June 17, 2013

Guest Column: Summer Travel Packing List for Special Diets

by Jessica Goldman Foung

When lupus attacked her kidneys, Jessica Goldman Foung, also known   as “Sodium Girl”, made significant changes to her life, including her diet. It wasn’t long before she began to blog about the adventures of living on a no-sodium diet. This month, Jessica shares with us a summer travel packing list for people with special diets .

With summer months come summer vacations: spontaneous road trips, flights across country, backpacking in the great beyond, and if you're really lucky, an escape abroad. No matter the destination, though, every trip requires preparation. And for those with special diets, the packing list has a few extra items to tend to -- mainly, preparing food for every meal of the day.

But dietary limitations don't have to take the spontaneity or flavor out of adventures. Nor do they have to add stress to your well-deserved R and R. With a little extra effort and the following tips, anyone with any dietary needs can stay full no matter where the journey takes them.

Pack Smart
First and foremost, carry emergency snacks with you at all times -- I'm talking granola bars, tortillas, nuts and seeds, berries, individual nut butter or tahini packets, microwave oats, grains and rice, chia seeds, and anything else non-perishable that fits easily (and lays flat) in a suitcase or day bag. These treats will come in handy during plane rides, breakfasts, and lunches when options are scarce.
Also, don't forget to look in the baby food aisle. Toddler-friendly fare may have more nutritional value than flavor, but the latest lines of purees don't taste half bad. And if you're really hungry with no options in sight, these packets will keep you full and provide a daily fill of vegetables. They're also perfect for backpacking trips and day hikes when you want to keep provisions light.

And if you are willing to check a separate bag outfitted with an ice pack and perishable food, then the options become limitless. Make whatever you want to eat and call the front desk at your first stop to ask for a small refrigerator for when you arrive.

Send Ahead
If you are staying somewhere for a while, don't be bashful; send your pantry favorites ahead of time. Ship all of the non-suitcase-friendly food via mail to your hotel and enjoy the cans of beans, chips, salsas, dressings, and other staples when you arrive. Sometimes you can even ask the concierge to do a little pre-arrival grocery shopping for other items, like fresh vegetables or fruit.

Forget The View, Get a Kitchen
When searching for hotels, look for spaces with small kitchenettes. If your hotel doesn't have those options, remember you can always ask for a refrigerator and even a microwave to be placed in the room for minimal to no cost.

You can also skip the hotel and rent through VRBO or Airbnb, options that usually include access to a kitchen, a small stove, or at the least, simple cooking tools (like microwaves and electric kettles). Which means you can prepare fuller meals if you need to and make snack packs for day trips, all in the comfort of your rented room.

Go Raw
Take a tip from stove-free foodies and stock up on pre-washed, packaged vegetables. Whether you snack on snap peas or chopped kale, softened in a microwave, you can keep eating green while on the go.

Use Friends, Real and Virtual
If you can stay with a friend, you've struck special diet gold. Their kitchen, pantry, and stove is now yours, guaranteeing you safe and satisfying meals when you want. But even when you travel without a friend to visit, that doesn't mean a helpful hand is far. Use social media tools, like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp! to search for others with similar dietary needs. Post questions to find the best diet-friendly restaurants or grocery stores nearby. And discover places and eats that only locals know about.

Spruce Up Safe Foods
Salads, steamed rice, and scrambled eggs tend to be easy to come by at restaurants and even airport terminals, but without dressings, nuts, or other toppers, they can taste pretty bland. Consider packing add-ons like spice blends and non-leak containers filled with ready-to-eat beans or cooked grains -- items that will add welcome bulk and bite to these "safe" menu options. Or for a sweeter snack, blend chia seeds with yogurt or even jam that you find along the road to make a protein-rich pudding cup on-the-go!

Before looking at the weather for the week, do some research about the food and culture of the city (or country) you plan to visit. Visit travel blogs to explore the cuisine, what's typically on a menu, and how it is traditionally prepared. That way, you can smartly navigate a menu and understand which items will fit within your dietary needs. If there is a language barrier, you can also ask the concierge at your hotel to call ahead to restaurants and ask for special preparations. And get Googling. Map out the nearest grocery stores to figure out where you can stock up on treats as soon as you land.

Share Resources
Sharing is caring, and when you give people links to your favorite blogs and recipes, suddenly they have all the tools they need to make amazing food for you. The more information you can provide the hotel and restaurants ahead of time, the better you will eat.

No English, No Problem
Are you going abroad, beyond the border, where the language sounds a lot different than it does in your hometown? Don't fret. Just use all the same tips suggested here. Do the research. Understand the food. Get to know your hotel's concierge and staff. Find people abroad (whether friends, tour guides, or trusty companions you meet on tour) that can help you navigate restaurants and foreign menus. Find grocery stores before you go that will have food you can eat. Or send products ahead of time. And don't forget to bring a dietary card; it can be easily translated and handed to hotel and kitchen staff. Keeping you from worrying about your next meal. Or trying to perfect a foreign accent.

For more special diet, low-sodium advice, recipes, and adventures, visit www.SodiumGirl.com. And pick up a copy of Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or anywhere books are sold.

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