Tips For Traveling Safely
When my daughters were first diagnosed with severe food allergies, we were so fearful that we did not travel for several years. Our first trip was a bit stressful, since we did not know what to expect – but it turned out fine. Here are some tips for making your travel experience as safe and stress-free as possible.
Cook Your Own Meals
Stay in hotels or rental accommodations with kitchens and cook your own meals. You can bring your own food, send it ahead by mail, or shop for it once you get there. If you decide to shop once you get to your destination, please be aware that not all grocery stores carry the same products.
If you must use specific products, bring them with you. For instance, my daughter can only drink one brand of rice milk. Since it is a store brand, we know we will probably not be able to find it in other cities. So, we always bring it with us.
If you travel to other countries and plan to buy familiar products, don’t assume they are safe. The product may contain different ingredients or be manufactured in a different location. Always read the label.
Some hotels do not have rooms with kitchens available. In this case, call a few weeks ahead and ask for a microwave and refrigerator. Write down the names of people with whom you speak. Specify that the fridge and/or microwave are a medical necessity. Call again a few days before you arrive to make sure arrangements have been made to provide your room with these items. Some hotels will provide refrigerators, but not microwaves. If this is the case, consider buying a small one and taking it with you.
A Clean Room
Before arriving, call ahead and speak to the management. Inform them of your allergies and ask that special care be taken to clean all surfaces by scrubbing with a cleaning solution. Explain (very calmly and politely) that just dusting or wiping peanut butter or dried milk off a table or chair arm doesn’t really remove all the allergens. When you arrive at the hotel, ask to speak to a manager and ask whether or not this has been done.
Since my kids also have dust mite and mold allergies, we also bring a small air purifier with us. I am not sure if it really helps with allergens in the air, but it at least blocks the noise from the other rooms!
A growing trend in hotels is the “Green Room.” More soon!
Eating in Restaurants
If you plan to eat at restaurants, do some research before beginning your trip. If the hotel has a concierge, this person can be a very valuable resource in finding restaurants that can accommodate your needs. He or she is there to help you.
A week before your arrival call the concierge and explain your food restrictions. Ask for restaurant suggestions where food is more likely to be made to order. Typically this will be at nicer restaurants. Volunteer to fax or email the details of your allergies and requirements to help him do his job. If necessary, ask the concierge to go ahead and make reservations. Please remember to tip the concierge if he or she is helpful.
For more information on eating out in restaurants, please see Tips for Dining Out Safely.
The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network has a great guide called “Dining Out and Traveling with Food Allergy.” It provides helpful information about dining in restaurants, and offers strategies for menu selections, communicating your needs, and tips for traveling by plane or car. Also included with the guide is a “chef card” template to help the restaurant staff to understand the ingredients you need to avoid. The “chef card” template can also be viewed and printed directly from their web site.
If you are planning a trip overseas, check out another great guide offered by FAAN, called “Traveling with Food Allergy: Foreign Sources of Information.” It provides contacts and organizations for 15 countries and includes information about doctors, emergency help, food labeling, and translations for common allergy words.
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