Food allergies are so common nowadays, it’s pretty rare if you don’t know someone with Celiac Disease, lactose intolerance, a nut allergy or other food malady. The good news is that because food allergies are so prominent in the United States, many restaurants now cater to these allergies and offer special menus for those who need it.

But what do you do when you’re traveling abroad with food allergies?

Many people who suffer from food allergies are too nervous to travel abroad because they’re not sure they’ll have access to allergen-free food in other countries. This shouldn’t be a reason why you don’t take an international trip, though. There are several ways to ensure you’ll have an allergen-free vacation where you can enjoy the food and know you aren’t putting yourself at risk. Whether you have a severe allergy, a slight intolerance or even just a food preference, follow these food allergy tips when traveling abroad.

Notify the Airline

Notify your airline ahead of time to ensure they won't serve food that'll trigger an allergic outbreak.

The first thing you should do before taking your trip is let the airline know you have a food allergy. If you have a severe nut allergy, the flight attendants will provide a snack substitute to everyone on the plane. They can even make an announcement over the intercom asking that all flyers refrain from opening their own food that may contain nuts. When booking your flight, if there’s a meal provided they’ll ask if you have any food preferences. Here’s where you can request a gluten-free or lactose-free meal.

Pack Your Own Snacks, Seasonings, Sauces

It’s always good to have some backup snacks just in case you’re on a long flight or are staying in a place that doesn’t offer allergy-free foods. You can pack dry foods like gluten-free crackers, nuts (for those without nut allergies), candy, popcorn, etc. as long as they fall within the country’s custom policies. These snacks can easily be carried in your purse or backpack for easy access when you’re out exploring the country. Or store them in your hotel room for those late-night cravings when room service or vending machines don’t offer anything suitable. 

Another option to steer clear of allergy outbreaks yet still enjoy flavorful food is to make your own allergy-free seasonings and sauces. Many pre-bought seasonings and sauces contain common allergens like gluten, soy, dairy, fish and wheat. Bringing your own travel set ensures all your meals will be delicious, even when you have to order that delicious-looking street food item plain because you can’t verify what’s in the sauce.

Know How to Communicate Your Allergy

A woman points at a menu item as a waiter leans over to answer her question or take her order.

If you’re visiting a country that doesn’t speak much English, you should bring an allergen card in the native language. This allows you to simply show your card to the waiter to determine whether or not they can cater to your needs. You can purchase a gluten free card in several languages from Gluten Free Passport or just write your own. Use Google Translate to learn how to say your allergy in the native language of the country you’re visiting and write it down phonetically to be safe. Any other phrases that you would find useful when ordering an allergen-free meal should also be written on your card.

Cook Your Own Meals

The safest way to avoid allergen contamination is to just cook your own meals. Eating out is always risky, even at home in your favorite restaurants. If you stay at an Airbnb, you’ll have access to a full kitchen. Or you can opt for a hotel that comes with a kitchenette. Either way, this will give you the option to buy allergen-free food from a local grocer and cook your meals safely in your accommodation.

Enjoy Your Trip

Don’t let food allergies get in the way of living your life and seeing the world. You probably are very conservative when you eat at home so do the same when abroad. Pack your own snacks, bring your allergen cards and any medical supplies you may need, like an epipen or allergy pills. Preparedness and caution will result in a relaxing vacation, free of stress from your dietary needs.

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Photo Credits:

Featured image by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Airline chairs by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash 

Patron ordering by Fraser Cottrell on Unsplash


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Julia Thompson

Julia is a corporate Account Manager turned Travel Writer. She spent 3 years in San Francisco as a Sales Rep for a tech startup before leaving the country to travel for a year on her own. She now owns a travel blog and works as a freelance writer for various clients.

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