Traveling with Food Allergies

As if traveling with kids wasn’t difficult enough

One of the universal experiences of motherhood is that feeling of sheer panic when your child is in danger. When every ounce of your being wants to wrap your arms around your precious child, shelter, and fiercely protect them from all the dangers in this world.   I had such an experience a few months ago when an allergist confirmed my 2 year old, Cora, had an allergy to tree nuts.

Exposure could result in symptoms up to and including anaphylactic shock and her throat closing. My husband was living in Germany at the time and I was preparing for my daughters and I to join him. I allowed myself only a short wallow, and comfort in my own mother’s hug, before adjusting to our family’s new reality.



Food allergy education

Cora has the mixed blessing of a protective older sister. They have both been taught what nuts she cannot eat and to always ask if there are nuts in a product. When ordering ice cream, big sister gently reminds her that she can’t have the hazelnut flavor but the strawberry looks tasty too.

For adults, there is a wealth of information on www.foodallergy.org.  When traveling we always learn the 911 equivalent of the country we are in and note the location of the nearest hospital.

Prevention far from home

I also go to freetranslation.com, type ‘my child has an extreme allergy to all nuts’ and then write down the translation on a small card I carry in German, Italian, French, or Spanish depending on our destination. I don’t trust my pronunciation, so I simply show this paper to whomever we are ordering food from in a restaurant, store or bakery.

I ordered bracelets from allermates.com to provide a visual reminder. It is a hard to miss shade of bright green and fortunately, my little lady loves bracelets.



Thankfully no exposure…yet

In the eight months we’ve known about her allergy we have successfully avoided exposure thus far.  We still have to be prepared with her Epi Pen and premeasured travel doses of Benadryl. We encountered a situation flying from Spain to Germany with an airport security employee who was refusing to let me take the Epi Pen through security.

I pleaded in my mixed German-Spanish-English “Meine kinder is allergic to alles cacahuetes!!!’  I’m not sure if it was my impassioned yelling, the desperation in my eyes, or not wanting to hear any more of my terrible German, but she finally conceded.  Lesson learned.  My husband asked the pharmacist to affix the prescription label directly on the box of the Epi pen, and we’ve had no problems in airport security since.

Any advice for me?

So, travel savvy moms, that’s my story.   Since I’m relatively new to the world of food allergies, I’m eager to hear yours.  Please leave a comment below with any tips or experiences to share, as our sweet children are destined to experience more of the world than our sheltering arms will provide, and sometimes as parents the best we can be is prepared.

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June 13th, 2011 | by Julie Breitigan 6 comments

6 Responses to “Traveling with Food Allergies”

1. Cindi on June 13th, 2011

Very informative. Hope this helps other parents who have children with allergies. They can be very very scary.

2. Linda on June 13th, 2011

My son, who’s now age 8, was diagnosed with a peanut allergy at age 3. We haven’t traveled internationally, so language isn’t usually a problem, but we’ve learned a few things along the way.

–He wears a MedicAlert bracelet so anyone can help him quickly if needed.
–We are not very adventurous when it comes to restaurants. There are several chains which we’ve found to be allergy friendly, and we try to stick to them if possible. Likewise, there are others we don’t even attempt.
–Even ice cream is tricky–at an ice cream parlor, we ask for a clean scoop (not just one that’s been rinsed) and a new tub of ice cream, as cross-contamination between flavors using the same scoop is likely. If this isn’t possible, we find an alternative treat for him. Same thing with anything that comes from a bakery.
–I pack a lot of our own snacks so that he’s not left out of having something the rest of the family enjoys.
–I’ve bought t-shirts from Cafepress.com telling of his allergy. He wears these especially when he’ll be in a new situation or is away from me to help people remember his allergy.
–There are no gray areas for him. If it says “may contain peanuts” or “processed in a facility with peanuts” it’s off limits to him. He’s too young to try to weigh the risks/rewards yet.
–His siblings are tremendously protective of him and help keep him safe.

Good luck as you navigate the waters. It becomes second nature after a while.

3. Julie Breitigan on June 14th, 2011

Thank you so much for those valuable tips, Linda! I agree, getting ice cream or ordering in a bakery are two situations requiring the most vigilance. I love the Cafe Press t-shirt idea!

4. Vera Marie Badertscher on June 14th, 2011

YES! At the risk of sounding like an advertisement (I’m not affiliated with the comany!)Get the laminated Select Wisely cards. They will describe specific food allergies (or other health problems) in just about any language you can think of. For a very reasonable price, they send you two sets of cards, in case one gets lost. I would hand one to a waiter, he would take it to the kitchen and return it to me after talking to the chef. The problem is that while the waiters almost always speak English, the people in the kitchen may not. selectwisely.com Life saver!

5. Vera Marie Badertscher on June 14th, 2011

And I’ll add that the benefit over making your own translation (which is what I did before I discovered these) is that they’ve been in the business for a long time, and they will definitely get it right!!

6. Julie Breitigan on June 16th, 2011

Thank you, Vera! That sounds like a great resource to have when traveling.

7. Anonymous on

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