The types of food allergies people suffer from really does run the gamut. Some experience just the slightest bit of gastrointestinal discomfort after eating something that doesn’t jive with their body’s chemistry, while others go into full-on anaphylactic shot, and — short of having an EpiPen on hand — risk death.
Regardless of where you fall on the food allergy consequence spectrum, however, eating while traveling can feel particularly risky. If you’re someone who suffers from food allergies, and you don’t want that reality to hold you back from traveling to the best restaurants in the world.
While nothing can truly be guaranteed when it comes to food safety, here is some solid advice that should keep you on track whenever you choose to travel with a food allergy.
Research Airlines and Call Ahead
For the most part, airlines can accommodate most food allergies, so long as they’re given ample notice about your needs. However, there are some airlines that look upon people with food allergies more kindly than do others. Once you’ve decided on a travel destination research which airlines travel to and from there.
Call each of those airlines’ customer service numbers and discuss your needs with a customer service rep. Once you’ve made the rounds, go with the airline most willing to accommodate you. A few days before you fly, call the airline again to remind them of your allergy, the date you’re flying, and your flight number.
When the day of your flight arrives, discuss your allergy with the gate agents, and when you take your seat tell the flight crew. By making sure the airline and your specific flight’s crew all know about your allergy, you greatly increase your odds of staying safe.
Learn the Language Around Your Allergy
Whether you’re going to Cancun or Bangkok, knowing a bit of the local language is going to make your time there easier and more enjoyable. At the very least, food allergy sufferers should opt to learn some phrases around those allergies, so you can discuss specifics with servers, sidewalk vendors, cooks, and anyone else who may have a say in what you put in your mouth. Communication barriers can be frustrating, but with food allergies, communication barriers can be deadly.
Carry a Chef Card
A chef card is a preprinted card that outlines your dietary restrictions and needs in the language of the country to which you are traveling. While you can certainly print one up yourself, there are companies that specialize in making cards, which can take a lot of the guesswork out of traveling with any allergy, physical need, or illness.
Whichever route you go in preparing a chef card, be sure to bring along more than one copy, and if you’re traveling through multiple countries with multiple languages, it’s worth the extra time and expense to get multiple cards printed up so you can make sure your meal is safe in every language you come across.
Research the Food You’re Traveling To
One of the primary joys of travel is eating food you’ve never had before, but for people with allergies, this inherent adventure becomes a hotbed of risk. Before you head to Madagascar or Peru, spend some time researching the food and dishes commonly served there. Regardless of the type of allergy you have, knowing the potential pitfalls ahead of time will save you time, energy, and potential illness. The more knowledge you arm yourself with, the better.
Be Prepared for an Emergency
No one wants to be on the lookout for their food allergy to land them in the hospital in a foreign land, but it’s better to be prepared for the worst possible outcome of a lovely meal than to expect all to go well and be surprised and sidelined by a serious illness without access to medical care.
Get travel insurance, and be sure you know the location of a nearby clinic or hospital everywhere you lower your anchor. Whether you’re staying with friends or bunking in a hostel, alert the people around you, too, so in the event that you’re incapacitated by something you accidentally ingested, they’ll be able to offer some insight and help to medical personnel.
Traveling with a food allergy can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to keep you at home. Just take extra precautions and follow these tips, and all should go well, whether you vacation in Greenland or the Canary Islands.