A mum’s tips for travelling abroad with food allergies
By Rebecca Bull
I love travelling. So when I became a mum I looked forward to going abroad with my daughter.
Then when she was eight months old we found out she has a peanut allergy. I couldn’t envisage myself feeling confident enough to take her abroad. But there were more immediate worries to focus on, like finding a nursery I could trust to look after her while I worked. So, for a while, I simply parked the idea of travelling abroad.
But I knew that I never want my daughter to feel restricted by her allergy and that includes travelling. Instead, I want her to see that although she may have to do things differently this doesn’t have to mean limiting herself. She can still have a life rich with experience.
If one day she chooses to travel abroad, for any reason at all - be it work, study or a holiday, I want her to already have seen from us that it’s possible. So in 2022 we decided to plan a family holiday abroad.
I’m still glad we had a few staycations beforehand because I learnt some useful tips from them.
I also found it helpful learning from people who regularly travel with allergies such as:
- Dan at @_May Contain
- Allie at miss _allergic _reactor
- Kortney at allergy_girl_eats
- Julianne Ponan
Here’s how I planned our holiday. I hope you find it helpful.
Choosing our destination
I knew that for our first holiday abroad I wanted to stick to Europe because the allergy labelling laws for store-bought food are the same as in the UK. It would also mean a shorter flight.
I wasn’t sure which country to go to, so I put up a post on my Instagram account to ask the opinion of other people with allergies. I also asked on the Allergy Travels Facebook Group which is a great resource. You can ask questions about travelling with allergies, such as restaurant recommendations, or experiences with airlines.
My aim was to have as clear a picture as possible of where we were going. I didn’t want to go anywhere remote and I wanted to know as much as I could about the cuisine there.
We eventually settled on going to Lagos in The Algarve in Portugal. One of the reasons we chose the region was because we’d visited before so we knew what to expect. There are several supermarkets that are easy to get to and being close to the beach meant my daughter would be happy.
Booking our accommodation
We opted for self-catering accommodation, as I find it works well with young children and it gives us more control over what we eat.
Then I made a shortlist of Airbnb homes that looked like a good fit for us. I looked for a kitchen that was well equipped and not too small so we could cook comfortably. I also read the reviews to get a sense of whether the host was helpful and the home (especially the kitchen) was clean. I also checked what the wifi and phone reception was like so we knew we could contact someone in case of an emergency.
Information for an emergency
I then contacted the host at our preferred home and asked them for the following information. My approach is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
So I write out the following:
- The address for the nearest hospital with 24 hour A&E
- The address for the nearest pharmacies
- Supermarkets nearby
- The emergency number for Europe (112)
- The address where we’d be staying
- Call an ambulance
- My daughter’s having an anaphylactic reaction
- Tree nuts
- May contain
Although this is information I could’ve researched myself, I found it useful asking someone who lived there.
Booking flights and travel insurance
You can search the Allergy Travel Group on Facebook for details of people’s experiences with airlines. You can also look up airlines’ policies online.
I know it’s not always possible to pick which airline to fly with but if you can it’s a useful resource. For example, if an airline has a particularly bad reputation I prefer to avoid it.
We flew with EasyJet and this was more or less dictated by the airport we wanted to fly from and our destination. Anecdotally, I’d heard they’re one of the better airlines when it comes to dealing with allergies.
I also heard from allergy activist Julianne Ponan that getting the first flight of the day is a good idea if possible because that’s when the plane has just been cleaned.
I also got a BSCAI travel form through our allergy clinic. The form explains why you need to take medication in your hand luggage and your own food. We had initially gone to our GP for a letter explaining this and they’d charged for it.
At that point I also got our travel Insurance. I chose to use Insure With which caters for people with medical conditions.
One month beforehand
Around one month beforehand I ordered anything we may need incase there’s any delivery delays. I ordered:
- Dietary translation cards - We use Equal Eats
- A spare set of auto-injectors
- Frio wallets to help keep the Epipens below 25 degrees when it’s hot
I also made sure I checked:
- All her medication’s expiry dates - Epipens and antihistamine.
- Her allergy action plan is up to date
One to two weeks beforehand
As we got closer to the holiday I bought:
- Hand wipes
- Plenty of safe snacks
- Sweet treats since we find safe desserts are usually tricky to find
- Other food that might be difficult to buy like cereal or bread
- Antibacterial wipes to clean down surfaces on the plane
I also contacted a few restaurants in the area to ask for allergy information. Our Airbnb host was helpful with this. Although she couldn’t recommend restaurants specifically from an allergy point of view, she had a good sense of which restaurants she thought might be good to contact.
I eventually settled on two restaurants and booked them in advance. I was impressed when we arrived that one of them immediately mentioned the allergy and took us through the safe menu options.
Finally, I also asked our host not to leave any food out for us, in case this is something they normally do.
Packing our carry on luggage
In our carry on luggage I wanted to make sure we had anything we might need in case of an emergency. So I packed her:
- Allergy Action Plan
- Both sets of adrenaline autoinjectors - that’s 4 in total
- Two bottles of antihistamines
- BSCAI travel form
- Food for the journey
At the airport
At the airport check-in we reminded them that our daughter has a peanut allergy and we asked them to make an announcement asking passengers not to eat nuts.
Security asked us about the medication and food we packed for the journey. They were happy to let us through once I showed them our BSCAI travel form and allergy action plan. I found the BSCAI form useful because they specifically looked at the section which mentions carrying your own food. I had made overnight oats for us to have on the flight.
Eating airport food or airline food isn’t something I’m comfortable with so I’d always opt to take our own food. I don’t feel like we’re missing out either as airline food isn’t great anyway!
We also asked for priority boarding to give us time to wipe down the seats and table. This worked out well on the way out and someone met us at the boarding gate to take us through. On the way back they said yes to priority boarding but didn’t follow through.
On the flight
We reminded the flight crew to make an announcement as we boarded the plane.
We then used our wipes to clean the headrest, arm rests, seat belt, tray table. We put the used wipes in a ziplock bag ready for the flight attendants to collect.
While on holiday
We mostly shopped at Intermarche which is a large supermarket with plenty of selection and a good free-from section.
We stuck to simple meals so I wouldn’t have to spend lots of time cooking! So it was mostly pasta and pizza.
I found allergy labelling in Portugal to be better than in the UK because they separated out tree nuts from peanuts. We didn’t need much of the food we packed but I’d always rather be prepared.
We used Google translate to read the food labels and soon began to recognise key phrases.
We also took our own food for the journey back which was mostly fruit, snacks and sandwiches.
My thoughts afterwards
I’m glad we had a stress-free first trip because it’s massively improved my confidence with travel. It feels like a huge accomplishment and we’re already planning our next trip abroad.
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