Traveling with Food Restrictions

Sarah’s Rap: Before my health problems, and the resulting restrictive diet, all my vacations revolved around food. Nothing made me happier than finding a local culinary delight and my sightseeing agenda was always scheduled around the location of restaurants I’d set my heart on. I’d pride myself on finding the places where the locals ate and was usually rewarded with food that was out of this world. Glorious mushroom pasta and rice gelato in Italy, tempting tempura and okonomiyaki in Tokyo and to-die-for doughnuts in Manhattan…Ah, those were the days!

Now that my diet is restricted to meat, vegetables, berries, limited nuts and healthy fats, travelling has become a little challenging. Eating potatoes, dairy, sugar, grains, alcohol, most fruits and legumes makes me miserable – tired, achy, itchy, bloated, irritable and blurry-eyed. Travel is one of  my passions in life, so I’ve decided to not let my dietary limitations keep me home. Instead, I’ve developed a few survival mechanisms for travelling that have made my last few trips bearable.


General Tips:

  • Go prepared- I’m more likely to not eat something I shouldn’t when I have “friendly” food on hand.
  • Don’t let yourself get “hangry” – When I’m hungry and have no “friendly” food close by, I get so grumpy and stressed that it creates a negative travel experience for me, and my travel companions. Pack portable paleo snacks!
  • Scout out restaurants ahead of time and make a list of ones you can eat at
  • If travelling abroad, look up phrases for allergens in the local language so you can ask for food without it
  • Research local cuisines for “safe” options – i.e. in Japan, “shio” (salt-only) seasoned meet on a stick (yakitori) was a great option for me, as was restaurants that allowed me to grill my own food at the table.
  • Stay at hotels with kitchenettes (most ideal) and stock the fridge. Aim for meals that are quick and portable, preferably ones you can cook in bulk and eat throughout the week when you need a meal. You don’t want to spend all your time cooking and eating in your room, after all.
  • At least make sure you have a microwave and fridge, if you can. Some hotels will let you request one ahead of time if they don’t normally provide. Call before booking and check!
  • If you only have a fridge in your room and very restricted diet (or in an area without good food options for you), travel with an electric travel burner, collapsible silicone teakettle and camping pan (see packing list below) and cook your own foods. Yes, this sounds a bit extreme, but your health is worth the extra effort!

Pack in carry-on for the plane/car:

Pack in check-luggage  for when travelling to places where “friendly” options are difficult to find:

  • More grass-fed beef jerky or nitrate/sugar/gluten-free turkey jerky
  • More green drink powder packets
  • More of your favorite herbal/green tea
  • Disposable plates, cups, bowls and utensils – or reusable ones and travel-size dishsoap (fill an old spice jar with screw on lid with soap and put in a baggie for travel). These collapsible silicone bowls are a light, space-saving option
  • Baggies or foil – for packaging leftovers or taking food out sight-seeing with you.
  • If don’t have a microwave and are traveling to a place where eating out is difficult, pack a travel electric burner, collapsible silicone tea-kettle and camping cookware. When I went to India, I made myself paleo pancakes with blueberries in my room – they were awesome! I added maple extract and almond butter in place of coconut oil.
  • Paleo Meals To Go – one word… scrumptious!
  • More frozen paleo muffins – If I know I will have a fridge, I’ll take enough for a week. These pack well in a reusable/insulated lunch bag in your suitcase.
  • Enough supplements/medicine to last for the trip – I pack mine in snack baggies, labeling with what time of day they are for using a sharpie. I’ve never had trouble taking these in my luggage to other countries, but just in case include a Dr’s note and/or list of what they are

Pack for relaxation/detox/exercise at the hotel:

After you arrive, stock the fridge with the makings of a perfect meal or snack (the first thing I do upon arriving is find the nearest Whole Foods or healthy grocery store):

  • Baby/peeled carrots
  • Mustard greens or lettuce leaves
  • Hardboiled Eggs
  • Sandwich meat
  • Avocado
  • Lemon
  • Green juice
  • If you have a full kitchenette, go crazy!

Restaurant Tips:

  • Breakfast is the hardest to eat out, IMO – I usually eat this meal in my room: Paleo muffins, sandwich meat, hard-boiled eggs, and yes, even my homemade pancakes.
  • For breakfast out – look for places that will make veggie omelets without milk and cheese. Best to stick with organic places that will also have nitrate-free or homemade bacon/sausages. These places usually have more vegetable options at breakfast too. Be sure to ask about gluten/sugar.
  • Another breakfast option is to enjoy leftovers from the night before. Yum, some leftover grilled meat and vegetables make a great breakfast, especially when paired with a hard-boiled egg and avocado!
  • For lunches and dinner: Most places will offer a grilled meat/seafood and a salad. Get it without cheese, dressing, croutons and other unfriendly foods. Top it with lemon juice, olive oil and avocado instead! This is my go-to meal!
  • Search online for “paleo” and “gluten-free” restaurants nearby.
  • Look for restaurants where you can barbecue at your table and ask for un-marinated meat and vegetables.
  • Order things without sauces, soy and dairy
  • Broth fondue can be a fun meal. Pair it with a salad and a squeeze of lemon juice to round it out.
  • If can’t find anything on the menu, ask for special preparation. Usually they are more than willing to accommodate allergies
  • Take along a bag of baby carrots in your handbag or coat pocket

Restaurant Recommendations by Cuisine:

  • Mexican: Fajitas without chips, beans, dairy, rice or tortillas, depending on your tolerances. Ask for extra lettuce and guacamole. Take baby carrots to dip in the guac and salsa to stave off the chip-cravings
  • Thai: Chicken satay and steamed vegetables; ask if they’ll make a Panang curry withot sugar (this is only possible if the curry paste is not prepared already with sugar)
  • Japanese: Sashimi, sauce-free yakitori and steamed or grilled vegetables. Skip the soy sauce or ask for gluten free. In Japan, look for barbecue places, shabu shabu hot pot, shio (salt) yakitori and sashimi. Shopping at a depachika is a great way to get pre-made food to take back to your room or on a picnic. They also have groceries so you can pick up some carrots, lettuce, etc to go with the yummy yakitori you’ll find already prepared.
  • Chinese: Usually best to avoid altogether because of the soy, rice, sugar and thickeners. If you do go, ask them to prepare the dish steamed without sauce.
  • Italian: Find a restaurant that has meat or fish entrees, with sides of steamed or roasted vegetables. If all they have is Caesar salad – order it with  just lettuce and chicken – top with lemon juice squeeze and olive oil.
  • Indian: I find Southern-Indian places are much more friendly to my dietary needs. They have more dry-spice prepared vegetables and meats; without the sauces that contain thickeners, sugar, or other “unfriendly” items. Skip the rice and breads, despite the funny looks that you might get. In India, they have barbecue restaurants which made it easy for me to eat grilled meat and vegetables. Make sure you ask for what’s on the menu without dairy.
  • American/Other: Salad topped with grilled meat of your choice and avocado. Squeeze a lemon slice and drizzle with olive oil. Look for grilled, baked, broiled meat entrees with steamed veggies. Don’t be afraid to make a meal out of skewered meat appetizers and a bunch of veggies sides. This is one of  my faves!

Sticking to  my “safe foods” while travelling actually makes me feel even better than I normally do at home, because when out of town I tend to sleep and exercise more, as well as have more fun. Even on work trips! These are all keystones of a healthy lifestyle, so I now embrace my trips as Healthy “Recharge” Getaways and I return a few unneeded pounds lighter, more energetic and with a smile on my face. Now I need to incorporate more exercise, fun and sleep in my home routine so I feel good all the time – but that is a separate issue and one that I am working towards.

I hope that you find these tips useful. If you have healthy travel tips of your own, please share below.  Also, I’d love to hear your recommendations for Paleo/GF-friendly restaurants around the world! I wish safe, happy, nourishing and restorative travels to you all!


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