Dreaming about exotic foreign places or our exceptional national parks? How about a European adventure or a tropical resort? A cruise perhaps? Wanderlust is defined as “the strong desire to travel.” This desire hits many of us at different times in our lives. Sometimes it’s when we are in college and we are seeking inspiration or meaning. For others it happens later in life, but the reasons are most likely the same: cost, time, or simply giving ourselves permission to go.
But for some, traveling offers other challenges. If you suffer from a food allergy or intolerance, a trip to a new restaurant requires preparation and communication. Imagine a scenario where the native language isn’t English or when flying at 30,000 feet above the earth. Stressful doesn’t begin to describe it. However, all is not lost. Traveling both in and out of the United States is more than possible and can be very safe.
Regardless of your destination, communication early and often about your or a loved one’s food restrictions is the most important step. First, discuss your plans with your doctor. If you need extra medication or prescriptions, be sure to get these ahead of time. Next – this may seem obvious – but be as polite and courteous about your needs as possible. A kind and polite approach toward everyone from the waiter to the airline staff speaks volumes for you. Plus, it’s an opportunity to educate others about your specific allergy or food intolerance as well as create an environment of cooperation.
If you know in advance where you will be dining, research menus ahead of time. Sticking with restaurant franchises you are familiar with is helpful as well. Keeping an emergency medical kit with you is also an important precaution. The kit should contain an Epi-pen (if you require one), Benadryl, and a copy of your food allergy care plan. Wearing a medical ID bracelet is also advisable.
Airline travel can be very tricky and stressful. What is the most common on-board snack? Peanuts. Approximately 3 million people in the United States report having a nut or peanut allergy, or both. Peanut and nut allergies are very real and potentially life-threatening. Simply ingesting peanuts is not the issue. For some individuals, coming into contact with the oil left behind on an armrest or being close to someone eating nuts can cause an allergic reaction. The minute nut particles in the air are enough to cause a reaction for those with a severe allergy. Still, many airlines offer peanuts as their primary snack.
Planning ahead is your best friend. First, let the airline know you are traveling with a nut allergy and ask that peanuts not be served on the flight. Reconfirm this request every chance you get along the way: at check-in, at the gate, and once you arrive on board. Buy safe food items to eat on the flight. Next, ask to preboard so you can wipe down the area where you’ll be sitting. Last, ask the flight crew to make an announcement about your nut allergy, asking others to refrain from eating nuts on board.
International travel may feel completely overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. Whenever possible, stay in a place with a kitchen. Reducing the number of meals eaten in restaurants is really helpful. Learning to cook certain dishes that are traditional to the country you are visiting arms you with a sense of their ingredients. You will then know what is typically a safe dish in any restaurant.
Translate grocery items and restricted items ahead of time so you can communicate with the wait staff and kitchen staff. Chef cards can be handed to wait staff and chefs to help communicate food restrictions. Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) has these already translated into several languages. Next, FARE has put together travel tips for specific countries with information regarding medications to bring, emergency numbers, and how food is labeled in that country.
As with any vacation, a fair amount of research and planning is required to make sure things flow smoothly. Adding a pleasant attitude and plenty of patience goes a long way in winning others over to help meet your needs. Go out there and seize the world safely.