Travelling with food allergies can seem daunting but it’s possible to have a great experience with a bit of planning.
We’ve pulled together some top tips to help with your holiday prep:
Choosing a destination
Go at your own pace, stay local at first if it helps but you might soon find yourself venturing further afield!
There are some countries that might be easier to travel in than others. For example, Mediterranean countries like Italy can be good if you have a milk allergy as so much of their food is made with olive oil.
The Allergy Team’s co-founder, Sarah, has travelled in Europe with her sons who are allergic to milk and egg, she says:
“We have taken our boys to Portugal, France and Italy. We found Portugal and Italy surprisingly easy to travel in. Although we stayed in self-catering accommodation, we ended up eating out far more than we expected as we were really encouraged by the understanding of food allergies. We didn’t find France so easy as milk was present in a lot more food, so we didn’t eat out as much, but it was still quite easy to buy food in the supermarkets and we still had a lovely and safe time.”
To help you decide on a destination you feel comfortable with, find out where other families with food allergies have been – ask friends, check out online blogs or ask on social networks.
Some people choose self-catering accommodation so they can ensure their children will be eating a safe meal and this can be a great option if it will reduce your anxiety and allow you to relax a bit.
Other parents have told us they like to pick an all-inclusive resort so that they only have to discuss their child’s allergies with a single catering team, rather than navigating lots of different restaurants. If you go for this option, it’s worth checking whether food is served, sitting down in a restaurant or buffet style. You can also contact them in advance and find out how they manage food allergies, to see how confident you feel.
Some resorts even offer a bit of both – a small kitchenette in your room, and catered options.
Before the holiday
Things to think about include:
- Check the expiry date of the adrenaline auto-injectors and make sure you have enough inhalers, antihistamine, creams, and sprays.
- Take a list of medications from your GP with you in case you run out.
- Ask the doctor to fill out this BSACI travel form or to provide you with a letter outlining your child’s food allergies, their medication and mentioning you may need to travel with food on the plane.
- Research clinics and hospitals near the place you are visiting and note the opening hours.
- Order or make translation cards which provide clear information about your allergies in the local language. We like the ones from Equal Eats. Some families also carry photos or pictures of their allergens to overcome language barriers.
- Pack plenty of safe snacks for the journey and for the time you’ll be away. Take into account you may be delayed on the journey.
- Take a meal in case you arrive at your destination late and there is nowhere suitable for your child to eat. There are some really good flasks available that work well to keep a dish warm for your child on the go.
- Remember food labelling might be different in foreign destinations. Countries in the EU will have the allergens highlighted on products you buy in the supermarket, but if you travel elsewhere you will need to check the labelling laws and don’t rely on allergens being highlighted on packaging or on menus.
- Research your nearest supermarkets to gauge what will be available to you while you’re away.
- Contact your accommodation in advance – requesting a hotel room with a fridge is useful for storing food safely.
- Pack hand and cleaning wipes in your hand luggage.
- You can get medical alert UK bands for your child to wear, which states the allergy they have. Some have symbols of allergens rather than words so they can be recognised anywhere.
- The JEXT app has on-the-go support as well as phrases in various languages
Whether you are flying on going on a long coach or train journey you might want to contact the operator to alert them to your child’s food allergy.
Make sure you wipe down any seats or tables before your child sits down to avoid cross-contamination.
Ensure your child’s medication is easily accessible in hand luggage and not buried at the bottom of a suitcase.
Kyle Dine is the founder of Equal Eats which creates allergen translation cards to support people with food allergies when they travel abroad. This is his story about falling in love with foreign adventure”
“I’ve lived with multiple food allergies to peanut, tree nuts, egg, seafood and mustard for over 30 years. I was a homebody for half of my life until I finally took the plunge to travel internationally in my early 20’s. It changed my life. It opened my eyes to the wonders of travel, the richness of new cultures and the beauty of geography that I had never experienced growing up in suburban life. It made me realise that I had provided a convenient, yet self-depriving narrative for years, that travel was just too difficult with food allergies. In fact, it was doable, but it just took some extra work, planning and diligence. I’ve since travelled to incredible places including China, Morocco, Saint Lucia and Cuba. All of which I approached with a strategy of control. I brought a lot of my own food. I purchased basic pre-packaged food (e.g. rice). I communicated my allergens effectively with translated chef cards. This gave me peace of mind so I could enjoy traveling for the things I appreciate – culture, history, geography and wildlife. When you shift your perspective from cuisine, you start to realize that it plays such a small role in having amazing travel experiences. You can do it too!”
Young people and travelling
Holidays with friends and backpacking adventures can be an exciting part of growing up and learning to live independently.
Listen to Hannah share her first experiences of travelling with her friends and managing her allergies.
If your child is about to embark on a trip without you, make sure you’re confident they can manage their food allergies at home. Here are some ways you can help:
- You can help them prepare and do some of the research together.
- If they are travelling with friends, make sure they know about your child’s food allergies, where they keep their medication and how to use it.
Flying and airbourne reactions
Some families are concerned about the risk of allergic reactions to airbourne allergens, such as peanut dust when they’re travelling in a confined space with lots of other passengers.
This is what Paediatric Consultant in Allergy, Professor Adam Fox says about the risk:
“Airborne reactions are really rare… there’s a concern that you get on the plane and then somebody three seats further in front of you opens a bag of peanuts and your child as a consequence has a bad reaction. Now there’s been a number of studies commissioned in order to understand that risk better, and actually it’s almost impossible to elicit a severe reaction through airborne exposure with nuts… the real risk is eating something that you’re allergic to on the flight. That’s a very real risk… almost all of the landings that happen because somebody has a reaction up in the air will be because of somebody eating something rather than anything else.”
There is also a risk there may be traces of your child’s allergens on the seat, which is why it’s important to wipe them down beforehand.
Airlines and food allergies
Airlines differ in how they approach allergies. Below is information about the major companies to help with your holiday planning.
(This information is correct as of April 2022.)
- You need to let them know that your child has a nut allergy while booking your flight by requesting Special Assistance and choosing the “I have a nut allergy” statement. This means the ground and cabin crew will be aware of your allergy.
- However, when you board you must also tell the cabin manager and the crew will then make an announcement to ask that no one consumes nut products.
- EasyJet will not sell any products with nut traces during the flight.
- If you have a different allergy which requires an auto-injector, EasyJet says you must carry your medication with you and let the cabin crew know when you board.
- Do not have a special assistance option for nut allergies. Instead, you must inform the cabin crew when you board and they will then make a public announcement.
- The same applies for other allergies.
- Do not limit their guidance to nut allergies.
- They recommend that you carry your medication in your hand luggage.
- If you have had a reaction 30 days before flying, you need to contact their special assistance team.
- There is a form to fill out your details about your flight and your allergy.
- If you need a specific meal, you need to inform them more than 24 hours before you fly.
- BA has fairly comprehensive guidance on their website. However, as with Ryanair, staff cannot pass on dietary information to cabin crew so again, you need to let the cabin crew know when you board.
- Customers are allowed to pre-board (after showing a medical letter for the auto-injector). It might be a good idea to bring antiseptic wipes to wipe down the seat and table before others board.
- However, meals containing tree nuts may still be served. There isn’t a special meal option for customers with tree nut or sesame allergies.
- But the cabin crew will make a special announcement and stop selling loose-nuts snacks in your cabin.
- Jet2 has committed to no longer serving nut-based products on flights.
- When you tell the cabin crew about a nut allergy upon boarding, they will ask customers not to eat nut-based food during the flight.
- If the allergy is severe, Jet2 ask that you make the team aware when you book.
- If they know about a severe allergy but you are not carrying your required medication, they may not let you on.
- Emirates has very limited information on allergies, except from reminding customers to select a special meal more than 24 hours before their flight.
- TUI has a Special Assistance Team you can call, who will ensure no nuts are sold on your flight and will tell cabin crew to ask other passengers not to eat nuts.
This website provides more details about smaller airlines and their allergy policy.
Airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead have a Hidden Disabilities scheme using a sunflower lanyard system. This includes very severe food allergies, meaning you will be given a sunflower lanyard, so staff know you have a hidden disability, and extra support in the airport.