Safe Travel With Allergies: It’s All in the Planning

With the world opening up again for travel, there are lots of us excitedly planning our next trip. Travel with allergies can cause real anxiety for people with serious allergies. Whether you are travelling with food allergies, or perhaps allergies to stinging insects, medication or latex, travelling to new and unknown destinations can be nerve-wracking as well as exciting.

The key to enjoying travel with allergies is to plan really well before you go. We’ve put together some practical things to do to ensure that you can travel safely. And also be confident that you can manage an allergic reaction if things do go wrong.

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Practical tips on how to travel with allergies

Can you travel with serious allergies? Of course you can! We’ve had a break from travel recently due to the pandemic, but have managed to squeeze in some trips within Australia. Before that, we have travelled to a number of overseas destinations with multiple food allergies and allergies to medications. And we are planning some more adventures.

We’ve learnt a few things along the way that help keep our family travel with allergies running smoothly. Some of these tips are relevant to people with food allergies, but many of them will be helpful to people travelling with any type of allergy.

Researching and choosing your destination

Allergies shouldn’t stop us from seeing the world. Sometimes though it can make sense to think about where you are travelling and how that might work with your particular allergies.

Travelling overseas to a country where you don’t know the local language might be a factor to consider. Or if you have food allergies, travelling to countries where your food allergen is a very popular ingredient and the labelling laws might not be the same as your country can be an issue. What is the healthcare system like in your destination? These are things that shouldn’t necessarily stop you from travelling somewhere, but they might require a bit more planning.

Where to find information

This is why it pays to do a little research. If you are old enough to remember having to buy the latest copy of the Lonely Planet guide, you’ll be pleased to know research is so much easier now. With some help from google, you can find information about your chosen countries language, foods and standard of health care at the tip of your fingers. Allergy support organisations often have great information. For example, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia’s travelling with allergies page includes links to labelling laws in a number of countries that is very helpful.1

Another great way to do research is to ask the allergy community. For example, if you have food allergies you’ll find like-minded people on travel forums, local Facebook groups and Reddit communities. There’s sure to be some people who have been to your chosen destination and have great advice to offer. I am part of a Facebook Group for food allergies in Australia. Someone from the US joined this week to ask for advice and reassurance about travelling in Australia with peanut and tree nut allergies. Whether you want general information about destinations, or more specific information about allergy-friendly hotels or places to eat, asking people with first hand knowledge can be really helpful.

Booking plane travel with food allergies

Something to consider when booking flights is which airline to chose. If you have peanut or nut allergies, does the airline serve peanuts or nuts as snacks onboard? And did you know that some airlines require you to sign a waiver before you fly with food allergies? Ask your airline what assistance they offer for people with food allergies. Some will avoid serving peanuts or nuts in the seats around you or make an announcement to passengers not to eat peanuts or nuts they have brought on board. Allergy & Anaphylaxis has a fantastic airline comparison tool which sets out major food allergens served onboard, in-flight accommodations and emergency protocols in the event of an allergic reaction for a host of different airlines. Airline policies may have changed, so you should still contact your airline directly to confirm before you book your tickets.

Where to stay

Perhaps you are the adventurous type and like to travel to remote locations. Personally, we like to chose locations that are accessible and close to medical care just in case we need it. If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, you’ll need to have a plan to access emergency care if required.

If you are travelling with food allergies, give serious consideration to staying in self-catering accommodation. Our family finds it so much easier to stay in an apartment or hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette. Even if you are off exploring all day, it is reassuring to know you have the option to go back to your accommodation and prepare a safe meal. We usually stock up at a local shop at the start of our stay so that we have everything we need readily available.

Planning a stay in a hotel or resort instead? This is another time the allergy community can be so helpful. Ask for recommendations on places to stay that are great at catering to allergies. And of course, get in touch with the hotel or resort yourself and ask questions too.

Organise travel insurance as soon as you book

As soon as you have booked your flights and accommodation, you should take out travel insurance at the same time (especially for international travel). However, don’t just take out a general policy and assume that your allergies will be covered. And don’t just rely on the automatic insurance that comes with your credit card.

Did you know that allergies are a “pre-existing medical condition” that needs to be disclosed when you apply for travel insurance? Some travel insurance policies will cover mild allergies automatically, but others don’t. For more serious allergies (where someone is at risk of anaphylaxis, or also has asthma), travel insurers might offer cover after completing a medical assessment and paying an additional premium. And other companies won’t cover some allergies at all.

You might think that being covered for allergies is not that important. But if you don’t have travel insurance and have a severe reaction, the costs can add up very quickly. You may have to pay for ambulance, hospital and medical fees, but also delayed flights, changed accommodation bookings, or even the need to be evacuated home.

You can read more about why it is so important to have travel insurance that covers allergies and what to look for in our post – Travel Insurance for Allergies: What You Need to Check

Ad for CoverMore travel insurance with hiker on mountain

Make an appointment with your doctor

Well before you travel, make an appointment with your doctor to prepare for your trip. Make sure that you have enough allergy and asthma medications and that they are still in-date. Otherwise ask your doctor for new prescriptions as required.

You should also ask your doctor for a letter to take with you explaining your allergies and the need to carry any medications, like your epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Anapen or similar). If you live in Australia, ask your doctor or nurse to complete a Travel Plan for Anaphylaxis. You should carry this together with your Action Plan and your emergency medication with you personally at all times. If you need to update your Action Plan, you can do this at the same time. I like to store a scanned copy of the Travel Plan and Action Plan on my phone. You can even do this in the Allergy Pal App.

Look up the local medical centre, hospital and ambulance before you go

This might seem a little over the top to some people, but it’s something I always do. Knowing in advance how to access medical care is so important in an emergency. It’s something that is usually second nature to people with allergies at home.

Once you know where you are staying, look up where the nearest medical centre and hospital are, just in case. Make a note of the address and details with your itinerary. Then look up the number for the emergency ambulance or paramedic in your destination and put it in your phone. In the unfortunate event that you need it, you’ll be so grateful that you did this in advance.

Model plane on world map with text "practical tips for safe travel with allergies, it's all in the planning"

Update your medical ID on phone

Speaking of phones, if you have a smartphone like an iPhone or Samsung, did you know that you can store your allergy medical information there too?

Most smartphones have a feature which allows you to store emergency contact details and medical information in an easily accessible way. This information can be accessed by first responders (ambulance, doctors etc) even when your phone’s home screen is locked. If you’ve already entered your information, it’s a good idea to review and update this before you head away on your travels. Find out more in our post – How to share emergency allergy medical ID on your phone.

Medical alert ID

Another way to alert others to your allergy is to wear a medical alert ID. If you don’t already have one, planning a trip a way is a good prompt to get you to organise it.

Recording your allergies (food, medication, insects etc) on your medical alert ID is so important if you have a reaction and need medical assistance. First responders and health care workers are trained to look for medical alerts.

You are probably aware of traditional medical alert bracelets, and these are still very popular. But there are now so many different types and styles of medical alerts, You can have your allergies engraved on necklaces, dog tags or traditional bracelets. Or you can get modern silicone bands and medical alert ID that is more suited to sports and activities, and safe options for children. There are companies that will link your medical ID number to a phone assistance program where first responders can access more information. See some of favourite options here: Our pick of the latest Allergy Medical Alert IDs

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Allergy translation card

If you are travelling to a country where you don’t speak the local language, an accurate allergy translation card is a must.

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia has a translated chef card template available in a number of different languages available to download.

We personally use and love Equal Eats allergy translation cards. Equal Eats make professional customised cards for all kinds of allergies – not just food allergies, but also medications, latex, insects, intolerances and a range of special dietary requirements. You can buy sturdy plastic cards for your wallet, digital cards or print at home versions. These fantastic cards are available in over 50 different languages. We have a card with English on one side and German on the other. Use code ALLERGYSPOT for 10% of your Equal Eats purchase.

Equal Eats allergy translation card for food allergies
Equal Eats allergy translation card

Packing tips

Always carry your emergency allergy medicines on you in person. Do not pack them in your luggage that is going to be stowed in the cargo hold or storage area of a plane, train or bus. You need to be able to access them immediately in case of an emergency. On the plane, keep your medications under the seat in front of you and not in the overhead locker.

When we are travelling, we always take extra asthma and allergy medications with us. As an added precaution, when travelling as a family we usually take two complete “sets” of asthma and allergy medicines (with 2 EpiPens in each set) and carry them in separate bags. This way, if a bag gets lost or stolen, we have a backup.

Extra precautions for travel with food allergies

Even with the best of plans, food allergies can present a few unique problems once you start your trip.

Airline travel

Travelling by plane? Hopefully you’ve chosen an airline that doesn’t serve your allergens as snacks throughout the flight. But there is more you can do to minimise your risks in the air.

When boarding, let the crew know that you have allergies and the location of your action plan and medication. This is especially important if you are travelling by yourself. Again, these should be in your hand luggage under the seat.

If you are travelling with young children, you might like to let the passengers around you know of any allergies too so that they are aware not to offer food. We usually have our child with allergies sit near the window with a parent seated in the middle as a “buffer”.

It’s a good idea to take some cleaning wipes and wipe down tray tables, arm rests and other points of contact. You never know what the person before you was eating! Some airlines will let you board first to give you time to do this before others take their seats.

What if someone seated near you is eating one of your food allergens and you are feeling concerned? (Yes, we sat behind someone eating a whole bag of pistachio nuts in the shells once, with a serious pistachio allergy!) Don’t panic, but let the crew know and they may be able to assist by asking the passenger to stop or even moving seats.

Pack your own safe food

No matter where we travel, we always take at least some safe snacks for the trip. If you are a food allergy parent, you are probably already used to having safe snacks in your bag al all times! For longer journeys this becomes even more important.

Always take your own safe food on plane flights. Even if the airline says that it can accommodate you with an allergy free meal option. We chose not to take any risk of cross-contact. There’s also the possibility that the meal isn’t delivered, a flight is changed, or your meal choice is just not available. This can be challenging on a long haul flight, or with young children, but it can be done. Take a range of safe and appropriately packaged foods. You can usually ask airline staff for hot water if needed on board (eg for baby formula or heating a meal). And with the letter from your doctor or Travel Plan you organised before you left, you’ll have something to show the airport and airline staff if there are any questions about the food you are taking onboard.

Travelling by road, rail or sea

Even if you aren’t flying to your destination, it’s a good idea to take safe snacks with you for the trip. Long trips by train, bus or boat can present the same problems. Even if you are driving by car and you think you will be able to buy safe options available at stops along the way, it’s good to have a back up just in case you can’t.

And the advice about cleaning head rests, arm rests and table tops applies just as much to travelling by other means – whether you are on a train, a bus, or a boat.

After all the planning

With good planning and preparation, you should feel a lot more confident about enjoying your travels and managing your allergies while you are away. We hope these travel tips help you plan your next adventure.

1For more information about managing your allergies while travelling, see Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia’s website on travelling with allergies.

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