Friday, February 4, 2011

Food Allergies and Travel: My Top Tips

Apparently, the snow and cold have gotten everyone thinking about sunny vacation getaways! I've gotten many questions lately about safe travel with nut allergies and a lot of you are prepared to be exotic, because I've also had a lot of questions about travel to foreign countries with food allergies.

The main thing to remember is that you really have to be proactive when traveling with food allergies and you also have to be realistic. It doesn't mean you should stay home, but know that whatever you would do here in the U.S. is what you need to do in a foreign country: Communicate about your allergies at any eating establishments and avoid ones that look or feel "sketchy," bring your medication, bring some of your own food and just be ultra-cautious in general. Don't assume they know about cross-contact and check with food servers, managers and chefs when you dine out. Also, be aware that language barriers may be a problem. If traveling out of the country, you need to do extra homework about restaurants and available food in advance.

Here are some more tips on deciding if a vacation destination is allergy-friendly:

Try to get lodgings that have a small kitchenette or at least a refrigerator. Relying on restaurant food 24/7 can take a toll on families trying to manage food allergies. Having the option of serving allergic family members at least some meals or snacks prepared by you is going to cut down on risk factors and give you less to worry about.

Don't go anywhere too remote. If an allergic reaction happens, how soon can your child get to a hospital? This should be a factor in planning where you will go and where you will stay during your trip.

Be prepared with chef cards for restaurants. FAAN and AllerNotes offer chef cards (also in languages other than English) which can be really helpful whether you are traveling abroad or staying in the U.S.

Will this destination be easy or difficult in terms of avoiding food allergens? If you want to relax and have fun, you definitely don't want to be facing a food allergy minefield each day. For this reason, my family needs to think about the local food. In the American South, peanuts, tree nuts and peanut oil are used--a lot. If we're going there, we need to be extra careful. Think about local foods and if you can find enough safe places to eat at that destination.

No matter where you go, you can never take a vacation from vigilance. It's tempting to throw caution to the winds on vacation. After all, you're there to relax. However, planning ahead with regard to what to feed a food-allergic child means never letting your guard down. The more prepared you are before you leave, the more fun you'll have.

FAAN has some very reassuring and helpful tips about dealing with airline travel. Please read it, including the sidebar links. You'll find tips on everything from what to do before you fly to how to deal with the flight crew if things go wrong. Also, as most medical experts agree, the risk of an in-flight reaction is low if you don't actually ingest peanuts or tree nuts. Everyone should read this before booking your next flight. Here are a few highlights:

Bring your own snacks. Don't let allergic individuals eat the airline food. Ever. That's the best way to stay safe.

Try to take the first flight of the day or as early as possible. Early in the day, the flights are cleaner. Planes are not thoroughly cleaned between flights, but they are overnight.

Make your reservation over the phone and speak to a live person; don't book online. You have a better chance of having your allergy needs put in your reservation order if you talk to a rep.

Ask to board early, so that you can clean your seating area. A note from your doctor would be helpful here and be polite, but firm. There's no reason they shouldn't accommodate this request; put on your best smile and go for it.

Bring something to cover the seat. A beach towel or something like it would be good. This will offer an extra layer of protection from peanut residue.

Readers, what have your experiences been? What has helped you while traveling? Let us know!


Speckle of Dirt said...

We don't have food allergies, but reading your post on traveling helps to make overs aware of it. Even if you're staying with relatives, it's good to let them know how to take care in their cooking too. Thanks for the info!

Diana said...

The chef cards are a great idea. This information is very helpful. Thank you :)

Poker Chick said...

This is hard. You want to be stubborn and say "food allergies aren't going to stop me from living my life!" - but the truth is, it changes things. Could we force it and make a trip to some remote foreign place in a safe way? Yes, but the lengths you have to go to through and the daily stress make it so not fun, it's just not worth it.

So we've stuck to english-speaking places, US, Canada, for now at least. Places with kitchens, which not only saves you money on food - but lets you save by sharing an apartment with friend instead of one hotel room!

We've also found that any place that is used to dealing with a lot of kids (ex: Disneyworld) typically has existing policies and training with regards to FA and that goes a LONG way. But the best travel resource for us has been other parents so glad to see this and other articles out there!!

Chandra said...

Great tips! Our family lived overseas in India for two years and traveled extensively in Southeast Asia and the middle east with our peanut, tree nut, sesame and flax allergic daughter. It wasn't always easy, but it is do-able and we had a fabulous time. DD ate a lot of plain chicken, yogurt and white rice when we were on the road (supplemented with items we found to be safe in India that we brought with us or that we had brought from the U.S. in our shipment). If you are traveling/living and eating out in a foreign country... If you are traveling overseas...know the different names that your allergens are called (for example, peanuts are groundnuts in India). Also, look for shops that sell imported items...most larger cities in Asia will have shops that import from the U.S. and U.K. and though it is more expensive, we were always grateful!

Chandra said...

I found your blog from an Allergy Moms newsletter