Some people are completely accustomed to traveling, despite their food allergies. For others, just the idea of going to a foreign country is stressful. But don’t worry, with good preparation, risks can be reduced to acceptable levels. From accommodation advice to meal planning and preventive measures during your flight, Allergy Quebec lists 8 ways to avoid allergy symptoms during your trip.
1. Plan your itinerary as much as possibleAlthough unforeseen circumstances may arise, taking the time to plan and prepare is the first step to a safe trip. Unplanned backpack travel, while it may be exciting and rewarding, is not the safest and most reassuring way to travel when it comes to allergies!
2. Choose appropriate accommodationsChoose a cottage, condo, or apartment, so you’ll have access to a fully equipped kitchenette. Many will say that cooking is not part of vacationing, but when you live with food allergies, cooking takes the worry away. Look on the bright side, cooking abroad allows you to live like the locals. Take this opportunity to visit local markets and connect with the local population. It also goes without saying that cooking your own meals is more economical! Camping or using a caravan are also good accommodation alternatives that allow you to cook, as long as you are well equipped. If the people you travel with eat the food you are allergic to, a kitchenette with a dishwasher can be helpful feature as it facilitates the removal of allergen particles from the dishes you share.
3. Bring food from homeTo avoid having your food confiscated at the border, find out about the laws of your destinations. In the United States, for example, fresh fruits, vegetables, and fresh meat can be confiscated at the border. However, these foods are generally quite accessible once in the U.S. Also, check the labelling laws of the country you will be visiting. Be aware that ingredient lists may vary from one country to the next, even when it comes to the same food manufactured by the same company. In addition, the allergens that must be declared on nutrition labels in one country may not be mandatory in another country, so be sure to do your research. Depending on your trip, bringing a few all-purpose appliances could be useful. For example, a small kettle can be used to cook oatmeal and prepare hot drinks or even vermicelli. If you bring electrical appliances, make sure you have an adapter for the power outlet, if need. Bring certain “go-to” foods that can be stored at room temperature and that you may not find at your destination, for example, allergen-free bread, pasta, etc. Depending on your specific trip, perhaps bring a cooler to store fresh products or picnics.
4. Purchase insuranceDue to the staggering medical costs in some countries, a medical travel insurance policy is a necessity. Be sure to declare your allergies and any pre-existing illnesses. Take note that you could face refusal from your insurance company if a particular condition required a change of your medication within 3 months prior to the trip.
5. Choose your airlineWhile many airlines have inclusive policies for people with allergies, be sure to prepare your trip to avoid unpleasant surprises. Which airline to choose?
- Check airline websites for their food allergy management policies
- Book by phone rather than online*.
- Find out what food is served on board: are there any dishes suitable for you?
- Ask what food is accepted on board
- When booking, notify the airline of your food allergy
- Bring your own meal and snacks if necessary.
- Have a letter on hand, signed by your doctor, stating that you must travel with your own food and medication.
- Once again, inform the crew of your food allergy when boarding. Some airlines will notify passengers around you, and may suggest that a buffer zone be created, in which the allergen is not allowed.
- Inspect and clean your seat and tray table.
6. Prepare auto-injectors and other medications in advanceHave two auto-injectors in your possession at all times. Some will prefer to bring more.
- Keep them on you or in two different pieces of carryon luggage in case one gets lost.
- Have a prescription for all your medications on hand, so you can get more if necessary.
- Have your doctor (allergist or general practitioner) sign a letter stating that you must be in possession of your epinephrine auto-injectors at all times, including aboard the plane.
- Always keep the auto-injectors at a temperature between 15°C and 30°C.
- Never store auto-injectors in suitcases that are carried in the luggage compartment or in a compartment with an unknown temperature.
- Wrap the auto-injector in a dry beach towel and place it in a dry, shaded place.
- Place the auto-injector in a thermos or other insulated bottle; do not add water, ice, or ice packs.
- Note that special pouches exist that are designed to keep your auto-injectors at the prescribed temperature.
7. Consider the language spoken at your destinationFor a first-time traveler, it may be appropriate to choose a place where your own language is spoken, or another language you know well. If you go to a place where you do not speak the language, make sure to have a translated list of keywords about allergens in products.
- For Europe: The European Consumer Centres (ECC) network has published an allergy dictionary. Create a personalized card explaining your food allergies in the language of the country you will be visiting.
- For other destinations: note that some companies offer such translation services.
8. And if an incident occurs…It is important to understand that there is no such thing as zero risk. You must therefore prepare an emergency action plan; in other words, be ready and equipped to react in the event of an allergic reaction. It is necessary to:
- Carry your epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times
- Know and have on hand emergency telephone numbers
- Wear an identification bracelet (MedicAlert®) at all times
- Always know the exact name and address of the place where you are (hotel, restaurant, etc.)
- When calling emergency services, specify that it is an allergic reaction and check that epinephrine is available in the ambulance or at the hospital.