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9 tips for traveling with food allergies

Eating strawberries in the car seat. CC / Flickr photo by  Sean Dreilinger.

Eating strawberries in the car seat. CC / Flickr photo by Sean Dreilinger.

Planning a trip can be stressful for anyone. But people with food allergies may feel particularly anxious about leaving their familiar home environments.

Not only do they have to stay safe in a new place, they also have to handle social concerns that arise, like asking for special accommodations, avoiding certain activities or places, or explaining the need to prepare and eat their own food.

Planning ahead can help you feel less anxious about what could go wrong and more excited about the adventure ahead.

Start a couple of weeks to a month in advance by making a detailed to-do list.

List each of the tasks below — along with others your doctor or nurse educator recommends — starting with the one that needs to be done farthest in advance.

  • Choose where to go. For people with food allergies, deciding on a destination might take some extra thought. It’s wise to discuss travel options with your doctor before making any final decisions.
  • Check prescriptions. Discuss travel plans ahead of time with your allergist to be sure you have all the medicines you need, from antihistamines and inhalers to epinephrine injectors. Don’t rely on local pharmacies for your prescriptions — medications may not be the same overseas. Instead, take your meds with you.
  • If your insurance company or pharmacy limits how much of a prescription you can fill at once, a letter from a doctor explaining the situation may allow an exception to their policy. Also, if you’re traveling by airplane or train, ask your doctor to write a letter authorizing you to carry your medicine to prevent potential confusion/delays at security checkpoints.
  • Research local hospitals and medical care. Before you go, find out where local emergency medical help is and how long it will take you to get there. That way, if you need emergency care, you’ll know your options.
  • Research grocery stores, restaurants and accommodations. Well ahead of your visit, find out which grocery stores at your destination carry allergen-free products, which restaurants seem to be “allergy-aware,” and which hotels offer rooms with a kitchen. Support groups and food allergy websites can often be helpful, whether you’re traveling within the country or internationally.
  • Research transportation. If you’re sharing a car, let your traveling companions know about your food allergy. If you’re traveling by train, bus or plane, find out about their policies and services.
  • Some airlines are more accommodating than others when it comes to food allergies. Call and discuss your needs well before you make reservations. Ask for a safe snack, but bring your own food along just in case.
  • Ask if you can board early so you can wipe down your seating area without holding other travelers up. When you board, remind the flight crew of your needs.
  • Carry enough medicine. Keep your meds in your hand luggage so they’re easily available. Also keep your food allergy emergency action plan in your bag. It should be signed by your doctor and describe the allergies you have and the treatment you need. Wrap and pack your meds carefully so they don’t get crushed or leak.
  • Carry hand wipes. Washing your hands frequently and keeping them away from your mouth, nose and eyes is a great way to prevent accidentally coming into contact with allergens. But when you’re traveling you can’t count on having access to soap and running water. A good supply of hand wipes ensures that you can clean your hands as well as wipe around seating areas on planes, trains, buses and other forms of transportation.
  • Pack safe food. If you can, bring enough safe food to see you through at least the beginning of your trip. Of course, how much you bring will depend on where you’re going and how long you’ll be traveling.If you’re in an area where you cannot easily purchase or order allergen-free food, stock up on your food supply. If you’re someplace where you can buy and prepare what you need, pack less. If you’re traveling internationally, you may not be able to read labels at local grocery stores. It’s best to bring a sizeable supply of safe food with you.
  • Alert others to your allergy. You don’t have to wear a T-shirt that screams, “Hey, everyone, I have a food allergy!” But it’s a good idea to wear a medical ID bracelet when you travel so people can help you get proper emergency medical help if you need it. You may also wish to carry a medical release form, signed by your doctor, which authorizes others to give you emergency medicine, such as epinephrine.If you will be eating out, carry a personalized “chef card.” These cards detail your allergies and help kitchen staff understand how to prepare a safe meal for you.

Chef card forms are readily available, in many different languages, through food allergy websites. But the card is not a substitute for direct communication. It’s best to speak directly with your waiter and possibly the chef when you eat out.

© 2013.  Article adapted from The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Used under license.