Dietary Restrictions, Food & Travel

One of the biggest difficulties in my life is centered around food. You see, not only do I consume a plant-based diet, but I also have numerous food intolerances and a sensitive gut which dictates what I can, and cannot eat. This is usually okay when I am living at home as I cook all my own meals, but what happens when I go out, or when I travel for months at a time?

Whether you follow a plant-based diet like myself – which consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and completely avoiding meat, fish, dairy products (yes, cheese is included in this), eggs, and animal by-products, you have food sensitivities, or have any other dietary restrictions, it is certainly still possible to travel.

When I set off to Central America I was very worried about what I would eat on a daily basis. I pictured many hungry nights, stressed out grocery trips, and dreaded restaurant visits. To my surprise and delight, not only did I find enough to eat each day, but I actually met a whole community of people with similar diets to myself.

So how do you travel with food and diet restrictions?

1.Be Open to Trying New Local Foods

It may be difficult to find some of the staples you eat at home, however, you may be pleasantly surprised by how many delicious new foods you can try as you travel that fit into your dietary restrictions. When I first landed in Costa Rica I had never tried papaya, fresh coconut or plantains. Who would have thought these would end up being part of my daily diet while I traveled through Central America? All I am saying is, try new foods, you might discover a whole new world of possibilities.

2. Ask for Recommendations 

The best thing I ever did was ask locals if they knew of restaurants and other places that could accommodate my food requirements. I ended up with such long lists of spots to try that I couldn’t get to them all. I also discovered many hidden gems by extending my question to others.

3. Cook for Yourself

If you are a backpacker then chances are you’re looking for cheap accommodations, so this one will doubly benefit you. Many backpackers choose to stay in budget hostels as they travel, which offer a bed in a dorm shared with other backpackers. It doesn’t sound ideal if you have never tried this out, but I can vouch that staying in hostels is such a great way to travel and they have provided me with some of the best experiences of my life.

Anyways, another added bonus of hostels is they usually come with a kitchen. This is not always the case, so you must do your research before booking, but they are quite easy to find. This provides the opportunity to cook for yourself, which if you are anything like me takes a lot of the stress out of eating. I feel most comfortable when I can cook my own meals so I know exactly what goes into my food or what does not go into it. 

Whether you travel with some food staples in your pack, or hit up a grocery store to grab some fresh fruits, veggies, grains, etc., you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to whip something up in a hostel kitchen. Not to mention, it is also a wonderful place to connect with other travelers, and you may even end up sharing a meal and making a friend all while accommodating your dietary needs.

4. Learn the Words

When I arrived in Costa Rica I felt very overwhelmed because I did not know more than a few basic words in Spanish, and yet I needed to eat, obviously. The first thing I did was search for the ingredients I did not want in my food, such as milk, meat, eggs, and so on. I wrote the Spanish translation of these words down, and I practiced saying them over and over again. It took me a lot of courage to say these words in restaurants when I ordered food, and luckily I had met travelers who could speak Spanish and helped me to get my message across. However, with time I became confident with these words and spoke up for my dietary needs.

5. Don’t Worry so Much

When I think back to the months leading up to my trip, I remember constantly feeling worried and stressed out about traveling on a plant-based vegan diet. I expressed my worries constantly, and I truly thought I was going to live off of lettuce and rice. We humans have this tendency to stress ourselves to the brink of illness over things we may not have all the information about. I had a hard time finding vegan options online before my trip, and that alone led me to think I was the only person on a vegan diet who ever traveled to Central America. I know right? 

Overthinking, stressing, and assuming does not do anyone any good. Of course, it is scary to travel somewhere we haven’t been before, but it is exciting and part of the fun of getting out of our comfort zones. Regardless of your dietary restrictions, you will find what works for you, and you will not starve to death, I promise.

Taking the Travel Plunge

Traveling the world is easier than ever with quick access to worldly destinations, online bookings, GPS, and social media. We can essentially plan an entire trip from the comfort of our couch or while browsing the Internet at our work. The world is quite literally at our fingertips, so why not plan a trip if it’s so easy?

Booking travel may be simple with today’s technological advantages, but I am constantly told by people – whether these be family members, friends, acquaintances, or someone I happen to converse with in the grocery store – that they wish they could take off, but they just can’t. My answer?

If you want to then you can.

And then I am bombarded by reasons, excuses, anxieties, you name it. Of course, there is truth to the fact that not everyone can travel the way they wish they could. A new mother probably isn’t going to take off on a six-month backpacking trip – though I am sure she could if she really wanted to. Someone with thousands of dollars in student loans probably should not fly to Asia and forget about their debts, but even they can, if they want to.

The point is if you want anything badly enough then the only obstacle truly in your way is you. If you really want to travel then save your money, figure out a timeline that works for you, figure out a situation that works for you, and then take the travel plunge.

My best advice is to not worry over every minor detail about traveling. I hate to break it to you, but no matter how much you plan, you cannot control every situation. And you may realize you don’t want to.

When I was 21 years old, my best friend and I decided to plan a six-week trip to Europe. When I say “plan” I really mean we planned this trip, down to the day. We made an itinerary of everything we wanted to do in each city, we booked all our flights, hostels and Airbnbs beforehand, and we even talked about any and all the “what-ifs” we could think of. Needless to say the entire trip went smoothly, we did not encounter any issues, and we were quite pleased with ourselves. However, one thing that was missing from our trip was spontaneity. We knew exactly where we would be on any given day of our trip, and though it worked for us given our long list of places we wanted to see and tight time-line, I felt we may have missed part of the point of traveling.

So, after University, I decided I needed a slightly different trip. I asked myself where I wanted to go, somehow chose Costa Rica, and then I booked a round trip flight. I arranged to volunteer in a hostel for one month, and I booked a Yoga Teacher Training course. At the time, I thought it was wild of me to book a round ticket three months apart without knowing what I would do for a whole month of the trip. But I took the plunge and when January 2018 came, I took off with my backpack and I set off to Costa Rica.

Little did I know I would fall absolutely in love…

I fell in love with the country, the town, the hostel and the people that I came to call family. I extended my one-month volunteer position to two months and I had difficulty saying goodbye when it was time to leave for my yoga teacher training. I knew I needed to go elsewhere after my training, but it did not sit well with me to fly back to Canada in less than a month. That is when I decided that I would not take my flight back in April. So, after my training, I went to Nicaragua to teach yoga, met more amazing people, and then I went back to Costa Rica to volunteer in the same hostel. I then went to Guatemala and Mexico, spending a total of six months in Central America before returning for another month in October.

When I first decided to travel I did not expect my trip would turn out as it did. I met so many kind, beautiful people, had life-changing, unforgettable experiences, and as cliché as it sounds, I learned so much about myself and grew as a person.

Though taking the travel plunge was terrifying at the time, it was the most important decision I have thus far made in my life. Of course, there were times I had to confront fears such as running out of money, being alone, getting lost, being a victim of a crime, or becoming extremely homesick. And perhaps it was not all glamourous. There were some very difficult and trying times, but it was so worth it.

I hope that for those who want to travel, they know they can. Whether it be a two-week trip, or a two-year trip, the decision to travel is always in your hands. And if you have that itch, I say take the plunge.