How To: Eat While Traveling

Near Stanley, Idaho, on our last vacation

Near Stanley, Idaho, on our last vacation

As you’re reading this, Ben and I are probably sick of each other.

You see, this week was our belated honeymoon: an eight-day trip through Glacier National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park, Missoula, and Redfish Lake in central Idaho. He keeps telling me that we’ll be sick of each other after 9 hours in a car on Sunday, several more hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and another five hours on Friday. So, with that attitude firmly in place, I’m very much looking forward to our trip.

I love to travel, but two things always worry me: what to do with the dog, and what to eat.  I’m trying to be as careful as possible over this week to ensure our good time isn’t compromised by stomach issues.

If course, what will work for you varies widely depending on the type of traveling you’re doing, from a business trip where you’ll stay in a modern hotel to a trip like ours, where we’re staying in rustic lodges without in-room coffeemakers or a mini fridge. But here are some general guidelines:

  • Do your research
    • Traveling with food restrictions requires some planning. First, check out what options you may have at your destination. Is there a grocery store near your hotel that you could use? Are there allergy-friendly restaurants? If you find that you are in a situation where research isn’t possible or helpful, you’re going to need to…
  • Bring your own food
    • My number one rule when it comes to food allergies and sensitivities is this: never rely on anyone else’s food. You never know when someone is going to invite you over for pizza and have no other options available, or when a restaurant your friends were so excited about turns out to serve only pasta and sandwiches. It’s good to know, in that case, that you have items such as apples, granola bars, or other allergen-friendly foods stashed somewhere.
      • Some ideas for what to bring:
  • Don’t be afraid to say no (or yes)
    • In theory, you are on vacation. It all comes down to enjoyment — is the food you’re about to eat going to make your life easier or harder on this trip? If the answer is “easier,” go for it. But if eating that pizza is going to make you so sick that you won’t have a good time, don’t be afraid to say you aren’t hungry. You can always go back to your room and chow down on the food you brought. Which reminds me…
  • Use the mini-fridge
    • If you are in a hotel near a grocery store with a mini-fridge, USE IT. Oh man. You can stock that baby with fresh fruit, juice, vegetables, anything your little heart desires. This is also a good spot to stash homemade granola bars, nut butters, baby carrots, or whatever you’re bringing.
  • Make like a bunny
    • Sometimes, you’re stuck. You can’t bend the rules because you’ll get legitimately ill. You’re going to be at a restaurant or bar with friends for a few hours, and you won’t have access to your food stash. And you’re starving. You just want to eat, damn it!

      The only thing I can recommend is look for the simplest vegetable dish on the menu. Go for a salad, ask for it without cheese and with dressing on the side; find a dish that’s sort of close to something you can eat and get a little high-maintenance with it (no starch, extra veggies, what is the meat marinated in, etc).

      Make friends with your server, make it clear that you have a legitimate food sensitivity and politely ask them to point you in the right direction. I recommend vegetable dishes because there are fewer potential questions — usually, a quick “I’m pretty seriously allergic to soy — can I ask what is in the sauce?” will suffice, rather than a whole “Was that cow fed soy at any point in his life? What about corn? And is it marinated in soy sauce? Or anything with corn or corn syrup?”

      Side note: If you do not actually have a health-related concern or serious sensitivity and you choose to enter this rigamarole anyway, be aware that you are placing a burden on your server. Do not make them go through your whole schtick about how you can’t eat wheat and probably have Celiac’s…only to have you reach for the bread basket or order cake for dessert. It leads to misconceptions about people with actual sensitivities or illnesses and is utterly unfair to your server.

That’s all I’ve got…what do you do about food when you travel?

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