Last updated November 21, 2022
It’s not uncommon to feel anxious about traveling with food allergies. With careful planning, you don’t need to stay close to home—you can actually travel near and far. Below are our helpful hints for mitigating the risks when traveling with food allergies.
Arguably one of the best parts about travel is the food. From over-the-top brunch spreads with homemade jams and croissants to freshly made pasta dishes— local cuisine gives you a sneak peek into the heart of a city and country.
But what about traveling with food allergies? Will this affect your travel experience? In short—yes and no.
The severity of a food allergy depends on the individual and is influenced by many different factors including age, medical conditions and the severity of previous reactions.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 10.8 % of adults in America have food allergies. The most common allergens are shellfish, sesame, milk, wheat, peanuts, fish, tree nuts, soy and eggs.
While you may have to skip traditional dishes filled with your allergens (i.e. say goodbye to chicken alfredo when you have a milk allergy), it’s encouraging to note that many destinations now offer allergy-friendly alternatives.
Take Barcelona, for instance. As a traveler with food allergies, I was pleasantly surprised to find an abundance of gluten-free and dairy-free options in this bustling (foreign) metropolitan city. From dairy-free empanadas and paella to gluten-free pizza, I could nibble my way around town.
And with food allergies on the rise and veganism becoming more popular, destinations are learning how to be more inclusive (woohoo!). Chefs are getting crafty with their recipes and you’ll find fantastic vegan options in cities such as London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Helsinki and Tel Aviv..
Are you finding it overwhelming to travel the world with food allergies? Keep reading to find the best allergy-friendly wellness travel hacks.
Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies
Your allergies shouldn’t prevent you from traveling and you can take steps to mitigate your risk of having an allergic reaction while on vacation. It all boils down to being prepared—regardless of whether you are traveling on your home turf or jumping on a long-haul flight to Asia.
1. Don’t be adventurous with food
When it comes to trying new foods, don’t try them unless you’re absolutely sure they are free from your allergens.
Even with dishes you normally eat, double check the ingredients as a country or city might prepare this staple dish differently.
For instance baba ghanoush—a Mediterranean dish consisting of eggplant, spices, lemon and tahini— is traditionally dairy-free. Yet, I’ve visited many places that add in plain or greek yogurt.
As a traveler with dairy allergies, this is a big no-no for me. The best advice— stick to what you know and always double check the ingredients.
2. Don’t be afraid to pack snacks and food staples
Whether you’re flying overseas or traveling two hours away, toss some snacks into your bag for the duration of the trip. These snacks will come in handy when you’re hungry, need a breakfast option or when you’re having trouble finding an allergy-friendly restaurant.
Bringing your own snacks gives you options. Snacks are also handy for when you return to the room from a long day of adventure and you feel like noshing on something safe.
For the healthiest snacking options, make sure to include both fresh (i.e. fruits, veggies) and dry snacks (i.e nuts, granola bars, dried fruits). Protein bars are snack insurance and keep you away from grabbing chips or other unhealthy
Additionally, for your own peace of mind, load up on allergy-friendly staple items from a nearby grocery store or market. This is especially practical when the hotel or resort has a kitchen, or a microwave and fridge. Gluten-free bread, pasta and microwavable foods such as gluten-free mac n’ cheese all travel well.
3. Look for destinations that cater to dietary restrictions
At home, you have control over ingredients. However, when you travel you don’t have that same level of control.
To avoid cross-contamination when traveling to a foreign destination, consider accommodations and restaurants where you know there are English-speaking staff. While this is a no-brainer for stateside travelers, language barriers abroad are often tough to deal with.
You’ll find it much easier to communicate your allergies plus the staff will be able to recommend restaurants or activities that work well for your allergens.
But, don’t let the lack of English stop you when you’re craving an off-the-beaten path experience. Translate common words for your allergy beforehand or bring allergy cards in the language of the country you are visiting.
These cards do a much better job at communicating your allergies and translate common phrases such as, “I can’t eat [fill in the blank].” Typically, allergy cards state what you are allergic to. More elaborate allergy cards may even list ingredients in dishes that contain your allergen and offer substitutes.
4. Carry your medicine with you at all times
I’m not here to give medical advice but always pack your medicine in your carry-on. Add in your EpiPen, Benadryl and any other medication you may need (and double up just in case).
For those who travel with an EpiPen, remember to check the expiration date of the auto-injectors. If you’re traveling alone or in a foreign country, it’s wise to wear a medical ID bracelet (especially with severe food allergies).
In my “allergy-friendly travel kit,” I toss in some hand sanitizer and baby wipes as a precaution, too.
First and foremost, be sure to talk to your doctor before making any travel plans. Then thoroughly research your destination and the surrounding areas so you have a good feel for the places you’ll be visiting.
There you have it. Traveling with food allergies doesn’t have to be stressful. The above helpful hints are meant to help you feel more prepared and confident in your travel adventures.
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