We all experience the exhilarating sensation and excitement of an upcoming trip. However, when you have food allergies, it can put a damper on the fun to come. Traveling and dining out can be feel more daunting than enticing, as there’s a lot of due diligence, caution and extra planning required when doing it with food allergies. In fact, the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America reports that about 32 million Americans have food allergies with these eight common foods at the top of the list: wheat, milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, shellfish and fish.
Stepping outside your comfort zone to explore a new city’s cuisine can be terrifying for those with severe allergies. Trust me, I get it. When I first found out I was allergic to gluten and dairy, I was devastated. But the more I traveled, the more confident and comfortable I felt navigating new countries and cities despite the limitations on what I consumed. As a certified travel coach in wellness who has explored 29 countries and counting, I can say that ensuring you feel safe and prepared to take a deep dive into delicious food havens on vacation is one of the most important things to keep in mind when travel planning. Whether it’s a family getaway or business travel, being prepared is the first step in going on an excursion with food allergies. Here are a few tips to allow you to still have an enjoyable experience when traveling with limitations on what you eat.
Before your trip
The first step to navigating allergy travel is spending time doing your research — airlines, accommodations, restaurants, food tours, etc. These are all important. For instance, booking morning flights will give you less exposure to cross-contamination as this is when airplanes are the cleanest. If you have a peanut allergy, call ahead to let your airline know. Airlines have various policies and some avoid distributing peanuts if a traveler with peanut allergies is aboard and staff have been alerted.
The next best thing is to create an allergy translation card of your food allergies in the local language. It’s credit card size and easily fits in your wallet. This specifically comes in handy if you’re traveling to a foreign country and you don’t know the language. Write down phrases such as the following:
“ I have a ___ allergy.”
“I don’t eat food with ___.”
“I don’t eat ___.”
“Does this have ___?”
“Please change all utensils and cooking materials used to prepare my food.”
Feel free to design your own card or have it professionally done from a reputable company that specializes in various diets and foreign languages. You can also use a helpful food allergy app like Allergy Food Translator. This insightful app translates 86 food allergens to different languages including Spanish, German and French. All translations can be accessed without Wi-Fi, so no matter where you’re traveling you’ll have access to the database.
After you have your card, the next thing you’ll want to do is create an allergy kit with all your allergy essentials in it, then pack it in your carry-on luggage. Consider packing medications, EpiPens, Tylenol, etc. I highly recommend throwing in some of your favorite snacks, because no one likes to travel while hungry! Think trail mixes, nut butters, crackers, fresh fruit, granola bars, veggies — basically anything that suits your diet and travels well. Make sure others you’re traveling with are aware of your allergies and know where your EpiPen is located.
Communication and confidence is key when it comes to traveling with food allergies. You should never feel like you have to miss out on group travel activities, from tasty restaurants to exciting cooking experiences. Instead, suggest ideas that will include you in the fun. Research the new restaurant you want to try ahead of time so you’ll feel confident while dining, or pick a more overall allergy-friendly destination like London or Barcelona.
During your trip
Before heading off to explore a local restaurant, always double check (even triple check for caution) the menu. Just like you explore the menu beforehand when you’re home, a vacation should be no exception. While you may see familiar dishes on the menu, always check with the restaurant staff to make sure the food meets your specific dietary needs. Sometimes familiar dishes are cooked in different ways (especially when traveling abroad) so it’s always best to do your homework. Still not sure if it’s safe? Download the app AllergyEats that was devised for the allergy community. This excellent app guides, shares, and rates various restaurants based on one thing — are they allergy-friendly? Share your dining experience and help other travelers just like you feel more comfortable eating out.
There are several things you can do to help you feel safer when traveling abroad, but ultimately one of the safest ways to avoid cross-contamination while still experiencing local flavors abroad is cooking at your accommodations. Hear me out. While cooking may be the last thing you want to do on vacation, different countries and cities come with different, unique selections. For instance, the king of fruit, durian, is not commonly found in North America, but it’s common in places like Asia. Cities on the coast also have more access to fresh local catches. It may not be what you’d love to do when on a getaway, but there are perks to cooking with local ingredients. Most importantly, you will know what you’re really eating.