Food Allergies and Travel
Planning a trip can be stressful for anyone. People with food allergies may feel extra anxious about leaving their familiar home environments. But with planning and preparation, you can enjoy traveling while staying safe.
How Can I Prepare for Travel?
Perhaps the best way to boost confidence and calm nerves is to research and plan your trip thoroughly. Think ahead. You already know how to manage your food allergies — you do it every day. The strategies that help you cope at home can work well on trips too.
Instead of trying to push worries aside, use them as a guide to prepare yourself for the kinds of situations you might face in a new place.
Think about how to deal with these situations. Talk through any worries with supportive friends and family who will be joining you on the trip. Not only can they help you avoid risky situations, they can also be your emotional support system.
If someone other than you or your family (like a teacher or friend's parent) is organizing your trip, be sure that person is clear on what your needs are. Be sure that he or she understands enough about food allergies to look out for you.
Planning ahead can help you feel less anxious about what could go wrong and more excited about the adventure ahead. Start a couple of weeks to a month in advance by making a detailed to-do list.
- Choose where to go. For people with food allergies, deciding on a destination might take some extra thought. Making sure there are safe places to get food, and that there is a hospital nearby may play a role in your decision.
- Check prescriptions. Discuss travel plans ahead of time with your allergist to be sure you have all the medicines you need, from antihistamines to epinephrine injectors. Don't plan to rely on local pharmacies for your prescriptions — medicines may not be the same overseas. Instead, take your meds with you. If your insurance company or pharmacy limits how much of a prescription you can fill at once, a letter from a doctor explaining the situation may allow an exception to their policy. Also, if you're traveling by airplane or train, you may want to ask your doctor to write a letter authorizing you to carry your medicine to prevent potential confusion/delays at security checkpoints.
- Research local hospitals and medical care. Before you go, find out where local emergency medical help is and how long it will take you to get there. That way, if you need emergency care, you'll know your options.
- Research grocery stores, restaurants, and accommodations. Well ahead of your visit, find out which grocery stores (if any) at your destination carry products that are safe for you, which restaurants seem to be "allergy-aware," and which hotels offer rooms with a kitchen. Support groups and food allergy web sites can often be helpful, whether you're traveling within the country or internationally.
- If you're going abroad and speak the language, talk directly to grocery store, restaurant, and hotel managers. If language is a barrier, or you just need more answers, get help from food allergy organizations, travel agents, trip coordinators, or local friends and relatives. Prepare a list of questions before making your calls and take careful notes.
- Research transportation. If you're sharing a car, let your traveling companions know about your food allergy. If you're traveling by train, bus, or plane, find out about their policies and services. Do they serve snacks that contain ingredients you're allergic to? Can you board early to wipe down your area?
- For air travel, research airlines in advance. Some airlines are more accommodating than others when it comes to food allergies. Call and discuss your needs well before you make reservations. You can ask for a safe snack, but bring your own food along just in case. When you board, remind the flight crew of your needs. If it helps you feel more comfortable, ask that they alert other passengers nearby to your allergy.
- Carry enough medicine. Keep your meds in your carry-on luggage so they're easily available. Also keep your food allergy emergency action plan in your bag. It should be signed by your doctor and describe the allergies you have and the treatment you need. Wrap and pack your meds carefully so they don't get crushed or leak.
- Carry hand wipes. Wash your hands well and often. Keep them away from your mouth, nose, and eyes too to help prevent accidental contact with allergens. When you're traveling you can't count on having access to soap and running water. A good supply of hand wipes ensures that you can clean your hands as well as wipe around seating areas on planes, trains, buses, and other forms of transportation where contact with allergens is likely.
- Pack safe food. If you can, bring enough safe food to see you through at least the beginning of your trip. Of course, how much you bring will depend on where you're going and how long you'll be traveling: If you're in an area where you can’t easily purchase or order safe food, stock up on your food supply. If you're someplace where you can buy and prepare what you need, pack less. If you're traveling internationally, you may not be able to read labels at local grocery stores. Check what you are allowed to bring in to the country you are going to since there may be restrictions.
- Alert others to your allergy. It's a good idea to wear a medical ID bracelet when you travel, so that people can help you get proper emergency medical help if you need it. You may also wish to carry a medical release form, signed by your doctor, that authorizes others to give you emergency medicine, such as epinephrine.
- If you will be dining out, carry a personalized "chef card." These cards detail your allergies and help kitchen staff understand how to prepare a safe meal for you. Chef card forms are readily available, in many different languages, through food allergy websites. But the card is not a substitute for direct communication. It's best to speak directly with your waiter and possibly the chef when you’re out.
Staying alert, taking precautions, and carrying meds are just part of normal life for someone who has a food allergy. After you've done it once or twice, traveling with food allergies will feel perfectly routine. And soon, you'll learn just how good you are at taking care of yourself.