Most trips require some degree of planning, but preparation is particularly important for travelers with food allergies and food sensitivities. It’s often key to a safe and successful trip. So we interviewed Alicia Woodward, the Editor-in Chief for Gluten-Free & More magazine to find out her recommendations. She keeps up to date on the latest policies and practices for food allergies, and is a frequent traveler herself.
Food Allergy Traveling Tips from Alicia Woodward
Why is it so important for people with food allergies to plan ahead?
Traveling can be stressful for people with food allergies–new places to eat, new situations, new people. If you’re traveling outside the country, you might be dealing with a new language, culture and cuisine. Sufficient preparation can reduce the stress of the unknown. It isn’t only what you’ll eat or won’t eat. It’s also how you get there (car, plane, bus, train) and where you stay once you arrive. You want to be certain you’ll be able to eat safely. This takes careful planning, doing your homework so you know what your options are.
So how can food-allergic and food-sensitive travelers eat, drink and be safe during travel?
Again, plan, plan, plan. Map our your trip before you leave home. Know where you’re staying and have a list of safe dining options. Here are other suggestions:
- Whether you’re going by car, plane, bus or train, pack food provisions in case you can’t find options as you travel. Expect delays in terms of your schedule and plan accordingly.
- Book a room with a refrigerator. Many hotels and motels offer “kitchenettes” and microwaves and small refrigerators are available for the asking. If you reserve a room with a tiny equipped kitchen, you can prepare meals in your room.
- Buys supplies at a local farmers’ market or natural food store and stock your hotel ‘frig with favorite foods for snacking and breakfast. Eating a quick, simple breakfast in your room saves money, guarantees a meal free of contamination and gives you more time to sightsee.
- Tuck nutrient-dense snacks into your pocket or purse to stave off hunger if there are limited options later in the day.
- Use the Internet to find restaurants that accommodate your special dietary needs. Many restaurants have menus posted. When you make reservations, alert staff to your allergy or sensitivity. Once at the restaurant, talk to the staff again. Make sure you’re clearly understood. If you don’t understand the ingredients that make up a dish, ask. Never stay at a restaurant unless you are comfortable that they can safely meet your needs. If you aren’t comfortable, leave.
- Focus on fun, not food. Fill your agenda with places and activities, not dining. Make learning, experiences and adventure the goal of your trip. Scale back on eating expectations—think basics, like being safe and eating healthy.
- Make sure your emergency meds are up to date and that there’s sufficient supply for your trip. If you’re flying, have prescription bottles clearly labeled and carry a note from your doctor in case you’re questioned when going through security.
What about going abroad?
Sometimes countries, like those in Europe, seem better equipped to handle special dietary requests than we do in parts of the United States, particularly restaurants in some rural regions of this country. It’s smart to carry professionally prepared “dining-out cards” that accurately and clearly explain your food allergies in the language your waitstaff and chef will understand. (This is no time to rely on your high-school French or your grandmother’s Hungarian.)
Before you leave, thumb through cookbooks that specialize in your destination’s cuisine. They will illustrate the basic ingredients used in recipes served in that country so that you can spot potential problem dishes.
Any final words before we pack up?
Be prepared and be smart. Whether it’s taking enough nutrient-dense bars or making sure your two (not one, two) doses or epinephrine are up to date, do your homework and take all the steps you need to be safe. Don’t forget to say thanks to those people who help you out. And then relax and enjoy your trip!
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- Recommended Packable Snacks and Breakfast Items for Dairy-Free Travel
- Enjoying Food, Travel, and Cultures with Food Allergies
- Dairy-Free at Disney World