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Meal Planning and Traveling with Food Allergies

Traveling with food allergies is not easy! Whether you’re avoiding certain foods because of an allergy or completely adapting your diet to follow a Paleo, Whole 30, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, or Keto diet, you can still travel! Here are our tips!

My husband and I both have food allergies. I am gluten-free and dairy-free, and he is allergic to mushrooms and shellfish.

Everything becomes more challenging when you are traveling with food allergies! Eating out becomes more challenging, buying groceries becomes more challenging, and cooking becomes more challenging.

Is It Worth Even Trying Traveling with Food Allergies?

Over the years, I’ve met so many people with food restrictions, either food allergies or intolerances, who shake their heads and say “It’s just too difficult to travel”. And I will be the first to say it’s not easy!

But I have learned the key to making a vacation enjoyable when you have food allergies or food intolerances is planning ahead. If you can take some time before the trip to research the area and research recipes, I promise you will be better off!

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My Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies

My motto when planning to cook while traveling with food allergies is always…

  • reduce your grocery list
  • save unused ingredients
  • creatively reuse those ingredients by putting them in several recipes

1. Have a General Schedule for Your Trip

A calendar for meal planning and traveling with food allergies

How many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners will you need to plan for?

You’ll also want to decide how many meals you want to eat IN versus OUT. Personally, I almost always say breakfast will be eaten in. We pack a cooler with items for my breakfasts. Other meals vary based on our accommodations (Do we have a kitchen to cook in?, Are there restaurants in the area that can accommodate my allergies?, etc).

2. Research Restaurant Options To Make Traveling With Food Allergies Easier

You’ll want to consider the following…

  • Dietary Needs: Can they really accommodate your dietary needs? For example, those traveling gluten-free, do they have a dedicated fryer to prevent cross-contamination? You may need to call or email ahead of time.
  • Location: Research where they’re located. Is it worth the drive or walk?
  • Expense: Check out the menu. Is it worth the price?
Restaurants and Traveling with Food Allergies

You may need to search a few blogs like this one to learn what restaurants fit your diet and which restaurants others consider the best.

Our Dairy-Free and Gluten-Free City Restaurant List

Here are just a few of the posts I’ve written on gluten-free and dairy-free restaurants…

A couple eating out while traveling with food allergies

3. Plan Your Meals

Brainstorm/ Research Recipes that Use Similar Ingredients

Now, no one wants to feel like they’re eating the same thing every meal! Make sure you pick recipes that are not so similar it’s painful.

But if you are traveling with food allergies you DO want to reduce the number of ingredients you buy at the grocery store and reuse those ingredients as much as possible.

If you’re hoping to have bacon for breakfast one morning and don’t think you’ll finish all of it, plan a dish for a later meal such as Brussels sprouts with bacon jam.

If you want to have guacamole one night, consider using up the leftover avocados at breakfast another day. Reusing ingredients is the key to staying within your budget while cooking on the road.

Ingredients for Recipes when traveling with food allergies

Brainstorm/ Research Recipes That Don’t Require Much Prep Work or Uncommon Appliances

While rental homes are often stocked with the basics, they don’t always have all of the appliances or cookware you may need. Or you might not feel comfortable using their supplies, especially if cross-contamination is a challenge for you.

However, if you ARE okay with using their kitchen supplies, you may not want to pick a recipe that requires a food processor without knowing if the rental has them. Focus your search on recipes that require fewer or no appliances.

Rental Home Kitchen while traveling with food allergies

Sometimes, however, you can make do with what you have. Many times I’ve used a fork instead of a whisk or some arm strength instead of a mixer. Part of cooking while traveling means you may have to improvise regularly.

4. Make a Decision on Lodging

Here’s our lodging tips for those traveling with food allergies

  • Choose a hotel with a fridge and microwave. Not all have these commodities, but they will make your life so much easier!
  • Usually having a kitchen is the way to go. But if you want to stay at a hotel and don’t want to spend the time cooking, have a good meal plan in place.
Using hotels while Traveling with food allergies

5. Put Together Your Traveling with Allergies Meal Plan

Meal Planner

I use an organized meal planning grid (below) with the meals we will be eating IN going down the left-hand side and a subcategory within that of the dishes I’ve chosen also going down the left-hand side. Then other categories such as ingredients to buy, ingredients to bring, and other needs, such as supplies to bring (read below for information on supplies to bring), dishes to make ahead of time, etc, going across the top of the spreadsheet.

Want to receive our FREE Travel Daily Meal Planner? Click here, and we’ll send you a copy!!

Grocery List

Because I like to reuse ingredients for several meals, my list of things to buy may repeat some of the same items. (I argue it SHOULD repeat some of the same items!)

Common Items to Bring When Traveling With Food Allergies

I am a girl on a budget who hates to waste! For me, I find my conscience is often not so distraught when I pack what I can instead of buying ingredients or utensils and throwing them out later.

  • Spices: Who wants to re-buy spices for every recipe? I don’t!… especially when they are so lightweight and take up almost no room in storage when traveling. The best part is, if you’ve planned your meals appropriately and are reusing several ingredients and flavors, you shouldn’t have too many spices or flavorings to pack.
  • Cooking Oil: If you don’t want to buy a large container of cooking oil at each new destination, we love packets of coconut oil!
  • Utensils: If you’re planning to eat even one meal at your hotel, you’re going to need it all!… silverware, paper towels, a paring knife, etc. Note: Because we eat so many fruits and veggies, I like to bring a small knife that I can whip out whenever needed. I like the ones with a cover over them like this one so no one gets hurt while reaching in the bag of supplies.
  • Hard-to-Find Ingredients: Part of having food allergies and intolerances means that we sometimes cook with some less common ingredients. If you are going to want something like arrowroot powder or Whole 30 compliant ketchup, you might be better off packing it. 
  • Food Storage Containers: I’ve found food storage containers to be extremely helpful when we’re traveling. This is especially true if we will be cooking food in one location and then traveling to another location with leftovers.
  • Cooler or Lunch Box and Ice Packs: If you’re planning to travel with food, make sure you have a way to keep it cold. But if we’re flying to a destination where we will then be traveling with food in a rental car, I like to pack a lunch box and an ice pack or two in my suitcase. Then, I can use them when I arrive.

One time, when we flew to Florida, we used our lunchbox every day for eating at Disney World and while traveling from Orlando, FL to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Traveling with Food Allergies IS Possible!

You can do this! Planning a vacation and traveling with food allergies is not easy, but it is possible. Those that plan ahead (do their research and bring the needed supplies) are better able to enjoy their trip and not get overwhelmed on vacation.

Family on vacation traveling with food allergies
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2 years ago

Such good ideas and step by step guide to a complicated process.

2 years ago

great selections and useful knowledge for sure

Suz | TravelsWithSuz.com

Oh, this sounds so difficult! Having to worry about what you’re eating adds an entire other level to trip planning – wow!
This is good advice for people with this challenge.

Terra Booth
2 years ago

These are great tips for anyone looking to travel with food sensitivities! I love the idea of the Allergy Eats app as well, that is very useful.

2 years ago

I can understand why traveling with food restrictions can be frustrating. This is a good resource for anyone traveling with food restrictions.

2 years ago

On of our 4 boys is a vegetarian. It’s always hard to find a place we can all eat when we travel. I can’t imagine with food restriction on top of it. These are great tips to make the trip more enjoyable. Planning is the key for sure.

2 years ago

It is so hard to stick to diets and food restrictions on vacation. Planning is so important!

2 years ago

This is definitely an overwhelming area and stress on trips, even without limitations! Thank you for the tips and breakdown to help make life easier when traveling!

Keirsten Morris
2 years ago

Super helpful food planning tips. It’s funny bc even though I’m vegan I’ve never had to meal plan a trip. Fortunately I’ve always been able to find vegan food. But this is still super useful information 🙌

Tricia Snow
Tricia Snow
2 years ago

We have religious restrictions so it is not as difficult as people with allergies but still can be a challenge. These are some great tips!

Allison Peteet
2 years ago

This is awesome! I have an autoimmune disease, but always have dietary issues when traveling.

2 years ago

This is really good information for those with special dietary needs. I dont so I never thought about it. Thanks.

2 years ago

Awesome tips. Now that I am vegan, I use a lot of these strategies. Trip planning is more involved now (although there are more and more options each day). However, having a plan eliminates so much stress during the trip that it is worth the trouble!

Sabrina DeWalt
2 years ago

I second the idea of calling the restaurant. I once worked at a restaurant that was very accommodating of food allergies. Some accommodations could be made on the fly, but others weren’t so easy. We always appreciated the people who called ahead, making it much easier for the kitchen to fulfill the request. There is nothing worse than someone with allergies showing up and demanding a special dish to be prepared on the spot, and then getting upset when we can’t accommodate the request.

Sabrina DeWalt
2 years ago

I second the idea of calling the restaurant. I once worked at a restaurant that was very accommodating of food allergies. Some accommodations could be made on the fly, but others weren’t so easy. We always appreciated the people who called ahead, making it much easier for the kitchen to fulfill the request. There is nothing worse than someone with allergies showing up and demanding a special dish to be prepared on the spot, and then getting upset when we can’t accommodate the request.

2 years ago

Great tips! Whenever we fly somewhere, we try to rent a home or at least a hotel with a partial kitchen so we can go shopping for food and make meals instead of always going out.

2 years ago

Great ideas and plan! I am lucky that I can usually work around my dietary restrictions pretty easily. Planning ahead for meals just adds that extra step in travel planning.

Cindy Moore
Cindy Moore
2 years ago

These are great suggestions! I’m plant based and also gluten free and low sugar. So for me it makes the most sense to stay in an Airbnb or short term apartment with a full kitchen. I eat out occasionally but primarily prepare simple meals in my temporary kitchen! Works well for me.

Danielle Ardizzone
2 years ago

Great info! Very helpful for those with sensitivities!

2 years ago

We tend to call ahead to see what accommodations can be made, then we do our planning from there. Some places really go the extra mile for you!