Tips for the Dietary-Restricted Traveler

I have an itch to explore to the world that I just can’t seem to scratch. I have been a traveler for as long as I can remember, and my passion for round-the-world adventure and experiences is an essential part of who I am that has only grown in the past few years, despite my health challenges.

Within one week of abandoning all traditional medications and starting the GAPS diet (a modified version of the paleo diet) to manage my flaring autoimmune diseases, I boarded a plane to Rome, Italy to study abroad for the next four months. In that time, I also traveled to 23 cities in nine countries across the European continent. Since my return at the end of 2014, I have traveled abroad on two other occasions and domestically more times than I can count. I hit the road (or the air) at least every other week for work, and my family travels at every opportunity we get.

I’m not telling you this for any other reason than to communicate that I travel a lot, both for work and for pleasure, and I manage to maintain a healthy diet and keep my autoimmune diseases in check through it all. I admit that my travel eats are not always the most glamorous or nutrient-dense choices, but I never let my dietary restrictions keep me from enjoying a new adventure or my travels keep me from enjoying optimal health.

I am always grateful to be back in my own kitchen at the end of a trip because preparing my own food definitely allows me to feel my best. Having said that, I have developed many tips and tricks for staying healthy on the road, and I want to share them with you today. Here are the sparknotes:

  1. Always pack snacks.
  2. BYO essentials.
  3. Do your research.
  4. Stock your fridge.
  5. Eat vegetables.
  6. Be confident!

And if you want more info and recommendations, read on!

IMG_0039.JPG1. Always pack snacks. I cannot stress this advice enough (for travel and for daily life). I try to pack at least twice as many snacks as I think I need, just in case the trip doesn’t turn out as I planned. I often return with half or more of my snack stash in my suitcase, but there have been times when I have completely depleted my whole snack supply and wished I had more! Travel is fraught with unexpected challenges and situations (delayed flights, closed restaurants, hotels in the middle of nowhere, etc.), and I like to over-prepare to be absolutely certain that I never make a poor food decision simply because I got too hungry.

The concept of a “paleo” or real-food, non-perishable snack can be daunting to some, but have no fear. Here are my essential travel snacks:

Nut butter packets: these are without a doubt my top recommendation because they are tiny (don’t take up space), filling (healthy fats keep you satiated), versatile (can be eaten on their own or paired with fruit or veggies), and somewhat normal (you might get some weird looks if you pull one out, but no one questions it once you explain the contents of the squeeze pack). Healthy fats can be extremely hard to come by when you are eating out for every meal, so I often reach for these after I eat a plain piece of meat and steamed veggies for dinner or when I need some to tide me over until my next meal.FullSizeRender 10

As far as brands and types, I am obsessed with all things Artisana Organics, especially their cashew butter and coconut butter packets. I buy 10-packs from Thrive Market to save money as I go through these so quickly. I packed eight nut/coconut butter packs on my recent four-day vacation and returned empty handed…

Dark chocolate: Do I need to explain this one? I reach for a few squares (or a few more than a few squares…) after a meal or as a snack. I find that it is especially important to have little treats with me on vacation because watching other people eat gluten- and dairy-filled desserts makes me crave dessert myself, and there is no reason to feel deprived (this is not a diet, people, it’s a lifestyle!). My two favorite dark chocolates are Taza 95% Wicked Dark Chocolate and eatingEVOLVED Crunchy Caramel 85% Dark Chocolate (I also buy these from Thrive Market).

img_1218Epic bars: These are my go-to whenever I am craving protein. This is not the most appetizing snack on my list but sometimes it is the one thing that I know will fill me up. The only flavor I love is bacon (available on Thrive Market), but they have lots of options to choose from.

Canned fish: When you need an actual meal in a pinch, canned fish will save you. I often eat it for breakfast in hotels (eating eggs every morning does not make me feel good) or with salads in airports (as many airports don’t have easily accessible gluten-free proteins) because it is protein-rich and incredibly nutrient-dense. Canned tuna or salmon are the best choices for beginners, but I also highly recommend sardines for the more adventurous and nutrient-focused among you. (I also buy these from Thrive Market…might be their best customer.)

IMG_0236Fruit and/or veggies: Though these are perishable, you can pack baby carrots or celery sticks in your carry-on bag for the day and whole fruits like apples for days at a time. I have been known to pull avocados out of my purse almost anywhere…no shame.

Honorable mentions: RxBars (so tasty but I save these for treats), raw nuts, and plantain chips.

2. BYO essentials. I always bring travel-size bottles of extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar to use on salads and other meals; a shocking number of restaurants only have canola or vegetable oil (which I avoid whenever I possibly can) and dry salad is obviously the worst, so this is a key to success for me. I also bring Amazing Grass Green SuperFood Powder that I can mix with water for a few extra servings of veggies and Collagen Peptides that I can mix with water for protein and a gut-healing boost. 

3. Do your research. I feel like this is a no-brainer, but Google is your friend. Look up grocery stores near your hotel (see the next tip) and restaurants with good options for you. I typically just look up my hotel on Google Maps and zoom out to see nearby restaurants or search “gluten free restaurant [insert city name here]” to check out my options. I have found that almost any restaurant can accommodate my allergies, but it helps to be familiar with the options and the menus ahead of time. 

IMG_03694. Stock your fridge.
If you have an opportunity to go to a grocery store and keep items in a mini-fridge, do it. My favorite items to buy are avocados (duh) and leafy greens, which I use to make breakfast salad with the canned fish and salad dressing I packed. If I can find a not-sweet green juice, I almost always get that, too (see next tip).

5. Eat vegetables. I aim for at least seven servings of vegetables every day, which is an enormous challenge when you are not preparing your own food. Having said that, capitalize on any opportunity to increase your veggie intake throughout your travels: order an extra side of steamed vegetables with dinner and get a salad for lunch. If there is any way to work vegetables into your hotel breakfast, hop on it. You need all the nutrients you can get! 

6. Be confident in the choices you are making for your health. If you want to feel your best when you travel, pack foods that you know make you feel good and don’t feel weird about eating them when you’re hungry. My colleagues don’t care that I am often eating a coconut butter packet on our travel Starbucks runs and my family still loves me when I eat sardines in airports (hi mom!).

Traveling with food allergies or dietary restrictions can be daunting, but I am here to assure you that it is absolutely possible to travel without compromising your health! I admit that I prefer to cook my own food and my digestion often suffers a bit when I travel, but I find that I am able to maintain both my health and my happiness by following these tips and continuing to explore the world.

Do you have any travel tips for me? Please comment and let me know!

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