Road Rules

How to Travel on a Special Diet


Finding vegan or gluten free foods can be difficult abroad; stay in a vacation rental and cook special diet meals at home.

If you’re like many travelers, you are wary about taking a vacation because you follow a special diet. Whether you’re vegan or diabetic or suffer from celiac disease, traveling to another place can present many obstacles.

The good news is you can still travel if you take a few precautions. Research and plan ahead to ensure smooth sailing when breaking bread in another locale.

  • Stay in a vacation rental
Staying in a vacation rental is a great option because most have fully equipped kitchens so you may cook meals at home. You may not have your usual neighborhood food co-op, especially in more remote areas, but you can still take the opportunity to get acquainted with the local fare. Read up on nearby farmers markets in the place you’re traveling to or ask the owners of your vacation rental for advice. Vegans can usually find fresh produce at the supermarket if you don't mind cooking most meals at home. Sugar-free or gluten-free foods may be harder to come by, but most major supermarkets will carry what you’re looking for, whether it’s gluten or sugar-free fare.

  • Pack snacks & more 
This may be a no-brainer, but packing your own food to munch on the run is often a good idea.For people traveling with special diets, reading the nutrition labels becomes even more important when traveling to another country. This will take care of those times when you're starving but can’t get to a place that will honor your special diet. Diet-friendly snacks can be a life-saver when traveling, especially in the plane or car where options are extremely limited. A packet of nuts for celiacs or some whole wheat crackers for diabetics will help to tide you over when you’re in search of your next meal. People with severe allergies that could send them into anaphylactic shock should always carry a dose of epinephrine, labeled that it is meant for you. An accompanying doctor’s note to carry with it is also helpful.

  • Travel ID cards
It’s especially helpful if you’re traveling to another country to carry around a laminated card stating your special diet needs, allergies, intolerances, or restrictions in another language, if necessary. Make sure the card conveys how severe your allergies are, especially if you've been hospitalized before. Present the card at restaurants or food stands – most people are more than willing to accommodate your needs. However, don't rely on others to know what your dietary needs are. Becoming an expert in gluten-free friendly or vegan-safe foods will go a long way, especially in another country where you may not be familiar with the cuisine.

  • Do your research
Research the local cuisine before traveling to familiarize yourself with their cuisine; wheat, sugar and meat products may be used overseas in foods you’re used to eating at home. At best, learn to tell about your allergy in another language – “I get deathly ill from meat” goes a long way, even on the other side of the world.

Find more Vacation Tips 101, like Staying Fit on Vacation or Packing Tips for Pros.