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Tips for Travelers with Food Allergies

By Silvana Nardone

For some 12 million Americans with food allergies, traveling abroad can be fraught with anxiety. Restaurant meals may contain unexpected ingredients. Simple snacks, like nuts, ice cream, or chocolate may be contaminated with hidden allergens. Especially when dealing with an unfamiliar language, details that are lost in translation could result in a trip to the emergency room. But food-allergic travelers can follow these six easy tips for a worry-free vacation.

1. Research the local diet so you know what to expect
If you’re traveling to Italy, for example, you’d expect to find lots of pasta and pizza. But Italian food is so much more. If you’re gluten-free and craving starch, eat polenta or risotto instead. And don’t forget about all the other tasty locally made foods, like prosciutto, cheese and gelato, not to mention farm-fresh vegetables and fruits. It turns out that Italians also consider gluten allergies to be a medical condition, so neighborhood pharmacies often carry gluten-free products. You may even want to buy extra supplies to bring home.

2. Know the lingo
Don’t let language be a barrier. Just pack a dictionary or look up specific words before boarding your flight. The first thing you should know is how to say your food allergy in the country you’re visiting. Remember flash cards? Make your own food translation cards, or order some from services like SelectWisely. This way nothing gets lost in translation.

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3. Bring your own snacks on the plane
I was never a fan of airplane food, so my mom used to carry a big bag of my favorite snacks. Now I do the same for my kids, especially with my son’s gluten intolerances. I make sure to pack both sweet and salty snacks—grapes, carrots, almonds, tortilla chips, fruit twists and lollipops—plus sandwiches made on our favorite Udi’s Gluten Free bread.

4. Pack a picnic at local health-food stores and farmer’s markets
We recently traveled to Italy and stayed in the Testaccio area of Rome, which is within walking distance of the Colosseum. They have a famous open-air market, where we walked around picking up the makings of a beautiful dinner—spit-roasted pork, arugula, tomato, olives, fennel, and basil. Better yet, if you have a kitchenette in your hotel room or rented apartment, you can live like a local and cook up a perfect meal.

5. Choose restaurants in advance and call ahead
My husband Stephen will tell you that I spend hours on the web researching restaurant menus. This way, I know exactly what to expect and can be sure there will be something to eat that everyone will love. Also, if I get the chance, I call the restaurant ahead of time to let them know that my son can’t eat gluten. Then, we remind the restaurant and our waiter when we arrive—at the least the waiter won’t bring out the breadbasket! Sometimes, restaurants will even recommend suitable dishes that aren’t featured on the menu.

6. Carry a list of emergency contacts
This isn’t ever something you want to think about, but it helps to be prepared for anything.

About Silvana Nardone
Silvana is the author of Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals and former editor-in-chief of Every Day with Rachel Ray magazine, where she is also the “No-Recipe Zone” and “Sweet Spot” columnist. Silvana is co-author of Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian and the founder of Dish Towel Diaries, a site devoted to gluten-free recipes. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, Stephen, and their two children, Isaiah and Chiara.

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