How to Travel Well with Dietary Restrictions

Having a food allergy or specific dietary requirements shouldn't restrict your vacation.

A dad eats a bite of breakfast from his son's hand, image
One of the best parts of traveling is trying new foods. / Shutterstock

Millions of Americans, from vegetarians to those with serious medical concerns, follow special diets. Does a restricted dining regimen need to put a damper on travel to far-off destinations? "Absolutely not,” says AAA Travel counselor Terri Peña, who explains that the keys to traveling well include good preparation and on-the-spot diligence. Here are her tips.

Pick a smart destination.

“Focus on places where you’ll find the right kind of food,” Peña says. Asia is a good bet if you have a problem with dairy, for example. Locales with a strong vegetarian tradition, such as India, abound in meatless meals. Ironically, Italy—land of pasta—offers an impressive variety of wheat-free options due to a high incidence of celiac disease in the population.

Cultivate local knowledge.

A simple web search turns up useful resources for virtually every combination of destination and diet. If you use social media, connecting with residents who share your dietary needs can land you some great tips, too.

Exercise kitchen control.

According to Peña, many travelers with food sensitivities book lodging with a kitchen or kitchenette. Some cruise ships and big resorts have excellent reputations for accommodating special diets; check with your AAA Travel counselor for options.

Pack an emergency kit.

Even if you don’t plan to cook all your own meals, bring along a stash of nonperishable, portable snacks as backup. And be sure to carry plenty of medication, whether it’s a supplement for lactose intolerance or epinephrine to combat allergic reactions.

Show and tell.

When dining abroad, use smartphone apps or phrase cards to let staff know your needs. Ask the kitchen to verify ingredients in a dish, and take a pass on anything that’s suspect—a small price to pay for a problem-free adventure.