How to Eat When You're Alone and Away From Home
One of the great things about being a kid was that my mom and dad took care of my allergy concerns for me and so I always ate freely and with abandon because I trusted that they had addressed all the details. At restaurants they would order for me (until I was around 9 years old), if I ordered they would step in and add commentary, they would call ahead to restaurants, pack my lunches for road trips, coordinate with other parents for play dates, and volunteer as chaperones for my school trips. We went to Italy several times and my dad ordered everything for me because he's fluent in Italian. Essentially they bore the burden of making sure I ate safely so that I could enjoy being a kid.
The first time I went away without them was when I was 21 and went to Mexico for a week with my boyfriend and his family for a wedding. I was so nervous about ordering for myself in a place where English was not the primary language and allergies were not a part of their culture as they are in Canada and the US. It was an all-inclusive resort so we were eating at the same restaurants each day and I swear I must have lost 10 pounds on that trip. It was a little nerve-wracking but I was prepared with extra food in my suitcase and Spanish translation cards to hand to servers.
Since then he and I have been on numerous vacations together, and I've also gone away with one of my best pals, Karrie. These people take care of me. They act as a security blanket, adding extra notes for the server when I order, looking over my food when it arrives, tasting flakes of things on my plate to determine if they are fleur de sel or Parmesan cheese. And literally planning the most detailed itineraries I've ever seen so that we could align our path with restaurants that we had checked in with and knew to be safe for me (that was Karrie). So when I got a new job that involves some travel I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I've always wanted a job that requires travel, plain and simple. On the other hand, I have to contend with the fact I'll be alone or with colleagues, but not with my squad. Cue anxiety.
On Monday and Tuesday of this past week I was in NYC for a work trip. I was with one other colleague who is fortunately very tolerant and understanding of my allergies and doesn't book team lunches at cheese restaurants (this actually happened in the past and the solution was that I would just not be part of that team event). Lunch is often my greatest challenge because it's intended to be a fast bite on the go and I can rarely find a spot that can guarantee no cross-contamination. Luckily for me, we barely even stopped for lunch! I love when meals are skipped because it means I can just dip into the food I brought with me.
On this trip I packed:
2 boxes of Enjoy Life bars
3 Sunbutter sandwiches on homemade bread
It was only a 2 day trip (6:30am Monday to 9:30pm Tuesday including flights) so this was more than enough and I didn't even open the Enjoy Life bars. This covered me for snack and lunch on the first day and breakfast and lunch on the second day. In the morning I would pack my purse with what I thought I would need for sustenance that day.
While in NYC I bought:
1 coffee from Cafe M Studio
1 coffee and 1 bottle of San Pellegrino from Starbucks
and dinner, below
For dinner we ate at The Standard Grill which is located just under The High Line in the Meatpacking District. It was recommended by Joella and their menu stood out to me because they had my absolute favorite thing - a raw bar! You may have read in previous posts that raw bars are my saving grace. If there is an option for raw fish of any kind on a menu, that's what I'm ordering. 1 ingredient and usually secluded away from the full kitchen. Yes please. I'm a pretty light eater so this was enough to sustain me but they were friendly towards my allergies when I made the reservation so I would have been confident ordering something else off the menu as well had it been required.
Before the trip I checked out Nut-Free New York, and I suggest you do the same before your next visit.
The most important things to remember when you're alone and away from home are to plan ahead and be prepared. Don't be shy about bringing your own food, just make sure it's packed properly and allowed to come off the plane. Look up grocery stores near your hotel and call restaurants ahead of time. Basically, take ownership of making sure you don't end up in a place where there is nothing you can eat or it's unsafe for you to eat. Always get travel insurance, even if it's just for 2 days. It's like $25 but given the cost of medical bills in certain countries it's so important. Pack Epi Pens and Benadryl and make sure they aren't expired or stored in your checked bags. And bring a daytime bag that's big enough that you can throw in some snacks and your medication comfortably.