Considering traveling with food allergies? Don’t worry! While food allergies may make travel slightly more difficult, we’ve come a long way in terms of addressing food concerns and nothing and nowhere is off-limits anymore.
Though language challenges and unfamiliar dishes might scare you, we’re here to tell you there IS a way to travel safely with food allergies.
From Europe to Africa, here are our tips on how to travel with food allergies.
1. Do your research
First and foremost, it your responsibility to learn how to adjust your food allergies to where you’re going — not the other way around.
Learn about the region’s cuisine, typical dishes and culinary traditions before you take off. Decide immediately what dishes will or could work for you, and what won’t.
Research restaurants near your hotel and in the areas where you plan on spending the most time.
If possible, view some menus online. Identify places that serve dishes you can eat, even if you have to cobble together a few items or get creative.
Locate any grocery stores or food markets that might be in walking distance of where you’re staying.
2. Inform others
Carry copies of information about your food allergies and potential reactions for waiters, concierges and anyone else who might need direction. Consider purchasing chef cards, which detail your allergy and contain instructions on how to prepare food, in the language of where you’re traveling.
Learn how to explain your disease or situation succinctly.
In foreign languages, too much information oftentimes leads to even more confusion.
Know how to ask for modifications. Depending on where you are, your request may or may not be granted, but it’s worth a try so long as you keep it simple and are polite.
Don’t be shy about asking to speak with the owner or the chef.
3. Ask your doctor for tips
If you have a deadly allergy, call the airline, the train, the tour operator or whomever and ask them some questions prior to traveling.
They should be able to withhold certain foods from circulation or, at the minimum, let you know there’s nothing they can do so you can make alternate arrangements.
Wear a medical ID bracelet. You might not don it at home, but wearing it abroad communicates a universally understood message.
The more people who can instantly see that you have food allergies, the better. If your allergies are really bad, be sure to have an epi-pen with you too.
5. Pack smart
Be sure to pack your prescription, including any inhalers or injections. If necessary, get a letter from your doctor allowing you to carry medication onto the plane.
Bring packaged foods to supplement potentially skimpy restaurant meals and limited grocery hours.
Energy bars, dried fruit and nut butter packets are filling, portable and easily pass through customs.
6. Be prepared
Know your medication’s name (including generic and translations) and dosage.
Locate pharmacies ahead of time. If possible, contact them to make sure they will be able to fill your prescription.
If you have a deadly allergy, locate the closest emergency room just in case.
If necessary, carry a medical release form signed by your doctor to allow others to give you emergency treatment.
In summary, a little bit of preparation will enable you to enjoy a stress-free trip!
I became hooked on traveling while studying abroad in London too- sorry, not about food, about your bio! Also- pretty sure I have an allergy to milk! And it just developed this year.
Hi Jade, thanks for reading! Isn’t London the best?! Sorry to hear about your milk allergy. It’s so weird how certain food allergies can appear from out of nowhere. Good luck!
I get the impression that food allergies are not well-known in developing countries. If your allergy is life-threatening, I wouldn’t recommend eating alone. Take someone with you who can look after you if you lose consciousness. Waiters and cooks aren’t paid very much in developing countries and, in parts of Southeast Asia at least, they will try to be helpful by telling you something that will make you happy, rather than the truth.
“No, sir, no peanuts” could mean “the peanuts are crushed up so small you’ll hardly notice them” or “there were peanuts in it but we took them out. Well, most of them” or even “what the hell is a peanut? If I don’t know what it is, we must not serve it”.
Fantastic tips – and Barbara’s points above are dead-on. Being a vegetarian isn’t the same as having a food allergy, but when traveling abroad as a veg I had tons of waiters provide inaccurate ingredient information. Not out of spite, but mostly from misunderstanding or different definitions.
Excellent, excellent point! Thank you for this invaluable wisdom.
I have to admit, my worst food allergy, if you could call it that, is lactose intolerance….and there are remedies for it!!
I do have friends who do have to be concerned with very serious food allergies and cross contamination – so hard to be careful!!