Our Allergy Travel Guide: Planning Ahead

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining
Photo: Getty

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 cruise ship 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.

Allergy Travel: Plan Ahead

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. Plus, as some require a prescription, this entails locating a local physician. So, be sure to bring epinephrine auto-injectors and inhalers with you, and have extra doses on hand. Also, double-check  expiration dates on meds to make sure they are still current.

Air Travel with Allergies Survey: From Anxiety to Policy Importance

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. In fact, even in North America, Allergic Living always advises carrying such a doctor’s note. Also make sure to find out what products a country does and doesn’t allow in your carry-on or checked luggage.

Get translation cards. If you don’t speak the language, with allergy travel, be sure to get a translation card. It should clearly explain in the local language: what you are allergic to, indicate the need to avoid food cross-contact or trace exposures. It should also establish that this is a severe condition. Then show it to your hosts, servers, and anyone else who provides you with food.

Top translation card choices include Equal Eats. Their well-designed cards are available in plasticized or printable versions for a modest fee. Plus, you can store cards in their app. Allergy Force also offers excellent digital (and emailable) translation cards. Cards from both companies are available in many languages and customizable for your allergy profile.

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 or your child have a life-threatening allergy, ask to pre-board to wipe down your seating area. Some airlines allow you to request that they not serve a food such as nuts or peanuts, but this has to be requested ahead of time. Investigate your options before you book, as these policies can (and do) change.

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 lifesaver. That way, you can cook your own meals and know they will be safe.

Allergy-Friendly Hotel Accommodations

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.

Buy health insurance. Check that you have insurance coverage away from home 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.

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.

Labels and Clinics: 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.

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; 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 making. 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.