It was a quick stop into Panera Bread, a turkey sandwich for me, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Princess One. Three bites into her PB&J my then three-year-old began screaming. Not the tantrum type of screams but the blood curdling, something is seriously wrong kind of scream. That was the day we learned Princess One is allergic to peanuts and the most terrifying day of my life…so far. There really aren’t words to describe watching your child go into anaphylaxis shock, essentially watching her little body shut down and not having the meds or knowledge to save her.
Thankfully the knowledge came back into my brain just as I saw a Walgreens. Benadryl. Doctor. All was ok but forever changed.
Today we don’t leave the house, let alone the country, without an EpiPen. Before we learned about the peanut allergy traveling with kids was much easier. Now, it requires a bit more planning (and packing of instant mac and cheese). I’ve put together my top tips for traveling with food allergies based on my experience, as well as from other travel writers who have been so kind as to share their tips
If you don’t have kids with food allergies I understand if you’re about to click away, but let me tell you why you should care. Why all travelers who share a common space – you know like an airplane – should care.
There are many people with food allergies who have a reaction from touching food residue or breathing airborn particles – aka the PB&J you packed for a quick lunch on the plane or those delicious Nutter Butters your son loves. Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction; think crumbs on the seat or little hands that wiped peanut butter on the tray table. Depending on the severity of a persons reaction, death can be sudden, sometimes occurring within minutes.
- Research shows that food allergies now affect 1 in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S. That’s roughly two in every classroom.
- According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.
- Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department – that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year.
- Eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.
- About 3 million people report allergies to peanuts and tree nuts in the US.
Unfortunately, it’s still hard for some people to really understand or sympathize with families who have food allergies (and even food sensitivities). I get it. My extended family is the perfect example. It took years for them to take my daughters allergy seriously. Now a feisty seven-year-old she informs them, “Does this have peanuts? If it does, I can’t eat it or I may die”. Reading labels and asking the servers about the menu is something SHE is teaching. (Thankfully I have been able to teach her given they don’t listen to me.) I know it’s a lot easier to just assume pretzels and rice crispy treats are “OK” things to eat, but sometimes they’re an emergency room waiting to happen. As a parent it’s super easy to pack a couple of frozen yogurt sticks and PB&J for your kids to eat on the plane, but the next time you do know that you may inadvertently be hurting someone else.
If you’re not traveling with kids (or adults) who have food allergies, feel free to click away now. If you are interested in sticking around I’ve noted some top tips for traveling with food allergies based on my experiences traveling with my daughter, as well as from other travel writers who have been so kind as to share their tips.
Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies
Bring a kit with all your medications, including extra EpiPen, and copies of your Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan. Make sure you have refills available for your EpiPen. This packet should always be easily accessible. In other words, don’t pack it in your checked luggage. It’s also a good idea to have medical history available, it’s as simple as typing it out and putting the copy in your medical pack.
Research Ahead of the Trip.
As a parent of a child with food allergies, eating out when we traveled used to be daunting. I want to stress USED TO. There are several things you can to do while traveling to make eating easier – and safe – for the entire family.
- Do some research ahead of time to see what dining options are available in the city you’re visiting.
- Check the menus online or call the restaurant in advance (even the in cab ride over) can help everyone have a nice meal.
- Hotel concierge’s can also point you to some ideas before you arrive to the destination so you’re prepared.
- Download a few apps to help your research in finding a restaurant.
Food Allergy Apps
There are dozens of free apps well-suited to food allergies and food sensitivities.
- AllergyEats is a comprehensive, user-friendly guide to allergy-friendly restaurants across the United States. It is a peer-reviewed directory of restaurants – rated by people with food allergies, for people with food allergies. It has over 600,000 restaurant listings across the U.S. – from large chains to small mom and pops, from gourmet to greasy spoons. It provides you with menus (including gluten-free), allergen lists, certifications, nutritional info, phone numbers, website links, etc.
- Biteappy is a worldwide directory for allergy friendly restaurants locally or abroad. Search for gluten-free restaurants, vegan friendly restaurants as well as organic food restaurants and veggie restaurants. As well as food allergy friendly restaurants you can search for special diets such as, kosher restaurants, paleo restaurants and halal restaurants, even raw food restaurants.
- Find Me Gluten Free is a great app for those needing gluten free menu items. I spoke with Amy Fothergill, a mom, chef and the author of the award-wining cookbook The Warm Kitchen: Gluten-Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love and she suggested, Find Me Gluten Free. It provides a wealth of information pertaining to gluten-free dining. Here you can run a search for gluten-free friendly restaurants at your destination or simply use the GPS tracking option to find the closest restaurants to you when you’re on the road.
- Food Allergies-Italian is part of the The Freedom to Travel app series that puts key words and phrases you need for nutrition, access, or medical assistance in easy reach. There are several different languages – French, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, etc – to choose from. Each app is packed with practical terms you can use in any away-from-home situation. It also has a translation feature so you can “speak” to someone regarding your needs.
- Word Lense (now a part of Google Translate) isn’t an allergy app BUT if you need to translate labels or menus this is the perfect app for your needs. It translates written text between languages in real time.
- YoDish is a great app for finding restaurants with food allergy preferences based on past customer comments, reviews and menu information. YoDish is also a social network for people who have food allergies as everyone is sharing their reviews, pictures and information on dishes.
Make sure to read my post on Best Medical Apps for Travelers, with food allergies you never know when you might find yourself in one.
Know How to Ask: Travel with Allergy Translation Cards
If you’re traveling overseas and don’t know the language it’s important that you learn and write down certain phrases to know how to ask ‘gluten-free, lactose-free, nut-free, peanut allergy’ in that language before you get there.
- Carry chef cards in English and the language of the countries where you will be. (SelectWisly can make these for you.) Make sure these documents are with you at all times.
“Dana Howard Freeman, a mom to a son with a tree nut allergy and writer at Find And Go Seek uses the food allergy cards from Select Wisely, which she says has proved invaluable when traveling to a non-english speaking country, especially when you don’t have an Internet connection.”
- Download Google Translate and “star” your translations. Then if you don’t have wifi you can still quickly access them. You may not want to give your phone to your server who will need to take it back to the chef.
Check and Notify the Airline
Most airlines don’t offer free peanuts anymore but if a passenger makes a request you might just have peanuts being cracked open in the seat in front of you. My daughter doesn’t have airborn reactions to peanuts but my fellow travel blogger, Kimberly Tate’s daughter does. Kimberly writes Stuffed Suitcase, and when I asked her what her biggest tip for traveling with food allergies is she didn’t have just one.
“It begins when you book the flight by noting the allergy on the traveler’s profile then also at the gate. We are allowed to preboard so we can wipe down her seat area, and after telling the gate agent and flight attendants, an announcement is typically made and no nuts are served on the flight. We have had this on Delta and Alaska. Not all airlines are accommodating and there is currently no regulation in place about allergy traveler accommodations.”
Airlines cannot promise a nut free flight. People carry snacks with them all the time. It’s up to you to make sure the flight is nut-free. Here are a few ways in going about making it happen.
- Check the airlines snack options in advance. This information should all be posted online and if not, call them.
- Before booking your flight, read the airline’s allergy policy. You should be able to quickly find it in the “Special Needs” section or by searching the airlines website for terms such as “allergies” or “peanuts.”
- Notify a reservation agent of your food allergy when you book your flight – and when you check-in – so your information can be passed along to the crew.
- Once onboard, your flight attendant will need to be made aware of this in case they need to create a “nut-free” zone.
- Before sitting down, wipe out any crumbs and use a wet wipe to clean possible food residue off the arm rests and tray table.
- If you have a severe, airborne reaction politely let your seat mates know in case they were planning to eat any snacks they brought with them.
- Be safe and pack your own sandwiches or snacks.
Bring Your Own Food
Bringing your own snacks (even if it’s just granola bars) for emergencies is critical for those times when you’re traveling to the destination and no food options are available.
Kimberly Tate at Stuffed Suitcase said, “I’ve found that most attractions that don’t allow outside food will allow allergy families to bring in their own food. I typically carry her epipen box with the prescription label to show as “proof” but have never had an issue.”
Find Lodging that Allows You to Prepare Your Own Food
Staying somewhere you can prepare your own food will not only save you money but it will also ensure you know what ingredients you are consuming. If you’re staying in an apartment or house, you may want to bring your own seasonings or a few of your favorite perishables to get you through the first couple days until you find a grocery store.
Do you have any more tips for traveling with food allergies? I’d love to hear them in them in the comments.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR TRAVELING WITH FOOD ALLERGIES
Food Allergy Research & Education: Travel Tips
Kids are a Trip: Traveling With Food Allergies – Challenging But Not Impossible
CNN: Best country to visit for people with food allergies
Teen Trip to Italy with Food Allergies: Prepare Prepare Prepare
Banned From Flying, My Son’s Favorite Lunch (i.e. why I care)
Tips and Advice for Traveling With Severe Food Allergies
Tips for Cruise Travel With Severe Food Allergies
Interview with Dr. Brad Weselman: Traveling With Severe Food Allergies
Flying on Delta Airlines with a Peanut Allergy: One Mom’s Experience