Travelling with food allergies

Posted Date: 27 March 2015
Travelling with food allergies

If you have food allergies, you’ll most likely tread a careful path through your culinary day-to-day. You’ll be steering clear of cakes in the office if you’ve got a nut allergy, or not daring to try those ‘mystery’ dumplings at your local takeaway if you can’t eat crustaceans. In controlled environments, you have the ability to identify, avoid and even take action should an allergen be present in your food, but when you’re travelling things can be a little bit more complicated.  Armed with some knowledge, you can enjoy tasting some of the world’s finest cuisines without making yourself sick. For medical advice please see your doctor or specialist before departure.

Airline Food

Aircraft carriers rely on a vast network of suppliers to prepare, cook and ship their on-board meals, which means that consistent testing for allergens in food is simply impossible. If you suffer from an acute condition it is advisable that you prepare your own meal at home. Due to the potential of cross-contamination, you won’t be able to refrigerate or heat your meal using the aircraft kitchen, but it is the only way to be 100% sure of the contents of your meal.

All airlines are required to list the ingredients of their meals, which can be accessed on-board by asking a flight attendant. Most carriers will also have this information listed online. In the event that your allergy is to gluten or wheat products, there is often a gluten-free meal option available, which you must select when booking. Same goes for lactose-free options. The important thing to do is give your airline plenty of notice to ensure they can accommodate your request.

A handy tip is to bring a packet of sterile wipes to decontaminate your stow away tray, seat and entertainment system. Even if your plane has been vacuumed and cleaned, the fast turnaround times required of aircraft means that you’re much safer taking care of hygiene on your own. Wipe down your area just in case the passenger before you has been in contact with your allergen.

Foreign Menus

For travellers venturing to international hubs or major events such as sporting competitions or conferences, you may be lucky enough to find English menus. But if you’re venturing off the beaten track or to a country where English is not widely spoken, foreign menus will inevitably present some issues.

The best way to prepare is to familiarise yourself with the local cuisine before you arrive. Ideally, you’ll educate yourself about what types of meals you can and can’t have. For example, if you’re travelling to Halong Bay in Vietnam, where seafood is widely consumed, be wary of any of the soups served in restaurants as it is likely to have been made with seafood stock or may have been cross contaminated during preparation. Instead, opt for plain boiled rice and red meat for this particular leg of your trip. It may be less fun, but could potentially save you a lot of trouble.

There are also plenty of smartphone apps that can help you to translate menus. Download a traveller’s dictionary to your device such as Google Translate, iTranslate and Universal Translator. For more information on how to get the most out of your smartphone have a read of our Great Travel Apps series, covering the UKChina and the USA.

If you’re travelling through a region where you wish to avoid using technology (maybe you don’t want to look too flashy), just use a trusty old pocket dictionary.

Food Intolerances 

If your symptoms are less extreme and possibly include headaches, bloating or mouth irritations, you may suffer from food intolerance instead of an allergy. For travellers wanting to avoid specific ingredients or food groups the Food Intolerances app is a great way of tackling unfamiliar cuisine and includes some 700 items.


Under our award-winning TravelCare travel insurance policy, customers have the option to seek cover for a general food or nut allergy during the policy purchase process. If we are able to offer cover, they can pay an additional premium to have it covered. We do this to ensure that our prices remain competitive, while offering the best possible coverage. For more information on travelling with allergies see your medical professional.

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