If you or someone in your family has food allergies, flying somewhere new can feel like a daunting and risky task. Avoiding forbidden foods and ingredients in unfamiliar territory requires some forward thinking and planning early on, and you may have to be forceful when it comes to explaining your allergy to those who prepare your meals while you’re away.
But what else can you do to make traveling with food allergies go smoothly? And what kind of items can you bring along that might help you avoid coming into contact with foods and ingredients that make you sick?
We spoke with doctors, allergists and nutritionists to get their top tips on traveling with food allergies. Here’s how they say you can be better prepared for your next vacation.
What to bring in your carry-on
Traveling with food allergies requires preparation to make for a more stress-free experience. Plan for the unexpected and over-prepare to make for the least challenging experience. It’s always best to check with your doctor before traveling for any additional precautions that you may want to take on board outside of those in your day-to-day routine.
Chief allergist at Ready, Set, Food! Doctor Katie Marks-Cogan says individuals who use an EpiPen should carry at least two of the devices in their carry-on bag when away from home. In the case of delays, you should have ample supply to cover you or your family should the need arise. If you keep EpiPens in your travel bag for emergencies only, they should be checked regularly to make sure they’re not expired.
Traveling with an alert bracelet or a card that states you or your child’s food allergies is also beneficial, especially when you’re traveling to a different country.
“The card will spell out you or your child’s food allergies in English and other necessary languages,” Marks-Cogan says.
Ideally, order or create your own card that spells out your food allergies in the native language of the country you’re traveling to. Fortunately, you can easily do this on your own using Google Translate and other translation apps.
Registered dietician Meghan Pendleton also recommends carrying some safe snacks in your carry-on bag.
“The best way to ensure you have safe food to eat is to bring your own,” she says. Above all, she recommends bringing dry foods from home that don’t need to be refrigerated. “Solid foods are allowed to be brought through TSA checkpoints so that you may enjoy them in the airport or during your flight.”
Pendleton adds that while many airports now list their restaurants online, there are always chances of cross-contamination or missing menu information. And, in the case the airline you’re traveling with doesn’t have any allergen-free snacks on board, those that you’ve brought yourself can make the flying experience much more enjoyable.
When it comes to implementing these tips, there are several items you can purchase ahead of time to make traveling with food allergies less stressful. Consider this packing list as you prepare for your next trip.
When you're traveling with food allergies, it can help to bring some disinfectant wipes along. When you get to your airplane seat, wipe down surfaces like seat armrests and trays, which may have unsafe food particulates from previous passengers, says Pendleton. Better yet, purchase a travel pack of disinfectant wipes that fits nicely into your carry-on luggage or travel backpack.
The experts we spoke to agreed that wearing a food allergy bracelet can help inform others of your condition in an emergency. This set of bracelets includes one large and one small, and it's customizable with eight allergy charms: peanut, shellfish, wheat, fish, soy, tree nut, egg and one medic charm. This food allergy bracelet is geared specifically toward children aged 3 years to 8 years, and its bright colors are meant to draw the attention of others in an emergency situation.
If you're looking for a bracelet style for adults, look no further than American Medical ID. The company offers a range of jewelry for men and women who want wearable allergy instructions that fit with casual and professional attire. Options include food allergy bracelets, necklaces, pendants and more, and buyers can customize their jewelry with their food allergy information and other details. And you'll be sure to find one that fits your style, as these pieces are available in materials ranging from stainless steel all the way up to 10-karat gold.
At Underscored, we're huge fans of these reusable Stasher bags. When it comes to travel, they make it easy to pack safe, clean food options from home along with you on your trip. They're ideal for sandwiches, wraps, chips and other travel snacks you might want to enjoy on the plane journey or after you arrive at your destination. Stasher bags also make it easy to pack food for travel in a sustainable and eco-friendly way, as they're dishwasher-safe so you can easily use them over and over again.
Bringing reusable cutlery along on your trip makes a lot of sense, and you can easily pack a set for everyone who has food allergies in your family. This three-piece bamboo travel silverware set can help you avoid contamination that can take place with forks, spoons and knives that might be exposed to risky foods or ingredients based on where they're kept. The reusable case makes it easy for you to store washed cutlery in between meals as well. This set is also BPA-free and dishwasher-safe.
If you're traveling with an EpiPen and various other medications, having a dedicated storage bag for travel can help you stay stocked and organized. This particular bag has multiple mesh compartments for pill bottles as well as room for several EpiPens, antihistamines and other supplies. It's made of durable materials that will last you for many trips over, and it's also waterproof.
Having somewhere to jot down notes and communicate with people can be a game changer. If there's a language barrier between you and someone at your destination and you're trying to detail your food allergy, being able to communicate on paper is essential. As an added bonus, carrying this travel journal around on your travels will help you to document each trip you take to reflect on it for years to come.
Kids need their own way to snack when food allergies are an issue, and this Bentgo Kids Snack Container makes safe snacking a real possibility. The two separate compartments make this container ideal for fruits, vegetables or crunchy snacks of any kind, and the built-in lid keeps foods free of contamination until your little one is ready to eat. The easy-open latch also makes this container perfect for kids, and this product is dishwasher-safe and available in six different colors.
Other tips for traveling with food allergies
While plenty of items you can bring along on your trip can help you avoid a reaction to off-limits foods, there are some steps you can take before and during your travel as well. Consider these additional must-dos during your next trip.
Be firm when you dine out
It may be easier to prepare your own meals during travel if you have food allergies and you’re worried about contamination. However, dining out is a big part of the travel experience, so it makes sense to want to enjoy your trip as much as you can.
NYU Langone health allergy & infections diseases Doctor Purvi S. Parikh says it’s crucial to let restaurants, hotels, airlines and tour guides know ahead of time about food allergies and items you and your kids have to avoid. “And keep reminding them,” she says.
Parikh adds that this is an area where having your food allergies spelled out in the language of the country you’re visiting can help. Utilizing a travel journal or notepad for this reason explicitly can help take the stress out of trying to communicate when needed.
Dr. Marks-Cogan also says you can save this information in your phone if you’re worried about losing a physical card, piece of paper or carrying along a notebook on all of your adventures.
“When you get to a restaurant, or if you are getting food from a stand, you should repeat your food allergies multiple times and ask questions to make sure the food you are eating does not contain the allergen of concern,” she says. “Never feel bad about asking too many times!”
Also, it can be beneficial to speak to the chef directly whenever possible. That way, your food allergy information won’t get mixed up before you receive your meal.
Inquire how your food was cooked too
Doctor Sudeep Singh of Apprize Medical says that telling restaurants about specific foods you’re allergic to, such as eggs, nuts or shellfish, may not be enough. You also have to ask how your food was prepared and cooked, especially when it comes to what kind of oil was used.
Dr. Singh says that approximately 1.8% of the US population has a peanut allergy, yet peanut oil is commonly used in restaurants for frying and sautéing.
“In my clinical experience, there have been patients that have ended up in the ICU on a ventilator to protect their airways from the anaphylactic reaction even after small exposure to a triggering food,” Dr. Singh says. “If in doubt, don’t eat it.”
Contact your airline before your trip
Pendleton says you should communicate with your airline well in advance of your trip, as many carriers are willing to accommodate food allergies by not serving items like nuts on flights. Your airline might also be willing to make an announcement about the presence of allergies on your flight.
“I highly recommend communicating with airlines even before booking with them to see what accommodations they are willing to make,” says Pendleton. At the very least, you should contact your airline at least 48 hours prior to your flight so the carrier has time to make arrangements with crew, if necessary. Additionally, ordering a special meal, such as an allergen meal, gluten-free meal or non-lactose meal, among others, can be requested from your airline typically within 48 hours.
In a similar vein, she says you can also communicate with passengers who are seated around you. You can ask them to refrain from eating unsafe foods in your vicinity, although it is up to them what they decide to do with that information.
“Ultimately, these tips come back to open communication and self-advocacy,” she says.
By taking the proper precautions and preparing as much as possible, traveling with food allergies doesn’t have to be daunting.
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