Serious food allergies are challenging enough, but when you hit the road, they can get even trickier. One study showed that the majority of allergic travelers stick closer to home, and even avoid travel by air or boat because of their conditions.
Still, food allergies shouldn’t stop travelers from getting out and exploring the world, because with a few precautions and a little planning, you can make sure that Spanish sojourn or that surf trip to Maui leaves you with nothing but happy holiday memories.
Avoid locations that are allergen-heavy. If you’re allergic to peanuts and shellfish, a small seaside village in Thailand may not be the most relaxing location for your holiday, and Maine during the lobster harvest may make for extra headaches.
Still, most locations can be adapted to suit your needs, so don’t limit yourself too much. Just make sure to choose locations where medical help is readily available.
Get refills of your medication. In some countries, finding allergy and asthma medications can be difficult or costly, so make sure to bring them with you and have extra doses on hand. If you already have the medications, double check their expiry dates to make sure they are still current.
Get a doctor’s note. In some countries, airports may not allow allergic travelers through security with their epinephrine auto-injectors unless they have a note from their doctor saying they must travel with them. (This may even happen in North American airports.) If you’re tight on time and can’t get in to see your doctor, try a walk-in clinic. Also make sure to find out what products they do and don’t allow in your carry-on or checked luggage.
Get translation cards. If you are going to a country where you don’t speak the language, make sure to get a translation card that clearly explains what you are allergic to, what happens if you encounter that allergen, and what treatment you require – then show it to your hosts, waiters, and anyone else who provides you with food.
If even small quantities of the allergen can land you in hot water, make sure the card says that even trace amounts on cutting boards, pots and cooking utensils can be dangerous. There are several translation card companies to choose from, including Select Wisely and Allergy Translation, and they can make cards in hundreds of languages. You might want to order at least two copies in case one gets lost; just remember to order well in advance of your trip, because they can take weeks to arrive.
Contact the airline. If your trip involves a flight, make sure to fly with an airline that has a good allergy policy. Then call the airline well in advance of your trip and let them know about your allergies.
If you have a life-threatening allergy, ask them not to serve that food on your flight. You can also request that they make an announcement asking your fellow passengers to do the same, but some will comply and some won’t. Same goes with trains or buses – contact them in advance and find out what their policies are before you buy your ticket.
Book accommodation with a kitchen. If you or your child are traveling with serious food allergies, a hotel room or vacation apartment with a kitchen can be a life-saver. That way, you can cook your own meals and you know they’ll be safe.
But don’t let your cooking keep you cooped up in that apartment; pack up your meals and take them with you to the beach, to a park, to the steps of a museum, etc. And when you book, don’t forget to tell the agent about your allergies so it’s on your file.
Buy health insurance. You’ll want to have insurance coverage in the event of an emergency. Just make sure to ask plenty of questions and read the fine print, because some insurance providers won’t cover you if you have a pre-existing condition, or will only pay long after you’ve checked out of the hospital.
Plan a range of activities. By default, travel often centers around food – so if you don’t want to fuss over your allergies, plan lots of activities that don’t involve food. A day at the beach, a wander through the local museum, or guided tours can be great ways to enjoy your new locale – without having to worry about reacting.
Do Your Research
Find medical facilities. Hopefully you won’t need them, but it’s important to find out what medical services exist in and around your destination. If you’re heading to a smaller town or city, you may want to contact the medical facilities in advance to let them know you’ll be in town.
Research the food labeling. Different countries have different food labeling systems, so you want to know how they work – and how accurate they are – before you go. For example, some countries provide warnings such as “may contain traces”, but others do not; still others use numeric codes.
Always be aware of all of the different names for the foods you are allergic to, and wherever possible, stick with unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, rice, and meats.
Source products. If there are certain products that you rely on at home, don’t expect to find them in other cities and countries. Find stores that stock what you need before you go, or plan to bring some of your favorite products along.
Connect with local allergy organizations. Almost every city has an asthma and allergy organization; call or email them in advance and ask them for hotel, grocery store, restaurant and activity recommendations.
Find out what’s on the menu. If you’re going to any catered events such as weddings and conferences, find out who the caterer is and talk to them about what they’re whipping up. Most of them are accustomed to dealing with allergies, and can even adjust their recipes to make the event safer for you. If you’re traveling on business, make sure to talk with the person who is booking the meals.
Be prepared for an emergency. Remember that many countries are not on the 911 system. Find out how to call for help if you need it – before you arrive.