How to Avoid Dairy Products while Traveling

You have even less control over your meals when you’re traveling than when you eat out at restaurants in familiar territory. A variety of factors can compound the challenges of getting dairy-free meals when you're on the road, in the air, or at sea.

Consider the following factors that may affect your nondairy diet:

  • Your schedule may limit your choices. If you check into your hotel after hours, restaurants in the area may be closed, and room service may have ended. Your only food outlet may be a vending machine or those airline peanuts you were saving.

  • *Food kiosks found in airports and hotels have limited menus. Kiosks may not carry the same range of menu items that full-service restaurants carry. They also may rely on more pre-prepared foods shipped in from outside kitchens, giving you less leeway for making dairy-free substitutions.

  • You don’t have the home court advantage. In your own neighborhood, you may have favorite restaurants where the staff knows your nondairy restrictions and you know the menu so well that you have no trouble getting what you need. When you’re away from home, your restaurant experiences may be hit or miss.

Nondairy road trips

When you travel by car or bus, you’re typically limited to meals at whatever happens to be near the next exit off the highway. So you’re likely looking at chain restaurants, truck stops, fast-food joints, and the occasional mom-and-pop restaurant. So what do you do?

One option is to map out your car trip so you hit restaurants that you know have nondairy choices on the menus. By doing your research and planning your route ahead of time, you should have food choices available to you.

Your best bet, though, may be to take matters into your own hands and carry food with you to eat on the road. That way, you have more control over what’s available to you.

What you bring depends, in part, on how long you’ll be gone and whether it’s convenient to bring along a cooler for perishable foods. Also consider that, depending on where you spend the night, you may have access to a refrigerator in your motel room where you can store anything you didn’t eat in the car or bus that day.

Flying dairy-free

Airline food service is much more limited today than it was in years past. As a result, fewer options are available for people with special dietary needs. Plus, finding appropriate food while flying is difficult because fewer airlines serve free food. What’s a dairy-free traveler to do?

When you fly, it’s a good idea to consider the same advice given to people taking road trips: Bring some food from home. At the very least, bring along several portable snacks — granola bars, dried fruit and nuts, and a couple of apples — to hold you over in case you have to miss a meal and are hungry.

Solid foods generally are fine to take through security at airports, but leave drinks at home. Airlines restrict most fluids from going through security. However, you can buy water and other beverages once you’ve cleared security.

On longer trips, when you know you’ll be served a meal, put in a request with the airline in advance for a special meal. You need to set this up with the airline’s reservations desk a minimum of 24 hours before your flight, or you may be able to make the request at the time that you book your reservation.

Going dairy-free on a cruise

In contrast to other forms of travel, cruise ships are more like full-service restaurants. If you’re eating a dairy-free diet, your chances of getting what you need when you’re cruising are similar to when you eat out at many fine restaurants.

An added advantage to eating on cruise ships is that many meals are served buffet style. That allows you to pick and choose from a wide range of items. Because you can see the finished dish before you take it, it’s also likely you’ll catch obvious sources of dairy, such as cheese sauce on the broccoli or grated cheese in the salad.

Some cruise ship dining rooms also have table service and make food to order. In that case, you may be able to talk to wait staff about your needs and get some simple modifications to menu items to make them dairy-free.

If you have any concerns about whether the ship will be able to accommodate your special needs, ask in advance. Some cruise lines post their menus online so you can see the kinds of foods they serve ahead of time.

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