Traveling with a nut allergy can be stressful. Especially when you or a loved one has a severe food allergy, you’ll need to consider making special arrangements and pre-plan to prevent allergic reactions in new environments. I’m sure there’s a lot you already have on your to-do list. Unfortunately, I’m going to add in a few more things to consider. But, these checklist items are important! It may seem like a lot of prep work now, but you’ll be glad you thought about these things ahead of time once you’re on your trip. Here are five tips to put on your to-do list before traveling with a nut allergy. We hope they’ll make you feel well prepared for your upcoming trip. Safe Travels!
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1. Notify Your Physician, if This Is Your First Time Traveling With a Nut Allergy
It's good to create an Emergency Care Plan specific to traveling. You’ll want to set up an appointment to talk to your allergist in order to go over your travel plans. Your allergist can map out any potential problems and then address what to do in case of an emergency while you’re away from the physicians familiar with your medical history.
Your allergist will be the best person to access risk. They’ll have the most valuable advice pertaining to your particular travel plans. And they’ll be able to provide customized medical advice specific to you or your family’s condition. Should any medical care be needed while away from home, they can also create a plan on what to do for emergency medical care and treatment. Talk to your allergist about your preferred method of travel (Bus, plane, or are you driving? And what should you expect in those situations? What is the preventative plan to minimize exposure?). And make sure you also talk about what to do when you dine out if you’re visiting a foreign country. (Should you be traveling abroad as your preferred vacation spot.)
Your allergist will plan out specific steps that you or your child can take if you find yourself in a situation where you’re having a medical emergency. This will be especially helpful if you’re creating a new environment for yourself by visiting a completely new location, or new country. Your allergist will also be able to put their care plan in writing, print it on their medical letterhead or stationary, and then you can take their written plan with you to refer back to. Having a plan set in place, with specific steps, will help alleviate anxiety on what actionable steps should be done if something goes awry. The last thing you’ll want to do while having an allergic reaction, or watching your child have one, is to brainstorm and try to come up with a plan.
It’s also a good idea to carry a copy of your travel emergency medical care plan should someone else be able to help or assist you during a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis attack.
I suggest taking a few printed copies of your care plan and to take them with you on your trip. Make sure a copy is stored nearby in an easy to find location, in a place you can access in the event of an allergic reaction. And don’t forget to wear your medical ID bracelet!
A printed care plan will also help communicate your medical needs for you. Make sure you have a copy translated if that’s something that will be applicable to your travel plans. You’re more likely to be treated with the preventative care you need when time is of the essence. A printed doctor’s note can also ensure that you’ll be able to carry your medications at all times, on the airplane, on a bus, etc.
2. Make Sure Your Travel Insurance Covers Food Allergies
Typically, if you're traveling with a pre-existing condition, your pre-existing condition will need to be considered “stable” in order to be eligible for coverage by travel insurance companies. However, if you’re pre-existing condition is a nut allergy, it’s never really “stable”. A severe allergic reaction can happen at any time. It’s not predictable and neither is the severity of a potential reaction to a known allergen. What has happened in the past isn’t necessarily an indication that your allergic reaction won’t worsen the next time your food allergy is triggered.
Some travel insurance companies will cover your nut allergy, but only if you have proof of “stability”. They’ll do this by insisting coverage is dependent upon a mandatory period of time between the time of travel and the last time you have been hospitalized for your allergic reaction. Meaning, if it’s been 12 months, two years, etc. where you haven’t been admitted to a hospital, your allergy can then be considered “stable”. Each insurance company’s eligibility will be dependent on different time frames to qualify as “stable.”
A pre-existing condition is a condition that you are aware of before traveling. Should someone have an allergic reaction on a trip with absolutely no history of food allergies, the case should be covered by regular travel insurance. But, if someone knows about a pre-existing condition, like a life-long, life-threatening food allergy, it’s important to be honest and upfront about your case history with your travel insurance company. Otherwise, should something happen, the travel insurance company could file a claim and refuse aid.
If your insurance plan doesn’t cover anaphylaxis and you end up having an anaphylaxis attack, any hospital charges will turn into out-of-pocket charges. If there’s proof you knew about your condition and were not honest about it when purchasing travel insurance, your claims could be rejected. So you must declare your food allergy to the insurance company to avoid any sort of claim rejection.
Every policy will be a bit different.
When shopping around for your policy, be sure to look for coverage of anaphylaxis, specifically.
If you live in Ireland, the UK, or Australia, the company Compare Travel Insurance put together an article comparing five different travel insurance plans that lists travel insurance companies that do cover pre-existing nut allergies.
3. Learn What Local Dishes Have Your Allergen Inside of Them and Which Dishes to Avoid
Take a moment to research the culture of whatever area you're traveling to. Are there specific dishes that are popular and in every restaurant? Is there a staple dish that you can learn more about that is likely to be completely nut free? Are there certain dishes that are likely to have nuts somewhere inside their recipe that you need to be extra careful around? Are there certain dishes so likely to have nuts inside their recipe that you need to avoid them completely?
Doing a little bit of research can help you better recognize your allergen while dining out. If you do find a nut free dish you enjoy, never assume that the dish will be completely nut free at every restaurant. Even if it is, there’s still a risk of cross-contamination. You must have the allergen talk at every restaurant you visit.
But, it’s true that certain dishes and certain restaurants will be more welcoming than others. If you find a restaurant that made you feel like your concerns were addressed and heard, go back often! If they make you feel comfortable, it’s nice to have familiarity and stability.
Do you have a host that can educate you on the culture or be your advocate when dining out? If you don't have a guide, maybe consider hiring one. Having a translator that speaks your native language and the native language of wherever you're traveling to would be highly beneficial.
Don't forget certain sauces could have nuts grounded up inside of them, even when nut particles aren’t visible. This is true, even if in your native country nuts aren’t used in similar dishes. There are bound to be certain sauces that are new to you, because certain dishes will be completely new to you! Researching the local cuisine of wherever you are visiting ahead of time will help you recognize which dishes are potentially dangerous, in addition to which other red flags you’ll want to avoid while dining out.
4. Order An Allergy Card In A Few Different Languages
If you’re traveling to a foreign country, it’s possible that your native language might not be the primary language. It’s normal to experience anxiety around getting lost in translation. You might be thinking of a worse case scenario like, “Does the waiter know that I said no nuts? Or do they think I said extra nuts?”
There are certain websites that can translate your regular restaurant cards. You can make your own or you can order a template of a pre-translated card, like this one from Select Wisely. Allergy Cards are great for clear and direct communication regarding your allergen and they are especially handy when you can pass them along to your server.
The Select Wisely brand has a pre-made card where you can select a language and have a template translated. Check out the right-hand corner. The actual info that’s listed on the allergy card is pretty straight forward. It saves you from the additional anxiety of wondering whether or not the waiter heard you right or understood exactly what it was that you were saying. It's also really portable. It’s sized like a credit card and can be stored inside your wallet for easy access.
Equal Eats is another brand of allergy cards that offers a customizable pre-made template, and it’s able to be translated into various languages with a click of a button. This company would be a great option for someone who has multiple food allergies, and not just nuts. It’s really customizable. It’s easy to choose your allergens and then choose whichever language you want your travel card to be written in.
Pre-translated allergy cards are fantastic. They take out a lot of guesswork and can give you some confidence in your ability to translate your needs. But, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re unable to communicate with your allergy card alone, or if something happens and you need to speak up, if you have questions about a specific dish etc, and you aren’t quite sure what to say as the language is a little new to you, do consider using google translate! You type whatever you need to say in your native language inside the google translate browser, and then have it translated to text. Instead of trying to speak the translation, simply show the waiter the translated text from your phone. Don’t forget that pronunciation can also change your intended translation! If in doubt, simply exchange communication exclusively through written text.
5. Stock up on snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated
If you get to a restaurant and are starting to feel uncomfortable, leave. If you’re starting to feel like you’re just unsure, leave. If you start to second guess whether or not the restaurant you and your friends finally found fully understands the urgency of you needing to stay away from nuts, you’ll want to be able to reach into your bag and pull out a snack to tie you over. When thinking of snacks that you can take with you, and keep in mind you’ll want to rely on snacks that won’t need to be refrigerated.
Since you’re traveling to a foreign place and everything around you will be new, consider bringing snacks you’re already familiar with. Focus on your staples items. Pack them in your luggage and keep a few snacks in a backpack so you can bring food with you while you hike, see the city, etc. When everything else is new, it’s nice to stick to some things you’re already familiar with. Especially if this is the first time you’re traveling to a particular area or city. If you have a favorite protein shake — that’s awesome! Bring that. Protein shakes are great because they don’t normally need to be refrigerated until after they’ve been opened. They’re also filled with tons of healthy energy and make for a great meal placement. And that’s ideal. Should a meal replacement suddenly become necessary — boom.
If you can refrigerate your protein shakes, in your hotel room etc., go ahead and do so as they’ll probably taste better cold. I’m not sure how well protein shakes would hold up if they're consistently being taken in and out of the refrigerator. If the shake’s temperature keeps changing dramatically, I would imagine it would decrease the shelf life expectancy or at least the nutritional vitality of the product. So, maybe just put a few shakes in at a time to not waste food, or risk food spoilage.
If you aren’t typically into protein shakes and haven’t given pre-made shakes much of a thought before now, check out the plant-based protein shakes by OWYN. OWYN makes shakes in four nut free flavors: chocolate, cookies ‘n' cream, strawberry banana, and vanilla. They each have 20 grams of protein and are each free from the top common allergens. So, no dairy, soy, gluten or wheat, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, or shellfish. If left unopened, they have an 18 month shelf-life. They’re perfect for keeping a few inside your bag or backpack as a backup plan! For more info on nut free protein powders, see our article 10 Great Nut Free Protein Powders for Your Workout.
Summary for These Tips on Traveling With a Nut Allergy
These tips are just the beginning! There’s a lot that goes into creating a safe travel experience when you have a nut allergy. If you're interested in learning more about flying with a nut allergy, please see our article Flying With a Peanut Allergy. We hope our tips will help alleviate some of the stress you’re feeling around your travel plans. If you have any tips of your own in regards to traveling with a nut allergy, please share them with the community! We’d love to connect with you over at Instagram. Tell us: What are a few things you learned while traveling abroad? Are there certain things you would do differently? What would you absolutely do again?
Our IG handle is @gonutfree. See you there!