Traveling outside the U.S. with food allergies is possible with some careful planning.
Hi! I'm a young adult studying accounting, and I'm passionate about baking, crafting, soccer, and advocating for food allergies. I was diagnosed with an anaphylactic peanut allergy at 13 months old.
Traveling with food allergies can be reason enough for a panic attack. The constant wiping down, looking over your shoulder, and questioning is no small task. It’s difficult to do, but here are some of my best tips to make any vacation a million times better.
1) Book an airline that doesn’t serve your allergen (if possible). I normally fly American Airlines because they don’t serve peanuts. Although they won’t announce that there is an allergy onboard, they do let me pre-board. This allows me to fully wipe down my seat. I also use an airplane seat cover that is all clean! I never eat the food served on an airplane. It seems risky when you’re 30,000 feet in the air to try something new. Instead, I bring plenty of snacks, from sweets to savory, extra meals, and sandwiches. Make sure you pack enough food in case your flight is delayed.
2) Travel somewhere with no language barrier. My top destinations are Canada and England. I’ve luckily also been able to take a trip to Portugal, but my dad speaks Portuguese. By being able to effectively communicate the severity of your allergy to other people can put you at so much ease! I also love to travel to Canada because they are very aware of allergies, and there are plenty of bakeries that are peanut free! It’s like heaven. England also has very strict labeling instructions, so you will always know if an allergen is in or may be contained in your packaged food.
3) Print out a chef card and laminate it. I carry these in my wallet. Print several in case it gets lost in the kitchen. When I order my food, I hand the card to the wait staff and ask them to give it to the chef. It explains what I am allergic to and how to avoid cross-contamination. I print it on bright colored card stock so it's easier to catch the chef's attention.
4) Call ahead and do your research. Call around to find a safe restaurant. It is much easier to do ahead of time than trying to find somewhere when you are hungry.
5) I try to bring breakfast foods with me that I can make in the hotel room. Eating breakfast out is almost impossible with a peanut allergy. I will ask the hotel for a small fridge and bring things like bagels and cream cheese or cereal and milk.
6) Try to stay in a place that has a kitchen. If you cannot find safe restaurants, I will go to the local store and make my meals in the kitchen. Sandwiches for the day out. If I am in another country where I cannot read labels or am not sure if something is safe, I buy fresh products, such as chicken, fruits, and vegetables. And I will take my own safe bread with me because that can always be hard to find. And remember to take a cooler so you can take your lunch along with you for the day!
7) Bring people with you that you trust! If those traveling with you know how to handle your allergy, it can make your trips much more relaxing and memorable.
8) If nothing else, go to a culture that traditionally does not use your allergen in their cooking. I’ve never been to Thailand or China because it is common to use peanuts there.