Scott’s Rules for Traveling with Food Allergies

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining

Research Where You Are Going

1. For first forays, stick to countries where you speak the language. So far, that has limited my family to English- and French-speaking countries. It is critical that you can explain allergies clearly to people without any risk of miscommunication. When our younger daughter, who has multiple food allergies including peanuts, nuts, eggs, dairy, barley and kiwi, is a little older, we may relax this rule and there are allergy translation cards available. But for the first adventures, I recommend abiding by this rule.

I will never forget our trip to Italy when Kieryn (our older daughter who has no allergies) was a year old. She spiked a fever of 40 degrees C on the first night at our rented villa. We were staying in the middle of nowhere in Umbria and did not know where the nearest hospital was.

I called the villa’s agent for directions. She not only drove us to the hospital, but also translated what the doctor was saying. I can only imagine that this experience would have been even more stressful if we were dealing with an anaphylactic emergency in Italian.

2. It’s essential to know the distance to the nearest hospital before you book accommodations. Due to my daughter’s food allergies, we like to stay within an hour’s drive of a hospital, and to know that there is also a doctor or a clinic nearby.

3. Given my environmental allergies, we try to find places with tiled or wood floors instead of carpet. We look for wicker furniture or leather instead of stuffed couches. We always ask if the place has dogs, cats or other pets, as some villas and ski chalets are also people’s homes for part of the year.

4. Research local food labeling laws. If you’re thinking of traveling to the Caribbean next winter, I can report that much of the food is imported from the U.S. and Canada. So labeling on these products is not a problem. But you need to be more careful with locally produced items.

5. Check the import restrictions on the country you are going to as well as any countries you will be connecting through on flights. Like the U.S., many countries have restrictions on bringing in meat, fruit and vegetables, but most are OK with dry goods.

The Flight

We limit the number of flights to get to our destination, and avoid connecting via a third country. Since we’re traveling from Ottawa, Canada, this means looking for places we can fly to directly from Toronto or Montreal. We prefer not to fly through the U.S. because if we bring meat and fruit for the meal on the plane, we’ll have to throw them out if disembarking to catch another plane.

Time To Eat

1. Our Number One rule for traveling with anaphylaxis is: Have Kitchen, Will Travel! We always try to stay somewhere that has a kitchen. There are a surprising number of options, including condos, villas, ski chalets and hotels with kitchenettes. We wash all pots, plates and cutlery on arrival, since we don’t know what foods were on them before.

2. We bring our own food for our daughter for every flight. We never let our daughter eat something if we don’t know the ingredients, and she never eats anything without her epinephrine auto-injector on hand. We carry at least four auto-injectors on every trip.

3. We pack and check one suitcase full of non-perishable food for every trip. You can’t count on being able to buy allergy-safe foods abroad. Some items to consider (depending on the allergies): egg replacer; sesame-free bread; nut-, dairy- and egg-free cookies; nut- and dairy-free cereals; and gluten-free pasta. You can include a small freezer bag for perishables (like dairy-free margarine).

4. Bring enough food for your first day, so you don’t have to shop the moment you arrive. Think pasta and a can of pasta sauce for a first night’s dinner – or instant noodles for an overnight in a hotel room without a kitchen.

5. Are you staying longer than a week? Then bring allergy-friendly bread loaves and freeze some once you get to your destination. That way, the bread will last.

6. We eat as many meals as possible in our rental unit’s kitchen. When we go out for a day trip, we pack lunches and snacks to bring with us. If we absolutely have to eat out, we will not count on a waiter to communicate about the allergies. We try to speak directly to the person preparing the food and explain: the allergies, the fact that they are life-threatening, and to ask about possible cross-contamination. We prefer smaller restaurants because you have a better chance of speaking to the cook.

Stick with plain, simple foods (no sauces) to reduce risk. For example, plain rice, plain pasta, plain vegetables and grilled chicken or fish. Ask if an allergen has been on the grill before ordering.

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