On the Go With Allergies

On the Go With Allergies

When traveling with dietary restrictions, a lot of planning and preparation takes place beforehand.  Not only does the destination make a difference – one needs to be able to easily access safe foods and proper medical care in case of an emergency – but the type of trip matters as well.  However, even with restrictions, we have found it very important to put ourselves out there to experience the world.  With a bit of forethought, one can safely travel!

About our Dietary Restrictions

Our kids have all had food allergies since they were very young.  Skylar has had a peanut and egg allergy since she was a toddler, Braden has been allergic to peanuts, eggs, and dairy since age one, and Ava was just a baby when diagnosed with soy and dairy allergies.  And a few years ago, Mike went gluten-free with his diet.  Thankfully, the kids have outgrown some of their allergies.  Braden outgrew his dairy allergy and Ava no longer has any food allergies.  Needless to say, we still encompass a fair amount of dietary restrictions! 

Over time, I’ve heard people remark that they couldn’t travel with allergies as it was too scary, too complicated, and with too many unknowns.  Well, we are happy to share our travel tips when traveling with dietary restrictions with you!  After decades of traveling with severe food allergies, we have a lot of tips that will help in your future travels. 

The Destination

Depending on what your allergies are, researching a particular destination is important.  With two of our kids being severely allergic to peanuts, we have not yet traveled to Asia, particularly China.  Peanuts are prevalent in cooking in China and with the language barrier we feel it’s too risky.  A peanut allergy in China is extremely rare.  While we need to avoid other allergens as well, the kids’ peanut allergy is anaphylactic, meaning they could suffer life-threatening consequences.  A peanut allergy is also airborne.  One does not need to just consume the allergen to have a reaction, rather the minuscule particles of peanut dust floating in the air could be enough to set off a reaction.  We hope to visit Asia in the future but have opted to make our way through western destinations first where peanut allergies are more prevalent for now.

We also stay in areas where we know we will have access to good healthcare.  As much as staying deep in the Amazon jungle sounds intriguing, for peace of mind staying a bit closer to civilization is a necessity.

Getting there

Air travel is a must if traveling far from home.  We will say it, no one handles allergies on board like Delta Airlines.  We have been loyal to a few other airlines but were disappointed in their lack of apathy to assist us with our peanut allergies so we switched to being loyal to Delta.  Here is what Delta does to support allergies:

  • You can “mark” a peanut allergy on the individual’s reservation.  This will alert the crew to not serve peanuts in the few rows around the allergic person. 
  • They will discreetly alert people sitting around them that someone in the area has a peanut allergy and ask if they could kindly refrain from consuming peanuts products while on board. 
  • They offer nut-free snack options, often Biscoff cookies or Cheez-It crackers.  We always travel with multiple snacks of our own, however.
  • We have NOT had that luck with another major US airline.  We simply inquired one time if we could mark their reservation as having a peanut allergy.  We overheard the CREW (pilots and flight attendants) making fun of this.  We were mortified.  We had an 8+ hour flight ahead of us and would have assumed they wouldn’t want to divert if there was an emergency in the air.  Not to mention it was our young children who had to overhear adults making fun of their allergies.  We were horrified by this so we switched to Delta’s loyalty program immediately.

What We Take Along/Packing Tips

When traveling within the US you can take any food with you, provided it’s not a liquid).  When our kids were younger and we took along their specific milks (soy, rice), it was not a problem.  We simply alerted the TSA as we passed through and they did a special scan and we were on our way.  However, as a general rule of thumb, try not to take any liquids with you.  Nowadays, great options are often available after security in shops in the airport if you need something while traveling.  

Fruit, vegetables, and meat and cheeses ARE allowed when traveling domestically.  HOWEVER, be sure to check the country’s specific requirements when traveling internationally.  We always make sure all meat/cheese/produce is consumed or disposed of onboard before landing in the new country.  

Some of our favorite items to travel with:

  • hard fruit, such as apples, oranges, and grapes
  • rolls (travel better than soft bread)
  • Granola bars (they travel better than soft cereal bars)
  • Meat sticks/jerky, as they don’t have to be refrigerated
  • Individual Sunbutter containers – these are great on crackers or rice cakes
  • Craisins and dried fruit
  • Snacks – individual popcorn bags, pretzel bags, etc
  • Treats – individual cookie packs, Enjoy Life chocolate bars
  • Plasticware, sandwich bags, paper bowls (smaller than plates, dual purpose)

Nowadays you can find almost any food to accommodate dietary restrictions in the airports.  Marketplaces usually carry a variety of fresh produce, meats, and cheeses for protein.  We have even seen “allergy brands” such as Enjoy Life in airports! Practically any diet can be accommodated if traveling through a major airport nowadays.

Before the Trip

Before the trip comes a lot of research.  Researching the destination, researching  where to stay, what to do, and also – how to eat!  In the US, we are familiar with the grocery stores and the food available.  While we often stay in Airbnbs, we also are comfortable in hotels.  We are members at Marriott and can find something safely for everyone to eat even using room service or dining on property.  Many times our room will also come with a mini fridge.  We also frequent the concierge lounges, especially for breakfast.  Almost always, there is something for everyone there, but in the instant we need hot water to mix oatmeal or even a microwave, we have access to it.  It pays to be brand loyal with hotels as well.  Because we are highest tier with Marriott we have access to the lounges.

Having a rental car is often a necessity if staying outside of a city.  Cities have small grocery stores or markets and a plethora of restaurants, however if staying in the country or a near a national park, your options are not as plentiful.  I always check into nearby grocery stores at our destination.  If we have a kitchen or a grill, I’ll create a grocery list based on our needs often on the plane ride.  If we are in a hotel, I’ll research nearby restaurants often simply googling “city name + allergy dining”.  Chains are always easiest as well because you know what to expect.  We usually seek out Chipotle, Qdoba, Jimmy Johns, and Subway.

Our Best Tips:

1.) Keep a reserve for the flight home, especially if traveling  internationally.  Since chances are the products will be unfamiliar in the new locale and there is no guarantee as to what you’ll find, pack the items for the trip home in a bag so you won’t touch it on your trip.  Since you can’t take meat or produce into another country (you can take it on the plane, but it must be consumed on the flight), we tend to go with nonperishables.  Sunbutter cups (protein), Craisins or other dried fruit, and a variety of satiating snacks and treats are our standbys.  If we make it to a grocery store or market before our flight, we’ll add in fresh fruit and cheese or meat (again consuming these items inflight before landing in the US). 

We have been surprised at the lack of variety at some major airports – looking at you Paris Charles’ de Gaulle!  This is where it is necessary to have some items safely stashed for the flight home as the kids don’t eat the meals on the plane.  Many airlines now seem to offer snack packs for purchase – these are overpriced but in a pinch they work great.  They are sealed and each item in the pack is packaged with ingredients listed.  Sometimes I’ll get a few different snack packs and distribute the items to the kids based on what they can eat out of the snack pack.

2.) Consider renting an Airbnb vs. a hotel.  While we definitely appreciate being able to spread out as a family, we also love the amenities that come with renting a home or an apartment.  Having a a kitchenette is priceless.  And it’s actually quite fun to try to live like a local, by shopping at local markets or grocery stores, and bringing the items back to cook.  We also always eat breakfast in – usually pretty simple so we can get on our with our day and sometimes will pack a picnic lunch as well.  This is also often just as fun as sitting in a restaurant!  Not to mention a great way to save money as well!

3.) Stock up on medication.  This goes without saying the most important tip.  We always have oral allergy meds and a stash of EpiPens with us when we travel.

4.) Get a Food Allergy card translated into the language of the country you are traveling to.  Check out the food allergy website to create your own FREE card.  These are handy to show a waiter/waitress/chef at at restaurant, or even to ask an employee or fellow shopper in a grocery store.

5.) Grocery DeliveryWe are so lucky to have this as an option nowadays!  If you won’t have a rental car this is a great way to get some items to you without taking them along in your suitcase.  

6.) Enjoy!  Travel takes planning, restrictions or not.  We just do a little more planning on the front end to make sure we know what to expect food-wise at our destination, map our grocery stores ahead of time, and of course pack our meds and food.  It has become a way of life for us whether at home or traveling around the world!

Skylar enjoying spaghetti | Italy

Braden at our luau | Maui, Hawaii

Shopping at a market | Paris, France

An Irish Pub meal | Ireland

Can you guess where this grocery store is? | Italy

Beach dinner | Key West, Florida

Beachside dinner | Maui, Hawaii

Grocery shopping | Paris, France

Sometimes we will do chain restaurants – here, McDonald’s serves beer! | Pisa, Italy

We hope this article helps and if you have any questions please reach out to us!  I’ve been dealing with dietary restrictions in our family for 20+ years now and have it pretty down pat.  Traveling is a way to live and we just make our restrictions work!

NOTE:  The advice and information shared in this article is simply to help you in your future planning.  Follow your healthcare providers recommendations foremost.  

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