Traveling is stressful for everyone but having food intolerances and stomach problems can make it extra challenging. Just because it is more difficult to get away– you DESERVE to take adventures just like everyone else. Don’t let the idea of being “high maintenance” hold you back. You aren’t being high maintenance just because existing can be a little more difficult!
Now that we are fully vaccinated, my mom and I planned a COVID-safe mini road trip to drop off our decapitated teddy bear at the bear hospital in Vermont. (Random, I know). I used to hold myself back from taking adventures, but now I’ve learned a few hacks that make it easier. My motto is– I don’t count myself out until my body does.
Here are my fool-proof tips for traveling with stomach problems:
1. Communicate with your Roadies
This seems like such a simple step, but arguably it is the hardest: Talk to the people you are traveling with– and make your needs clear.
Tell them straight up: “We might need to drive out of the way for a restaurant that has gluten-free options” or “I am going to need to stop at a rest stop once an hour” or “My health can be unpredictable and I might need to take it easy if I have a flare-up.” You know your body best.
This will put everyone on an even playing field and give them a better understanding of what to expect. They are less likely to get annoyed with you if you warned them beforehand.
At the end of the day, if they are reluctant to meet your basic survival needs– they are probably not worth traveling with.
As my mom always says, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” And I hate to say this.. but she’s right about this one.
2. Map out Restrooms
My hidden talent is that I always know where a restroom is in a 3-mile radius. (Am I crazy? Only a little bit). But when you have digestive problems, bathrooms are an actual medical necessity. Unfortunately, public restrooms can be hard to come across– especially when you are unfamiliar with the area. COVID-19 has made this even harder because most businesses closed their bathrooms to the public.
Get Creative When Searching
My favorite bathroom hack is that most grocery chains have a public restroom for consumers to use. So when in doubt, Google: Stop and Shop, Walmart, Target, or Trader Joe’s and you will be in luck. Oftentimes doctors or hospitals will likely let you use their restroom as long as you explain yourself and ask. If you are visiting NYC, Penn Station has a public restroom that is often very clean! I shall make a whole NYC Public Bathroom blog post one day.
Plan Your Route
If you are driving on a highway– map out all of the rest stops. Google Maps lets you move and edit your route to take specific highways you are comfortable with. So if one highway is known to have frequent, and clean rest stops– reroute yourself! Sometimes an extra 20 minutes in the car helps your peace of mind.
Charmin has an app called “Sit or Squat Restroom Finder” that maps out the local restrooms. I don’t find it to be incredibly accurate
Get a Bathroom Card
I have an “I Can’t Wait” card that explains to business owners my condition and why it is medically necessary that I get to the bathroom ASAP. I haven’t had the guts to use it yet- but one day I will. Ask your doctor about it, and they can point you in the right direction of where to find one!
Certain states have a law called Ally’s Law that requires businesses to let you use their restroom if it is a medical emergency.
3. Consider an Air BnB with a kitchen
Having access to a kitchen while traveling is a MAJOR game changer. You can prepare meals before you leave and heat them up, or even buy groceries and cook something from scratch when you get there. Having some of your “safe foods” or normal meals will help keep things in balance, and also relieve some of the anxiety of eating out.
Pro tip: Ask your Air BNB host if they know of any allergen-friendly restaurants or grocery stores near by. You’d be surprised by what they can clue you into!
4. Look Up Grocery Chains in the Area
I am a grocery store addict. So if you’ve ever traveled with me– this probably isn’t surprising to you. Sure Friday nights out at a bar are fun, but have you ever spent a Friday night exploring a foreign grocery store? Think again.
All jokes aside, grocery stores might just be your travel best friend! Not only will you be able to find familiar products and your staples… you may even find an allergen-friendly product you have never heard of. (On my most recent trip, I found Kristen-friendly cereal and stocked up and bought 10 boxes!!) Not only that, but your friends will be jealous when your wallet isn’t empty after eating out for the 12th time in a row.
5. Pack Snacks (A lot of them)
Granola Bars. Nuts. Bread. Almond Butter. Muffins. Yogurt. You name it- You bring it!
Unlike people without food intolerances, I can’t always find a snack at the nearest convenience store. Having nonperishable snacks with me at all times relieves some of the stress. Prepackaged stuff is great because you can pop it into your purse and bring it with you on the go.
My favorite place to get snacks from is Thrive Market. They have great deals and large options to choose from!
LITTLE TIP: Often times your fellow road trippers will want snacks too. So be prepared and bring extra knowing that someone might steal a granola bar from you on the road. Also, consider bringing snacks for them that you can’t eat– but they can. This helps set the boundary that they can’t eat your food… because you brought it for YOU!
6. Pre-Cook Meals
Package them in Tupperware and microwave them in the hotel whenever you are hungry. I always batch cook my favorite things– because you never know when they will come in handy.
WARNING: Be careful with the tupperware and cooler you use. If you are using icecubes to keep it cold– ensure you use waterproof
7. Take the Day Off Before to Prepare
Packing last minute doesn’t really work well for anybody. Give yourself time to cook, to plan, and to think things through.
8. doN’T SKIMP ON Medication
Make sure you bring enough medication to last you your whole trip (and a few extra days). Either pack it in a med case or bring the bottles directly. You might think, I’ll be okay if I skip taking XYZ for a few days— but most times it isn’t worth it. Play it safe and bring the meds!
If the medication needs to be refrigerated– make sure to check and ensure the hotel has a refrigerator and ice maker. This will give you some peace of mind on where you are going to store it. I take a refrigerated medication called Sucraid and I have found that carrying my measured syringes in an insulin cooler is a game-changer. Check-in with the company that manufactures the medication because they might have special travel hacks. (If you use Sucraid check this out!)
Call up places to see their accommodations and always make sure to have backups. If you know a chain you can eat at search for one nearby. Sometimes calling in advance helps because if they don’t have something you can eat, the chef might be able to prepare something specifically for you.
(I often have luck at juice places because they normally list all of their ingredients and make it freshly in front of you.)
If you have a gluten problem– check out Find Me Gluten Free. This app is the BEST! It has a map of gluten free restaurants nearby and people can also rate their experience. It always gives me peace of mind knowing another gf pal ate there and didn’t get sick!
Get creative: Ask locals or even look at allergen food bloggers!
Remember that you are NOT a burden, and that food doesn’t HAVE to be the only source of fun! Keep your belly full while filling your heart!!