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Traveling with Food Allergies: 5 Essential Tips

Whether it’s the telltale crinkle coming from the bag of peanuts being opened beside you on the plane or the Spanish waitress who seems overly nonchalant about finding out whether your paella contains shellfish, travelers with food allergies know the fear that comes with leaving home. It’s enough to convince some to give up travel altogether, but in most instances traveling with food allergies can be done safely and enjoyably. These five tips will help get you on the move again.

Learn a New Language Before Traveling with Food Allergies

Travel to far-flung destinations where you don’t speak the language can result in some of the most interesting vacations you will ever take. It can also make communication about your food allergies a nightmare.

One way to cut through the “lost in translation” situations at restaurants is to travel with allergy translation cards. The cards can be purchased or designed yourself (with a little help from the internet) and can make a huge difference in your confidence when navigating restaurants abroad. Wondering if there are any cashews in that Thai curry? Simply hand your card over to your server and put those feeble attempts to mime anaphylactic shock to rest.

Speak Up

People can’t help you steer clear of potentially difficult situations if they don’t know you’re in danger. Airlines are becoming increasingly well versed in handling passengers who are traveling with allergies. Reach out to your airline ahead of the trip and let them know about the allergy, the severity, and your needs. Some airlines will remove potentially dangerous items from the service carts; others will let you on so that you can sanitize the area around you before everyone boards.

The best way to help yourself is to keep the people around you informed. Waiting until you reach the airport gate or you board the tour operator’s bus in Namibia will only make it more difficult for others to make the trip easier for you.

BYO Snacks

Bringing your own snacks is the safest way to make sure you aren’t stuck in a situation without anything safe to eat. People who don’t have food allergies are often ignorant of the ingredients in what they’re eating or offering.

Keep yourself safe by making sure you aren’t tempted to take a risk when a flight is delayed on the tarmac or your tour guide forgot to set up your gluten-free meal. That emergency stash can be the difference between eating something and going hungry. It’s also protection against being in destinations that aren’t as progressive in labeling their ingredients. The farther you are from home and the brands you trust, the happier you’ll be that you packed a few nibbles you know are safe.

Find Your Tribe

The great thing about traveling with food allergies in the modern age is that you likely aren’t the only person trying to navigate the world this way. There are apps to help you find safe things to eat, such as AllergyEats (iOS | Android) for restaurants in the United States and Spokin (currently iOS only), which will help you find people and resources according to your allergy or destination.

Doing a little research into your destination before you go can help to suss out some of the spots where you’ll find chefs, waiters, and snack options that meet your needs. And don’t rule yourself out of things before they happen: Even things like food tours or cooking classes can be open to you with a little research and advance notice.

Empower Your Kids

Sometimes the scariest part of traveling with food allergies isn’t about you; it’s worrying about your tiny traveling partner. Traveling with children who have food allergies can mean double the worry that things won’t go as planned.

You can get some peace of mind by doing some of the things you’re likely already doing at home: Advising people in their lives about their needs and teaching your child to identify potential hazards. There are also ways to help others help them on the road.

Allergy-specific labels, bracelets, and tags can announce your child’s allergies even when they can’t. Mabel’s Labels offers customizable allergy alert labels, stickers, and more that come in bright colors kids will love without sacrificing the key information they need to share. It’s one of the first steps in empowering your kids to protect themselves, both at home and while exploring the planet.

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Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on

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