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How to start planning vacation with food allergies

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

Travelling is so much fun - don’t you agree? But if you or someone you care for has complicated food restrictions, it may put the whole idea of exploring new lands, sailing across the seas or simply escaping from the routine in jeopardy. Moreover, at some point you start questioning yourself - is this even possible and worth doing anymore?... Of course, depending on your situation and the severity of the condition it may be a bit easier or harder to accomplish, but the main point is - it is completely doable! You just need to include some extra steps in your planning. And although some cases undoubtedly will require a more personalized approach, the majority of people (especially with newly diagnosed food restrictions), will likely find the tips below very useful and applicable! Go over these tips, use them as a foundation and then build your own modified plans that work perfectly just for YOU!

You probably know that there are 8 most commonly recognized food allergens (some already mention 9 and even 10). Right? But guess what…beyond those, there are actually so many more (and not just allergies, but also various sensitivities, intolerances, etc.)! And those of us who happen to be in this group of “others” often feel even more misunderstood and completely forgotten. So….to be the most inclusive in this post, I decided to list three great general tips (or better said, food for thought!), that can be used in most situations irrespective of the restriction type! Fair? OK, let’s go!

1. Give yourself plenty of time and start planning way ahead to reduce associated anxiety and stress. This point seems to be pretty straightforward, but in reality, it takes some time to adjust to this new setup, and what I really mean is – “plan waaaaaaay ahead….” (especially for 7day+ trips).

2. Once you’ve decided where you will be going, start looking online for local places to eat. Luckily, Google has a lot of information about various dining options available. When I do my own planning, I find all of the options where I assume the actual cook will be available on-site. ‘Assume’ is the key word here. It is ok in the beginning of your planning; however, it may become a trap if you leave things at that. Many of us tend to think that if the place is called a “restaurant” (vs fast-food), it has a professional chef and raw foods available to cook from scratch. Not true! Restaurant kitchens nowadays come in “all shapes and sizes” and may have huge gaps in staff knowledge and experience. In fact, a lot of places may only have basic cooks onsite trained to do basic preparation (reheat pre-made foods, portion food onto a plate, etc.) with few skills/knowledge (or sometimes even ingredients) to make special accommodations.

3. Once you’ve made your list of potential places to eat, send them e-mails/ requests. The goals here are: 1) to explain your allergy in a concise way (including the exact name of your condition, level of severity and what foods you can or can’t have), 2) to ask if they will be able to accommodate you, and finally, 3) to verify that they always have a chef on-site who can prepare the type of meal (or substitution) you need. After this step is completed, I find my list of potential eateries gets much smaller; however, I at the same time start feeling that much more confident!

(FYI, I noticed that in many reputable places, chefs reply to you directly (which is an amazing move and as you can imagine those restaurants go the top of my list right away).

Now that you have the final list and you know exactly where you will be eating, you are ready to start planning the details and itinerary of your vacation! Yay! I highly recommend to do it this way and not the other way around (as perhaps you used to), because in reality if you have severe allergies/restrictions, there will be just a handful places where you can eat safely, and therefore it’s so much easier to establish those key locations first, and then plan around them!

Some extra thoughts: If you are travelling to your destination by car, you may also want to use the method described above and map restaurants along the way in the same manner. If you are travelling by plane, things get a bit trickier, so I’ll definitely post on that later! For more info, follow me on Instagram @smartbitesolutions, and DM me if you have any questions! I am always happy to chat! Good luck and keep healthy!

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