Travelling with allergies

Inveterate gluten-free traveller Catherine Rose gives her top five tips for safe but enjoyable travelling with allergies


The most difficult thing about having allergies is control. The more you can control, the safer you are. Therefore, it is particularly unfair that when we - those superstars with allergies - get the chance to explore the world, our world can become unsafe as we are exposed to cultures, foods and languages we are unfamiliar with and cannot control.

One of the things that my friends with allergies always seem to ask me when they book a holiday is “have I been there?”. This is because one of my passions and talents is in planning to the nth degree; and that includes my holidays. They know that if I have been there, I will have an itinerary all typed out (probably on a spreadsheet). So far, I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled quite extensively, and not once have I been glutened. In fact, the few times I have been glutened, it has been in London 5 miles from my front door!

So, in my attempt to “make travel great again” I want to share some travel guides focusing on a different location or cuisine each time.

In a quick vlog I made before visiting Japan a few years back I mentioned things that I always do before travelling anywhere. So, since it is the start of the summer holidays coming up I thought that in this article, I’d summarise those things in my Top Five Tips for an allergen-free trip!

Prepare & Research

For my Japan trip I lovingly called this “JaPLANning” but I’ll be honest, you could also have “CoPLOThagen”, “ORGANIceland” or “Los ARRANGE-ales”. Planning is the best thing you can do ahead of time. This is in case your phone doesn’t work when you arrive, or your suitcase of safe food from home gets lost etc, you still can feel safe that a few things are in place. By planning, I mean considering all the points below to some degree or another.

1. Location

You know you want to go away on holiday, but where? 

The first thing I think about is cuisines that I know will lend themselves to being allergy friendly.

  • If you need to avoid gluten, Vietnamese (mostly rice based) or Mexican (mostly corn based) are good places to start for naturally-free from.
  • For dairy allergy sufferers, the far east (Chinese cuisine) or eastern Europe (meat and carbs) are great.
  • Fish allergy suffers could look for landlocked countries in USA or Europe to minimise the likelihood of a cuisine based around fish.

Read up on blogs about those locations and see if others have found it easy or hard with your allergies. However, even if it does look hard, don’t let that stop you from exploring the world if you really want to, there are things you can do to help yourself out.


Once you know where you are going, the question is where to stay?

The recent emergence of AirBnB is a real Godsend for travellers with allergies. Not only does it give you a chance to cook your own food if you can't eat much out but there's a great opportunity to "live like a local" and have a contact at your destination who could help with recommendations ahead of time. On a recent trip to Copenhagen, our AirBnB host left a map for us detailing gluten free and vegan eateries in the area that we didn't find on tourist websites. What a total gem!

If you do fancy a hotel, look for some of the more tourist-y ones who may have experience dealing with allergens. They will often have a continental breakfast too where you can select suitable breakfast.

Package resort holidays are also really helpful. These are a bit easier as you can check with your provider and call ahead to the resort.

Eating Out

Of course, you could go on a holiday and cook your own food but who wants to do that all the time? You want to relax and experience the local cuisine and try something different.

My recommendation here is to research and book ahead of time.

  • Google "dairy free Barcelona" and see what restaurant recommendations pop up.
  • Contact the restaurant and see if you can even order your food ahead of time to help.
  • A tool I find really useful is to label different restaurants/eateries/market stalls on my Google maps, so that if I'm just walking around the city or wondering where to visit, I can make sure that there's something en route. (Sometimes -much to my fiancés annoyance- I have been known to casually steer us towards a gluten-free bakery I just MUST try before I "literally die". Quite by coincidence you understand!)

Before you travel, I would also recommend printing off a blurb about your allergy in the local language explaining your requirements. There are some great ones online (eg. Coeliac travel cards). Often, I find that Google translate doesn't quite get the colloquialisms so I use Reddit which is a great network community where you can post and ask for help translating.  Carry this print out with you and show it to your server or the chef.

Finally, have a bit of a search online before you go of types of food you CAN eat while you are away. For example:

  • If you have a dairy allergy, you know that in France you can stick to meat, fish, chips, seafood, potatoes and stews.
  • If you have a nut allergy in India, stick to tandoori dishes, biriyani, dry dishes and plain rice; steer clear of the saucy curries.

It's always much nicer to be able to look forward to food rather than fear it.

Back up plans

  • The back up plan if you cannot find a restaurant you trust or your hotel lets you down, is to bring safe food with you. Something like pouches of microwave meals, cereals, non-dairy milks etc. True, you are missing out on the local cuisine, but you know that you can be safe and still enjoy the culture in so many other ways (salsa dancing anyone??)
  • Check with your airline before you travel, but if you call the special assistance line and mention your allergies most will let you have extra baggage allowance for dietary special foods as long as you have a doctors note.
  • As security for yourself, also make sure your travel insurance covers you in case of the worst and ensure you have your EpiPen with you if that is the type of allergy/intolerance that you have. Carry phone numbers of your insurance company and the local emergency numbers with you too.

Travelling can be a scary experience with allergies, but with the right preparation it can be easier and enjoyable. I'm not going to lie, it does take a long time to plan and design a safe holiday, but hopefully these tips help and these blogs will help you to see it is safe and possible to experience new cities and countries.

I'd love to hear from you; if you want me to write about anywhere in particular? Or if you have any other tips for travelling in general? Get in touch by emailing

July 2017

For more articles on travelling with allergies and intolerances see here.

For more articles on the management and treatment of food allergy and intolerance

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