Travel with a Peanut Allergy

How to Travel with a Peanut Allergy and See the World

Julie Travel Advice 49 Comments

Do you want to travel more but have a peanut allergy that is holding you back? Stepping foot into a foreign country, a place where peanuts are served and you don’t speak the language, can be a terrifying experience. We have been there and done that and want to share our experiences with you. We want to show you how you can travel with a peanut allergy and stay safe.

This post was updated January 2017.

Tyler

 

Meet Tyler. Tyler was diagnosed with a life threatening peanut allergy when he was one year old. He also has milder reactions to several tree nuts.

 

 

 

Tim, Kara, and I do not have allergies to peanuts or tree nuts. We are fortunate, especially in this world where food allergies are becoming more prevalent.

The four of us traveled around the world, visiting 35 countries in 13 months, without one single serious allergic reaction. In total, we have visited 57 countries across six continents. It is possible to travel with food allergies and stay safe.

For those with peanut allergies or other food allergies who are contemplating traveling overseas, I know that it can be a nerve-wracking experience. Before we started our travels, I would wake up in the middle of the night, terrified of what it would be like to travel through Asia with Tyler. Horrible images of serious allergic reactions, anaphylaxis, and hospital visits in 3rd world countries would keep me awake at night. I kept thinking to myself, are my fears overblown? Am I really an irresponsible mother for thinking we could safely travel with a peanut allergic child?

Most of my fears were unfounded. As we traveled through Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, Vietnam, and many more places, we realized that finding safe food for Tyler was easy and convenient. Traveling with a peanut allergy was not as scary as I thought it would be.

Sometimes, our biggest fears are fears of the unknown. Hopefully, by the time you are finished reading this article, you will learn that it is possible to travel well and eat well with a peanut allergy.

Food Allergy Statistics

  • 15 million Americans have food allergies.
  • 1% of the US population is allergic to peanuts.
  • The incidence of food allergies in the US doubled between 1997 and 2011.
  • 1 in 13 children have a food allergy, which is about 2 kids in every classroom.
  • Australia and Europe have similar statistics.

Basically, food allergies are on the rise and affect not only those with the allergies, but also the general population as well. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that is going to magically disappear.

Background Information on Who We Are and What We Have Done

TylerTyler is 13 years old and has lived with a peanut allergy since the age of 1. We carry Epi-Pen auto injectors everywhere we go.

I am a physician assistant. Although I do not work directly with food allergies (I work primarily in Orthopedics and in the operating room) I do have extensive medical training and experience. My medical background, combined with managing Tyler’s peanut allergy for twelve years and our extensive travel resume gives us some credibility on providing advice how to travel with a peanut allergy. Even so, I do not proclaim to be an expert on food allergies. You should always consult your physician if you have any questions.

We have traveled to 57 countries across six continents. During our 13 months around the world, we spent nine of them in Asia. Yes, we traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, and more, and had a fabulous experience. Tyler’s peanut allergy was always a concern but it did not take away from the enjoyment while traveling.

How To Travel With a Peanut Allergy and See the World

Here are our best tips and tricks on how to travel with a peanut allergy. Learn from our experiences about how to stay safe.

General Advice

Notify your physician when and where you will be traveling. Your allergist may be able to provide advice for the area you will be visiting.

Make sure your food allergy is covered by your travel insurance. In the unlikely event that you will need to visit a hospital you want to make sure the costs are covered.

Bring more medicine than you think you will need. It is much easier carrying extra medication than scrambling to find it in a foreign country. We traveled with 8 Epi-Pens for a 13-month trip. It was excessive but we were taking no chances. And we never needed any of them.

Airplane Flights with a Peanut Allergy

This can be terrifying, especially the first few times you do it. Traveling at 40,000 feet, trapped inside an airplane with people munching on peanuts all around you…just the thought of this keeps some people from even boarding an airplane. Flying is especially stressful for parents of toddlers with peanut allergies. We’ve been there and done that! Here are tips and tricks to keep you safe on the airplane.

Some airlines no longer serve peanuts. Consider using these airlines if possible. Foodallergies.about.com has a list of airlines and their peanut policies.

If an airline does serve peanuts, you can request a “peanut free” snack to be served instead. Some airlines will fulfill your request, some won’t. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.

When booking your flight, contact the airline about the meals being served. They can usually inform you about the menu and the ingredients. This will help you plan whether or not you choose to eat the prepared meal or bring your own food.

Bring your own food. Sometimes it is just not worth taking the risk and eating airline food.

Airplanes are usually cleaned at the end of the day. Flights in the morning are more likely to be free of peanuts and crumbs, making this the safer time to book your flight.

At the gate, notify the flight agents of your peanut allergy.

Wipe down your seat and surrounding area to eliminate any peanut crumbs or residue. Some airlines will allow you to pre-board in order to do this.

Don’t put anything into the seat back pocket since empty peanut wrappers usually get stuffed into here and it becomes a collection ground for peanut dust.

Always carry your Epi-Pen with you. We also carried a medical letter of necessity obtained from our allergist that would explain to security personnel and flight attendants why we needed to have this medication available on the flight. It was rarely an issue getting our stash of Epi-Pens through security.

What if you’re on the airplane, they refuse your request and still serve peanuts, and everyone around you is enjoying their snack? Can smelling peanuts cause an allergic reaction? No. I did some research on this and the smell cannot cause an allergic reaction. Click this link for more information.

Eating at Restaurants

Eating Fried RiceEating at restaurants in the United States with a food allergy is a much different experience than eating in other countries. In the US, restaurants understand the nature of food allergies, speak your language, and in some cases, even have menus labeled with food allergy warnings. Things are not so easy in other countries. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid them.

Food allergies, though they exist in Asia, Africa, and South America, occur at a lower incidence than they do in the US, UK, Europe, and Australia. In certain countries, such as Myanmar and Cambodia, for example, many people are not even aware of what a peanut allergy is. This can make conveying your concerns to the restaurant staff difficult. Add in the language barrier and things get to be almost impossible.

So, how do you handle eating out in foreign countries?

Pad ThaiResearch the main ingredients used in the country you are visiting. There are many destinations where peanuts are rarely used, such as Japan. Other places, like China and Thailand, peanuts are used frequently. The first time you travel overseas you might want to visit a country where peanuts are not so plentiful. It is good to “practice” traveling with a peanut allergy in a country where you speak the language and feel comfortable. After traveling for a little while, you will get more comfortable dealing with the unknowns of foreign countries and later can visit Myanmar, China, or Cambodia.

In countries that cook with a lot of peanuts, stick with “western style” restaurants. In some restaurants, peanuts may not be in the dish you want to order, but there is the risk of cross-contamination during the cooking process. We skipped the local restaurants in some countries. Fortunately, it is easy to find McDonald’s and Pizza Hut all around the world. We would get Tyler his dinner at one of these chain restaurants and then Tim, Kara, and I would eat the local food. I know that fast food is not the healthiest option, but it is much safer than playing Russian roulette with the local food in some locales.

Most larger towns and cities will have at least a small assortment of western style restaurants. Here, you can get spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and other familiar dishes. In many cities, we were surprised at the large numbers of restaurants serving Mexican, Italian, and “continental” foods, giving us numerous dining options to keep Tyler safe.

If you are interested in trying the local fare, go on a food tour. Many tour companies have staff that speaks English. With the growing incidence of food allergies around the world, these food tour companies usually understand the implications of traveling with a peanut allergy. We did this several times and never had an issue. Our guide helped us choose which foods were safe for Tyler to eat. You do have to trust your guide, but it’s a nice option if you want to try local foods as safely as possible.

Snacks in ChinaThis next tip may be counterintuitive but it is an important one. If you are sitting at a restaurant and your waiter does not speak English very well, do not even verbally mention your peanut allergy. Why? Most likely, they won’t really understand what you are saying. They will only hear “peanut” and think you actually want them to add peanuts to your dish. This happened to us on more than one occasion!! We were able to convey our meaning better before they brought out the dish; but still, it was eye opening for us. For the remainder of our travels, if our waiter did not speak English well, we did not even mention Tyler’s peanut allergy when ordering. However, once the food was served, we asked if it contained peanuts.

Bring translation cards. A translation card is a card with a message written in the language of the country you are visiting, explaining your food allergy. Include one or two sentences explaining your allergy and your reaction. Show this card to your waiter before you order. Having these cards is a huge help. You can get translations online and write the card out yourself, have hotel staff help write a card for you, or you can visit Allergy Translation and they will print the cards for you.

Use Google Translate. This is an indispensable tool to use while traveling. Some things do get lost in translation but Google Translate makes it possible to communicate when you cannot speak the language.

Bring your own food. When in doubt, eat your own stash of food. If traveling for 10 days or less, it’s easy to bring a supply of healthy snacks just in case you don’t feel comfortable eating at certain restaurants.

How To Travel with a Peanut Allergy Region by Region

Here is a brief overview of which countries are easy to visit with a peanut allergy and which ones are difficult.

Countries Where Peanuts are less of a Concern

The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These three countries have a lot in common…English speaking, similar incidence of peanut allergies, similar diet. It is easy to convey the nature of your allergy to restaurant staff and easy to avoid the restaurants that may pose a threat.

Europe. In general, peanuts are not used much in European cooking. There are actually articles written on how hard it is to find peanut butter in Europe. There may be a language barrier here, but use those translation cards and you should have a great experience!

Japan. This is another country that seldom uses peanuts but has a large language barrier. If you want to go to Asia but want to stay away from peanuts, Japan gets our vote.

India. It was rare to come across peanuts in India. What we did have to watch out for were tree nuts. Tyler did have two mild allergic reactions to cashews that were used in the dishes we ordered. Both times, Tyler spent several hours with a stomachache and nausea that gradually faded. Fortunately, this has been the extent of our food allergic reactions while traveling.

Africa. We spent six weeks in southern Africa. Our experiences here were very similar to traveling in the US or Australia, in that English was the official language and it was easy to find restaurants serving continental food. If traveling to other destinations, such as Kenya or Morocco, do some research first.

Countries where Peanuts are more of a concern

Southeast Asia. This is the biggest threat for travelers with peanut allergies. We spent three solid, uneventful months here. During this time, we learned that it is remarkably easy to eat great meals without being terrified of the consequences. In larger cities (Bangkok, Singapore, Yangon, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and in Bali) there is a plethora of western style restaurants. There are also many more McDonald’s, Subway’s, Starbuck’s, and Papa John’s Pizza joints than you may be aware of. You do not have to starve or live in fear while on vacation in Southeast Asia…there are safe restaurant choices everywhere. Even off the beaten path we were able to find restaurants where English was spoken and pizza or sandwiches were served. Trust me, it’s easier than you think.

For us, the hardest country in Southeast Asia was Myanmar. Peanuts are farmed here and can be found in many dishes. At times, it was hard to communicate with the restaurant staff, which made us nervous at times, and had Tyler skipping a few meals.

Peanut farmer in Myanmar.

Peanuts in Myanmar

The easiest country in Southeast Asia…Thailand. Surprised? We were too! Thailand is the most advanced country in Southeast Asia when it comes to catering for tourists. With that comes a multitude of restaurants geared towards the western traveler with little to no threat of a peanut allergy reaction. Yes, you may have to pass on eating the local food, but at least you still get to see all of the other amazing things that Thailand has to offer.

By the way, some of the street food of Thailand can be ordered without peanuts. For example, when cooking Pad Thai, peanuts are added at the very end of the cooking and are easy to omit. What you do have to be aware of is cross contamination and the use of unrefined peanut oil. Stay away from Papaya Salad…that is prepared with peanuts.

Street food in Bangkok.

Street Food in Bangkok

China. For us, China was difficult. The language barrier is huge, we couldn’t read the menus, and peanuts are frequently used in meal preparation. This is the country where we utilized fast food chains and our own food the most. Tyler would eat his own meal of Subway and Tim, Kara, and I would eat Chinese food. In the larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai, we were able to communicate with the restaurant staff and Tyler could sample Chinese food.

Subway in Shanghai

South America. It is thought that peanuts originated either in Peru or Brazil. There is no doubt that they make their way into the foods here. In 2012, Tim and I visited Peru without Tyler and Kara, terrified to bring Tyler here because of his peanut allergy. So yes, we know what it’s like to avoid traveling due to a food allergy. Tim and I arrived in Peru, expecting to see peanuts sprinkled on everything, but that was not the case at all. In fact, we almost never saw peanuts used in cooking and we were left regretting not bringing Tyler along. This was a learning experience for us. Sitting at home, we tended to imagine the worst scenarios. Once we were traveling, we learned that most of our fears were excessive. Since that trip in 2012, we have included Tyler in every international destination without any issues.

In 2016, we visited Chile and Argentina. Tyler’s peanut allergy was not an issue in either country.

Links to Food Allergy Websites:

My final word of advice is to always err on the side of caution. If you don’t feel comfortable with a certain restaurant or a certain dish, avoid it. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

By writing this post, I am hoping to allay your fears if you are considering traveling with a peanut allergy. Traveling with a peanut allergy may be easier than you think.

Don’t let your allergies hold you back…with proper planning you can go anywhere.

Do you have any questions or comments? Do you have any information or personal travel experience you would like to share with our readers? Comment below or send us an email.

 

Read Next: Eating (and Drinking) Our Way Around Bangkok

 

Travel Peanut Allergy

Comments 49

  1. Hello, I found your blog really helpful. Although, I’m annoyed at my own naivety for not factoring in how widely used peanuts are in South-East Asia. We are travelling in several weeks to Indonesia (Java, Bali and Flores) and Singapore. I have a bad peanut allergy. The swelling throat, not being able to breathe, violently sick, etc. I have never carried a epi-pen. I don’t want a bout of peanut poisoining to happen on holiday, which has happened before, notability in Morocco. I really detest eating in McDonald’s on holiday, and love eating local food. Is there any sort of food that is safer rather than local curries/dishes/satays. I was thinking fish and fruit? Which I’m happy enough with since we will be near the sea for a good part of the trip.

    1. Post
      Author

      In Bali, there are plenty of restaurants where you can eat great food (and avoid McDonald’s). Bali is very tourist friendly and Tyler ate a lot of rice dishes without any problems. It helped that English is widely spoken in Bali. Same goes for Singapore…lots of English and tons of great restaurants. We have not been to Flores or Java yet. When traveling with a peanut allergy, it helps to go to western style restaurants where the staff speaks English. It’s not a guarantee that you won’t have a reaction, but being able to communicate helps a lot. Stay away from satays…they tend to be peanut-based. Fish is generally safe but you do have to confirm how it is prepared. And you should bring an Epi-Pen. It’s always better to be prepared. Cheers, Julie

  2. Hello,
    You mention that there are Western restaurant options such as McDonald’s, Subway, etc. in larger Chinese cities. How were you able to determine that the food would be safe there? For example, that they didn’t use peanut oil? Were the staff there English speaking?
    Thank you,
    Julia

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Julia. Many of the western chain restaurants use the same ingredients from country to country. Now, that’s assuming each restaurant follows the given standards for the chain. We did make some assumptions that the western food was safe and that it was prepared in a similar way to McDonald’s, Subway, etc in the USA. It was about 50/50 if the staff spoke English. We could not always ask about the food preparation and know that they would understand what we were asking. When we had to choose between Chinese restaurants where we couldn’t read the menu or a Subway or McDonald’s, it was an easy choice. Even in the US, there’s the chance of cross contamination with peanuts at McDonald’s, so eating out with a peanut allergy is never without a zero risk. You have to minimize your risk and stay prepared with medications. It’s not ideal, but it’s a necessary part of living with a peanut allergy. Hope this helps! – Julie

      1. Hi Julie,

        Yes, the familiar chain restaurants definitely seem to present the safest option. Thank you for taking the time to respond!

        Julia

  3. Hello,
    this is great! I love travelling and wanted to start travelling with my daughter so she can have these kinds of wonderful experiences; but I have been very nervous. She is 5 and has an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts as well as severe allergy to sesame, lentils, chick peas. I feel very positive that travelling is safe and doable with planning and preparation.

    1. Post
      Author

      Yes, make sure you do your research before you travel, always bring a supply of medications, and it’s always a great idea to talk over your plans with your allergist before traveling. Cheers, Julie

  4. Thank you for this post! I am currently enroute toSE Asian and am quite nervous about the peanut situation due to my severe allergy. I am headed to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines I will update how it goes. I was wondering if any local food is safe to try or to avoid at all costs dude to cross contamination. I feel that I may be able to ask for a dish without peanuts but would not fully be confident in getting across the severity of cross contamination.

    Best,
    Russ

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Russ. For the most part, Tyler avoided local food unless we were on a food tour or the restaurant staff spoke English fluently. The main issues are cross contamination in the kitchen and the fact that many people in these countries do not understand food allergies like we do. It can be risky eating the local food and Tyler only did it when we could be sure that what he was eating was safe. We would love it if you comment again after your trip with any other recommendations for our readers. Have a great time!- Julie

  5. Hello Julia, My daughter has chance to take her 11yr old daughter who has severe peanut allergy to Fiji. You have not mentioned Fiji in any of your trips, just wondered if it is safe to take peanut allergy sufferers there, being that it is a 3rd world country with not great medical facilities.
    Regards
    Sonja

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Sonja. We have traveled to Fiji and we had no issues with Tyler’s peanut allergy here. We stayed at Plantation Island resort on the Mamanucas and visited Nadi. Finding him peanut free food was very easy here. Most restaurants served “western style” food. Cheers, Julie

  6. Hello Julia.
    We are traveling to Rome Italy this coming Monday. Both my boys have many food allergies; eggs, milk, peanut, chicken, turkey.
    We thought we would be safe for them to eat at McDonalds, Burger King and Hard Rock Cafe but I read somewhere that in Italy they use peanut oil to fry their food. Do you know if McDonalds, Burger King and Hard Rock Cafe also use peanut oil? Do you know how I would find out if they use peanut oil? Any information will be helpful. We are staying in an Airbnb so I will cook a lot of their food but I know they will want to eat out once in a while. Thank you, Sonia

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      Author

      Hello Sonia. I have never heard of McDonalds using peanut oil (but that doesn’t mean that they don’t in countries outside of the US). We did eat at McDonalds around the world and never had an issue. The best thing you can do is to ask at the restaurant when you are there. I did some quick research on McDonalds in Italy and couldn’t find any reliable information online. You could try to contact McDonalds directly and ask them. Cheers, Julie

  7. Hi, Julie! I live in Indonesia and my son has peanut allergy.
    One of the readers here asked about peanut ingredients in Indonesian foods, what I can tell you is that as long as you stay away from pecel and gadogado (both are somekind of salad with peanut sauce), sayur asem (they put peanuts in the soup) you are generally in the safe zone consideing there are not cross contamination….no peanut oil used, actually it is hard to find any groceries or supermarket that sell peanut oil here in Indonesia, but as always, check (and recheck) first when you order anything.
    And just to be extra safe, I always say this when ordering any menu : “tolong jangan dikasi taburan kacangtanah di makanannya”(please do not sprinkle any peanuts on top of the dishes) , because some restaurants like to put peanuts as garnishes (especially malay food restaurants and in chinese food restaurants when you order congee). Oh! One more thing to avoid, “coto makassar” (indonesian traditional beef soup) as they put grounded peanuts into the beef soup broth!

    We will be traveling to Bejing & Shanghai and I wonder if he could have dumplings there, do they use any peanut oil in dumplings? Did Tyler try dumplings when you guys were there?

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you so much for all of this info!!

      I do not know if they use peanut oil in the dumplings. And this could also depend upon the restaurant. No, I am fairly certain that Tyler did not try the dumplings. In China, he did not each much of the local food since we couldn’t even decipher the menu. Get a good translation card for when you are there.

      Thanks again for all of the valuable info! Cheers, Julie

  8. What to do if multiple food allergies?
    My son is allergic to wheat, dairy, nuts, fish, egg, soya, mustard, corn, etc. Whatever blood test he took, it showed that food allergy. He also have atopic dermatitis

    1. Post
      Author

      I am sorry that your son has so many food allergies. You should consult with your allergist as to how best travel with your son. – Julie

  9. Hi Pippa
    My son is also 16 and due to go on a school trip to China in June. How did your son manage? It sounds like his experiences of where he stayed and access to food is very similar to my sons. I wasn’t worrying about it as we have travelled a lot over the years and have always managed and been prepared but now I am really nervous as we won’t be there and I’m not very confident that the operator is able to manage this with him? I would really welcome any advice that you have. Thanks

    1. Post
      Author

      I can understand your concern. I’d feel the same if Tyler was traveling to China without me. However, in Chinese cities, it’s very easy to find American chain restaurants (McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, etc). Finding “safe” food to eat in these places will not be a problem as long as your son is permitted to go to these restaurants rather than Chinese restaurants. It can be hard to know what is safe to eat in Chinese restaurants so Tyler rarely ate at these. We would but him a sandwich and he’d eat that while we ate the Chinese food. The only town where it was harder to find western restaurants was Yangshuo. Tyler did eat Chinese here, we found restaurants where the staff spoke English and we could tell them our concerns. In Beijing, Shanghai, Guilin, Changsha, Nanning, and Zhangjiajie, there were plenty of “American” restaurants.

      Have your son bring a lot of snacks with him as back-up in case he can’t get to western restaurant. Print out a food allergy card to show the wait staff. Speak with the operator and let him know about your sons peanut allergy and that your son may not be able to eat at all the same restaurants as the rest of the group. Your son will need to be able to speak up and convey his peanut allergy to the operator and to the restaurants.

      I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have more questions! – Julie

    2. I’ve been to China a couple of times and have a peanut allergy. The only times I’ve had issues were when I was trying to eat in a Chinese restaurant and was attempting to be adventurous, but there are so many Western options all over the place AND even some of the Chinese places have a ‘Western style’ section on the menu. (Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou, Shanghai)

  10. Hello,

    Thank you for making this post. I am travelling with my fiance to Japan soon and I was wondering if you could comment more about peanut oil?

    I see that you’ve listed Japan as a relatively safe country to travel to with a severe peanut allergy as they seldom use peanuts in their dishes. Some of the other forums I’ve read tell me there is a good portion of Japanese restaurants that use peanut oil (most forums date between 2007 and 2013, so they are a bit older). Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks,

    1. Post
      Author

      I have not read much about peanut oil being used in Japan. But that is not to say that it is never used. In our experience, Tyler ate tempura and other fried foods without an issue. Bring along good allergy translation cards to show the restaurant staff when you place your order. To be on the safe side, you could avoid fried foods. Sushi and sashimi are great alternatives!! Tyler ate the shrimp tempura at Sushiro (a chain restaurant) almost every day we were in Japan. This is a fabulous sushi conveyor belt restaurant that can be found in many major Japanese cities. Cheers, Julie

  11. Great article but your line about smelling peanuts not causing a reaction is inaccurate. If you have asthma as well (common if you have anaphylactic allergies) the smell can really kick your asthma up, which is never good. I have these reactions quite often, but most of the time I can just leave the area and get to fresh air to take my inhaler, so they have never escalated too far. On a plane, this would be a nightmare….

    Any thoughts on Guatemala/Belize/Costa Rica?

    Thanks!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Evan. Thank you for the information. We have not yet been to Costa Rica, Belize, or Guatemala yet, so I cannot offer any concrete advice. Costa Rica caters to tourists so I would think it would be easy to find safe food there. Same goes for Belize, although I am not sure about Guatemala. Cheers, Julie

      1. I have a peanut allergy and was in Guatemala about 3 years ago on a school trip. We ate at a combination of local chains, cafes, and were served local food at potlucks at local churches and schools. I never had any sort of problem with any of the food. I would say that Guatemala is pretty safe, yet never take risks, ask questions, be familiar with the language or know someone who does, and be careful with snacks and deserts as usual. I would definitely recommend visiting Guatemala for you. It’s a gorgeous country, with beautiful people, culture, landscape and historical ruins. Enjoy!

        1. Post
          Author

          Thanks for sharing this information, Matthew. Yeah, we need to get to Guatemala sometime soon. Plus, Tyler and Kara can practice the Spanish they’ve been learning in school. Cheers, Julie

  12. Hi Julie,

    Wow. This was so great to read. I feel like so many blogs warn you away from traveling with a peanut allergy, when it is totally possible.

    I am 27 and have been living and traveling with a severe peanut allergy since I was 10. I have been traveling all over Europe and now I’ve been living in Austria and Sweden for the past two years. Europe is an amazingly safe place to be with a peanut allergy. In some ways better than the US because menus are often labelled with common allergens, you just need to know the word for peanut in the language. (If they aren’t labelled, they sometimes have a special allergy menu you can ask for). Airlines such as Norwegian Air, Austrian Airlines, and Icelandair do not serve peanuts and will make an announcement in the cabin if you ask ahead of time.

    I also spent 5 months in India with very few problems (the only incident involved an open bowl of peanuts in a bar). I have used a lot of your tips while traveling, especially carrying extra safe snacks so you never feel pressured to take a risk.

    I have always thought that southeast Asia was off limits to me. My allergy is very severe. Its very helpful that you said you didn’t have any problems with Tyler. I have recently been invited to go with a friend to Indonesia where we will be hiking in some remote places. Any additional advice or impressions?

    Thank you!
    Laura

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      Author

      Hello Laura. The only time we spent in Indonesia was two weeks in Bali. Bali is so touristy that we were able to eat western food whenever we wanted to. From what I know, peanuts are used in Indonesian cuisine. We have gotten to the point where we will travel anywhere with Tyler but we would make sure that we are very prepared. Traveling to a remote location in Indonesia, I would bring lots and lots of snack food just in case you are not sure if you can eat the prepared food. And, of course, bring a stash of Epi-Pens and Benadryl. We are able to keep Tyler safe by being overly paranoid. I’m sure you know how that goes. Have a great time hiking, and if you want to share your experience here after your trip, we’d appreciate it! Cheers, Julie

  13. Hey Julie and family,

    Thank you so much for this post! Your website is great and so so helpful!

    I am 25, and live in England, and I am flying out to Hue in Vietnam next week, for 10 days, and have had an allergy to all nuts (but peanuts being most severe and life threatening) since birth.

    It didn’t occur to me all of the issues/hurdles that I will have to overcome (language barrier/unfamiliar food/being in a smaller town/literacy levels) until last week when I came across an article online that scared the living daylights out of me! It basically said that “If you are going to SE Asia you are seriously playing with your life” and put me off going at all!!

    By weird coincidence i found out that a colleague who also has a peanut allergy has been to Vietnam and even to Hue and was living proof that it’s possible!! He calmed me down and put my mind at ease a bit because I was borderline cancelling my whole trip and losing lots of money.

    Reading your post reaffirmed my original confidence and I just want to thank you so much! I have 3 epi-pens, 5 packs of anti-histamine tablets, a letter from the dr regarding the épi pens, translation cards printed off from killer-peanut.com and another note from a Vietnamese friend explaining allergy and if I eat nuts/nut oil, I will die.

    Anyway I feel prepared and thank you so much for the sensible advice… reading some posts online give really scary advice, so thank you for showing the other side!!

    Safe travels !
    Thanks,
    Carmen

    1. Post
      Author

      You are welcome, Carmen! We had the same concerns before traveling with Tyler. But once we were in Asia, we learned that it was much easier to eat and stay safe than we thought it would be. Enjoy Vietnam. If you want, write back to us after your trip and share anything else that may be useful to our readers. Cheers, Julie

  14. Julie,

    Thanks for sharing your experience! It is really an encouragement for me to t your family has travelled all over. I will keep Vietnam in mind for our next travel destination. I am a bit concerned about Malaysia though…

    My peanut/walnut/pecan allergic son is now 6 and I recalled being scared to travel anywhere for the first few years. We went to DisneyWorld every year for the first 3 years (because of their super allergy-friendly environment) of his life before deciding that enough was enough. Since then, we have been to Japan, Indonesia, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and Taiwan. I must say that Japan is super easy, even with the language barrier. Many places even had allergy charts (I didn’t know that buckwheat allergy is an issue in Japan). We were able to eat a lot of local food (ramen, sushi, rice bowls, etc.). Europe was relatively easy, using google translate, and we never came across nuts. The food labeling is good as well. We ate lots of local foods (sausages, meats, pasta, etc.). Even Indonesia was okay if we explained upfront (usually at fusion/western restaurants). To be safe, we never ventured to local food stalls. We ate pasta or fish/seafood pretty much everyday. I did see peanut (in dishes and on its own)and walnut (especially in baked goods) in Taiwan, but we were fine by avoiding the obvious (do avoid the breakfast rice milk because it contains peanuts). We were able to eat a lot of local foods (noodles, dumplings, stir fry, etc.). I just want to conclude by encouraging our fellow food allergy friends to KEEP exploring new places (but be prepared)!!!

    Cheers,
    Joyce

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      Author

      Hello Joyce. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us and our readers. We did the same thing…Disney when the kids where very young and then international travel once they got older. I was always surprised how it was easier to travel in Asia with a peanut allergy than it seemed it would be. You have it tougher, since your son has multiple food allergies. Do you have plans to visit Malaysia? We were only in Kuala Lumpur, just for a few days, which was super easy. If you go to Malaysia and visit off-the-beaten-path locations, let us know how it goes! We have other readers asking about Indonesia and Malaysia. Thanks again…it’s great to hear that other people have had a very similar experience traveling with food allergies. Cheers! Julie

  15. Thanks so much for this post, you’ve helped calm my nerves! I have a peanut allergy and am planning to go backpacking in SE Asia next year. I’ve done lots of googling and its really interesting how the advice varies, but the general pattern I’ve spotted is that naysayers are usually people who have traveled to SE Asia but don’t have an allergy, or have an allergy but haven’t traveled there. The people who have traveled there and do have an allergy (or who were with someone who has) are always the ones saying that its possible, even easy!

    I do have one question, do you have any experience with Borneo, or Malaysia more generally? I am a big wildlife fan, so would love to go to Borneo, or even other places in Malaysia or Indonesia, but I am struggling to find much on the web about how people fair out there with peanut allergies. Any advice?

    Thank you!

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      Hello Billy! Glad you found us. Yes, we were surprised to learn how easy it is to travel with a peanut allergy, especially if you do not mind forgoing some of the local food and eating western instead. It’s not ideal, but it is better than not traveling at all. We were only in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Time ran out on us but Borneo is a place we would like to visit someday. I can’t offer advice for traveling in Malaysia. I do know that they use peanuts frequently in their dishes. I would assume that in the larger cities it would be easy to find alternative (western) restaurants, but I don’t know what it would be like once you left the bigger cities behind. If you are planning on doing some kind of tour, I’d ask the tour company about traveling with a peanut allergy. If you go, plan on bringing lots of snacks from home or go grocery shopping once in Malaysia. There’s always a way to stay safe, and it’s so helpful to have your own stash of “safe” food.

      Have fun in Malaysia. If you think about it, comment again here after your trip, so our readers know what to expect when traveling through Malaysia with a peanut allergy.

      Cheers,
      Julie

      1. English is widely use in Malaysia. It shouldn’t be a problem to understand peanuts allergy.
        In my opinion, try peanuts with a cross sign and put it on your phone lock screen instead of showing translation card.

        You should try Borneo, Penang Island, Malacca (UNESCO)next time. Just be aware of dengue. Prepare mosquito repellent. Myself using “OFF” brand (orange bottle). Very effective for repellent but side effect would be heated body during sports as your body heat couldn’t release. I tried other brand, but this is the best at the moment.

        Personally take Probiotic during travel. It is good bacteria for digestion and it lower the risk of food poisoning.

        I was browsing Trover and discovered your travel blog. I have been spending hours reading your well written blog and still couldn’t manage finish the reading. Stunning photos and very detailed information on each page. Enjoyed and thanks for your effort 🙂

        -Carine

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          Thank you for all of this information, Carine! Some of our readers have asked about traveling to Malaysia with a peanut allergy and this should help them out a lot. I would love to visit Borneo. And I have had dengue so I am hoping the vaccine will be released soon. That is something I do not want to do a second time! Thanks again for writing to us and for the wonderful compliments…it means a lot. 🙂 Cheers, Julie

  16. My 16 year old son is about to go to China on a school trip ( without me). What seemed like an great opportunity at the time is now starting to scare me, and him. We have ordered translation cards. He will be home staying for some of the trip. It won’t really be an option for him to eat elsewhere when they eat out as a group as it is all pre arranged as a tour group. Whilst he will be in the bigger cities, I don’t want him to feel scared every time he’s due to eat. I’m going to see the school to discuss it and see what else we can do to keep him safe and allay his fears. Do you have any tips?

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      Hello Pippa. I can understand your concern. If your son is traveling with a tour group, the tour director should be able to assist you. Hopefully, the guide speaks Mandarin and will have knowledge about the restaurants they will be visiting. The guide should have an idea what is safe for your son to eat. When we used a tour guide, especially food tours, we felt much more at ease, since they could speak the language, were familiar with the food, and let us know what was safe to eat. Also, have your son carry snacks with him. If he doesn’t feel comfortable eating the food, he can eat what he brought with him. And of course, make sure he always carries his Epi-Pen. – Julie

  17. Hi Julie.
    We plan to travel to Asia later this year. We are from Denmark, where it is very easy to navigate in the food and allergy risk. Our 6 year old daughter have severe peanut allergy. We have been dreaming about going to Vietnam, but are a bit scared. Was it a difficult country travel in – allergywice ?
    Thanks so much for sharing your story – they are difficult to find.
    /Louise

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      Author

      Hello Louise. For us, Vietnam was one of the easier countries to travel with a peanut allergy in Southeast Asia. Peanuts are used less frequently in Vietnam than in Thailand, Cambodia, or Myanmar. At our first hotel, we had the staff write out a peanut allergy translation card for us that we would show to our waiters at restaurants. A lot of people in Vietnam can speak some English so that helps as well. Bring along lots of snacks or go grocery shopping in Vietnam. If she likes soup, she could eat lots of Pho! If you even feel uneasy having your daughter eat the local food, visit Subway or a western restaurant. It’s not ideal but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, familiarize yourself with some of the Vietnamese dishes in your hometown so you have an easier time ordering food once in Vietnam. Cheers! Julie

  18. I can not believe I just stumbled upon your website! Our younger son, who is 11, has a peanut allergy too. My husband and I are travelers and we are all foodies. We really limited our travel once we found out about Christopher’s allergies when he was 2 years old. We started gaining confidence and started traveling with the boys when he was around 4, but I’d say our trips were mainly “safe” i.e., mainly the US, Bermuda, Nevis. Although the planes stress me out (and still do). Last year, we got “courageous”. Took kids to Europe. We chose England (for obvious reasons) and Spain (peanuts are rare in Spain) plus my husband speaks enough Spanish to navigate (although he was more showing off ? and most Spaniards we encountered spoke English). Plus my husband travels all over for business and has noticed a huge shift in labeling. (However, there is likely more over labeling e.g., stating everything is made in a facility with peanuts – that’s a personal decision for most, we opt not to consume.) Our trip was a huge success and I felt victorious and actually thought it would be great to start a blog for others, just never really got around to it. Then for Christmas we ventured to Costa Rica. Again, somewhat “safe” choice – but I go through all of those nail biting situations and panic attacks in the night. Once again, I can happily report our trip was a success.

    We are leaving for Italy (Venice, Florence, Sorrento and Rome) soon and I feel all of the same anxiety as previous trips and I was smiling as I read all of the precautions that you recommend are the ones we employ. I find the airlines mainly obnoxious, but try to kill them with kindness. On our flight Europe last year, I asked if the head flight attendant on United could make an announcement that our son had a peanut allergy and consider refraining from serving peanuts. I was told that she decided not to make the announcement because it was against corporate policy – a blatant lie. Anyway, I tried to reserve a food tour in Venice (we love the food tours too) and was told it’s not possible to keep him safe. Of course, that put my anxiety way high! Then I have read that in Sorrento peanuts are served on the table in most restaurants! I find the peanut thing in Italy odd (I am Italian!) but we are taking all the precautions – we have spoken to chefs at all the hotels, (so we feel safe there), numerous epipens, snacks, translation cards, food tours where we can, a cooking class (another option), enough wipes to wipe down the entire plane ? – usually try to fly first thing in am, but that’s only available to England- that was another reason we started there last year. So we are almost ready to say arrivederci! Wish us luck! And THANK YOU for your stories!! (We went to Thailand pre kids and always thought it wasn’t a wise option to take Christopher, but now we may reconsider!)

    Roberta

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      Hello Roberta. Thank you for sharing your story. I know that it can be tough traveling with a food allergy. It takes a little more work and a little more planning, but it is worth it to share the traveling experience with your son. Have a great time in Italy! – Julie

  19. Thank you so much for the informative read!!
    Later this month my boyfriend, Kyle, and I will be traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia. Kyle has had a severe peanut allergy since he was a baby, and while we weren’t able to get him booked for an appointment to be re-tested before our trip, we are planning to treat it as a severe allergy. Luckily we have a Vietnamese friend in HCMC that is going to prepare some translation cards for us, so I am not too concerned about traveling within Vietnam.
    I am more concerned about travel within Cambodia (which I have been to before, but Kyle has not). I know that much of the time peanuts are used as garnishes on dishes and are therefore relatively easy to spot out. Did you find Cambodia particularly difficult to navigate -food wise?

    Any advise is greatly, greatly appreciated!

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      Hello, Jillian! We did not have a problem in Vietnam or Cambodia with Tyler’s peanut allergy. In Cambodia, we were in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Kampot. In all of these places, especially Siem Reap, we ate mainly western food (because it is a lot easier to eat in Western restaurants with a peanut allergy). There were a few places where we ate Cambodian and we were able to order food that was safe for Tyler to eat. Yes, peanuts can by used as a garnish on Cambodian food, but it can be easy to spot. Of course, you have to consider cross contamination with other foods. Unfortunately, there is no way to know what is happening when the food is being prepared. If we were ever in doubt, we talked to our waitress or waiter. Typically, it was not difficult to find English speakers in the more popular touristy spots. In Vietnam, we ate Vietnamese the entire month and never had a problem. Talk to your Vietnamese friend and ask if there are any dishes he recommends you avoid. We used translation cards in both countries which was very helpful. Basically, when in doubt, go to a western restaurant. It may not be as exciting as eating the local food, but sometimes it is not worth taking the risk. Have fun in Cambodia and Vietnam!

  20. How wonderful that you’ve done this and that you’ve written about it! Very inspiring for others of us in the same situation. Our son is about to embark on a 10 day trip of his own where he will need to have a large back-up supply of food and won’t have refrigerated storage. Do you have a list of some of the items you usually take along to work as a meal replacement when everyone else is eating at a restaurant?

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      Hello Mel, When we travel with Tyler, we bring a stash of Clif Kids Energy Bars (the peanut free ones, of course), fruit chips, crackers, that sort of thing. There are a lot of energy bars in grocery stores that are peanut free. They are relatively healthy and easy to pack in luggage. Once we are at our destination, we go to the grocery store and buy fruit and more snack food if we need it. It’s also good to have some food for airplane flights, just in case you are worried about eating the food the airline serves. Finally, there always seems to be a Subway or McDonalds nearby, where Tyler will get a sandwich or burger, and eat that while we are at the restaurant. It’s more work but absolutely worth it to keep him safe. – Julie

  21. Thank you so much for this helpful post! Our two year old has a peanut allergy and it’s been a challenge navigating these new waters. We are scheduled to travel to Singapore this summer and I am a nervous wreck just thinking about it. I know there will be plenty of Western restaurants to eat at and we will be staying somewhere with a kitchen where we can prepare food. It’s just that it is coinciding with the time when we are beginning to teach her that there are some foods she cannot eat (right now, we all eat safe foods so sharing is fine) and also there are family obligations where people want to take us out to eat or have us in their homes. So it’s a lot about the societal pressure and emotional/cognitive development as we challenge ourselves to be uncomfortable sometimes in order to advocate for her and begin to prepare our little one to be able to advocate for herself as well. Thank you again for this post–I find it refreshing in a sea of other “X and X is not just worth it” food allergy posts. It’s wonderful that you value traveling and choose to give your kids these experiences and other viewpoints but always with a game plan in mind of how to accommodate your son’s allergies. I am curious if you’ve written or might write another post on how to talk to kids about their allergies, what might be appropriate at each age, and how to address the anxiety (for parents and kids!)

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      Hello Sharon,

      You are so welcome. I remember researching what it was like to travel through Asia with a peanut allergy and there was not much information out there. And what I did find was either naysayers or disaster stories. After traveling with Tyler in Europe and to South America with my husband, I began to realize that western food can be found almost everywhere. It’s not great that the US infiltrates so much of other countries but in this case it really worked out in our favor. McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway, and Pizza Hut are everywhere! I talked with our allergist about traveling to Asia with Tyler and he was all for it. That made me feel so much better!

      Going out to eat in Singapore will be relatively easy. You can find cuisine from all over the world and people who speak perfect English, which makes it so much easier traveling with a peanut allergy. Tyler even ate at the food markets safely (with help from friends who live in Singapore and knew what was safe for him to eat). Eating in someone’s home can be a little more difficult because you won’t want to look “rude” by not eating the food. But we didn’t care about social convention when it came to Tyler, it was just not worth the risk. If we were ever in doubt we gave him the food we had with us that we knew was safe.

      I haven’t written any other posts on peanut allergies but it is an idea for the future. As far as the anxiety (for parents and kids), it is always there. I have always worried about it, but the worst was the first few years of his life. As Tyler has gotten older, he has become very responsible, learning what foods are safe to eat, how to address his peanut allergy in restaurants, making sure he always has his Epi-Pen with him. I think it is scarier when the kids are younger because they do not understand the implications yet. Tyler totally understands what it could mean to have a serious reaction and this is a great motivator to stay safe. The best thing you can do is to teach your daughter good habits, hand washing, avoidance of peanuts, and it will probably become second nature to her.

      Enjoy your time in Singapore and let us know if you have any more questions!

      Cheers, Julie

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