As summer winds down and school is about to start again, my next few blogs will be dealing with some school-time situations. I think the topic of travel is a great bridge between old and new because it applies to both school and summer vacation. Over the course of middle and high school, I have gone many trips both with and without my parents. When you have food allergies, any time you eat out can be stressful, but on a multi-day trip without your parents, it can be even scarier. But from my experiences, I have learned ways to keep myself safe.
#1 Be a self-advocate
Every group trip that I went on in a group had a leader who was available for discussion about any questions for the trip. Be sure that you contact this leader to explain your allergy information as soon as possible. You don’t want to wait until the itinerary to comes out to find out that your group will be dining at a seafood restaurant meaning that you will have to wait outside due to your severe shellfish allergy. The sooner you can alert the trip’s staff, the more likely you will have safe options for food for the whole trip. You should also be sure to talk with anyone that you will be sharing a room with and tell them which things they should not bring, like coconut shampoo in my case. Being vocal about your food allergies can also help you to feel more comfortable with the people you are traveling with and teach them about epinephrine and your other medications in case of emergency.
#2 Pack snacks
As a Girl Scout, it’s kind of my job to be prepared, but as a scout with allergies, I am the most prepared person when it comes to packing snacks for trips. Despite everything you do to keep your leader informed, it’s never guaranteed that you will be able to eat three full meals a day with your group. Besides, it’s easy to make friends with people when they are hungry at 3pm and you have a backpack of snacks that you could share with them. I like to pack applesauce pouches, fruit snacks, dry cereal, and allergy-safe pre-packaged snacks (see links page for some suggestions). But my go-to for every traveling situation is instant oatmeal. It’s compact and provides a decent meal and all you need is a cup and hot water- which is pretty easy to find. Instant oatmeal has provided me with sustenance for many days when my only other choice was a “continental breakfast” of unidentifiable pastries, a toaster with all kinds of cross-contact, and a fruit bowl.
Once you know where your group will be dining and living, research the restaurants and make sure that they have safe options for you, and if they don’t, look for safe nearby restaurants that you could suggest to your chaperone. It’s especially important to become familiar with the area that you’re traveling to if you will be responsible for “lunch on your own” at any point in the trip.
#4 Make allergy business cards
I cannot tell you how much of a life saver it is to have a card with all of my allergies. I carry ones that I made up and printed on cardstock Avery business cards that I reuse and give to chefs at every restaurant that I go to. If you go onto FARE’s website, you can print out premade chef cards that explain your allergens to the chef in any language that you want. When I went to Europe last summer, I printed out the cards from FARE and “laminated” them with tape and reused those so many times. Once the waiters saw and read my card written in his or her language, they were much more willing to work with me to find an appropriate meal.
#5 Airplane safety
Imagine being confined in tight quarters with strangers eating poison and you have no chance of seeking medical attention for another 5 hours. This is why airplanes are one of the scariest places for people with food allergies- especially if you’re flying over an ocean with no emergency landing locations. Therefore, you must be extra vigilant when flying with allergies. No matter how long the flight, you should contact the airline and look at their food allergy procedures before boarding. Some airlines will let you board first and wipe down your seat, or they will hand out pretzels instead of peanuts as the free snack. For short flights, it’s safest to just pack your own snack to avoid any problems with finding a safe snack to purchase. But for longer flights where meals are served, it can get more complicated. Some airlines will work to give you an allergy-safe dish if you contact them with enough notice before your long-distance flight. But just in case, I always pack myself some instant oatmeal. You don’t want to be without food for 8 hours.
With these tips in mind, I have made it through all kinds of trips from day trips at amusement parks to my 9-day European trip with my Girl Scout troop. Tell me where you’ve traveled with your allergies and what else you’ve done to stay safe while traveling in the comments!