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Allergy and Asthma: Travel Tips

Updated on January 23, 2018
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Having an allergy and traveling can be tricky! Learning some simple strategies to aide in meal planning when on an airplane or when visiting hotels and restaurants can make your trip more enjoyable. Relax, have fun and let us help you take the fear out of traveling.

The key to safe traveling with allergies is to plan ahead. Call airlines, hotels and restaurants for menu options for your specific allergy needs.

Strategies for Safe Travel

Preparing for Emergencies:

  • Even under the best circumstances, always be prepared for an allergic reaction when traveling. Carry an emergency allergy kit that can be injected quickly to treat reactions.
  • When traveling with others, provide them with another one of your emergency allergy kits to carry in case your bag is lost. Teach them how to administer your medicine.
  • Carry a laminated card with medical instructions translated into the appropriate languages when traveling abroad.
  • Be sure to wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace to alert others.
  • Have your doctor or allergist write a letter about your need for medications.
  • Familiarize yourself with local hospitals in case of an allergic reaction.
  • Always travel with medical insurance.
  • If you are not sure about the food available, pack your own nonperishable food.


Airlines:

  • Notify supervising staff on board of your allergy and emergency action required should a problem arise.
  • Call your airline to request special meals. Inquire about specific ingredients and snacks served.
  • If you are highly sensitive to peanuts select an airline that does not serve peanuts as snacks. If this is not possible, insist that your seating area be free of peanut shells or particles.
  • If you are not sure about the food which will be served, pack your own. Use an insulated food box with cold pack for sandwiches or leftovers. Bring additional nonperishable food like allowable crackers, fresh fruit and vegetables. Carry enough food on international flights to suffice should a flight be delayed.
  • Carry plenty of drinking water when traveling outside your native country. Stay well-hydrated during airline flights or any long trip.


Hotels:

  • Many hotels provide refrigeration and heating devices that allow you to prepare your own food. This is often advantageous.
  • Ask the concierge where the closest health food and grocery store is located so substitute foods can be purchased.
  • When you arrive, ask hotel staff for local emergency phone numbers. Also, inquire about in-house emergency procedures or available on-call doctors.


Restaurants:

  • Check with your doctor or dietitian about regional foods that will be found in your place of travel. Familiarize yourself with the local food ingredients and, if approved by your medical team, test these foods for your tolerance BEFORE you leave.
  • Call ahead to restaurants. Be sure the staff can accommodate your food allergy(s) and that they are willing to work with you.
  • Carry a laminated wallet sized card that lists 'hidden ingredients' in foods which cause you problems. Present the card to the waitstaff or chef. If you are traveling to a country that speaks another language, translate this card before you go.
  • If you are unfamiliar with a restaurant or uncertain about the staff's skill in working with food allergies, it is usually safer to order plain foods, such as grilled meats, fresh fruit and steamed vegetables instead of mixed dishes.
  • To increase your skill at dining out, become knowledgeable about typical ingredients used in the menu items you like to order. Even if you are familiar with the 'standard' recipes, always ask about specific ingredients used in the foods you are considering. Be weary of vague ingredients, such as 'natural flavors', 'seasonings, and spices'.
  • Ask about food preparation methods, marinates and sauces. Waiters may not be familiar with how a menu item is prepared, so ask to speak to the manager or chef for further clarification. Hidden sources of allergens can be identified. For example, if you have a peanut allergy, chicken can not be cooked in hydrolyzed vegetable protein. If you have a corn allergy, gravy can not be thickened with cornstarch instead of flour.
  • When traveling abroad, especially in countries that speak a different language, carry a dictionary to translate menu items and ingredients. In this situation, stick to plain, easily identified food items.
  • Beware of the potential for cross contamination that can occur in restaurant food preparation areas. If necessary, talk with the manager, chef or waiter about the need to use separate utensils and clean work surfaces for the preparation of your food. For example, if you are allergic to shellfish, your food can not be touched by a knife or surface that has been used for shellfish.
  • Don't hesitate to ask for what you want and need. Your health and safety depend on it.

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