Traveling with food allergies is so challenging in of itself that the prospect of traveling in a tour group seems insane. It’s hard enough dodging unfamiliar cities with language barriers or cultural differences in an attempt to find a safe place to eat when traveling with a small group of family or friends, and the set itineraries and tighter schedules of tour groups only add extra obstacles.
That being said, traveling with food allergies and travelling with tour groups are not mutually exclusive. I recently got back from a trip to New York City with my choir, where we sang in a choral festival at Carnegie Hall (still internally freaking out). On this particular trip, there were almost thirty people including both of my parents. I have been on other group tours with and without my parents, and from all of these travelling experiences, I have gathered the following helpful hints for staying safe in a group.
- Communication is crucial. Tell chaperones, teachers, directors, travel agents, and anyone else involved in planning or executing the trip about your allergies far in advance, and remind them frequently so that they can have a better idea of what restaurants will be safe for you.
- Ask for the itinerary and call the restaurants that the group planning to eat at. Often times restaurants only offer a couple dishes from the menu to tour groups, so ascertain which of those you can eat, and if none are safe, ask if they can prepare a different meal for you.
- Do not be afraid to separate from the group and eat somewhere else if need be. On most of the group tours I have ever joined, I have had to opt out of at least one meal. This is difficult for me as a minor because I am usually not permitted to leave by myself. When my parents are on the trip, I have them take me somewhere else. If they are not, I arrange for another chaperone accompany me. (I only branch off when I know there will not be anything safe for me, not when I simply do not like whatever food is offered – especially because I am often not refunded for these meals).
- Plan ahead. If you know that you will only have one hour to grab lunch, research nearby restaurants the night before or the morning of so that when that hour starts you don’t have to waste any time. If you are staying in the same area for several days, eat at the same restaurant multiple times. For example, in New York I found a Greek restaurant that served delicious food and handled my allergy with ease, so I ate lunch there two days in a row.
- Always pack snacks. In case you cannot find any safe food, bring small snacks that you know you can eat and that can tide you over until there are more safe food options. I like to keep a water bottle, banana, and granola bar with me.
Traveling in a group is possible, as long as you are open about your food allergy and can be flexible and organized.