Traveling with someone who has food allergies takes a bit of extra planning, whether that person is you or your child. But don’t let that limit your family vacation ideas. With the right precautions, your family can travel safely even when food allergies and food sensitivities are a concern.
Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies
As a family travel writer, I’m frequently on trips with my tween daughter who has had food allergies her entire life. In addition to my first-hand experience as a mom, I’ve also consulted two experts to help develop the following tips for traveling with food allergies:
- Melanie Carver is the Chief Mission Officer of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), whose food allergy division is Kids with Food Allergies.
- Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician and Chief Medical Officer for SpoonfulONE, an allergen introduction and maintenance line of food products.
If you or someone you care about is concerned about food allergies while traveling, here’s how to plan, prepare, and enjoy your trips.
Planning a Trip When Your Child Has a Food Allergy
When traveling with food allergies, look for hotels and vacation rentals that have refrigerators and microwaves on hand. That way you’ll always have the option to prepare some meals yourself. Locate grocery stores that stock foods you typically purchase and pack or buy a cooler on your trip if you’ll need to refrigerate anything while you’re away from your room.
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Research restaurant menus at your destination in advance, too. Many chain restaurants include allergen information online.
When flying with kids (or anyone) with an allergy, read the airline’s allergy policy online before you book. You can typically find these on the airline’s website by searching for terms like allergies or peanuts. “Many airlines still serve peanuts and tree nuts, or foods that contain them,” says Dr. Swanson. “However, it is rare that children have inhalation risks from food.”
Still, if you are concerned about a severe peanut allergy or other potentially dangerous anaphylactic reaction, you can ask for a nut-free buffer zone, wipe down tray tables, and avoid potential areas of concern like airline food, pillows, and blankets.
The first flight of the day will generally have the cleanest airplane. If you can book the early flight, it might help put your mind at ease.
What to Do Before You Travel with a Food Allergy
Carver recommends checking your health insurance policy so that you know in advance whether your plan will cover doctor or emergency visits in other states or countries. Discuss travel-related risks with your allergist or doctor, and refill prescription medications before you go.
“Check the expiration dates on epinephrine auto-injectors before you leave, and bring extra,” advises Dr. Swanson. “Practice with an auto-injector trainer and review an emergency plan with all those in your travel group so you feel an extra layer of confidence.”
What to Pack if Your Child Has Food Allergies
Always pack your health insurance card and a list of medical conditions, medicines, prescribing physician, and dosages. It’s best to make sure your medications have their original labels on them and are with you at all times in a carry-on bag or backpack. If the food allergy is severe, wear a medical identification bracelet as well.
Print and carry an allergy avoidance list to help with ordering foods from restaurants. Allergy translation cards are available in 50 languages from Equal Eats, which can help avoid errors or misunderstandings when you’re traveling internationally.
Hand wipes and hand sanitizers are great tools to clean your seating area, trays, and hands when you eat out. Pack plenty of food and snacks for your travels, too—even more than you think you might need, because you never know if there will be delays, restaurant closings, or other unexpected situations that pop up along the way.
Dr. Swanson recommends Allergy Amulet, a portable food allergen sensor that can quickly tell if some of the most common allergens are present in your food. (This tool should be available for peanut and soy allergies in early 2022, with detection for additional common allergens to come.)
How to Ease Your Allergy Anxieties While Traveling
Managing the food allergies of children is all about making sure you know exactly what’s in every single thing that goes into your kid’s mouth, which is a big reason why leaving your usual bubble can cause anxiety.
“If anxiety about food allergies, navigating travel, or even concerns about teasing or bullying come up with your child, don’t ever hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician for support and ideas to improve your child’s mental health,” advises Dr. Swanson. “Oftentimes we recommend both parents and children see a psychologist to learn more about coping mechanisms.”
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Meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and having your food allergy emergency care plan in place are great ways to ease anxiety.
As the mother of a child with food allergies, I understand how challenging it must be for her to be unable to dine at a restaurant and eat anything with ease like everyone else. When we travel, if there’s something she wants that everyone else is eating and she can’t have it, I sit with her and don’t eat it either. The solidarity is some consolation. Often, I’ll try to find something else she really enjoys or bring indulgences along that I know she can have just in case. Special surprises always help.
Food Allergy Safety While Traveling
As always, check restaurant menus and food labels to make sure there are safe choices that your little one will eat. When alerting servers of food allergies, presenting an Equal Eats chef card or allergy avoidance list can help ensure there is no confusion when ordering.
Apps and Online Resources for Traveling with Food Allergies
You can find all sorts of allergen awareness tools and online communities for swapping tips and information about dealing with food allergies. Dr. Swanson recommends following @NoNutTraveler on Instagram, a food allergy advocate and international speaker, as well as FARE, an organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life and health of individuals with food allergies.
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Food allergy apps are helpful, especially when traveling, because you can look up restaurants by your location. One example is AllergyEats, a guide created by and for the food allergy community that crowdsources reviews on restaurants’ ability to accommodate food allergies.
Dr. Swanson recommends Spokin, an app that enables you to look up restaurants, recipes, and food brands. “It’s an awesome resource that provides a combination of content, community, and tools with the common goal to make it easier, faster, and safer to manage food allergies,” she says.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and its Kids with Food Allergies division are also robust food allergy resources for understanding your rights, reducing your risk of allergic reactions on flights, tips for holiday travel with food allergies, and both U.S. airline policies and TSA policies related to food allergies while traveling.