Food allergies can be a real challenge, and they take a bit of getting used to when an individual is first diagnosed with the allergy.
Some of the most common food allergies are dairy, soy, and tree nuts, such as peanuts. Another common food allergy is seafood, like fish, crab, and other types of shellfish.
Once a person develops a routine and knows what ingredients to look for, the allergy can be a breeze to manage. Checking food labels and grocery shopping becomes second nature.
But what happens you’re visiting a new place? And not just a new place, but one with strange food and a different language?
Food allergies can be particularly difficult to manage and control when traveling abroad. Here are some tips to help you and your family have a safe experience while exploring another region of the world:
Learn About the Country and Local Food
The first step is research. You want to learn about the regional cuisine and where their food supply comes from.
Is it from local growers, and regional farms or fishery? Is any of the food processed in a factory that uses machinery that could cross-contaminate the foods? This research is critical if you are staying in a remote part of the country and will be eating at local pubs and restaurants.
Above all, ask for a list of the ingredients that are in anything that you plan to eat. Draw from your experience when you first started reading the food labels at the grocery store. The same principle applies here.
The research may also open your eyes to areas that will have trouble accommodating your allergy.
Fish and nuts are common in Asian cuisine, making it hard to work around those allergies when visiting. Some nations like Peru or Spain might feel insulted if you refuse a food, even if it’s due to an allergy. Developing regions might have less experience with allergies and aren’t prepared to help with a specific reaction.
Have a Food Alternative While Traveling
This can apply whether you’re taking a long road trip or daylong flight.
Upon making your reservations, both for the flight and for the resort or hotel, inquire about alternative foods that will be served. For example, most airlines serve a nut mix during the flight. If you let the airline know ahead of time about your food allergy, they are likely to accommodate you and serve pretzels or a different snack during your flight.
Likewise, the resort or hotel where you are staying should accommodate your request for different foods and beverages.
This kind of preparation is key when visiting a country that speaks another language. It’s much easier sort through the language barrier before your trip, rather than during the check-in process.
Carry Your EpiPen and Have an Emergency Plan
Every person with a severe food allergy knows the importance of an EpiPen. The small device can be difference between life and death.
That little instrument is even more crucial when abroad.
Always carry your EpiPen with you and have it readily accessible. Tell a trusted person how to inject it and where to inject the syringe in case you cannot speak or are unable to administer it yourself.
It is also a good idea to have your doctor’s contact information handy at all times as well. You may want to ask your doctor to locate a local doctor in your destination country should you accidentally ingest an allergen and have an allergic reaction.
In the case of an emergency, you should know the location of the nearest hospital or clinic in that region. This includes hospitals near your hotel or any of the sites that are expecting to visit.
Keep Your Medicine Organized
It’ s quite tempting to get rid of or forget the box for your medicine when traveling. There’s finite room in that suitcase and those small boxes just take up space.
But, those boxes often have important information on them and can help keep the medicine organized. When it comes to medicine that looks similar, that forgettable box may be a life-saver while abroad.
Some airlines may also have a problem with medicine that doesn’t have that information available. If details about the drugs are not on the original package, you may not be able to take it on the plane with you.
You may also need to ask your doctor to write a letter confirming your food allergies. Be sure the letter is on the office’s letterhead.
Don’t forget to request an extra prescription. This way if you need to have it filled, you don’t have to endure the hassle of seeing a doctor overseas.
Bring Some Food That You Know is Safe
Whether you’re seeing the sites for the day or just heading for dinner, have some emergency food at the ready. Depending on your location, it may be impossible to find cuisine that works for your allergies.
Even a few snacks can be enough until you get back to the hotel. This way if you find that a restaurant isn’t allergy friendly, you will have something readily available that you can eat.
Written for Passport Health by Sabrina Cortes. Sabrina is a freelance writer with a Bachelor’s Degree from Georgian Court University. She currently lives in the Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina.