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Five Tips for Traveling With Food Allergies

Food Allergies
Allianz - Food Allergies

Travel — especially international travel — can feel like a huge risk when you have a serious food allergy or food intolerance. What if you experience a reaction when you’re far from medical help? What if a waiter misunderstands what you’re saying? What if there’s just nothing you can eat?

Don’t let your allergy stop you from seeing the world! While traveling with food allergies can be challenging, you can do it successfully and safely with some thoughtful preparation.

Always, always, always get travel insurance

We can’t overstate how important it is for travelers with food allergies to protect themselves with travel insurance. Specifically, you need a plan that includes emergency medical and dental benefits and emergency medical transportation benefits. Here are the top reasons why:

  • If you suffer a covered illness or injury during your trip — whether due to your allergy or another cause — travel insurance can reimburse the reasonable and customary costs of emergency medical care (up to the limits stated in your plan). We can also guarantee or advance payments, where accepted, if you’ll be hospitalized for more than 24 hours.
  • If you suffer a covered illness or injury during your trip and our medical assistance team determines that the local medical facilities are unable to provide appropriate medical treatment, travel insurance can pay for your medical evacuation to the nearest appropriate facility.
  • If you suffer a covered illness or injury that forces you to cancel or interrupt your trip, your trip cancellation or trip interruption benefits can reimburse you for pre-paid, non-refundable, unused trip costs.
  • If you need help in a hurry, you can call the Allianz Global Assistance hotline from anywhere in the world. Our multilingual experts can help you refill a prescription, reach local emergency services, find a local allergist or other medical specialist, or even find restaurants near you with allergy-sensitive menus.

Our most popular travel insurance plan for international trips is OneTrip Prime. Not only does this plan include a wide array of benefits, but kids 17 and under are covered for free when traveling with a parent or grandparent (not available on policies issued to Pennsylvania residents).

Please note that a food allergy may be considered a pre-existing medical condition. Travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance can cover losses resulting from a pre-existing medical condition, but certain requirements must be met when you’re purchasing your plan. Read your plan documents carefully, and contact us if you have any questions about what’s covered.

Choose allergy-friendly countries.

In Thailand, crushed peanuts are a popular topping on many dishes. In Peru, peanuts are an unexpected addition to many traditional meals, such as ají de gallina (chicken stew) and cuy con papas (guinea pig with potato stew, hot peppers, and toasted peanuts). If you or someone in your family has a life-threatening peanut allergy, it may make sense to steer clear of countries where peanuts are widely used.

Allergy-friendly travel destinations include the U.K., where restaurants are required to provide information on allergens and Japan, where nut dishes rarely appear on menus (seafood, however, is common).i In Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, the E.U. and several other Central/South American and Asian countries, major allergens must be listed on packaged food.ii However, the definition of “major allergens” varies by country.

What about gluten-free travel? Lonely Planet recommends Italy, India, and Ethiopia as a few delicious destinations for gluten-free travelers.iii

Seek out food allergy-friendly resorts, cruise ships, and airlines 

Travel providers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect travelers who have serious food allergies. When you’re planning your trip, ask the cruise line or resort company about their policies. Some cruise lines train youth staff to administer Epi-Pens, for instance, while others only allow medical staff to do it.iv Some cruise lines want you to communicate your allergies to them a few months ahead of time; others advise speaking with your server or the maitre d’ once you’re on board.v

Allergy-friendly all-inclusive resorts can be hard to find, but they do exist. Palladium Hotels & Resorts is one favorite of travelers with food allergies. Guests are given dietary cards that specify their allergy, which helps staff serve them appropriate meals. Specific menus are available for diners who are gluten-free or allergic to nuts, eggs, dairy, seafood, MSG or fruits, and

Plan multiple ways to communicate your food allergy or sensitivity.

When you have a serious food allergy, a language barrier can be life-threatening. One family that spent a year traveling the world with a peanut-allergic child has one essential piece of advice: “If you are sitting at a restaurant and your waiter does not speak English very well, do not even verbally mention your peanut allergy.” That’s because the server may understand only the word “peanut,” they explain, and assume you want nuts added to your food.

If you’re traveling with food allergies in a country where English is not widely spoken, you may:

  • Print a customized allergy card in the local language to use in restaurants.
  • Bring extra copies of your food allergy emergency care plan, translated into the language of your destination.
  • Learn how to say “I have a serious X allergy” in the local language. Practice it with a native speaker to make sure you’re being understood.
  • Download the Allergy Food Translator app (check to make sure the language you need is supported). Or, use Google Translate or a similar service. Just don’t rely entirely on your phone to serve as your translator — devices may break, run out of batteries or get stolen.

Carry extra medication — and always have a plan B.

If your allergy requires rescue medication, carry it with you at all times. Always pack essential prescription medications in your carry-on, not your checked bags.

You should also research the availability of your medication at your destination. Epinephrine auto-injectors are not typically available at pharmacies in Mexico, for example.vii Talk to your doctor about your travel plans and ask him or her to prescribe extra medication you can bring on your travels.

One last thing: Before you leave, download the free TravelSmart app from Allianz Global Assistance. It’s not just a convenient way to access your travel insurance; this robust travel app helps you find nearby, pre-screened medical facilities, and includes glossaries for medical terms and medications in several languages, and puts local emergency numbers at your fingertips.

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