Traveling Safely with Food Allergies
Updated: Mar 15
Everyone with food allergies knows how tricky traveling can be. I am here to share some of my top tips for navigating and planning travel with food allergies! My parents have always wanted to travel with our family despite our severe allergies, and over the years we have become better at navigating travel and important details that can make a trip extra memorable and safe especially with food allergies. Regardless of where we have traveled, packing safe food is a must and restaurants were the backup dining option.
I have written out my top tips for planning, packing, traveling, and enjoying trips while navigating food allergies. I hope that my experiences will give you more confidence and excitement towards traveling, because it is definitely possible and can be done safely with great preparation.
Planning for trips is by far the most important part of navigating any trip with food allergies. It is important to do research in order to be as prepared as possible. The goal is to have the hard part come first so that you can enjoy your trip and everything will be safe.
1. Research the best airlines for food allergies:
Each airline has different policies about food allergy announcements and products that they serve on the plane. Some will avoid serving certain allergens (usually peanuts and nuts only) upon request or even make an announcement to the plane for other passengers to refrain from eating nuts during the flight because of severe food allergies. I highly recommend reading reviews on the Spokin App to learn more about certain policies and airline recommendations. My personal favorite is JetBlue because they are flexible with food allergy announcements and don’t usually serve nuts/peanuts.
2. Picking a hotel and making special requests:
Choosing a hotel location is important to navigating a trip with allergies, however it isn't the most important factor. It depends on your personal comfort level. Many hotels have options with kitchenettes, or you can request a microwave and fridge which is just as helpful. Additionally, choosing a location close to a hospital or medical center depends on your comfort level. It is important to consider this when choosing a hotel. Make sure to request that no snack bar is put into the room since it adds unnecessary risks from having allergens in the room.
3. Research restaurants in the area/at the hotel:
Researching restaurants and their menus beforehand helps with planning out an itinerary and choosing a safe spot to eat. Communicating with the manager about food allergies and how the restaurant accommodates preventing cross contamination is important research to learn about before dining out. Make sure to make reservations beforehand and add your allergies to your reservation so that the restaurant staff is aware of your allergies in advance. Also, the Spokin app is a great resource for finding allergy friendly restaurants wherever you choose to travel. They also have travel guides which are a must-read before you go on a trip.
4. Researching grocery stores beforehand:
One of my family’s strategies for traveling safely is researching grocery stores in the area to see their proximity to the hotel, and calling to find out if they carry certain safe and familiar brands. Buying groceries that you can safely prepare can be a better option than trying to navigate eating out in some cases. At the end of the day, I would prefer to enjoy a trip while eating basic home-made meals rather than stepping out of my comfort zone and eating every meal out at a restaurant.
The next step towards planning a trip with food allergies is packing essentials that will keep you safe, clean, and prepared. Here are some of my go-to travel essentials specific to food allergies as well as some tips.
List of plane essentials:
Seat covers (plastic or fabric)
Plane tray covers (for kids)
Zyrtec or Benadryl
Other travel essentials:
Allergen cards or translation cards for international travel (I have ones from Equal Eats)
Large cooler packed with safe meals and products ahead of time. My family has always checked a large cooler with safe foods for large trips in order to insure that we would have access to safe meals.
Order a cheap toaster from Target or Amazon and ship it to your hotel (little tip from my family and it makes a world of a difference). You can cook almost anything with a toaster in the room, so it has become an essential for all our trips.
NAVIGATING AIRPORT & ROAD TRIPS
The next step of any trip is actually navigating an airport or beginning a road trip. Here are some tips for the “during the trip” part that usually poses the most concern about food allergies.
1. Pre-Boarding to Wipe Down Seats:
Once you get to your gate at the airport you can request to pre-board the flight so you can wipe down your area beforehand. Some airlines have an option to select when you first purchase the tickets online too. Pre-boarding helps alleviate the stress of rushing onto a plane and not having enough time to wash things down safely before others board. I always find it very reassuring to know that my space is clean. It’s always more comfortable to be at ease. Since traveling can be stressful, it is important to remember some key actions that will make it easier.
2. Talk to flight attendant about allergies, check the snacks being served on plane, have them make an announcement so nobody eats peanuts/nuts on plane (if applicable to your allergies)
Most airlines are very flexible about not serving nuts on a flight as well as making announcements so nobody eats them on the plane during the flight. It is always good to double check the snack options for the flight and request that the airline doesn't serve nuts. This is a great thing to mention when you first board the flight. The front flight attendant is the first person you see on a plane, so they are the perfect person to mention it to. I have also had experiences when they personally notify the passengers in-front of and behind my seats that someone nearby has severe allergies. This is their way of being more direct with notifying people of the severity of allergies and especially on an airplane. Overall, the main message is communication is key and speaking up about your needs and requests that will help to keep you safe.
3. Purchase safe, packaged snacks in the airport beforehand or pack your own snacks for the plane.
I have never felt comfortable eating snacks from the plane or prepared food in the air.
I have always had the fear of eating food on an airplane. Packing safe snacks or purchasing safe snacks beforehand is a great way to know what you’ll be eating will be safe. I usually try to eat mostly in the airport as opposed to on the flight, unless it is an extra long flight. Additionally, prepared food from airport restaurants or the plane’s kitchen are things I usually keep clear of just for my own personal comfort level. Each person can approach this according to your comfort with eating out. Personally, I don’t want to have the added stress from trying to navigate a dining situation while traveling.
1. Pack safe snacks + meals in a in-car plug in cooler:
Having a plug-in cooler has been the best way for my family to travel on long road trips while still having the flexibility of safe foods. We have used one from Koolatron for years and it has never disappointed! We had our first one for about 7 years and just recently purchased a new one. It fits everything from Tupperware to food products and more. We have used it in the car or plugged-in at a hotel.
2. We always have the famous “food bag”:
Packing safe snacks for a road trip is a must! We always stock up on safe foods and have one zipper grocery bag with everything inside. It helps us keep organized in the car as well as know we’ll have safe products to eat throughout the trip.
3. Much easier than trying to buy fast food and hope that it’s safe:
If fast food can be safe for you, that can be a great option for road trips, but don’t rely on it. It is important to have safe foods just in case something doesn’t work out with a restaurant’s allergy protocols. It’s always best to be prepared!
Prioritize enjoying yourself and keeping yourself safe on vacation. Finding safe restaurants is wonderful, but simple meals in the hotel can work great too!
You don't always have to step out of your comfort zone.
Research beforehand lets you plan ahead.
Pack essentials and always be prepared.
Communication is the key to sharing your needs and keeping yourself safe.
Disclaimer - All of these tips are from my personal experiences with traveling. Everyone can navigate traveling differently and with different protocols than I have, according to their own comfort level. I hope my advice is helpful for your next trip and that you can successfully navigate traveling with food allergies like a pro!