International Travel with Food Allergies

Travel is a passion and significant part of my life.  It is when I feel most relaxed and at peace. The world has so many spectacular places and amazing sites. I don’t want to miss any of them! Of course having anaphylactic food allergies does make this love of mine much more complicated.

I have been fortunate to have countless travel experiences all over the world. I have ridden camels in the dessert, sailed on boats in the Whitsundays, and somersaulted down towering sand dunes. I have ridden in a jeep through the largest sand island in the world, smelled the scent of fresh rosemary while overlooking one of the most spiritual cities, and held a baby kangaroo that had just been rescued in the Outback. These are just a few of the many irreplaceable adventures that I have been fortunate enough to experience (even with my allergies). I would hate to have missed out on any of these opportunities for fear of an allergic reaction.

I never let my food allergies get in the way of where I want to go and what I want to do. I try to make careful choices that I feel comfortable with as much as possible. I don’t enjoy feeling on guard all the time. After putting myself through a few of those experiences, I have realized they surpass my comfort level and are not worth the risk. It took experiences though to realize my comfort levels.

Last spring, there was a lot of controversy about airlines serving nuts on flights (particularly Northwest Airlines). There were irresponsible bloggers sharing their opinions with no knowledge of their writing subject or even any background. There were many angry customers who could not understand why “all of a sudden” there were all these children with peanut allergies. Like many things, people who were uninformed and unaffected were shouting out at all of these allergic reactors for having allergies and ruining their ability to eat peanuts on the airplane.

After I read this, it further emphasized the significance of education.  There are too many people who are ignorant about the severity of allergies. I have spoken with people at both ends of the spectrum.  You just never know who you will encounter and to what extent they will understand.

Some airlines are more accommodating than others.  My international flights have never been an easy process.  The first time that I flew to Australia on Qantas, they asked me to fill out a form that protected their liability with my allergies.  Since then when I have flown to Australia or even within Australia, I have had pilots tell me not to bother flying.  “Find another way,” they say to me dismissively.  They know even better than I do that request is ridiculous!  The United States is the same size as Australia (except that Australia is mostly empty desert speckled with six main cities spread out through the entire country). I refused to leave the airline. At the time, my boyfriend and I had already paid for our tickets and we were going! I remember how frustrated I felt though and how angry I was that the attendants and pilots had such a narrow view.

Since then I have had many other flights with similar experiences. Last fall I was on my way to Istanbul, Turkey. I was flying Lufthansa and requested a nut free flight. At first the man I spoke with gave me a difficult time, and then went to go ask the captain. The captain said that they would still serve nuts (macadamia specifically). When I was told they wouldn’t fly nut free, the captain asked me how severe my allergy was then started to suggest I find another way to travel (right, like it is easy to get to Istanbul by other modes of transportation)! It does make my blood boil when they say that because I then have the responsibility of turning the conversation around so that they will still let me fly.

The concern of liability has taken the place of education and accommodation. The airline does not actually care if you fly with them.  In an article from the Seattle Times, a spokesperson from Continental Airlines said, “We do not set up a peanut-free zone because it would mislead the customers into thinking the cabin is free of allergens, which the airline cannot guarantee.” Although some airlines do have a peanut-free zone (so I’ve heard), I have never experienced it on a flight myself.

I definitely understand the flying frustration (as I write this I can feel my own frustration as I am pressing the keys harder and faster)! I go with my gut feeling usually though, and have never turned down a flight. Often I won’t eat even my own food on flights. I will wait until I get off the plane to eat. I feel more comfortable that way. I ALWAYS carry hand wipes to clean my seat and wipe off my hands if I need to touch my face.

In an article I read on March 14, 2009, from Medical News Today, it said, “Families with food allergic individuals make significant lifestyle alterations when it comes to vacation planning.” I agree that there are certainly alterations that must be made for us allergic reactors to feel comfortable while traveling.  It can be done though, and the joy of travel should alleviate the exhaustion of being extra prepared!

There were a few surveys in this article. One survey said that 36 percent of the people that were surveyed said that they limited the type of transportation that they take for vacations, with 80 percent avoiding ships and 65 percent avoiding planes. That sounds like some very limiting travel! It is difficult to get anywhere far away for a vacation without either a ship or a plane.

The article also surveyed what people did to typically prepare for travel. There were 67 percent who got extra epinephrine, 94 percent who packed allergy-free food, 53 percent who requested special airplane accommodations and 48 percent who researched where the closest hospital was located. I tend to consider each of those accommodations when preparing for a trip.

They also mentioned the least likely locations that people with allergies were likely to visit. Japan, India, China, Africa and beach resorts in foreign countries were the locations least likely to visit. I have yet to visit any of those countries, although I have gone to beach resorts in foreign countries before. Asia is a difficult place to travel with fish and nut allergies. I am not sure what I would eat there, and would definitely need to research ahead. My dad who is also allergic to nuts has gone to Asia on business before and had difficulty.  He will eat some fish and plain white rice. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be though! At some point I will probably try to venture there (likely with a suitcase of dehydrated food). There are many amazing places to see and such a different culture. I am sure I will figure it out, but for now it is not top on my list (especially since I am aware that it is less allergy friendly for me). I still have plenty of travel destinations that are a bit easier.

There was a survey in this article that I found somewhat obvious, but interesting nonetheless. The survey showed that 68 percent limit the type of destination. It also said that 90 percent only vacation in the United States. There was only 0.3 percent that traveled to remote locations. This reminded me of my own remote location travels.

Although remote locations can be scary for allergic reactors, they can also be an exciting adventure that I don’t want to miss! It puts me in a game of tug-o-war with myself. The adventurous, free-spirited traveler in me says, “GO! It’s an adventure of a lifetime!” While the other rational side of me says, “It’s not safe. You will be uncomfortable the entire time. It is not worth the risk.” It is a hard game to win. I don’t want to miss out on an interesting and exciting adventure, but I also want to feel safe and worry-free. Both sides have won at times…

One example of the adventurous traveler winning over was when I lived in Australia and went traveling for my spring break from school. My friend Rachel and I went sailing in the Whitsundays for four days, and then to Fraser Island. Both parts of the trip were amazing, but both parts made me uncomfortable. Both trips were in remote locations where arranging help quickly would have been difficult. I brought my own food, and was extremely careful with everything, but it still was not the most relaxing trip! I was glad that I had these experiences for a few reasons though. One reason is because I became very aware of where my comfort level lies. Another reason is because I did have incredible adventures that many people never have the opportunity to experience.

There are ways that I have found to make most travel experiences comfortable for me. One way is to make chef cards in the language of the country I will be in. Another way is to pack dehydrated food if I know that there may be times where I won’t find something to eat. The good thing about dehydrated food is that all you need is boiling water to heat it up and then you have a meal. I will not rave about the delicious taste of these meals (because that is not usually true), but when I am hungry and there is nothing else, dehydrated meals don’t sound so bad! I used them all the time when I was traveling one summer through Prague, Cyprus and Israel. I don’t know what I would have done without them that summer!

There are endless travel experiences to share. International travel with food allergies is tricky but absolutely worth it.  Finding a way to make it happen with my allergies is a priority. The world is an amazing place. I don’t want to miss it because of food allergies. That’s just not a good enough reason.


  1. You make some really great suggestions about travelling with an allergic family, and it reminded me of the time that we were in a foreign country and forgot to pack rice cereal for our baby. Not a canister of rice cereal on the entire island, so we decided to feed our child what the locals use as starter food, and she had a horrible reaction. We should have taken a cue from you and done some better packing. Thanks for a great entry.


  2. Hi Stacia,
    Wow! I would love to know how it goes! Are you visiting people there or just traveling? Have you done any international travel with your daughter before? I’m sure that will be a wonderful, but challenging trip! Good luck with everything! I would love to hear about it when you come back! Thank for reading! :)
    -Miss Allergic Reactor

  3. My daughter and I will be traveling to Taiwan next month. She is severely allergic to milk and has an allergy to wheat. I’m anaphylactic to shellfish. It should be interesting… thanks for sharing your experiences!!

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