I was diagnosed with a severe allergy to berries and red fruits when I was an infant, and I’ve also been on a gluten-free diet for the last four years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not celiac nor severely allergic to gluten, but intolerant, part of that group of people identified as “gluten sensitive.” And guess what? I travel the world looking for the best places to eat and drink to write about . . . funny, isn’t it?
Traveling with food allergies can be annoying and intimidating, leaving us and our travel companions with a constant sense of fear about what could happen if, accidentally, we end up eating something we can’t have. So said, fear and anxiety don’t control my life, and that’s why every time I travel, I ensure I won’t have problems or that at least I will be in control if something happens.
Let me be straight: it hasn’t been easy, especially in the past, because there are many things you’ve got to consider when you travel with an allergy. But the more I experience and travel, the easier it gets, and this also boosts my confidence and my desire to enjoy the adventure.
Here are some tips on how to travel safely with one (or more!) food allergy.
Always carry a medical passport
Have a chat with your doctor and ask him or her to write you a note, signed, with all the things you’re allergic to. Don’t be picky; put everything on it, including the variations of one single type of food. Mine doesn’t contain a general indication of “red fruits,” but it details every single fruit I’m allergic to. If you’re allergic to more than one food, put everything in the same document and make sure you carry a copy with you (in your wallet or bag) and you also have a copy to be left in your luggage. In the same doc, you can also add all the information about your health insurance, the drugs you can take in case of intoxication, and emergency contact numbers.
Make sure to bring food allergy translation cards to communicate your allergy to restaurant servers, in case you’re not fluent in the language of the country you’re going to visit.
Not only do you need a document, but you also need to add all your medical information on your smartphone so that in case of need, people can rely on your phone for more information (both if you travel solo or with someone else, be self-sufficient and make sure you can be saved in any situation!). I don’t recommend wearing a wristband with allergy information because today the mobile phone can do everything and is not so invasive, while the wristband can really impact the life of a traveler (and imagine if you also wear jewelry and an activity tracker — what a nightmare!).
Every time I travel, for work or for pleasure, I do my research to come up with a list of hospitals and local allergy associations. Sometimes I also get in contact with local associations asking for advice — and this has proven to be one of the best experiences ever, because at the end of the day, people with allergies are a big community and everyone is happy to help others.
Make sure you also research the best restaurants, local grocery stores, and places able to cater to your needs, and don’t be afraid to eat only what you recognize as safe for your health! When you order a dish, specify it doesn’t contain the ingredient you’re allergic to, always being clear (I always add, “I’m highly allergic, I could die by eating this food!”), and if your allergy doesn’t allow you to eat food cooked or prepared near the source of your allergy, then your research phase must be even more serious to end up with a list of selected places where you feel, and are, 100 percent safe.
Do not forget to have a chat with the hotel you’re staying in before or immediately upon your arrival, asking for information about its policy in case of allergy.
Pack your own food
At least one week before leaving (but this depends on the airline), get in contact with the airline and make sure to request a special dish for your flight, but be prepared. Unfortunately, in most cases, you’ll end up with a questionable dish, so follow my recommendation as a long-time traveler with (a good amount of) allergies: pack the right amount of food to be consumed on the plane, making sure you bring both sweet and salty food, and do not forget to pack extra safe snacks in case of delays or problems of any kind. If this sounds silly or makes you feel ashamed, just remember a serious allergy is not a whim, and if your allergy can compromise your life, you have all the rights to prevent it! Make sure you have a look at the International Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Alliance for information about international airlines and their policies in case of a severe allergy on board; just recently, I was on a plane with Aer Lingus and no peanuts were served because a passenger was highly allergic (if you’re wondering, nobody complained at all!).
Last but not least . . .
If your food allergy is severe, always bring at least two epinephrine injections, making sure they’re properly labeled. Remember that they’re a medical need, so they’re allowed to be carried aboard.
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. Just be confident and practice, and the more you travel, the easier it will get and you’ll be able to have fun, no matter your food allergy!