The 3 Biggest Struggles of Traveling with Food Allergies

A coworker is leaving for Europe tomorrow; I have a vacation coming up; my brother is in New York; and my dad the pilot is as busy as ever flying everyone to their destinations. Travel is trending. But people with food allergies have to consider a lot of things that the average healthy person would likely never dream of when they print their boarding passes.

Here are my top three struggles when it comes to traveling.

1. Packing your beach hat, wallet, book… and breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next week.

Tonight I’ll be packing for a mini camping trip this weekend, and during my lunch break at work I’m making my usual pre-trip list. On top of what clothes and shoes and toiletries and whatever other necessities I need to pack, I have to evaluate my eating situation.

Okay, we’re camping. No electricity, so no microwave or oven, so no hot food. Unless there’s a grill? Then I’d need to pack foil to cook my burger on; God knows what was cooked on the grill before. What’s easy and portable? Snacks like fruit, chips and pretzels. I could make a sandwich for lunch and keep it in a Ziploc baggie in my drawstring bag. We never know where or when we’ll be eating lunch. For dinner… another sandwich? Unless there’s a grill.

And that’s my thought process just for a weekend. For longer trips, it’s almost easier to pack a few snacks for the road or plane ride, then buy groceries at the destination.

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Overcoming the struggle: Do your research and plan ahead. Where you’re heading, are there nearby grocery stores? What can wait to be bought until you get there? What will you eat if your flight gets delayed or canceled and you’re stuck at the airport? Does your accommodation include a microwave, kitchenette or full kitchen? If you don’t know, call ahead and plan accordingly. If you have a refrigerator or mini fridge, you can buy perishable items like fruit, lunch meat and salads.

2. Staying calm when TSA confiscates your peanut butter.

Once when my family was traveling together, my mom packed my usual go-to traveling meal: a roll of bagels and a jar of peanut butter.

Who knew peanut butter was on the no-fly list?

When the TSA agent told me he had to confiscate my peanut butter, at first I couldn’t help but laugh. When I realized he was serious, I was not amused, and neither was my mother. My mom tried to explain that I have severe food allergies, and peanut butter is a healthy source of protein to fill me up when we travel. He couldn’t care less.

My know-it-all teenager ego came in when I said, “Look, my dad’s a pilot, why would I be a threat with peanut butter? It hasn’t even been opened yet!”

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He said we could have checked it, to which I replied, nearly simultaneously with my mom, “Well I [she] can’t exactly eat it if it’s in the belly of the plane now can I [she]?” Meanwhile, my dad and brother acted like they didn’t know us.

Overcoming the struggle: Again, plan ahead. Check the TSA list of prohibited items before you start packing. The below table is pulled from the TSA website. Guess which column peanut butter falls under:

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3. Missing out on the local cuisine.

Jim Gaffigan summed up the typical American vacation perfectly:

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Especially from the perspective of someone with food allergies, it feels like everyone is always eating on vacation. We just have to try this place that got great Yelp reviews. Such and such has the world’s best mac and cheese, I saw it on the food channel. All the locals recommend this steakhouse. Aw, what a cute village bakery! 

We even use the “Well, I’m on vacation” excuse to gorge ourselves. Hopefully, if you’re anything like my friends and family, you actually do things while on vacation – other than eating.

Overcoming the struggle: Focus on those non-food related activities. Remember that water slide that led you into a shark tank? Climbing those stairs was awful but the view of the waterfalls was so worth it. I was there when you first stepped foot into the ocean! I’ll let you in on a little secret: These are the type of memories worth having, anyway.

If you don’t have food allergies and are traveling with someone who does, just let them do their thing. Don’t ask them if they’re sure they don’t want to try a bite. Don’t ask them if they’ve eaten before you go out. Don’t ask them if they’re sure that the hotel utensils are clean. If you’re a parent of a young child, however, by all means, make sure your kid with food allergies is staying safe! Just take it from me, when your kids are on their own, surviving college or post-grad life, let them make their own decisions.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not at all trying to deter anyone with food allergies from traveling. None of the above struggles is a good enough reason to not travel. In the grand scheme of things, traveling and seeing new sights and spending time with loved ones seriously outweighs the struggles of packing, planning ahead, and slapping a smile on your face as you eat a turkey sandwich while everyone else dips their baked crab legs in butter – or however that works.

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