Travelling with food allergies is an art form. I take my chance in each country and hope there will be something i can eat. Asia in any form is by far the best, followed closely by Scandinavia where lactose free is normal. Wherever I go, I return home longing for spelt bread, a baked potato and a (goats) milk Barleycup.

travelling with food allergies - food to take with you and how to manageOver the a number of years travelled, I’ve found ways of getting around the limitation – at least for a while. I start with my neat little cool bag, courtesy of my niece, Kate Hamer, who is full of bright ideas. This goes in the fridge overnight, packed with hard cheese (usually Manchego), fruit, some form of nut or lentil loaf and Spelt and Honey bread from my local Artisan Bakery. I take it out at the last minute to maintain every last bit of ‘coolth’ – and I’ve only forgotten it once, which is a miracle given the fuss I make about leaving the house. I can survive any airplane journey with my trusty bag. Not to mention the delight of a piece of Maya Gold chocolate with my take off glass of fizz.

I’ve stopped trying to sort out in-flight food. The airlines can manage gluten free or lactose free, but both is a step too far. I can’t blame them, they have enough to cope with and it’s not great food anyway. A favourite option is to get a Leon superfood salad at the airport and take it on with me – that does the first meal of a long haul perfectly and is a real pleasure.

How long before the mould sets in?

travelling with food allergies - food to take with you and how to manageMy little bag is tremendous and, if my hotel room has a fridge, I can keep the mould at bay for quite a while. The bread does remarkably well, given the pounding it receives – squashed into a small space alongside all the other stuff I ‘need’ en route. The cheese inevitably begins to go green, but I can always shave off the naff bits and give it a new lease of life. Never have the same problems with the chocolate – somehow it just never lasts that long!

When food just doesn’t worktravelling with food allergies - food to take with you and how to manage

I do realise that I make life really tough for some hotels. I can’t eat gluten or lactose and I don’t want to eat meat, so there are plenty of times when I’m offered a version of boiled cauliflower and plain rice (last night for example!). It’s for these moments that I carry my trusty packs of lentils courtesy of Merchant Gourmet. They pack flat and don’t need a fridge until their opened, so they are a great source of protein when all else fails.

I used to feel bad about walking into a hotel restaurant with my own food, but I’m past that now. I always go in intending to eat their food, but if it’s going to make me sick, then I’ll do what I need to do to stay healthy. In fact, no one has objected yet – they all just seem to accept it.  

My offering to the dogs of Mumbai

I’m quite a fan of nuts and lentils, so I’ll often cook myself a loaf to pack into the bag. Cooked the day before departure; cut into chunks and frozen, it acts as great ice blocks for the first hours of the journey. It does at least two meals and gives me a tasty bit of home, but then sadly it goes off or get mushy pretty quickly.

A couple of years ago, we had a wonderful holiday in India with Miriam and Anthony (daughter and son-in-law), first stop Mumbai to visit with Miriam’s friends. My cool bag was duly packed and consumed in large part on the flight. Just one piece of lentil loaf was left, becoming increasingly gooey and unappealing in our fridge free room.

To be around John is to waste nothing – he can’t bear throwing good food or even mushy lentil loaf, so he had to look for some way to utilise this final offering from the home kitchen.

Our hotel was surrounded by stray dogs that moved in benign packs around the roads. So why not give it to them, he thought. Out he went and put it down where they could easily get hold of it.

I’ll never live down the fact that even the dogs of Mumbai refused the remains of my lentil loaf! What a come down for a passable chef. They clearly don’t appreciate good cooking, those Indian dogs!

Saving snacks for best – it stinks

Whilst I’m always well prepared, I also have a real problem. I’ve picked up my Dad’s rule in life: save what you have ‘for best’. He would hold onto anything of value – or even or little value – in case it would be needed later on. I guess living through the war was still having an impact. The most famous example was opening of a bottle of champagne from his store cupboard – label nibbled by mice, no fizz and brown liquid pouring out into the unfortunate fizz flute.

Sadly I don’t have an excuse. This afternoon is a great example – everyone around me was eating the most delicious looking chocolate brownie. No way I could join in (gluten + lactose = poison) but I could have eaten one of the scrummy nutty bars in my handbag. My mind was going ten to the dozen – I’d love to eat it; it will be really tasty versus we have more weeks of travel yet, so this may not be the best moment ; I’d better wait and save it for later. So once again, I watch as others lick their fingers and then find myself hungry while they are still full.

There was one bar I took on a number of trips. Squashed and misshapen, I finally decided the moment had come to eat it, but when I opened the packet, there was a distinct aroma of floor polish and it tasted vile. So much for me laughing at Dad for his disgusting champagne. I don’t have a leg to stand on.

So this trip I’m trying to get over myself and eat up. Surely I’ll be able to find a bit of dark chocolate somewhere in a duty free or a local store to tide me over? And if I can’t, then I’m no worse off, since I’m depriving myself of a tasty morsel anyway.

Then there’s the gin

But I’m not the only one who likes to be prepared. As soon as we get through security, John’s off to buy a of gin. Finding the best view and sitting with a G+T before dinner is part of our travelling tradition so he’s not prepared to rely on local bars. Turns out that’s a wise move, but not because of the gin. It’s the tonic that we have to root around for. Even in India, where the G+T originated, we had problems; in Borneo they had no idea what we were talking about; in China it was just confusion; Bhutan has one shop in Thimpu, but now we’re way out in the middle of the country, I’m not holding my breath.

Once we’re underway and a bit of the gin is drunk, we have two challenges – first to find a lighter bottle that makes it easier to carry. Second to remember which bottle is gin. This time we have a real conundrum – one unmarked plastic bottle is gin; another unmarked plastic bottle is mouthwash. So far, so good, but who knows what could happen at the end of a tiring day……..

So now I’m two weeks in, three weeks to go. Bag is empty, mouldy bread left to rot in the hedgerow and maybe nibbled by discerning mice. One pack of lentils gone, two more in the case. Gin holding up OK, tonic is short supply. But I’ve found the Bhutanese rice cakes that do OK and double for crisps with a drink; I know I can have Idli once I get to India and the Thali in Kathmandu is delicious. So I certainly won’t starve.

And that first baked potato and hummus when I get home will be the best in the world!


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