Don’t let your special dietary needs get in the way of a great holiday. Follow our 10-step guide for a happy, healthy trip — while eating well and safely.
1. Warn your hotel
If you’re staying in a hotel or an all-inclusive resort, ask if they’re able to deal with your dietary needs when you book. But if you’ve already booked, call and notify them of your allergies or intolerances — or perhaps ask to speak to their catering manager.
2. Research the dining options
When booking your accommodation, consider the severity of your food-related challenges. For example, if you’re on a very restricted diet, you may want to find self-catering accommodation.
Also, research the restaurants and cafés nearby the area you’re visiting. Many display their menus on their websites, so you can check for suitability (or email them). Social media can also be handy, so try asking on Twitter or TripAdvisor for tips on eating out in new places. It’ll save time and trouble when you arrive — leaving more time for, well, holidaying.
3. DIY snacks
Don’t rely on finding snacks to suit your diet at service stations and other stops along the way. And chances are that you’ll fork out a premium for whatever you do find. So, carry snacks with you, even if you’re on a short journey.
Traffic delays are often unavoidable if travelling by car, so pack a small Esky with a supply of suitable food such as gluten-free bread or dairy-free milk, in case the shops are closed when you arrive at your destination.
4. Book in-flight food
Check with your airline to see if they cater for your specific dietary needs. Many will offer meal options such as diabetic, gluten intolerant, low salt, low fat, vegetarian and vegan, but you’ll need to book it at the time of ticket purchase. This can often be done online.
Despite the growing incidence of nut allergies, some airlines still serve peanuts as snacks. If you have a particularly severe allergy, where even traces of peanut on tray tables and seat belts pose a problem, check your airline’s policy on serving peanuts well in advance.
5. Check the food labels
Always read the labels on packaged foods (if you’re travelling overseas, it’s useful to be able to translate key words). Most major allergens, such as milk, egg, nuts and soy, will be highlighted in the ingredients list.
If you have coeliac disease, keep in mind the UK, US and Europe have different food standards to Australia. In these countries, a product can be called gluten free if it contains less than 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram.
Australia is much stricter: A food must have no detectable traces of gluten to be labelled gluten free. Oats are also marketed as being gluten free in some countries, but they can trigger symptoms in some people with coeliac disease. Find out more by visiting coeliac.org.au.
6. Use word cards
Consider buying foreign language travel cards that warn others about your allergy, to show to food service staff. Check out selectwisely.com or dietarycard.com for their range of cards.
Alternatively, you could make your own cards with large colour photos of the foods that you can’t eat with a large ‘X’ (or circle with a slash) over them to indicate that you can’t eat this food.
7. Be vigilant
Be aware that a favourite dish that was ‘safe’ to eat in restaurants at home may be prepared with a number of different ingredients in another city or country, so it’s always important to ask what’s in it.
Asian dishes are usually free from dairy and will offer several vegetarian options. But watch out for peanut oil which is often used in Asian restaurants. And be mindful that peanuts are commonly used in traditional dishes like pad Thai and curries.
Indian meals can be ideal if you’re gluten free or vegan, as most meals are based on rice, legumes and vegetables. And, many Italian restaurants also cater for gluten-free diets.
Finally, take care at bakeries, ice-cream shops and self-serve salad bars as they present the risk of cross-contamination. Ask the manager about the handling methods and equipment used.
8. Stabilise your blood sugar
If you have diabetes and need snacks to keep your blood glucose levels stable, pack extra when travelling. Muesli bars, crackers and trail mix will see you through long journeys, stopovers and any delays.
If you’re taking insulin or diabetes medication, always carry a quick-acting carbohydrate, such as jelly beans or glucose tablets, in case of hypos. Diabetes Australia has a handy travel guide that you can download at diabetesaustralia.com.au.
9. Learn the lingo
Before travelling to a foreign country, look up the local words for terms such as gluten, lactose, vegetarian, vegan, allergic as well as the food you’re allergic to. If you know a native speaker, ask them to write down some useful sentences you can show in restaurants and shops.
10. Take recipes
Self-catering doesn’t have to be a chore. Instead, use your holiday to try as many new foods and flavours as you can.
Read up on local specialties, so you know what’s in them, then try out some new recipes. Pack an issue of Healthy Food Guide for go-to meals that suit your dietary needs, or use this website (print a few recipes or make a digital file of your favourites to access on your smartphone or tablet).