Traveling with Food Allergies: The 411!
Spring break is almost here and many of us are planning to go on a well deserved vacation. I am headed to Turks & Caicos, this March, with my family and am super excited to finally be in the sunshine and explore some of the island!
If you did not know, I have had severe food allergies to dairy, eggs, all nuts, seeds, and lamb since the age of 2. With having severe food allergies comes the almost feared occasion of "going out to eat". On this trip, my family and I will be going out to eat and I am not going to lie...I have anxiety about eating at restaurants and places where I am not in control of what I am putting in body. It is very hard for me to trust the chefs and wait staff to prepare safe food for me. This is something I've struggled with in the more recent couple of years rather than in the past.
Because I know how stressful traveling with food allergies can be, I wanted to share some information and tips on how to help you have a safe and enjoyable dining experience on your next vacation.
Do Your Research.
Whether it be on a 3 hour road trip or a 6 hour plane ride to a completely foreign destination, you must research the area. Find out what your resort offers in terms of dining services. Try calling or emailing the hotel or food service manager to see how they can accommodate your needs during your stay.
Are you okay with an all inclusive food plan? Would you rather talk to individual chefs in each food establishment you encounter or would you prefer making arrangements with a head cook and having all of your meals preplanned? The reason I bring this up is because with having severe food allergies, you may find one or the other option to fester more anxiety. Find a hotel or resort that accommodates your needs.
Don’t assume, that because one place has “safe food", that they all do. Always ask about ingredients and how food is prepared at every restaurant, café, snack stop, etc.
It is so important to know ahead of time how certain dining places operate, what is on their menu, and even the hours they are open. You do not want to be blindsided on the day of your arrival as it can turn out to be completely overwhelming. I've experienced this first hand, and trust me, it was not the way to begin a vacation.
Handling Airplanes and Airports.
Before your trip, I would suggest reading your airline's allergy policy. This should be listed on their website but, if not, try to call their customer service line to receive some information. It will be beneficial to find out if the airline offers any snacks or beverages containing anything you are allergic to. Unfortunately, airlines can't guarantee a peanut- or tree-nut-free flight because they cannot control the other passengers' actions. My advice is to pack your own snack that are allowed on airplanes and inside of airports to ensure you have the foods you like to eat and to stay safe.
Bring cleansing anti-bacterial wipes to wipe down the seat and arm rests to prevent touching any leftover food particles or drinks spilt from the previous flight. Always clean the surface of the tray table to avoid allergen contamination. Be cautious of your risks with any foods, that you did not bring yourself, while on the plane as you do not have access to immediate medical services such as hospitals
Never ever travel without your allergy medication! I cannot tell you how many stories I hear on the news of people who did not think they would need their medicine when eating out with family/friends and something unexpected happens where they could have avoided serious health problems if they just had their medication. I am not trying to scare you but I am trying to make you aware of all possible situations that can arise. Be sure to bring extra epinephrine auto-injectors and any other specific prescription medication needed in your Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan.
It is a good idea to pack an emergency medication kit in your carry on and a separate on in your checked suitcase (Is you are traveling alone). If going with a family member, have them take the extra kit in their carry on.
Create chef cards! I started making these years ago and they are so helpful. Chef cards are shaped like business cards and have all of your information on them as well as the information of an emergency contact person. Be sure to list all of your allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances onto this card. It lets the chef know exactly what to avoid when cooking for you. I like to leave the backside of the card empty of any writing. This gives me a space to clearly write down what I am ordering from the restaurant. TIP - If you are going to a country that does not speak your language, translate the writing on the cards to their native language to avoid confusion.
Mind Over Matter.
Overthinking all of the possible scenarios that can occur when dining out is emotionally and mentally taxing. No one wants to feel this way on a vacation. Do your best to go with the flow and think positively.
Don't make your main focus food. This can be difficult if there is a constant worry of where your next meal will be or what foods you are going to order. Focus, instead, on the environment around you, the activities you might be doing on your trip, music playing in the background, meeting new people, or taking photos to remember your vacation!
Relax and do small things to make yourself feel comfortable at the restaurant. Try wearing comfortable clothing, bringing a light to read menus clearer or to check your meal when it arrives to the table, take a deep breath, and engage in lighthearted conversation with the people you are dining with.
If any of you have any questions or want to add any tips of your own, comment them down below! Consider this post as an open forum for sharing your sorties and knowledge. :) - Nicole.