How to Plan a Healthier Vacation with Food Allergies

Many people have food allergies, and many of these cause serious if not fatal reactions. It can be downright scary for people with allergies to eat out in their hometown much less in a foreign country. I remember living in Paris and watching Americans ask the waiter if the restaurant served “gluten free” or if dishes “had peanuts.” The waiter looked confused and just shook his head, unknowing how to answer. This usually meant that travelers would rather go hungry than to risk the chance of an allergy attack.

Food allergies and Traveling

A great friend of mine told me that he always lost weight when he traveled overseas, because he had an allergy to soy. Instead of risking anaphylaxis, he lived on protein bars or just went hungry. Sadly, it’s a problem that many people encounter while journeying abroad.

However, you can travel with your allergies and still have an enjoyable vacation. Here are some ways you to prepare when you follow these steps. Bon voyage!

Just what the doctor ordered

This time you’ll see your primary care physician for fun. Schedule an appointment two months prior to traveling and ask all your questions and share your concerns about your upcoming trip. Moreover, it’s imperative that you mention where you’re going, as common ingredients in certain countries may cause an allergic reaction. For example, it’s common for French wait staff  to serve bread with every meal, and Indian food contains soy.  It’s also good to know the extent of your allergies; therefore, it’s best to undergo an allergy test before departing.

medical consultation. patient and doctor talking to a doctor's office

Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about Epinerphrine shots or for a prescription for allergy medication. In any case, bring a package of over-the-counter Benadryl with you to be on the safe side. Should you bring medication that needs a prescription, then request a letter from your doctor, too. Some countries may require documents for medications that arrive in their countries.

If you need to extend your overseas trip, or experience unexpected delays or circumstances, take along some extra medication just in case. Although in some countries, such as Sri Lanka, you simply walk into a pharmacy and buy whatever it is you need, it may be harder in some places, like France, which require a letter from your doctor. A pharmacist may honor a doctor’s prescription, but he/she may call to confirm that it’s real, or insist you first see a doctor in the country. Bear in mind, too, that pharmacies, especially in Europe, close early Saturday afternoons and won’t reopen until Monday morning.

Play it safe

You’ll likely have to have your medicine in an unopened box when traveling by air, so that it easily passes through security. If you’re carrying any liquids, you must abide by the TSA rules. Make sure you keep them in a separate plastic bag and also keep your prescriptions with you just in case you need to show them. Some countries’ customs are strict. If you bring more than what the doctor prescribed, make sure you have the justification for that, otherwise you may spend time in a airport security room until they contact your doctor for an explanation. A friend of mine had to spend two hours in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport for bringing more pills than what was on the prescription. You can be lucky and no one would ask but be ready in case.

Traveling by car

If you travel by car, make sure to keep your medication within easy reach and always in a cool spot. Exposure to heat may affect their effectiveness. When you cross international borders, make sure you have your prescriptions with you, in order to avoid long delays of checking the car for other, not-so-prescribed drugs.

If the meditcal bracelet fits, wear it

This is important not only if you’re a senior citizen or an infant, but if you’re also allergic to certain food ingredients and medications. Medical staff know right away when you’re experiencing a reaction due to some ingested food, as your speech may be impaired, and children under stress won’t be able to communicate. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a wrist bracelet that indicates your allergies.

medical Bracelet,

Fly the allergy-free skies

You have to take extra precautions and do your homework before making a reservation. If you happen to experience a serious reaction to something you consume mid-flight, the pilot can’t stop by a hospital and drop you off. Therefore, find the airline that can best accommodate to your food allergies, because there isn’t a law that requires them to do so. Many carriers list their food allergy policies on the websites, or just call their reservation centers and ask.

Travel by Air

When you request for a special meal, such as gluten free, ask them not once but twice to confirm it’s what you’ve ordered. In case of the slightest hesitation, then just avoid eating. If you’re allergic to peanuts, which is the main snack on most airlines, say “thanks, but no thanks” to that little bag of snacks. Also, make sure to wipe down the seats, handle and tray to avoid any contact with food residues. If an airline has re-booked you on a different carrier, as a result of a last minute changes, keep in mind that you may not receive the special meal you’ve ordered, or have the option to request one with the new airline. If this is the case, bring some of your own food.

Though ordering a special meal on an airline may not sound too appetizing, consider the fact that a person’s taste buds become insensitive at an altitude of 30,000 feet. That’s why airline food tastes great—bon appétit!

If you travel by car, then you should definitely bring your own food, because most rest stops or restaurants on the highway don’t provide allergy-free meals. However, you can always do some research to find a restaurant that serves allergy-free meals.

Don’t let the bed bugs bite

If you plan to couch surf or use Airbnb services during your stay, make sure you communicate with the owners about your allergy issues. Owners may have pets, like dogs and cats, or may host several guests, allowing everyone to use the same refrigerator or use the same oils and ingredients for cooking. Should this happen, ask the owner if you could use a section of the refrigerator just for you and different utensils for preparing food. Some traces of food can cross-contaminate, thereby increasing your chances of an allergic reaction, regardless of having taken all the precautions.

When searching for a hotel, first consider those that promote themselves as “allergy-friendly.” You’ll be surprised by how many there are. Also, focus on areas where most restaurants serve organic food and respect customer demands. Check reviews on Yelp and Google to locate those eateries. If the wait staff hesitate to answer your questions about food allergies, then it’s a sign to walk away and find another place to eat. They should know if they serve safe food. PERIOD. Remember, when you travel, your stress level is higher and you’re more prone to catching infections than you think.

Food for thought

Don’t forget or be afraid to ask everything. I know some people get annoyed by numerous questions about all the ingredients in one particular dish. I’ve seen some waiters roll their eyes or appear perplexed: “Why are you asking me? Eat my food; it’s good!” However, it’s your life, and you should savor your meals.

Farmers Market

If you buy groceries during your trip, purchase local food from a farmers market or at an organic market, so that you know it’s fresh. Again, do your research, because you don’t want to feel sick on vacation.

On the safe side

Oh, I’m not a fan of travel insurance nor an advocate for it. I travel without it for the most part, since I have no allergic reactions to food. However, if you suffer from food allergies, such as nuts, dairy, soy and gluten, you could become seriously ill despite taking all the precautions. To have some peace of mind, consider talking to a representative of a travel insurance company and find out what your options are.

Whether you travel by air, sea or road, food allergies can affect your dream vacation. Though some may throw caution to the wind, you ought to be extra vigilant. Follow these simple rules, and you’ll certainly enjoy your holiday.


medical bracelet, credit

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