With summer approaching, millions of families will be packing up and heading out for summer vacations. For parents of kids with food allergies this opens up a whole new worry, especially if visiting another country. Different cuisines and language barriers can make traveling much more challenging for allergy sufferers. Like millions of other parents, I have a child with food allergies. I spent many years following my little boy around the playground wiping down his hands and keeping him safe. I was constantly making sure that he didn’t accidentally ingest some dreaded peanut butter or a milkshake that another child left behind. I worried more than any mother should, while trying to keep his life as normal as possible. As he grew older, his allergies improved. Things seemed so much easier and I worried less and less. As my son got a little older, we decided to vacation out of the country. I wondered how would it could work and how could I keep my son safe? I spent hours on the internet and gathered as much information as possible. So far, we have had 2 successful trips overseas and I can’t count how many safe domestic airline flights we’ve flown. I have actually been very impressed by the amount of concern and care that others have taken in addressing his health and safety.
Here are some tips and ideas that have helped keep our travels safe:
1.) Research the cuisine of a country before you book your trip. Every region has different foods and specialities. Know their foods and know where allergens may be hidden. It may be a deciding factor if that is a safe place to visit. Personally, I know I would avoid parts of Asia with a peanut allergic child.
2.) Let the airlines know about the allergy before you arrive at the airport. They can not serve peanuts in the rows around the allergic passenger. Many airlines will even make the entire flight peanut free. Also, I give my son an over the counter antihistamine and wipe down everything near his seat.
3.) Be sure to know the word of the allergen(s) in the native language of the county you are visiting. Research is crucial, sometimes there can be different variations of the same word.
4.) Have a fluent speaker translate a paragraph explaining the allergy and emphasize the severity. Even a little exaggeration can’t hurt. Better to be safe than sorry. Copy it on bright paper and laminate. I made several copies so I always had a copy with me at all times .
5.) Avoid establishments where there could be cross contamination. I am very strict with this while traveling overseas. No bakeries or ice cream shops. No way!
6.) Always pack a few snacks to have on hand. Many foreign countries label all their pre-packaged food from the grocery store. Take advantage of packaged snack foods and produce.
7.) Go with your gut feeling. If you feel like someone preparing your food doesn’t take you seriously, go somewhere else!
My overall experiences traveling with my food allergic son have been positive. I have actually felt that people in other countries have been more understanding and cooperative than here at home. Be safe, do your research, and have fun. Happy Travels!