find ever.)
Tip #5: Get a dictionary
Learn how to say key terms in the local language – whether that’s “dairy,” “gluten,” “wheat,” or “nuts.” Being able to say “I can’t eat __________,” should help you out considerably. You can also go to SelectWisely.com to print off food and travel translation cards. These come in most languages and are available for most of the common dietary restrictions. (I’ve never actually used these, but I imagine they’d be extremely helpful.)
Tip #6: Find a friend!
When I studied abroad in Switzerland, I made friends with the chef at the school and he prepared all sorts of gluten-free pasta dishes for me. And when I lived in Thailand, my coworkers helped me out by researching what Thai dishes contained ingredients that I couldn’t eat. Find locals who will be willing to help you out.
Armed with those tips, you should be able to safely navigate to nearly any destination you want to go. There’s no reason a dietary restriction should restrict where you can travel and tour!
You can find more of Dana Bruxvoort’s sage advice and wonderful reflections at www.danabrux.com.