Don’t let special dietary needs get in the way of a great holiday. Follow our 10 travel tips for a happy trip, knowing you’ll be eating well – and safely
1. Plan your in-flight food‘
If you’re flying with an airline that serves a meal as part of the ticket, check with your airline to see if they cater for special dietary requirements,’ says HFG dietitian Helen Bond. ‘British Airways, for example, has options such as low lactose, gluten intolerant, low salt, low fat, vegetarian and vegan, but you need to book in advance.’ Find out more by clicking on Food and drink at britishairways.com.
Peanuts are no longer routinely served these days, but they may still be handed out on some flights. As even traces of peanut protein on tray tables and seat belts, for example, can pose a problem if you have an allergy, it’s worth checking your airline’s policy well in advance – if you forget, mention it to the cabin crew as you board.
2. Warn your hotel about your requirements
If you’re staying in a hotel or an all-inclusive resort, don’t make your choice until you’ve checked they can be flexible about food. ‘If you’ve already booked, call and ask if they’re used to dealing with allergies and intolerances,’ suggests Helen. ‘You could even ask to speak to the chef.’
3. Pack snacks
Don’t rely on finding snacks to suit your diet at train stations, service stations and airports. Take some with you even if you’re on a short journey. ‘Don’t forget you could get stuck in traffic or your flight could be delayed,’ says Helen. ‘It’s worth taking a small supply of gluten-free bread or dairy-free milk if you need these, in case the shops are closed when you arrive at your destination (but don’t forget you can’t carry any liquid over 100ml in hand luggage)’.
4. Research the area
Before you travel, go online to find out what’s on offer in the restaurants and cafés in the area you’re visiting. Many will have websites with menus you can check (or you could email directly). Social media can be really handy for this, so try asking on Twitter or Tripadvisor. It’ll save time and trouble when you arrive at your resort – leaving more time for rest and relaxation.
5. Learn the lingo…
Look up key words in the local language before you go – terms such as gluten, lactose, carbohydrate, vegetarian, vegan, allergic and 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. Some countries have a different understanding of vegetarianism, for example, so you’ll want to be very clear.
6. …Or buy translation cards
Allergy UK sells laminated translation cards that can cover 70 different allergens and 36 different languages. For £15, you get a set of three credit card size cards in your language of choice, with English on the reverse. One is a general allergy alert; one an emergency alert; and the other is for showing in restaurants. Visit allergyuk.org/getting-help/translation-cards.
7. Check food labels
Read on-pack labels, just as you would at home (this is where it’s useful to translate key words before you go – see left). ‘Packaged foods in the UK and all EU countries are covered by the same food labelling legislation,’ explains Coeliac UK’s Norma McGough. This means foods sold in any EU country must highlight any of 14 specific allergens in the ingredients list if they’re found in the food. Those that must be labelled by law include egg, milk, fish, shellfish, molluscs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, cereals containing gluten, soya, celery and celeriac, mustard, lupin, sulphur dioxide and sulphites. ‘Manufacturers must list all deliberate ingredients in the ingredients list, regardless of the amount used. When it comes to gluten, they must emphasise the particular grain – for example, wheat, rye, barley or oats,’ says Norma.
8. Prepare for low blood sugar
If you have diabetes and need snacks to keep your blood glucose levels up, pack extra when travelling. ‘Individually wrapped biscuits, crackers, cereal bars or fruit buns will see you through long journeys, stopovers and delays,’ says dietitian Tracy Kelly. ‘Don’t forget to take your glucose tablets or emergency sugary drinks* in case of hypos, too.’ Diabetes UK has also produced a handy travel guide – download it at diabetes.org.uk.
9. Download a free app for special info
You can download Coeliac UK’s Gluten-free On The Move app for free from the App Store or Google Play. There’s a food and drink directory, barcode scanner, gluten-free checklist to help you read labels and a venue guide to help you find somewhere local to eat out (it’s worth visiting coeliac.org.uk to watch videos on how to get the most from it). While it’s best for UK holidays, there’s still lots of advice you can use abroad (note that to access some of the app’s tools you’ll need to be a Coeliac UK member). ‘We also have leaflets with information and tips for local cuisine and labelling legislation for over 45 countries,’ says Norma. Go to coeliac.org.uk/travelguides. ‘Where the country has its own coeliac society, its contact details are included so you can get in touch in advance for local information.’
10. Take your recipes!
Self-catering doesn’t have to be a chore… ‘Use your holiday as an excuse to try as many new foods and flavours as you can,’ says HFG recipe consultant Phil Mundy. ‘Read up on local specialities, so you know what’s in them, then try out some new recipes.’ Find inspiration on our website (print a few or make a digital file of your favourites to access on your smartphone or tablet). Happy eating!
It’s a good idea to take a just-in-case kit. ‘Pack any medical or complementary health supplies you rely on in the event that you do have something you shouldn’t eat,’ says GP and HFG expert Dawn Harper. ‘For example, if you use an EpiPen, make sure it’s in date and you have a spare in your hand luggage. Take plenty of your usual medication and source details of local pharmacies, doctors and hospitals in advance.
‘If flying, check if you’ll need documentation to travel with medication or needles (your airline’s website will tell you),’ she adds. ‘If intolerances cause digestive flare-ups or skin or mouth reactions, pack any digestive aids or anti-histamines that usually offer you relief.’