How to Travel with Food Allergies

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Where in the world are you supposed to travel if you have food allergies?

Well, anywhere. You just need to be prepared.

When traveling abroad, there are unlimited opportunities for culinary mishaps that could lead to potentially deadly food allergy attacks.

In addition to language challenges and the prospect of encountering foods that might be illegal to eat at home, seemingly familiar dishes might contain unexpected ingredients or you might not be able to tell just what is on your plate.

Here are our tips on how to travel with food allergies.

1. Do your research

Learn about the region’s cuisine, typical dishes and culinary traditions.

Research the local foods. Scour food and travel websites and guidebooks to see what other travelers have encountered and observed.

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 allergy 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. Tell your doctor about your travel plans and ask if he or she might have some 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.

4.  Accessorize

Wear a medical ID bracelet. You might not don it at home, but wearing it abroad communicates a universally understood message.

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!

How do you travel with food allergies? Have you ever had a bad or rewarding experience while on the road?

Share.

About Author

Dawn first became hooked on traveling while studying abroad in London. Who knew how easy it was to hop on a plane, train or boat and emerge in another country! Since then, she has traveled as much as possible and loves how each destination alters her understanding of life. Read her expat exploits on shootandscrawl.com, view her photos on dawnspaulding.com and follow her on twitter @shootandscrawl. Based out of: Luxembourg City and New York City

6 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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”.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!!

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