Traveling the World with Food Allergies

There’s certainly a lot (actually, A LOT) I don’t know, but dear readers, I border on ‘expert’ status with this topic! When our kids were very young and diagnosed with food allergies, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let their serious issues with particular foods be what defined them. Years later, with a severe (and ongoing) case of wanderlust and three kids who all have life-threatening food allergies, our family has managed to travel the globe and not starve to death in the process! Do you too have food allergies in your family? Or know someone that does? If so, have a look at these tried-and-true tricks to making globetrotting possible for those with a particularly difficult palette.

1. Snacks on Hand

Always, always, always have a food-safe snack in your tote in case you aren’t able to find any safe grub in the immediate vicinity. Few things are worse than feeling like you (or one of your littles) is starving and there is NOTHING TO EAT. This will guarantee vacation buzzkill. (And we all know that if little ones haven’t eaten in the last twenty minutes then they are absolutely on the verge of starvation). In our family we call this “hangry” (hungry + angry) and try to avoid this destructive emotion at all costs!

2. Research Online Beforehand

In this age of unlimited websites, there are endless resources at your fingertips. Before you travel do some research on Trip Advisor. Learn about the local cuisine in the areas where you’ll be traveling. Look into the restaurants you might want to frequent and see if they have an online menu available. (And if there isn’t, you can always pick up the phone to inquire, or send an email.) There are also lots of food allergy support groups that are chock-full of tips and tricks.

3. Stick with Whole Foods

Typically, when we travel overseas and out of our comfort zone, we try and stick with simple foods we know won’t contain any of ‘our’ allergens (although of course these vary between families). These whole foods – meat, fruit, veggies, cheeses, baguettes – are not just healthier for you than a typical vacation diet (Unless you eat endless warm baguettes in France like we did…Let’s just say we didn’t exactly walk off those carbs!), but also friendlier on the budget. To put it simply, if you aren’t eating food with hidden/unknown ingredients, you don’t have to worry about an accidental food exposure.

4. Shop the Neighborhood

Grab some groceries at the community market. Stopping at the local supermarket to grab a few items is a fantastic cultural experience in itself. It’s fun (and educational, BONUS) to see what locals eat and how they shop. In Spain, it was an eye-opener for my kids to realize that if they really wanted the 12-pack of soda they were going to have to carry it all the way back to our apartment and up three flights of stairs! Suddenly they had to think twice about the really heavy goodies in our shopping cart. And in Australia if you want a shopping cart you have to pony up the money to rent one.

5. Befriend the Locals

Make friends with local residents so they can help direct you to the right restaurants and grocery stores. This is a crucial step to the success of your vacation, as locals always know best and will give you secret tidbits not found in any travel book or blog. If there is a language barrier and you happen to find people that speak your language, invite them to join you for dinner too! Having them eat out with you and help order in exchange for buying their dinner is a small price to pay for a real delicatessen experience! When we lived in Granada for a summer we did just that – invited a local to join us for dinner – and were able to enjoy a variety of tasty tapas without having to worry about the kids having an allergic reaction.

6. Fast Food is Easy

Don’t judge, but when in doubt there is usually a McDonalds. I know, I know, this is totally NOT sexy, but it is safe. True experience…When our family first arrived in Barcelona after traveling for 48 hours and not following Rule #1 (see above), we were desperate for food and sheepishly walked to the McDonalds across the street from our hotel to feed our motley crew. Looking back, I should have owned it since we were starving and exhausted and had to eat! Just acknowledge to yourself that there’s always another day to make a culinary masterpiece memory and move on.

7. Food Allergy Apps

If you’re traveling to a foreign country and don’t speak the language, take the time to learn basic food allergy vocabulary before you leave. It’s a no-brainer in our family that we need to know how to say “deathly allergy to peanuts” in every language known to man! And if you know someone who speaks the local language, use them as a resource as well—ask them how you would pronounce your allergies and then practice on them to ensure comprehension with your awesome gringo accent. You can also download an allergy app on your smartphone that will actually translate the food/word you are allergic to into the local language. We used one of these apps in France (because our family members speak only English and Spanish) and it worked perfectly!

If there is a perk to traveling with food allergies (trying to look on the bright side here), it’s that the cost of a trip can be a lot cheaper because it becomes less about wining and dining and more about experiences. With a bit of extra planning and some real vigilance (not going to lie) from Mom and Dad, our family has been able to travel the world uninhibited by food allergies. Everyone can still have lots of cool adventures and cultural experiences, even with a limited diet. The Bottom Line: Don’t let food allergies define you (or your kids). By teaching them practical ways to manage the challenges associated with dietary restrictions, the world can still be their oyster!

What other tips have you discovered that help your family travel with the challenge of food allergies?


  • I love your “just own it” comment about McDonald’s and live to fight another culinary mastery! Sometimes, when traveling internationally, you or your kiddos need a little flavor of home. One of my most memorable meals was at a Denny’s in Costa Rica near the airport. It cost a MINT, but those were the best darn pancakes I’d had in ages!

    • Trish, Kudos to you and that tasty trip to Denny’s…own it girl!!!

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