Food allergies and travelling

Girl on plane with mother

Whether it is a trip to the family cottage or a journey abroad, travel is an adventure to be shared with family and friends. However, for a person with a food allergy, travelling can be as daunting as it is exciting.

This article gives tips to help you and your family have a safe and happy trip.

Plan to bring food

Plan ahead to bring food and drinks with you. Pre-packaged snack foods are great for shorter trips. For longer stays, you may want to bring staple foods that might be hard to buy. These might include breads, pastas, crackers, cereal and canned goods. You may also want to mail food ahead.

Children need frequent snacks, especially while travelling. If you need to keep food and drinks cold, use an insulated bag. If you are travelling by car, put the items in a cooler. Ask if there is a fridge or freezer where you will be staying. It is a good idea to bring your own utensils and always wash your hands before eating.

Prepare for language barriers

If you travel to a country where you cannot speak the language, be sure to know how to say important words and phrases in that language. For example, be familiar with how to say the names of the foods that your child is allergic to. You may also want to know how to ask where the nearest hospital is. Practise with someone who knows the language well to make sure you can be understood. Dining cards and pocket translation guides can be useful. Just be sure that the information on the card is accurate.

If you are ever unsure of the ingredients in a food, do not eat it.

Call ahead and ask questions

When you book a holiday, inform the hotel about your allergy. You may want to speak to the chef well in advance so that the kitchen knows that special steps may be needed while you are there. Most hotels are helpful when given enough notice.

When visiting restaurants in the area, eat during off hours. This will make it easier for the kitchen to accommodate you and take more precautions when preparing your food. Speak with your waiter or manager about the ingredients in the dish you are ordering and how the food is prepared. Do not be afraid to overstate how serious your allergy is. You want the staff to be cautious. If you are unsure, ask to go into the kitchen or speak with the chef.

Many hotels offer suites with kitchens. That way, you can bring food with you and cook it yourself. Just make sure you thoroughly clean any utensils provided before you use them.

Make a list of phone numbers

Bring important phone numbers with you. Include your doctor's number and those you may need in case of a medical emergency. Make sure you are able to call long distance with your cell phone.

Check your medicines

Make sure you have all the medicines (for example, auto-injectors) you need for your trip. Make sure you have a Medic Alert bracelet if you are at risk of having a serious allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.

Know the policy

When travelling by plane or train, know the company policy about allergies. For example, some services do not let children with life-threatening allergies travel alone. Most airlines have removed peanut products from on-board service. However, this does not mean that the foods served are allergen free.

With fluid restrictions on airplanes and other regulations, it is a good idea to know the laws about what is permitted on planes or when travelling across a border.

For information about travelling with medicines and medical supplies, visit your country's foreign affairs ministry or department's website. Many have pages offering advice about travel to specific countries and the rules involved in getting there.

Notify your carrier of your allergy​

Tell the airline, rail or bus service about your allergy when you book your tickets.

Get travel insurance

Make sure that your insurance will cover a trip to the doctor, clinic or hospital.

Think about timing

Planes and trains may be cleaner first thing in the morning, thus reducing air-borne allergens. Similarly, people may be less likely to snack on nuts in the morning.

Polite reminders

Tell staff or flight attendants about your allergy and have any medication close by. If you travel alone, make sure the flight attendant knows where to find your medication if you need it.

Key points

  • With the right preparation, travelling with allergies is safe. Planning can include bringing your own food and utensils, having enough medication and learning important phrases if you are travelling to a country where you cannot speak the language.
  • Inform others of your allergies when making hotel, train or flight bookings.
  • When eating out, ask about ingredients and how the food is prepared. If you are unsure about eating something, do not eat it.

Kellie Welch, RD