A Travel Guide for Families of Kids with Food Allergies
For many, travel is one of life’s great joys. And sharing that experience with family can be one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences for parents and kids alike. That said, traveling with kids already requires some planning, and traveling with kids with food allergies opens up a range of concerns that may be new to you.
- According to a study by the US National Institutes of Health, travel poses an inherent risk to people with food allergies, but that risk can be managed through a variety of strategies, including “visiting familiar environments, limiting … activities, carrying allergy information cards in the host language, preparing [your] own food and staying close to medical facilities.”
- 9% of people with peanut allergies reported adverse reactions on an airplane, 80% of which were moderate or severe, according to a study published by the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
- According to an article by the nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), roughly 32 million Americans suffer from food allergies, including 5.6 million children under the age of 18.
Many of the same habits that keep your child safe in your daily life also apply to traveling, but there are new logistical and cultural differences that may complicate your plan of care. With a little bit of preparation, children with food allergies shouldn’t have to miss out on the opportunity to explore the world. Traveling can be such a fulfilling, joyful experience, and we want to make sure that your family has the opportunity to participate, even if one or more of your kids has a food allergy. We put together a guide for traveling with kids with food allergies to help you start planning your dream getaway.
Talk to Your Child’s Doctor
The first step when planning a potential vacation is to get in touch with your child’s doctor. They may have advice specific to your child and their treatment, so it’s important to get their input. Your doctor may have information about prescriptions you can take with you, what to do in the case of an emergency, and a plan of care in the event that a reaction takes place. Remember that your doctor is a resource, and you can always ask them questions or address concerns that may be causing you worry before your trip. It can be really comforting to begin formulating a plan of care with them that’s specific to your travel itinerary.
Make a Plan
This is one of the most important steps in the pre-travel process. Start brainstorming a plan of action in case a reaction takes place. This might look similar to a plan you already have in your everyday life, except that it will cover the hospitals and facilities in the locations you’re visiting, as well as any travel-specific concerns. You may have already discussed this plan with your doctor, but make sure you’ve ironed out all of the details, including traveler’s insurance, local resources, and transportation to the hospital in the event of an emergency. It’s important to have an idea of where the closest hospitals are in each of the places you’re visiting, not only in the event of an allergy emergency, but also in the case of other health complications. Your plan might include the closest hospitals or urgent care facilities to your hotel, a few allergy-friendly restaurants or food options that you’ve researched beforehand, and the numbers of a local taxi company or transportation you’ll use if you need to .
Consider Making or Buying an Allergy Translation Card
If you’re traveling to a country where English isn’t the spoken language, it might be a good idea to bring along an allergy translation card. These little credit-card-sized disclaimers can help you convey information about your child’s allergies and diet restrictions to the waiter, cook, or host that’s preparing your meal. You can rely on online translation tools like Google translate, or you can pay $8-10 for a service that specializes in making allergy translation cards. Food Allergy Research & Education put together a guide with information about these services, and why they might be of use. Whether you choose to use one or not, it’s important to know how to describe your allergy in the local language, and to make sure that you’re able to clearly communicate the severity of your allergy to anyone preparing your food.
First and foremost, make sure you’ve packed your child’s Epi-Pen, preferably in a carry on bag that you’ll bring with you on the plane. If they have any other medicine, pack it in your carry on as well. You don’t want to be left without the essentials if anything happens on the plane or if your luggage is misplaced. Also, it’s a good idea to pack some allergy-friendly snacks to eat on the plane. You might also consider packing some allergy-friendly food in your luggage, if there’s a specific energy bar or snack that would be helpful to have in a pinch. Finally, consider packing some moist toilettes to clean surfaces that may have come in contact with the allergen.
Depending on the severity of your child’s allergy, you may need to do some research about the airline you’re flying ahead of time. If their allergy is severe enough that any proximity to the allergen is enough to induce a reaction, you might want to choose a company that doesn’t serve food containing the allergen at all. Many airlines no longer serve peanuts as a snack, but you can find out more information about each airline’s policies on their websites. Allergic Living compiled information about different airlines’ allergy policies, which you can view here. We came up with a few extra tips for flying with a food allergy:
- When booking online, check to see if there’s a place where the airline lets you include any allergy information on your reservation.
- According to an article by the nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), it may be safer to book early-morning flights, as many aircrafts are cleaned at the end of the day. According to the website, “This will lower the chance that your seat contains crumbs or food residue.”
- FARE also recommends wiping down the seat and tray table of your child with food allergies so they don’t come in contact with food residue containing the allergen. That’s why it might be helpful to pack wipes! The organization also advises against using an airline-supplied pillow.
- Bring allergy-friendly food on the plane for your kid to eat, rather than relying on airline offerings.
Depending on where you’re traveling, you may find that some restaurants are actually more accommodating than your hometown. In the European Union, for example, restaurants are legally required to list major allergens on their menus, and many servers will ask the table about any food allergies beforehand. That said, every culture is different, and even in places where there is legislation in place to protect people with food allergies, it’s still important to communicate the severity of your child’s allergy to the people handling your family’s food. In places where food allergies are less-common or less-understood, it might be a good idea to research dining options beforehand, or even stick to preparing your child’s food yourself. The Earth Trekkers blog compiled a list of tips for eating out while traveling with food allergies, and we summarized a few below:
- Research the main ingredients used in the cuisine of the country you’re visiting. Many Asian cuisines rely heavily on peanuts, for example, so it might make sense to stick to Western restaurants or restaurants that have strong policies in place to prevent cross-contamination.
- Try a food tour.The Earth Trekkers bloggers recommended looking for a food tour in your destination city, since the guides will likely know English and have experience with other tourists with diet restrictions. This gives you the opportunity to sample local cuisine, and have a local communicate your health concerns for you.
- Be careful mentioning your allergy if you’re not sure that the waiter understands you. In restaurants where the staff doesn’t speak a lot of English, they might not understand everything you’re saying, and just hear the English word for the allergen. If you only communicate information about your allergy to them in English, and they only understand some of what you’re saying, they might think you’re asking for the ingredient to be added to your meal, at least in travel blogger Julie Rivenbark’s experience. In these cases, allergy translation cards and Google translate are incredible tools.
Traveling with kids with food allergies can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re visiting a city or country you’ve never been to before. That said, by forming a plan, packing smart, and following our tips for flying and eating out safely, you can take all the measures possible to avoid a reaction and have a plan in place in the event that one does take place. You might want to consult FARE’s tips for traveling with a food allergy oversees. You can also check out our Checklist for Traveling with Kids with Kids with Food Allergies and Sensitivities for more information about traveling safe, and bon voyage!