For the nearly 15 million Americans with food allergies, traveling can be at best a challenge and at worst a nightmare. And yet, as a publicist for hospitality clients, travel is not only just a passion of mine, but for lack of a better phrase, it's my life's work. Diagnosed with food allergies late in life, I quickly had to learn (often by trial and error) how to navigate my seemingly endless business trips with my own personal well-being. And with an easily managed system in place, I've traveled around the world in the past few years - from the Caribbean and Africa to Europe and small towns in the US - with little to no problem and dare I say it - even enjoyed the experience.
In celebration of national #FoodAllergyAwarenessWeek, here is my go to guide for traveling safely with food allergies:
- Do Your Research - This is my personal mantra whether I'm traveling or just planning brunch or cocktails with friends. Make Google your best friend. Nearly all restaurants, bars and hotels list menus online to help in the pre-travel phase. Sure, it takes some of the excitement away from visiting a restaurant for the first-time, but it also quells some of the pre-meal anxiety that is so common with food allergies. And to take it a step further, most hotels, cruise lines and resorts have food allergy programs in place that allow you to register your requirements during the booking process and meet with a chef upon arrival to create a custom menu plan.
- Be Your Own Advocate - For many, food allergies are considered a stigma, with a misconceived notion that your challenges are an inconvenience to others. Honestly, even if they are, who cares? Food allergies are a medical condition; we're not picky. We'd all love to order off a menu (remember those days!?), but that's simply not a possibility for us. I often prepare a note card that lists all my food allergies so that there's no lapse in communication from the waiter to the kitchen, particularly helpful in international destinations. I also tend to focus on what I CAN eat, giving specific instructions on how to make my meal, rather than listing off my numerous allergies which can get confusing and for many, intimidating. If asked, chefs are also extremely receptive to speaking with patrons about their allergies; ultimately they're in the service industry and want to make everyone's dining experience a pleasant and safe one. And this goes without saying, if the plate doesn't look like right: SEND IT BACK.
- Prepare for the Unexpected - As any frequent traveler will say, you always have to prepare for the things that simply could not be part of your research - from flight delays, to rescheduled meetings and changes in dining venues. For this reason, my luggage tends to resemble an aisle at Whole Foods, but it's saved me on many, many occasions. I never travel without the below items in my bag:
- Almond butter and hummus packets
- Rice cakes
- Granola bars, such as Kit's Organic and Larabars
- Homemade trail mixes (coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, cashews, dried mango, etc)
- Avocados. They're delicious, portable, usually don't need refrigeration and can add some much needed protein and fat to any meal
- A doctor's note. This may seem overzealous to some, but when traveling with food and icepacks, it has saved me from long Q+A sessions with TSA agents on many occasions
- Stay Positive - Yeah, I'll say it: food allergies suck. But don't let its inherent challenges ruin an amazing experience.
Here's to exploration, curiosity and a Benadryl-free vacation, SR