Travelling Overseas With a Food Intolerance: Top Tips

When one of my closest friends announced she was coming to visit me in Chiang Mai, I was thrilled. She was excited too, of course, but also nervous. You see, Hayley has a fructose intolerance, which means garlic, onion and honey, as well as certain fruits and vegetables, are strictly off-limits.

“I was very nervous about travelling to a foreign country with my intolerance. Unfortunately, a fructose intolerance is not as common or as well understood as, say, a gluten or lactose intolerance,” says Hayley.

“For people with food sensitivities and intolerances, mealtime can be extremely challenging. Then you throw travelling to another country into the mix and the challenges compound.”

Hayley was so nervous, in fact, that she initially asked if we could hire a private chef for the week of her stay. Obviously, the last thing I wanted was for my friend to get sick. But I also wanted her to experience as much of Chiang Mai as possible, so I reassured her that she would be okay.

But the challenges began before Hayley even got on the plane. Despite flying with Thai Airways, she was told there wouldn’t be much food that was safe for her to eat during mealtimes.

“All of their products and meals contain garlic and onion or had something with fructose in them,” she says.

“Prepacking my carry-on bag with biscuits and non-perishable food I could eat was key. I also made sure I ate a decent, protein-based, filling meal before boarding.”

Here are some other top tips for travelling to Thailand (or any foreign country) with a food intolerance:

  • Keep medication on you at all times. In Hayley’s case, this included nausea tablets, Gastro-Stop and Hydralyte.
  • Have your intolerance/s written down in the local language and carry it with you everywhere. Hayley’s note looked like this:

  • Download the Google Translate app and be sure to download offline translation files (so you can use the app even if you’re offline). This is especially important when travelling to a non-English speaking country.
  • If applicable, determine the location of the hospital closest to where you are staying.
  • Suss out the area in which you will be staying, including some nearby ‘safe’ restaurants, prior to arriving. Most restaurants have online menus with some English and/or an email address, so you can ask questions or verify details. If they are an established business, they should be able to respond to your email in English.
  • Email the airline prior to your flight to find out what your food options are, and plan accordingly.

“Despite being super organised and prepared, I was still quite concerned prior to travelling. I didn’t want anything to spoil my holiday or slow me and my friend down with our daily adventures,” says Hayley.

“Fortunately and to my surprise, many of Thailand’s food options didn’t contain garlic and onion or were easy enough to leave out, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had a few more options than anticipated. I guess it might have been a completely different story had I been travelling to Italy!

“All in all, travelling overseas with food allergies or intolerances isn’t easy but can be done with some preplanning, so don’t let it deter you from travelling altogether.”

Here are some of the places Hayley and I ate at in Chiang Mai during her stay:

Rustic & Blue: This trendy Nimman café prepares its dishes using carefully selected, seasonal ingredients from a local farm, which “embraces a sustainable approach to agriculture and dining”. I recommend the chocolate-banana protein smoothie bowl, the gluten-free barbecue pork tacos or the raw vegan cheesecake.

©Michelle Hammond

The Old Days Bistro: This gorgeous little café, located inside the charming artists’ village known as Baan Kang Wat, serves traditional Thai dishes with an Italian twist. I recommend the pad thai or any of the delicious juices on offer.

©Michelle Hammond

LÉON de Nimman: LÉON fuses Thai and French cuisine to deliver a truly unique and interesting menu. All produce is locally sourced, mostly from Chiang Mai’s hillside organic markets, and the staff will happily tailor your food order. I recommend the duck and roast potatoes.

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