Holiday Travel with Food Allergies: Solved!

Top Ten Tips for Surviving Holiday Travel with Food Allergies

One of my top reasons for starting The Allergy Free Wife was my love of travel, specifically to remote parts of the globe. I’ll travel anywhere, near or far, I love seeing new places and experiencing different locales not as a tourist, but as a local. Dealing with my husband’s food allergy and my own restrictions has presented a challenge, but I’ve learned a lot along the way! I wanted to share my findings with others, and create a resource for the best tips and tricks for traveling with a food allergy. As the holiday season gears into full swing, many of us with food allergies will be traveling and will be taken out of our comfort zones, into places that are unknown and could potentially be scary. There’s often quite a bit of fear about how to manage a food allergy in a foreign location. I’m here to help!

Prior to my gluten intolerance and marrying somewhere with a tree nut and peanut allergy, I never thought twice before booking a trip. Now, it requires much more research and planning ahead. Through trial and error, I’ve narrowed down a few vital tips that keep me and my husband safe while we continue to travel around the globe.

To date, we’ve been to every continent with the exception of Antarctica (although it’s on our list)! From Asia to Africa to South America to Australia I feel lucky to have visited incredible destinations and managed to stay (pretty healthy). There have been a few bumps along the way (those stories to come later), but we made it! Below are my top ten tips for traveling safely with food allergies.

Transportation

Boarding a plane in South Africa after a safari on our honeymoon! Boarding a plane in South Africa after a safari on our honeymoon!

Before booking your airline ticket, make sure to look into your airline’s allergy policy. For those with nut allergies, certain airlines will refrain from serving nut snacks on-board if they’re aware of an allergy. Be sure to inform everyone of your allergy (gate agent, flight crew) the more people that are aware of your allergy, the more advocates you’ll have on your side. If your nut allergy is extremely serious, consider an early morning flight before the plane has had passengers who may have brought nut products with them.

Wipes are always great to sanitize the tray tables and arm rests of any traces of nuts, plus planes are pretty dirty and can use a wipe down regardless! My favorite brand is Wet Ones, I always have them handy in my purse and carry-on bags. This goes without saying, but also always make sure to have your medication (epipen, etc.) on hand. You don’t want something to happen and it be packed away in your luggage!

Allergic Living has compiled a nice chart comparing all the top airlines allergy policies.

Skip the hotel, rent a house!

This is an incredible Airbnb home we stayed at in Palm Springs, California. Ten times bigger than any hotel! This is an incredible Airbnb home we stayed at in Palm Springs, California. Ten times bigger than any hotel!

While I LOVE hotels, after a few scary incidents abroad we’ve discovered that it’s much easier and safer to stay in lodging where we’re able to cook our own meals. It gets pretty exhausting to go through questioning about ingredients, cooking methods, and possible contamination at every meal. Add in a language barrier and it becomes even more difficult.

By being able to prepare most of our own meals, with the exception of a special dinner or two (if we’re feeling adventurous and have done our research ahead of time), we stay safe and healthy while traveling. My go-to when traveling is to rent an apartment through Airbnb. We’ve stayed in incredible places that are often much more spacious and local than a hotel can ever be. I’m talking tree houses in Costa Rica, log cabins in upstate New York, cottages in Joshua Tree! i always look for Airbnb’s that come with a “full” kitchen as that usually includes all the pots, pans, and dish ware you need. There are a few other apartment/home rental sites we also use including VRBO, FlipKey, and HomeAway.

If you’re traveling to somewhere remote where Airbnb isn’t an option (this has happened to us a few times), a hotel might be your only option. I suggest inquiring about a room with a  kitchenette, or emailing your hotel about your situation and inquiring if they’ll allow you to prepare some of your own food in the kitchen. A microwave and hot plate can be a savior t to prepare a few easy, safe meals. After being thrown into many difficult situations when traveling, I’ve found is that if you ask, many places are more than happy to accommodate your needs. Speaking up is critical when traveling with an allergy to ensure you stay safe during your travels.

Curious about Airbnb? Use this link and get $20 off your first booking!

Expired meds? Don’t let this happen!

EPI PEN MEDICAL KIT

Before you get to the airport, make sure all your medications are up to date. This sounds like a no-brainer, however we had a scary incident in South Africa during our honeymoon when we discovered that my husband’s Epi pens were expired! We were in such a wedding haze that we forgot to double check the most important thing before leaving. Don’t repeat our mistake! It’s also recommended to ask your doctor to write prescriptions that you can carry with you. You might also want to learn the generic and brand names of your medications in the locations you’ll be traveling as they often are called different names from country to country.

Obtain Allergy Translation Cards (or app) & Emergency Care Plan

Eat AWAY ALLERGY TRANSLATOR APP

During an emergency, I can’t stress how helpful it is to refer to your Emergency Care Plan. Print out several copies to ensure you always have it on hand during your travels. I also recommend carrying Chef Cards in English and in the language of the location you’re visiting. If you’d rather go digital, my husband recently downloaded the app Eat Away which we had great success with while traveling to Italy this summer. I love that it not only lists the allergens you’re allergic to, but also outlines common dishes where the allergen may be present but isn’t often thought of (sauces, oils, etc.). Handing the phone to a waiter in a foreign country helps to ease any language barriers.

Buy Travel Insurance

TRAVEL INSURANCE IS CRITICAL WHEN TRAVELING WITH A FOOD ALLERGY

I never understood the need for travel insurance until booking our honeymoon to South Africa. Our travel agent highly advised that we purchase it, and when I looked into the offerings I couldn’t believe I had been traveling for so long without it! As part of our honeymoon we went on a safari in Africa that was three hours from the nearest hospital. I felt reassured knowing that if there was a medical emergency, we’d be covered under the medical evacuation portion of our policy. Especially when traveling to countries or areas where the medical services aren’t amazing, it’s helpful to know that you can always elect for medical evacuation back to your country of origin. There are many policies to choose from, however we like Allianz for their full range of coverage. Make sure to research hospitals and medical clinics in the areas your traveling to just to have the piece of mind that if something happens, you know where to seek emergency help.

Pack Safe Food Staples

GLUTEN FREE PASTA FOR ALLERGY FREE TRAVEL

When my husband and I travel, we like to bring along a few non-perishable items that we know are safe in the event that we’re in a situation where safe food isn’t available. Some of our favorites include oatmeal, pasta, beef/turkey jerky, dried fruit, and a loaf of “safe” bread which we keep in a ziplock bag. We also have a set of travel spices we bring to use for cooking so we don’t need to keep buying the same spices over and over again! Don’t overload your suitcase as there are usually grocery stores where you can find food you’re comfortable with, but it’s nice to have a few safe items on hand.

Pre-Plan Your Travel Day Food Situation

NUT-FREE AIRPLANE SNACKS

Pack your own food for your travel day. Airline food isn’t great, and the healthier option is to always pack your own snacks. Not to mention, one of the last places on earth you’d like to consume your allergen is 35,000 feet in the air. Many airlines offer special meals that are gluten free, dairy free, however very few airlines (if any) offer nut free meals. This makes me pretty upset as nut allergies are life threatening, however it reinforces the need to bring your own snacks! When my husband and I travel, we always make sure to have dried fruit, chips, and typically pack a sandwich with fillings that will stay fresh for the duration of our flight. Prosciutto is a wonderful option that can stay without refrigeration. The return trip is a bit harder, but we make it a point to visit a supermarket before taking off to stock up on safe snacks.

You’ve Arrived! Now head to the grocery store.

Visiting the local markets in hong kong

One of the first items of business after landing is to head to a grocery store and stock up on food for the duration of our tip. I typically like to research what the nearby options are before arriving, as looking up locations is the last thing I want to do after a long travel day! I lean towards more of the ex-pat supermarkets which are a bit more expensive, but typically offer more food options that we’re familiar with and can read the ingredients. Pro tip: We’ve been in quite a few situations where the food ingredients aren’t in English. Having a translated list of foods you can’t eat comes in handy and saves you from having to guess. One of my favorite things in the world is exploring local supermarkets, it gives you a window into the types of food that people eat, and is the fastest way to feel like a local! Local fruit/vegetable markets are also always a safe bet as luckily there isn’t an ingredient list for produce!

Dining Out with a Food Allergy

EATING THE BEST GLUTEN-FREE PIZZA IN ROME, ITALY EATING THE BEST GLUTEN-FREE PIZZA IN ROME, ITALY

It’s usually impossible to not eat any meal out during travel, plus experiencing restaurants and local food is one of the best parts of traveling! Before we leave, I usually conduct extensive research about restaurants and menus before our trip, and if possible I email the dining establishment ahead of time to let them know about our dietary restrictions, and see if they’re able to accommodate. It’s easy to tell pretty quickly if a restaurant takes your allergies seriously. I also like to search reviews of establishments to see if anyone else with an allergy has eaten there, and if they felt it was a safe option. If we arrive and don’t feel comfortable, we no longer take a chance. I can’t stress how important it is to make sure that everyone at the restaurant understands the severity of your allergies. I always ask to speak to the Chef if possible, as sometimes the severity of the allergy gets lost between the waiter and the chef. My husband typically sticks to options that are safe (nothing with too much sauce where there could be hidden allergens, in addition to minimal seasoning). We’d rather be safe than sorry!

Enjoy!!!

Cheers! My husband and I in the Australian Outback! Cheers! My husband and I in the Australian Outback!

Traveling is one of the best things you can do in life. Don’t feel restricted by your food allergies, look at it as a fun challenge and a way to experience living in a city as a resident making your own meals, as opposed to a tourist. With the proper preparation and research you can enjoy exploring the world without letting your allergies hold you back!

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