How to Manage Dietary Issues When You Travel

More and more people are becoming aware of their intolerance for certain foods. Perhaps you have a chronic illness like Coeliac Disease, or like me, you suffer from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

There are many reasons people follow particular diets, even if it is not a medical reason, perhaps a personal choice.

But eating a certain way can be an issue when you travel mainly if a change of diet and routine affects you.

For me, there is no particular diet that works. However, over the years, I have worked out the foods that affect me, the ones I can eat in small doses and the ones I should avoid altogether.

I do have an issue with willpower, especially when I travel. I love food. I love trying the local cuisine of the places I visit.

But when I am not diligent, all hell can break loose, and I end up at best spending a lot of time in the bathroom, at worst in pain.

Recently, while walking the Camino, I struggled for 40 odd days sometimes existing on nothing more than a couple of pieces of toast and banana before walking 20 km.

My system finally unleashed four days before the end, delaying me yet again when I could not walk on for a couple of days while I recovered.

So, how can you manage a dietary issue when travelling? Here are the ways I manage, or will in the future.

1. Be Prepared


As dull as it sounds, research is your best friend.

Only you know what you can and cannot tolerate. You also need to consider that travel is exhausting and your body is no longer in a routine it is used to.

Add jetlag to the mix and you have a recipe for a system breakdown.

Listen to your body and stick with what works for you. Don’t let others make you feel bad for your choices.

Research supermarkets, markets that sell fresh produce and create a list of recipes you can make yourself.

Managing my gluten intolerance in Italy on previous trips was a lot easier because of the gluten-free products available in the supermarkets.

Find nearby restaurants, check out their menus online before travelling and create another list of meals you could eat at each one.

My downfall in Spain walking the Camino was not doing enough research as to what would be open and the type of food available.

I thought the Pilgrim meals would be ok. Eventually, I realised I only felt well when I could eat hearty soups filled with vegetables or cook for myself in hostel kitchens. Next time I will be more prepared to cook for myself.

I only felt well when I could eat hearty soups filled with vegetables or cook for myself in hostel kitchens. Next time I will be more prepared to cook for myself.

I will prepare a list in Spanish the dishes I can eat and use at restaurants to overcome the language barrier.

Before travelling, use Google Maps to locate nearby supermarkets. Email restaurants if you want more information. If your accommodation provides meals during your stay, contact them and find out if they cater to your dietary needs. 

2. Self Catering

One of my favourite things to do when travelling is to rent an apartment. I can cook my meals and eat out when I feel confident.

As part of your sightseeing, visit local markets, buy fresh produce and make your meals. That way, you will still feel like you are enjoying local cuisine but with more control.

Having my own place, and more importantly, my own bathroom makes travelling a lot less stressful.

I understand it can feel like you are missing out not eating at restaurants regularly. Still, after feeling miserable on too many occasions while travelling, I will happily forgo a restaurant meal to feel well.

You can also minimise the amount you eat out by preparing breakfast and lunch for yourself and eat out in the evening when you feel confident.

3. Eating Out

There will be times that you will eat out more than you like. Simply because you want to join others or treat yourself or it’s part of your itinerary/tour.

If you have a chronic illness, carry a card that explains what you cannot eat in the local language.

Show this card each time you order.

Sometimes I build my meals from sides instead of ordering from the main menu. In Italy, I skip the pasta and only order from the Secondi menu and choose a meat and vegetable dish. It has never been an issue.

4. Medication

If you require medication, ensure you have enough with you. You might depend on over the counter medicines at home and assume you will be able to purchase it at your destination.

This may not be the case.

I took Buscapan for years to manage my IBS. I ran out during a trip to New York. The pharmacy informed me that particular medication was only available with a prescription. I spent a rough few days at the end of that trip not being able to manage my symptoms.

In Spain, I used Google Translate to ask for Imodium. I should have had some with me, but I had not had trouble for a long time. I won’t make that mistake again.

5. Extra Time

I always build in free/spare time into my itineraries. I use this time to go back to the places I enjoyed, add additional activities that come to my attention or use it if I am exhausted and need to rest.

I get sick when I get exhausted and run down. I developed a chest infection on the Camino because of that reason. My digestive system also took a beating. Luckily I had planned a lot of extra time, so when I did get sick, I could take a couple of rest days to recover.

Don’t fill every minute of your itinerary. Allow for downtime to rest. Take care of yourself, and you are more likely to adjust to your new surroundings, routine and diet.

But if the worst happens, you won’t miss out on anything. Incorporate free time, and if you don’t need it to recuperate, you will have bonus time to explore or do other things as they come up.

Being on a restrictive diet is hard at the best of times, more so when you travel. Doing your research and preparing well in advance should make things easier.

I would love to know what you do when you travel to manage your health. Let me know in the comments.

Cindy x

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Cindy Reid

Cindy is the founder of Travel Charm and her exclusive Travel Club. She is passionate about travel and planning and loves nothing more than helping travellers plan their best trips and fulfil their travel dreams.

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