How to travel with food allergies. Learn the best tips + tricks to make traveling with food allergies safe no matter your allergies.
Travel can seem intimidating when you have food allergies. You are out of your safe zone, away from familiar comforts, and the unknown can be a bit daunting when you have severe medical issues.
Traveling with food allergies has changed a lot in the past 30 years. It is now possible to safely travel to just about anywhere if you have food allergies, even severe ones!
This article contains the best tips and tricks I’ve learned after living with allergies my whole life. My parents also shared their advice on how to manage vacations when you have kids (or multiple kids) with food allergies.
- Know your safe places to eat before you go
- Always pack your medications and bring them with you, especially your Epi Pen carry with you at all times
- Keep a note card with your medical information handy to share with restaurants or medical services
- Bring extra snacks you know are safe to enjoy
- Have fun! But don’t be afraid to say no to something to keep safe. A trip to the hospital isn’t worth it.
Always make sure that your travel companions know about your food allergies.
If you’re traveling with a family member who has a food allergy, make sure that everyone in the family knows how to help.
When I was young, my parents taught both my siblings how to read food labels and be aware to help. To this day, we are in our 20s and 30s and they will still read ingredient labels before handing me a snack!
If you are traveling for work and have a coworker you feel comfortable sharing this with, again, it can be very helpful to have someone who knows what to do. Even if that is just to know where your medication is and how to contact a local emergency medical facility when you need it.
Before You Go
I fully admit that I am a planner and if you have severe food allergies, it really helps if you plan out a trip. That doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous, but if you have a list prepared before you go of these safe places to eat, things to do, and where to find help, it can alleviate a lot of stress.
Before you travel, identify and test out local locations of national food chains. Find out by trying at home places like Mcdonalds, Starbucks, etc. what items on the menu are safe for you to eat.
This does a few things. First, you know that you always have a backup for travel for safe things to eat. National chains can be safer than a local restaurant as they are standardized across the board for ingredients and preparation. Starbucks in Detroit and Los Angeles are the same!
That isn’t to say to never try local food. The key is to research and not be afraid to communicate with the chef any allergies you have and questions on food preparation and ingredients.
Check out the restaurant scene of where you are staying ahead of time. Make reservations ASAP, before you even leave, so you know that you will have a table on the night you are in town.
Research the local hospitals and urgent care centers close to where you are staying. That way, if you need emergency care, you know where to go. If possible, save the address in your phone so you can quickly reach the care you need.
Finally, reach out to any local groups on social media. There are groups dedicated to allergy free living in major cities. See if the city you are visiting has a group and if any locals know of a safe and favorite spot to eat!
If you have an anaphylactic allergy, it is essential that you travel with your Epi Pens.
Always keep them with you - never put the medicine in checked luggage or store in the overhead bin. Those moments trying to fumble and get the overhead bin to open to get the medicine could make a huge difference.
This is my favorite Epi Pen carrying bag! Perfect for all genders. I love that it is bright red so you can easily see it but it is small enough that it fits in most bags.
This bag is small and sits around your waist making it perfect for camping, hiking, or travel when you don’t want to carry a bag with you.
Epi Pens are safe to travel through the x-ray machines and scanners at the airport security. The medication will not be changed because of an x-ray.
If you wish, you can ask your doctor for a note confirming your need to carry your medication with you at all times.
As for traveling with an Epi Pen, it is recommended that you bring at least 2 with you. Each Epi Pen has enough medication to last for approx 20 minutes. By having 2 with you, you have about 40 minutes of safety. That gives you enough time to safely get to a hospital.
If you have a long flight, ask your doctor for more specific directions. You may need to break your flight into several shorter flights to always be a minimum distance from a hospital.
Traveling by car is often the safest method for people with food allergies. If you are on a long road trip or going camping, using an RV can mean even more options with food.
Road trips mean that you can safely bring your own snacks and food with you. If the trip is shorter, you can pack a days worth of food into a cooler bag. Safe sandwiches and wraps are quick and easy meals to eat while driving. I also will bring with me safe milks, including shelf stable milks.
Window shades can also be helpful. It helps to keep the car cool and prevents everyone from sun burns in the car.
Don’t be afraid to travel a little farther inland off of the highways to get to a grocery store and purchase food.
Research areas to stop. Picnic places can be fun, just remember to bring a tablecloth with you. This will be a barrier between you and any food allergens that may have been left behind by the previous users.
Bring foods for all times of the day and don’t just bring sweet or salty snacks. On long car rides, you’ll want a little bit of everything to satisfy. Things like trail mix, granola, sandwiches, wraps, and safe drinks are all the first things I grab.
And remember to pack extra! The worst is when you want a snack but are all out.
Before Booking your flight, research the airline’s allergen policy. The Department of Transportation has a list of all the allergen policies for all American airlines here.
Check the snack offerings on board the flight, especially if you have a peanut or tree nut allergy.
Inform your reservation agent of your food allergy. They will make a note to not serve nuts during the flight. Remind the attendant at the gate of your allergy.
However, you can’t have a guaranteed flight free of allergens as you can’t tell other passengers not to eat things.
Wipe down all surfaces as soon as you board the plane. Studies have shown that wiping down with a commercial anti-bacterial wipe removes all detectable traces of the allergen on hard surfaces. By wiping things down, you can eliminating a huge risk factor, making plane travel safer.
Additionally, if you are skin sensitive, bring a blanket or other seat cover to protect your skin on the fabric of the plane seat itself. If you can, wear long sleeved shirts and pants.
Most planes are cleaned at the end of their service day. If you have severe allergies, it might be better to have the first flights of the day. This way the plane has the least risk of cross contamination.
Remember to not take risks and always bring your own snacks.
Make sure that you research how to say your allergens in any local languages.
I like to have a notecard with all my allergens on me at all times in the various languages of the different places. This way, I can hand it to a staff member at a restaurant and they can clearly read that I have allergens and guide me to a safe choice for a meal.
This is also helpful for if anything does happen and you end up needing medical attention in a different country. Having a card with your information, things like name, age, weight, medical conditions, any allergens, medications you take, and the name of your doctor, can be helpful to the doctors.
Staying at a Hotel
When making your reservations, tell the hotel staff of your allergies. Ask them to remove food/drinks from a fridge or hotel mini-bar. This removes a risk of cross contamination.
Wipe down the fridge with anti-bacterial wipes before storing your safe foods inside to also reduce the risk of cross contamination.
If you can, ask for a room with a kitchenette. This is really helpful if you have multiple food allergies that restaurants may not be equipped to handle safely.
Bring your own pillow. Many hotels don’t have hypoallergenic pillows, typically they are down feathers.
If you can’t bring a pillow, at least bring a hypoallergenic pillow cover to zip up, and then a pillowcase from home.
Avoid the breakfast buffet. There is too great a chance of cross contamination.
Staying with Family
The most important thing you can do is communicate with your family and specific needs you need met. This is true for if you are going just for the day or for an extended stay.
Consider not only food allergies but environmental ones as well. If they have pets you or your child is allergic to, consider staying in a hotel. It is better to have a hotel and visit the family in a safe place or shorter length of time than put anyone at risk.
Offer to bring your safe food and safe meals so you know that at least some food will be safe.
If you are having an extended stay somewhere, here are a few final tips on how to navigate with allergies:
- Don’t have the hotel clean your laundry because you never know what soaps are used. Go to a local laundromat and do your own laundry with soaps you use at home.
- If you are staying in a hotel, ask for a kitchenette. This will allow you to cook safe meals right in your hotel room.
- Have your doctor transfer any medication refills to a local pharmacy. Or, have your local pharmacy refill any prescriptions for the length of your stay before you go.
Daily Travel Tracker
Traveling with allergies and food allergies can bring with it a few more packing needs but it can be done!
Here is a link to a packing list I’ve put together to help you remember everything you’ll need.
Finally, remember to always have fun, be safe, and expect the unexpected. One camping trip I was the most prepared I had ever been - doing all these tips I shared with you. And then I got bit by a spider and had to go to the ER. You never know what will happen! So remember to laugh and just be as prepared as possible.
Have fun traveling!!
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