Dietary Restrictions Abroad: Tips From a Gluten-Free Globetrotter

This post is courtesy of Tori Kaiser, ASU Study Abroad alumna. Headshot-ToriTori graduated with degree in Human Communication and a minor in Media Analysis this past May, one semester after completing her exchange program at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England.  


I was fifteen years-old when I decided I wanted to study abroad.  I visited my sister while she was on exchange in Australia and knew 
instantly that it was something I wanted to do in college.  That being said, when the time came to plan my trip, I felt a lot of pressure.  I had been dreaming of this adventure for almost six years and I wanted it to be perfect.  As I scrolled through the list of programs ASU offered, Brighton was a city that caught my eye.  I had never heard of it before but for some reason, I was intrigued.  The next thing I know, I couldn’t stop looking at pictures and reading about the beautifully unique city.  

When I arrived in Brighton last Fall, I was in awe the second I saw the city for the first time.  I felt inspired every day as I walked through the town and admired the art on every corner.  It’s a place that encourages you to follow your dreams and helps you believe that anything is possible. 

Art-Tori.jpg
One of the many pieces of art in Brighton. 

Every moment that I spent abroad was incredible and I am so thankful for the experience I had. I formed lifelong friendships, made countless memories, explored seven different countries, and to a lot of people’s surprise, I ate a lot of really great food.  Like most others visiting Europe for their first time, I was quite intrigued by the local cuisine.  However, a lot of things stand in the way of me having an ordinary dining experience.

In addition to an egg and dairy allergy, I have celiac disease—an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten.  My sensitivity is quite severe; therefore, the slightest bit of contamination can cause problems.  To make things even more complicated, I’ve refrained from eating meat for quite some time now, as well.  With all that being said, I feared I would face many complications abroad, but it never negatively impacted my adventure.

If you’re worried that your food allergies or dietary restrictions are going to damper your journey, continue reading!  With these tips and tricks, I hope to ease the minds of other students like me.

  1. Choose your program wisely

Those of us who choose to study abroad with food allergies have some actual studying to do before we even decide where to go.  Once I started narrowing down my list of options, I researched how livable each area was for someone with my limitations.  Everyone is different; therefore, it is important to decide whether a program is suitable for you.

Some of the most forgotten, yet important, things to consider when travelling with dietary restrictions are certain countries’ traditional food preparation methods.  While Southeast Asia, for example, is a perfect destination for some people, those with nut allergies might struggle with the heavy peanut oil usage.  Do your research and determine how accommodating an area will be to your lifestyle.

  1. Connect with others

Word-of-mouth is the best resource! I joined the Facebook group for a vegan society at my exchange university, as well as online gluten free and vegan communities.  These pages connected hundreds of people that were happy to answer questions and share advice with others.  Members frequently raved about neat restaurants and new products, which I thought was incredibly useful.

  1. Know how to communicate your restrictions wherever you go

Not only is it polite to put in some effort when travelling to non-English speaking countries, it’ll also make it easier to avoid problems when dining.  If you’re planning on visiting a country with a foreign language, it’s import to learn key words and phrases, such as:

  •      The food(s)/ingredient(s) you need to avoid
  •      “Does this contain…?
  •      “I am allergic to…”
  •      “I do not eat…”
  •      “Can I get this without…?”
  •      Vegan/Vegetarian, Celiac/Coeliac friendly, Nut-free, Gluten-free, etc.
  1. Become best friends with Yelp
Yelp-Tori
Shout out to Yelp for letting me find gluten-free/vegan gelato in Italy!

I used Yelp a couple times before I went abroad, but now I can’t live without it. The site is unfortunately not available in every country, but I highly recommend taking advantage of it where it is offered.  In addition to pointing you in the right direction, yelp is big on customer reviews, which can help determine if a place is truly safe to dine with your food allergies. 

  1. Utilize social media

Like I said before, word-of-mouth is very beneficial!  Explore networking sites with keywords that describe your needs.  Since a good portion of veggie cafes also offer gluten-free options, I personally found vegan tags on social media to be quite useful.  I often treated the search bar on Twitter like it was Google and read about places others like me were eating.  It was especially helpful when I had a craving for something in particular.

Cafe-Tori
Eat Naked was my favorite cafe in Brighton.

Depending on where you go and what your dietary restrictions are, Instagram also has the potential to be advantageous.  Scrolling through the #BrightonVegan tag actually led me to my favorite cafes in the city.

  1.    Always do research before travelling somewhere new

Know what you are getting yourself into before you hop on the plane.  Don’t schedule out exactly when, where, and what you are going to eat on your vacation, but have some idea of places that may have options for you in that area.  In some cities, restaurants and groceries stores close quite early, so don’t assume that there will be a lot of choices 24/7.

  1. Fill that baggage with snackage

I never left Brighton without some protein bars or rice cakes shoved in my suitcase.  I believe that you should always carry some basics with you in case you find yourself struggling to eat in certain countries.

  1. Be prepared, in case of emergencies

Incidents can happen and it’s beyond important to make sure you’re ready if disaster strikes.  If your allergy requires medication upon contamination, have it available at all times.

Roommates-Tori
The best roommates a girl could ask for.

Let your travel partners/roommates know about your condition and tell them how they should assist you if something were to go wrong.

  1. You’ve got to be inventive sometimes

You never know what to expect from a new country until you get there.  When you take weekend trips or visit places where restaurants are not accommodating, creativity is key to finding meals.  Regardless of where you are or what kind of restrictions you have, there will always be something you can eat—you just can’t allow yourself to be picky when situations like this arise.

When travelling, I often followed what I call the ‘grocery store diet’.  To do this, I would select whatever safe, no-bake ingredients I could find and whip up a meal.  My on-the-go staple was nut butter and fruit atop rice cakes.  It was cheap, safe for me to eat, easy to make, and available almost everywhere I went.  Not to mention, it was very delicious!

  1.  Be aware of additional costs

I encourage you to put a little extra money aside, especially if you plan on travelling while abroad.  Not only did I sometimes pay additional fees to substitute gluten-free or non-dairy options, I also had to splurge at fancier restaurants here and there because they were the only accommodating ones in certain areas.  If you budget properly prior to your trip, then the occasional indulgence is a nice treat!

Sussex.jpg
So happy I chose the University of Sussex!

If you’re given the chance to study abroad, I wholeheartedly recommend taking it and working past any obstacle that might stand in your way.  Don’t let food allergies or dietary restrictions stop you!  My one semester in England gave me a lifetime’s worth of memories and I am beyond grateful to have had that opportunity.  

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