Tips for travelling with dietary restrictions
November 16, 2012
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Travelling to a foreign country when suffering from dietary issues such as allergies, intolerance and other special dietary problems can be a very daunting task indeed. The thought of being thrown out of your comfort zone and routine and into a different culture with unfamiliar languages and food customs is often enough to put sufferers off all together. Yet this needn’t be the case, by following these simple tips and taking the right precautions you can still enjoy the many wonders of the world.
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1. Prepare for the language

It is always a good idea to learn a few phrases of the local language before you visit anywhere in the world, particularly if you suffer from health problems. Try to learn the direct translations for your dietary issue and do some research into the countries openness to your particular problem. Translation cards are also particularly advisable, being more mobile than a traditional dictionary, these cards offer clear and concise information in the languages of your choice. Check out websites such as www.selectwisely.com, www.dietarycard.com, and www.allergytranslation.com who offer translation cards for a multitude of serious medical conditions, dietary sensitivities and intolerances, and allergies to particular foods. Each card features phrases such as “I am allergic to” and “I can’t eat” followed by a list of the offensive ingredients and foods. Custom-made cards for more specific allergies or additional languages are also available.

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Hotels and hostels are usually best avoided due to their crowded nature. There are some establishments that offer ‘allergy-friendly rooms’ but these usually come with a hefty price.  Most advisable would be to get in contact with a smaller bed and breakfast or private listed apartment. Through their website you can chose to rent an apartment or for those travelling as alone or as a couple just a room in the host house. It usually works out a lot cheaper than a hotel but there are many benefits other than the cost. You can contact your host beforehand and discuss you dietary issues. As a self-catering option you have the kitchen facilities to cook your own food, which is always the safest option when traveling. Perhaps most importantly would be the fact that you are staying with a local. The host will be able to give you language help, for particular foods, point you in the direction of your diet friendly restaurants and be on hand to help with any issues that arise during your stay.

3. Get covered

Travelers with serious medical conditions should consider becoming members of the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT, www.iamat.org). This non-profit organization offers a free service, whereby members are granted access to a print and online directory of English-speaking doctors and clinics.  Currently there are 125 countries registered with the association. By signing up  one can travel with the assurance that medical assistance is available, no matter the language. IAMAT membership also includes free access to information such as immunization requirements and recommendations, and an online forum for the sharing of travel knowledge and expertise. Doctor visits operate on a fixed set of rates, which are available online.

On top of that it is advisable to obtain travel insurance or medical evacuation coverage in case of illness, allergic reaction or serious emergency. Always read the fine print and make sure the insurance includes emergency medical services, treatment and hospital stay.

4. Prior preparation prevents problems

An allergic reaction or a difficult food search can ruin any trip, and it is important for a person with special dietary needs to come as prepared as possible.

Never count on being able to find allergy or intolerance-related products at a destination. Filling a suitcase with items like powdered or aseptically sealed boxes of non-dairy milk, gluten-free energy bars, and dried fruits can provide quick and easy nourishment.