How to Travel with Dietary Restrictions

Traveling with a dietary restriction is oftentimes a challenge, but it doesn't have to be! Read these tips on how to travel with dietary restrictions from http://passportandplates.com

Whether you have a dietary restriction or are simply a picky eater, one of the more difficult aspects of travel is ensuring that you won’t accidentally eat something that you’d rather avoid entirely. Traveling with dietary restrictions can be really hard.

Take me, for example. I’m Muslim, so I don’t eat pork or drink alcohol. Alcohol is fairly easy to avoid (my staple drinks are water, tea, and coffee anyway), but pork is a whole other ball game. While pork isn’t popular in every country I’ve been to, I find that it’s an often-utilized ingredient in more places and cuisines than I can count. Let’s face it: the world loves the swine.

And so, while this post offers suggestions from my direct experiences, these tips can be customized no matter what your dietary restriction. Without further ado: traveling with dietary restrictions, a how to.

 

1. Research

Traveling with a dietary restriction is oftentimes a challenge, but it doesn't have to be! Read these tips on how to travel with dietary restrictions from http://passportandplates.com

Being a foodie, researching which foods are “must-eats” in every country is simply a part of my travel planning. It makes it easier for me to know which dishes are popular, and which of those include pork. Obviously, you will never be able to find every single dish in the country that includes your off limit food item, but research will help get an idea of what you might find on a typical restaurant menu. You can even utilize social media or websites to find restaurants that cater to your needs. I understand that not everyone enthusiastically searches for good eats before leaving home, but if you’re traveling with dietary restrictions, it’s worth a quick google search.

 

2. Bring a restriction card

Sally, what in the world is a restriction card? In simplest terms, it’s an index card that states your restriction in the target language. You can buy one or make your own. Side note: it’s usually better to write “I’m allergic to…” rather than “I can’t eat…”, since “I can’t eat” is more readily disregarded than allergies. At least in my experience. Better safe than sorry!

 

3. Compromise a bit

Traveling with a dietary restriction is oftentimes a challenge, but it doesn't have to be! Read these tips on how to travel with dietary restrictions from http://passportandplates.com

Depending on the level / intensity of your dietary restriction, sometimes it’s easier to avoid certain food groups entirely rather than risk eating something you’d rather stay away from. What do I mean? In my case, it would mean (occasionally) switching to vegetarian dishes.

Even though I speak pretty decent Spanish, I sometimes found myself with a meal that consisted of pork while I was in Spain this past summer. Why? Because people who don’t have dietary restrictions don’t necessarily think about what kind of meat something is made of. You’d be astounded by the number of times someone has asked: “Is ham/bacon/chorizo/pepperoni made of pork?” Sometimes, it was easier for me to order a vegetarian dish rather than inspect my meal for pork. So keep that in consideration as well, as it can be really useful when traveling with dietary restrictions!

 

4. Be prepared

Traveling with a dietary restriction is oftentimes a challenge, but it doesn't have to be! Read these tips on how to travel with dietary restrictions from http://passportandplates.com

This goes out specifically to those traveling with dietary restrictions including allergies. Not only should you follow all the above suggestions, but be sure to bring a supply of medication to combat any accidental consumption. The last thing you want is to break out in hives because you accidentally ate shellfish and didn’t bring your meds. It’s just not a good look for anyone.

 

5. Cook your own meals

Traveling with a dietary restriction is oftentimes a challenge, but it doesn't have to be! Read these tips on how to travel with dietary restrictions from http://passportandplates.com

Frankly, part of the fun of traveling is trying all the culinary goodness that comes with a new culture. It’s quite difficult to partake when you have to cook at your apartment. However, I do understand that sometimes it’s really difficult to avoid certain items in specific countries. That’s where your handy Airbnb or hostel kitchen comes in. Time to let your inner chef thrive!

 

Did I miss any tips? How do you travel with dietary restrictions or allergies while traveling? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Traveling with dietary restrictions is oftentimes a challenge, but it doesn't have to be! Read these tips on how to travel with dietary restrictions from http://passportandplates.com

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  • A great topic. Like you, I avoid pork, and as I follow a Biblical diet, I also avoid most seafood (except fish with fins and scales). Plus wheat doesn’t agree with my system, but I’m not celiac. OMG, the truths we have to stretch when it comes to food limitations!

    And you’re right about another thing, too: People don’t think about how many things are made with swine (like gelatin!).

    • Thanks for reading and for commenting, Linda!

      Yikes! I think just having a pork restriction is difficult. I can’t imagine also having to avoid seafood and wheat. I used to laugh at my parents when they would ask: does this have bacon, ham, chorizo, etc etc? because I thought just say pork was enough. Lesson learned haha! What do you usually do when you travel? Do you find it easier to just say you have an allergy?

      • I hate to lie, but since most people don’t understand what a “sensitivity” is, I have been known to use the word “allergy” with waiters who don’t speak English. I’ll usually just ask if they have a gluten free menu because it won’t have any wheat, then choose something vegetarian or with fish, beef or chicken.

        • Same! I used to always say “I can’t eat pork” but when dining with a friend in Spain who actually has an allergy, I realized waiters took her request a lot more seriously. Sometimes there’s no mention of pork in the menu and then bam – my burger has a piece of ham. So I always ask and I always insist on the allergy.

          Luckily for you, more and more places are becoming aware of gluten allergies. I can imagine it’s still a struggle in certain countries though!

  • Lili’s travel plans

    I’m a vegetarian so I know exactly what you’re talking about! Even in Belgium, when I ask if they have something veggie, they often say “yeah no problem, we have fish!” Euhm yeah but I don’t eat fish… “Oooooh, so you’re vegan!” Euhm, no… 🙂 In Asia they have a lot of tofu and things so there should be no problem, except that they put fish sauce in everything and don’t seem to understand why that’s a problem – because it’s not a whole fish, it’s just sauce. And in Central America, they once made me a soup where you could just smell the chicken but for them it was vegetarian, because the chicken wasn’t in there anymore, they took it out before serving… 🙂

    • HAHAHHA Lili, this made me laugh SO much because I’ve dealt with so many versions of your experience. Being vegetarian is even more difficult! And people just can’t seem to understand that removing something automatically makes it vegetarian / halal / kosher. Asia is a struggle for me because so many broths are made with pork as well – and yes with fish sauce too! One time in Argentina, every single item on the overnight bus meal included ham in some form. It was comical. Hopefully as people travel more, the world will at least offer some options for us 🙂

  • Felicity

    Great guide! I’ve never used restriction cards before, but they sound like a fantastic resource. Even if you learn the right phrases in the right languages…it’s still a challenge to be understood, especially when the language is very different from your own.

    Once I asked if a dish had any meat in it, and my local friend confirmed in the language, except when I went to take a bite…ground beef everywhere. You see, it wasn’t a meat dish since the meat was not the main feature!

    • Hahahah I’ve had that happen more times than I can count! Or when someone insists that ham isn’t pork :). It’s mind boggling that some cultures don’t understand restrictions! And you’re totally right about the language – a card will do wonders to avoid any mistranslations!
      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  • This is so spot-on. My “restrictions” are largely by choice so I allow myself to exercise a little flexibility when I’m travelling or someone else prepared my meal. I’m largely ‘no animal products’ at home (partially for ethical reasons, but partially because 4 years in Asia really reduced my ability to digest dairy and other processed foods in the US)–but if I find out that quinoa at a family picnic was cooked in chicken stock, I wont lose my mind if I’ve had some. Same idea when traveling: I try to make the best choice with what I have, but ultimately need to be flexible– because I *can* be flexible.

    • That’s great that you’re able to be a bit flexible on the road! I think it’s super important to do so when possible, especially to avoid offending locals if someone has prepared a meal for you. Plus, some places genuinely do not grasp the concept of veganism or any sort of dietary restriction hahaha so sometimes you have to go with the flow the best way you can! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Ufff, you´d have a hard time food wise in my country! In Slovakia people simply love pork. Even the traditional dish has bacon in it! Besides, alcohol is so important in the culture that you get offered a shot pretty often…however, I have been in Turkey for the past few months and I am really enjoying that I don´t have to drink most of the time 🙂 Drinking too much is just tiring!

    • Haha yeah there are some countries that have such pork – heavy cuisines that I really struggle! Sometimes it’s easier to just be a vegetarian in some places.
      LOL yesss Turkey does an excellent job catering to everyone! If you want to drink you can but it definitely doesn’t have a heavy drinking culture. Win :).