These tips for travelers with special dietary requirements will come in handy if you’re gluten-intolerant, lactose intolerant or have food allergies. There’s really no reason to worry about traveling when you have specific dietary needs, nor should it ever stop you traveling. You can go absolutely anywhere if you are armed with the best advice for travelers with special dietary requirements that covers pre-flight travel, flying, cruising and eating at your destination.
1. Always Comply with Airline Liquid Limits
It’s a pain, but travelers with special dietary requirements need to make sure they are complying with any limitations put on liquids taken aboard an airplane.
2. Don’t Bring Cooling Packs onto Planes
Cooling packs are usually filled with chemicals, meaning they will be confiscated by airport security. Make it easier for yourself and only bring foods which can go without being cooled when in transit, or buy some form of disposable cooling pack which you can discard before check-in.
3. Fill up a Bag with Ice after Reaching Security
If your food needs to be cooled after you have checked in and been cleared by security, fill up a small plastic bag with ice. You can try to purchase ice in the departure lounge; most outlets will sell you a small amount if you ask nicely and purchase something else.
4. Use Re-sealable Bags Where Possible
Following heightened security checks, you may be asked to provide your food or liquids for inspection at security. In order to preserve your food after inspection, make sure it has been placed in some sort of re-sealable bag or container so that your food doesn’t spill or make a mess after security has taken a peek.
5. Check Which Foods You Can Bring onto an Airplane
There are some foods, such as canned fruits, which may not be taken aboard an airplane in the United States due to safety concerns. Check the TSA website to see which foods may be carried. Travelers with special dietary requirements need to be especially cautious, as most travelers will not need to bring special food onto a flight, meaning that these bans are often not displayed clearly at airports.
6. Book with an Airline Directly
Some airlines, especially more expensive airlines, will be able to cater for dietary requirements for travelers if they are given prior notice. If you book directly with an airline, you should be able to request specific dietary choices. Not all airlines make these options available, which may be one factor when it comes to choosing the right airline for you.
7. Confirm Your Meal Choice
If you are able to book a special meal, contact the airline a day or two before your flight is scheduled to depart to confirm the details. Sometimes the special requirements slip through the net, so it’s better to be safe than to be stuck without food on a long-haul flight across the continents.
8. Always Take Some Snacks, Just in Case
Airlines make mistakes, and while you can shout angrily at the cabin staff for the mistake, there is little they will be able to do in the air. As a precaution, pack some snacks which meet your dietary requirements so that if you are stuck thousands of feet in the air without a meal, at least you won’t go hungry.
9. When Changing Flights, Re-book Your Meals
Meals are typically not re-booked after flight details are changed, so ensure that you check that your new flight can cater for your needs. It’s a pain in the butt that you have to make these phone calls, but once again it’s just something travelers with special dietary requirements have to endure.
10. When You Board, Let the Staff Know of Your Dietary Requirement
The staff is often not made aware that you have a special food requirement, so just take one of the staff aside and let them know of your needs. That way they can make sure that your meal is served correctly, to minimize any medical issues.
11. Always, Always, Always Check the Food before You Eat It
I hate to repeat myself, but airlines make mistakes when it comes to serving dinner to an airplane full of people. Even if you have booked a special meal, check that it has been ordered and notified to the flight attendant that you have a dietary requirement, and always check what you are served before eating it. It might sound silly, but so many travelers with special dietary requirements have had medical issues because they have neglected to check the food they were served.
12. Before You Travel, Check with Local Dietary Associations
You don’t want to spend hours walking around a new city, especially a foreign city, struggling to find where you can eat. Before you arrive at your destination, it’s a good idea to check with local dietary groups to see where they recommend you eat, based on your dietary needs. This simple tip can make travelling with celiac disease or any other dietary need a lot easier.
13. Translate Your Needs into a Foreign Language
Google Translate is a wonderful service that can save your life if you use it correctly. Translate simple phrases such as “I am allergic to wheat”, or “I cannot eat seafood”. Keep the phrase simple and easy to understand in English, and you should find that the foreign translation is as easy to understand. Print these out and show them to servers when travelling abroad.
14. Check Carefully before Booking Cruises
Airplane journeys may only take a matter of hours, but cruises can be serving you food for weeks on end. Make sure that you check to see if your dietary needs can be accommodated before booking a cruise.
15. Phone to Ask Questions
If you find there are certain pieces of information which you are unsure of when booking a cruise with a dietary requirement, phone them up to check. Once again, check any details you need to make sure that your trip is safe and hassle-free.
16. Request a Refrigerator in Your Hotel Room
It may cost you a few extra dollars per night, but request a refrigerator is placed in your hotel room at the time of booking. This will enable you to store any snacks or special drinks you may need.
17. Decide Whether You Will Need a Kitchen
Some accommodation offers small kitchens or kitchenettes, where you can prepare the odd meal while on vacation. Travelers with special dietary requirements may find this a useful alternative to trying to find somewhere to eat out every night.
18. Book a Hotel with a Supermarket Nearby
Supermarkets are great friends to people with dietary requirements. Use Google Maps to research any nearby supermarkets where you can pick up some snacks if you get hungry.
19. Alert All-inclusive Packages about Your Dietary Needs
If needed, ensure that you get a signed contract stating that there will be sufficient meal options available, if you are in catered accommodation.
20. Talk to Your Servers
As a prior tip suggested, you need to talk to your servers about what dietary requirements you have. When communicating in a foreign language this can be even more difficult, so the printed out cards about your dietary requirements are very important.
21. Scrutinize Food Labels
In foreign countries – especially non-EU countries – labelling can be very hit and miss. Be extra vigilant.
22. Contact Local Restaurants
This tip is most useful if you cannot contact a local dietary group. Contact restaurants near where you are staying and check to see if they can accommodate your needs, and if there are any additional fees to pay on such food.
23. Ask the Hotel Lobby for Assistance
The staff working at the hotel will try to make your experience as enjoyable as possible, which means they might be able to point you to a great restaurant for vegan food or any other dietary requirement.
24. If in Doubt, Avoid the Food or Drink
Foreign medical expenses can be very costly, so it’s not worth taking the risk of eating a meal if you are unsure it is safe to eat. It will spoil your vacation, and could cost you a hefty sum as well!
25. Give Feedback to Airlines, Hotels, Cruises and Restaurants
If your experience was good, let them know. If you suffered or found limited options a problem, let them know as well. Without feedback, restaurants and the like will never know how they can improve.
26. Avoid Eating during Peak Hours
It sucks that you have to change your plans due to your dietary requirements, but it might be a good tip to eat at less busy times. This way the kitchen staff at a restaurant can accommodate your needs, paying better care to your food.
27. Avoid Street Food
Street food is a great way of getting to experience local life, but street food outlets typically have lower food standards and are checked much less frequently than restaurants. If you have a serious dietary requirement, it’s a good idea to give street food a miss. But don’t pass up tasty food if you can see exactly what is going into it.
28. Translate Foods That You Can Eat
If you like to eat certain foods, find out what they are in the local language. If you only eat chicken, find the word for chicken. Don’t just tell servers what you can’t eat, tell them what you love to eat!
29. Make Sure People around You Know How to Deal with an Emergency
If you have a serious dietary requirement, such as an allergy to nuts, let the people around you know what they should do if you have a problem. Being in a foreign country can be scary and disorienting, so a plan of action can save your life. Traveling with a dietary requirement can be dangerous if the people around you are oblivious as to how to help.
Travelers with special dietary needs can still experience all the joys and benefits of travel – it just takes a little more planning and thought; really just an extension of your food behaviors at home. If you have special diet needs have you ever suffered problems when traveling?