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Travelling abroad with dietary restriction

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By: Tom Wilkinson, CEO, AXA – Global Healthcare

For many of us, travelling the world is nothing but exciting. Even if it’s for work, the prospect of getting to experience a new culture and immersing yourself in something different is often something to look forward to. But what if, aptly, the part that you’re most eager to sink your teeth into is food?

The cuisine of a country is part of its culture and heritage. And for the majority of us visiting a new country, tasting the local food is high on our list of things to do. But, for those with dietary restrictions, the local menu options can quickly become more of a hindrance than an indulgence.

Travelling as a vegan or vegetarian

With increasing numbers of people consuming a vegan diet for health, sustainability or other reasons, awareness of the diet around the world is rapidly increasing. But, while cultures in every continent may be more aware of the complexities of a vegan diet, can they actually cater for them?

Different countries have different specialities. Portugal, for example is well known for its love of meat, and Japan for its fishy diet. In parts of Asia, such as Thailand, it would be easy to order what seems like a vegetarian meal, but it can be difficult to check all of the ingredients are appropriate and the meal doesn’t include a seasoning like fish sauce. Even countries like France incorporate a lot of animal products into their dishes, but it’s not impossible to eat out as a vegan or vegetarian. As more and more of the public embrace these diets, the likelihood of finding the right food wherever you go continues to increase.

Travelling with allergies

For many allergy sufferers, visiting new places can be an absolute minefield. And when your allergy is life-threatening, you may find yourself writing off some countries based on the risk involved when planning where to eat on your trip.

If you are a nut allergy sufferer, it’s worth noting that a number of different countries, especially in Asia, use peanut oil as the base of all cooking, while other cultures use tree nuts and peanuts as the garnish on a number of different dishes.

There are also a huge range of countries that have a heavily gluten-based cuisine, whether that be in South America or Asia, or even in Europe. That being said, many destinations will surprise you with a huge range of gluten-free options.

Similarly, travelling with a dairy allergy can be difficult, especially as many people mistake this serious allergy for more common lactose intolerance. Dairy is a common ingredient all over the world, so travel can be daunting, but as the number of vegan dishes on menus in many countries continues to rise, so does the number of dairy-free options.

Preparing for a trip abroad with any type of dietary requirement can be challenging, and that’s why we at AXA – Global Healthcare have put together our top tops for travelling with dietary restrictions:

  • Learn the local language

If it’s the only thing that you can communicate at all, being able to explain allergies to waiters and waitresses in local restaurants is incredibly useful. Plus, if you know what the foods you can’t eat are in the local language, you’ll be able to easily spot and avoid them on the menu. It’s also a great idea to have a translation app in your back pocket, just in case you get stuck.

One thing that has proved incredibly useful to many travellers with dietary requirements is translation cards. These are available to download online for free and can quickly help you get the message across to foreign language speakers, without the possibility of mixing your words up. They can even spell out the severity of an allergy, and you can download cards to help you ask for emergency assistance in the event of an allergic reaction, too.

  • Ask around

If you find yourself struggling to communicate with native-speaking restaurant staff, make the most of speaking to others throughout your day, which will in turn enable you to plan where to eat in advance of each meal. If you’re staying in hotel accommodation with English-speaking reception staff, for instance, try chatting to them about the best restaurants for your specific dietary requirements.

Similarly, there are a number of forums and advice sites available for those with dietary requirements, so do make the most of these before you travel. There’s no harm in even writing down a set list of places that you can eat, and planning your days around those, helping you to feel reassured.

  • Make your own meals

Travel is a luxury for most of us, so staying in a hotel that serves breakfast, lunch or dinner is something that we jump at the opportunity to do. That being said, sometimes cooking for yourself is the safest way to eat if you have dietary restrictions.

It doesn’t have to be every day, but buying food that you know is safe to eat from supermarkets enables you to cater to your own dietary requirements, without worrying about cross-contamination in a restaurant kitchen. And, as booking on sites such as Airbnb becomes more common for holidaymakers, there’s no short supply of accommodation all over the world with cooking facilities.

  • Pack provisions

If you’re travelling with a food allergy, packing all of the necessary medicine in case you have a reaction is essential. Make sure that you’ve got everything you need, like antihistamines and EpiPens, in one easily accessible bag, and take them with you everywhere you go, just as you would at home.

While packing for your trip, think as well about what food and snacks you could take with you to act as a substitute if you’re struggling to find somewhere that can cater for you. Of course, it’s important to check regulations in terms of what and how much food you’re able to carry between countries first, but this can help mitigate worry, as you’ll always have a backup.

  • Research local healthcare

One of the most important things to research is the local hospitals and healthcare provisions in the country you’re visiting, in case of an allergic reaction. Make sure you know where the nearest hospital is, and what the emergency numbers are.

It may also be worth asking your doctor to write up a letter, explaining your allergies and how to treat your allergic reactions. If you need emergency care, this can help the nurses or doctors around you take the best care of you possible.

Making sure that you have appropriate health or travel insurance is also vital, helping to ensure that you aren’t chased up with hefty hospital bills if you do suffer a reaction.

With the right preparation, there’s no reason someone with dietary requirements can’t enjoy exploring new countries just like everyone else. Just make sure to do your research before setting off, and take the right precautions to ensure that you can make the most out of your trip.

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