July 18, 2021

Have Allergies, Will Travel

Little cute kid boy in quarantine at home dreams of traveling.

Julian Barnes, the author of “Flaubert’s Parrot”, wrote: “He didn’t really like travel, of course. He liked the idea of travel, and the memory of travel, but not travel itself”.

This quote may resonate with many parents as they plan a family vacation around the special needs of a child’s allergies. The challenges of world travel with children in tow would make for another topic of exploration. Now, add keeping a check on allergies to the itinerary, and you may rethink the idea of a stay-cation.

You know exactly what to expect at home. When traveling, potential allergy dangers can be found anywhere. From new and exotic food preparations at a resort or restaurant to the unfamiliar cleaning products used in your hotel room.

Careful and thorough plan-ahead preparation for meals, travel snacks, and room accommodations is the strategy to ensure your vacation travel plans stay one step ahead of allergens.

It’s impossible to ruin a view of the Colosseum

Your destination is an important factor when planning an allergy-friendly vacation. This may seem obvious at first but consider the impact of local cuisine in each region or culture. For example, it is common to find pistachios in nearly all cuisine in Turkey. This is terrifying to a parent with a child who is allergic to tree nuts. You may want to forgo the 3-day stop-over in Rome if gluten allergies are a concern. All that handmade pasta…

Will you be traveling in a country where you can speak the language? It is easier to communicate about allergy situations in a shared language. If not, then consider ordering an allergy card to list your allergies. They can be ordered in many languages. Also consider Allergy Translator, an iPhone app. This is a similar service. Whichever means you choose to communicate allergy needs, show everyone at your resort or hotel accommodations, from staff to waiters in the restaurants. Miscommunication can put your child at risk in an emergency.

If your accommodations include kitchenettes and meal prep space, understanding ahead of time where you can shop for groceries can save you valuable time and ease frustration. But buyers beware! Researching local food labeling laws in your given destination is also important.

Not all countries list allergens, trace allergens, or possible shared equipment concerns on their packaging. Therefore, you need to be sure to exercise caution when purchasing or eating local goodies.

Allergy-friendly foods may be hard to find. You could ship food ahead of time to assure you have what you need without taking up valuable suitcase space or time.

During your stay, try to plan your meals so you eat before most of the other guests. This will lessen the risk of cross-contamination. Guests often use the same utensil for different items on a buffet, which can be dangerous to those who have food allergies.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask the chef at your hotel to prepare allergen-friendly for you. Many quality hotels are more than willing to accommodate their guest’s food allergies by offering a menu of specific allergy-safe meals. Personal communication with the chef and kitchen is key to protecting your child from potential allergy dangers.

Be in Airplane Mode

Do your research on airline policies when it comes to serving the ubiquitous pack of nuts on a flight to anywhere. Some airlines have created a ‘buffer zone’ where passengers seated ahead and behind the allergic person are asked to avoid all nuts.

Include in your carry-on baggage packs of sanitizing wipes to clean the foldable seat tray and other surfaces your child may encounter during flight – don’t be shy to be thorough! Also, have a family emergency plan written in the language of your destination, 2-3 EpiPens, antihistamines and extra inhalers, and the location of the nearest, most recommended hospital.

Before taking off, make sure you can quickly access your carry-on.
It is recommended to fly on earlier flights as the planes are cleaned more thoroughly after the last flight of the evening. Some airlines will load only nut-free snacks for your specific flight if you call ahead.

Pack in plenty of “good” prepared meals and snacks. Don’t allow your child to eat any meals prepared by an airline in case of cross-contamination. Pack extra servings in case of delays.

I May Be Afraid of Hyatts

Dust mites and mold are the biggest concern when staying in hotels and resorts. Dr. Mark Lazarovich, an allergist, and the founder of, the allergic traveler guide to hotels, offers the following questions to ask hotel staff before you book:

Could I get a second floor or higher room?
The ground floor tends to have higher humidity than those above, providing a better breeding ground for both mold and dust mites.

Do you have a room without carpeting?
Wood or tile flooring provides an easier surface to clean, while wall-to-wall carpeting is perfect for dust mites.

Do you have dust mite covers for the pillows and mattresses?
Bedding is a favorite home for dust mites, but mattress covers can form a barrier to keep them away from your sinuses for a sneeze-free sleep.

Can you provide a freshly washed comforter and blanket?
Though hotel sheets may be washed nightly, the top bed coverings are unlikely to be washed on a regular basis and can harbor dust mites. If just cleaned linens are unavailable, remove the bed cover.

Are the window coverings curtains or blinds?
Drapes can trap and hold onto both mold and dust mites, particularly if there is excess moisture around the windows. Opt for rooms that have clean vertical blinds, if possible, or ask if the curtains are treated to resist unwanted creatures.

Could you tell me about your in-room filtration and the air conditioning maintenance?
Keeping your question open-ended requires the staff to tell you about their air quality rather than providing a yes or no option. Regular air conditioning maintenance and quality air filtration (a HEPA filter would be ideal) is vital to keeping both dust mites and mold in check.

Before you settle into your booked room, ask: May I have a look at the room first?
Telltale signs of mold issues include stains next to the windows, air conditioning, bathroom, and around the baseboards.

Does the shower have a mildew-resistant curtain and bathmat?
Not as odd a question as it may sound. For long-term maintenance, even some budget hotel chains are retrofitting bathrooms with mold-repelling showers and accessories.

If you are unsure a hotel is allergy-friendly, always call and ask questions. The staff‘s response can tell you whether the hotel has professionally trained personnel on allergy-related issues. If they have no idea what you are talking about, or seem vague in their explanation, look for another hotel.

Family vacations are stressful. The constant vigil for allergen dangers can be overwhelming. There is so much to consider! You can relieve the anxiety of your child’s allergy concerns with careful planning and research.

Team up with your allergist to get the most up-to-date and thorough information to make your vacation a memorable time together.

Here are a few websites that can help point you in the right direction:

  • Food allergy resources and tips
  • Resources for people with food allergies, including air travel tips and a sample doctor’s letter for children with allergies

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow”

– Lin Yutang