Traveling with food allergies and weighing comfort

I am a foodie with food allergies and a really close eye on my wallet.  With an aim of becoming debt free in 7 years, including my student loans (while also pursuing a third masters degree and traveling), I have to be mindful of spending.  The hard thing is that I am also allergic to some pretty major items:  gluten, peanuts, and hazelnuts.  I have a mild lactose intolerance (I can still eat cheese, but it’s a toss up of how much and when my system is going to act up.  I usually avoid cow’s milk), and anything with heavy sugar is going to send me flying high and then cause me to crash really quickly.  Not a good thing when traveling alone.  Who wants to be the woman who literally has to lay down on the nearest flat surface until her body regulates itself again?  Not this woman.

I am also sensitive to heat (causes the crashes to happen much more suddenly, which has bitten me on a few hikes recently) and medication.  Example of medication sensitivity:  I once took Benadryl during a pretty intense allergy season.  I took it before starting to fold my laundry.  Four hours later I woke up with a full basket and the laundry still in my hands.  I had only made it through folding about 4 or 5 items before passing out.  Another example?  Ibuprofen is great pain relief for those without my sensitivity.  I take ibuprofen and get ulcers.  I have to take Midol for any sort of pain relief.  It’s the only kind of medication that doesn’t cause me gastrointestinal issues or knock me out.  Unfortunately, the multi-purpose one has a lot of caffeine (racing heart and sugar crash while hiking is really not fun), and it is a diuretic.  Needless to say, I try to stay as healthy as possible to avoid the need for medication of any kind.  

Staying healthy while traveling is definitely a challenge.  When vacationing, I am far more physical:  lots of walking and activities. When traveling for work/writing, I sequester myself in a space to get the work done.  I actually don’t see much of a place when writing, only that within a short, walkable area, those places where I can take what I call “constitutionals”.  They are the escapes from the writing world that inform that world.  Physically, though, staying healthy is hard, and as I said, my body is sensitive to upset.  Consistency in food can be a stabilizer.

If I have access to a kitchen and a nearby grocery, then all is pretty golden.  I do most of my cooking at home, favoring fresh vegetables, a source of grain, and a protein.  A typical meal would include stir fried rice (light on oil and quickly heated more than fried) with rice, veggies, and an egg.  I might also do a gluten free pasta and sautéed chicken with veggies or rice with a pan-seared fish.  If I can do some grocery shopping, my costs are about 10-20 Euro in ingredients for enough to last 4-6 meals, not including breakfast.  Ah, in addition, if I have to buy oil and I can find it, I like to buy coconut oil.  It adds a slight flavor of coconut to everything (I love that taste), stands up to high heat, can be used on the skin and hair, and solidifies in cold.  I haven’t tried this yet, but I imagine that it could be solidified in a fridge over night so as to travel as a solid rather than a liquid (no need to check baggage) and then lightly warmed outside of the fridge to be used as easily again.  Everything I’ve read on the subject says that it’s fine in transitioning from solid to liquid.

If no kitchen is available, then things get more challenging.  Indian and Vietnamese food are generally my go-to culinary choices.  Both have a great deal of rice and use peanuts only sparingly.  They are easily avoided.  In addition, in both cuisines, peanut oil is not used as an essential ingredient.  Coconut oil, vegetable oil, or olive oil are more likely to be used.  In addition, I happen to love a slight bit of spice in my food.  Ginger, the varieties of red pepper flakes, the balance of sweet and heat, I say yes!  Both usually allow me to eat for less than 10 Euro and have a bit of leftovers that taste quite nice hot or cold.  Lunch and a packed dinner in one go.

Breakfast is always harder for me.  Fruit is a rarity at hotels while traveling.  Usually, there are pastries galore, if anything is offered.  On offer, cheeses and meats may be available, but even there I am difficult.  I avoid milk products, as said before, and I also do not eat pork for familial reasons.  Pork, of course, is the most frequently offered meat, because it is inexpensive to purchase.  So what do I do?  If I pass a grocery, I buy enough fruit and oat bars for the next day’s breakfast.  My personal favorites for breakfast bars are the Oats and Honey or Oats ‘n’ Dark Chocolate offered by Nature Valley.  There are also these fantastic KIND bars that I favor:  almond and apricot, almond and coconut, the cranberry almond. I tend to buy a box or two at the grocery store before I leave the States.  It’s cheaper there, packaged (easy to take on a plane), and I can eat them as emergency food throughout the trip.

For fruit, I wish I could do bananas as they are super healthy, but I have had a smell and texture aversion to them since childhood.  Instead, I grab a few oranges, if the price is reasonable.  They pack well in a backpack.  The peels can also be wrapped in a sachet and placed in shoes to capture the odor that comes from enjoying a nice day’s walk in the world.  Orange peels in gauze also make a great body scrub in the shower.  If I plan on using oranges that way, though, I buy organic/bio.  Why shouldn’t I spoil my skin while traveling every now and then?

For breakfast, I will also sometimes have a tea or coffee, if it’s on offer at the hotel.  If not, I usually pass on this as I don’t need caffeine to start my day.

All in all, my ideal budget (when eating out) per day for food looks something like this:
Breakfast (an orange or oat bar) 2Euro
Lunch (Indian vegetarian rice dish) 10-12 Euro
Dinner (Indian vegetarian rice dish) 10-12 Euro (or leftovers from lunch)
Pub drinks (6 Euro, which, depending on the city, will cover one to two drinks)
Budget from day to day on food:  18 – 32 Euro a day.

When grocery shopping, I can spend 10-20 Euro on ingredients enough for 3 days of food.

I usually carry around a bottle of water throughout the day.  I might spend 5 Euro on a bottle, but after that, water is free.

All that said, living this carefully is difficult. I have traveled before with my mother, for example.  She is diabetic and lactose intolerant.  Still, sometimes, she wants to have a meal at a restaurant.  She actually wants this often.  She breaks the budget, thinking only of the experience of delight rather than how the money will stretch.  It takes discipline to travel as carefully as I do.

In food purchasing, transportation, hotel decisions, there are always decisions to make, comforts to weigh.  I control my food for health and expense, but I am less tight fisted over hotels.  I generally pay less than $80 for hotels when traveling, but this could not hold true in London or Paris.  I could have gotten a hostel bed, but I know that I would not have been able to sleep surrounded by strangers in a dorm.  A few more dollars for a good night’s sleep?  I’ll pay it, because I can.  If I absolutely couldn’t, I would be staying at a hostel that had the best reviews I could find with over 100 entries.  Transportation?  If it’s 2 miles or less through a neighborhood in which there are lots of tourists or I just feel comfortable, I’m walking.  I next choose buses, because you can see the landscape then underground transportation for speed.  I’m sensitive to danger, so if I don’t feel comfortable, I immediately transition to the next safest transport option.  Sometimes, that is a cab.  When traveling alone, one can never be too careful.

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