Travel with a Peanut Allergy

How to Travel with a Peanut Allergy and See the World

Julie Travel Advice 141 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 traveled around the world with our peanut allergic son and want share our experiences with you. We want to show you how you can travel with a peanut allergy and stay safe.

About Us

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 67 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? Or 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 15 years old and has lived with a peanut allergy since the age of 1. We carry Epi-Pen auto injectors everywhere we go.

I worked as a physician assistant for 18 years (until running this travel blog full time). Although I did not work directly with food allergies (I worked 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 fourteen 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 67 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 took 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.

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! On our most recent trip through Europe, we were pleasantly surprised to see than many restaurants listed allergens for each dish on their menu.

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.

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.

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Travel Peanut Allergy

Comments 141

  1. Your article is such a breath of fresh air. I’ve been searching high and low for any first hand information on traveling to other countries with a child with severe allergies, so thank you!
    My question: My daughter (who will be 16 at the time of travel) is scheduled to go with her school to Japan. I’ve read, and you have confirmed, Japan is more or less a “safe” country for someone with a peanut allergy. My daughter has a severe legume allergy, basically all beans, soy and peanuts. Did you find Japan serving a lot of these ingredients? I am a nervous wreck to send her overseas without me and to a country with a language barrier. Because of her allergy to soy she has to avoid fast food so I am trying to find alternatives to tell the school. So far I am struggling with the decision if in fact this is a trip she should avoid. Any suggestions would be helpful.

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      Author

      Hello Juju. Legumes are used a lot in Asia…they are used a lot in desserts. As far as for soy, since we don’t have an allergy to soy, we didn’t pay attention to how much it was used in foods. And it has now been several years since our visit to Japan so I wouldn’t trust my fading memories. I think you should discuss this with your allergist because they probably know more about this than I do, or can point you in the right direction for getting more information. I know that it can be nerve-wracking and challenging since your daughter has multiple allergies. I hope you find the information you need and still feel comfortable letting her travel to Japan. Sorry I can’t offer more information for you. Cheers, Julie

  2. Thank you so much for your article! My teenage son (with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, & coconut) is planning a trip to Vietnam. He’s not intending to eat in the local restaurants (as his allergy is severe), and I’m not sure how confident we are with the western restaurants there (i.e. McDonalds, etc. and the possibility of cross-contamination or use of peanut oil); although he may have to a few times. I’d like to send a large suitcase full of extra nut-free snack food him. I’ve been unable to find out how much food he can bring, what’s the best method to bring them (i.e. large empty suitcase or us to ship food), and what limitations there may be on quantity or type of food. Can you please provide some assistance with this? Also, do any local stores in Vietnam have packaged food from the U.S. that he can purchase where the food ingredient label would identify potential allergens? Thank you for any assistance you can provide.

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      Author

      Hello Dee. I can understand your concern. From what I know, McDonald’s advertises that they use the same ingredients worldwide, so peanut oil should not be a factor. Tyler ate in McDonald’s all through Asia without any issues. There usually are small convenient stores in town that are easy to find where your son can buy bread and packaged foods. It’s amazing how easy it is to find Oreos and pretzels and things like that. It may not be the healthiest diet but as a food allergy sufferer I think it’s best to be on the safe side…it’s only for a short period of time. We pack snack food in our suitcase without any problems. I am not aware of any limitations. Sometimes it can be heavy…but then your son will have an empty suitcase to use to bring home souvenirs. 🙂 Cheers, Julie

      1. Thank you Julie for your response. I know some countries do not have the same laws regarding food labels for allergies (I’m guessing Vietnam wouldn’t on their packaged food). Do their convenience stores have items from the U.S. (where sufficient food labels would be listed) that you know of? He needs to avoid foods stating, “…made in a facility or on the same equipment as nut products”.

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          Author

          Yes, we seemed to find Oreos, Ritz crackers, US brands of chips and other US brand foods all over the place. It shouldn’t be a problem. We spent 4 weeks in Vietnam with Tyler and he ate at local restaurants, western-style restaurants, and food from grocery stores with zero issues. We came from Cambodia and then entered China, so we had no food brought from the US. We were always amazed at how easy it was to find US and European snack foods all over the place, even in small towns in China. Cheers, Julie

          1. Thank you for all of the information you’ve shared! Hopefully, I can rest a bit more easily. 🙂

  3. Hi,

    This article was very helpful I just have one question. I have been thinking about going to South Korea for a week or two but I don’t know if their local food contains a lot of peanuts as I have an allergy to peanuts and hazelnuts. Can you tell me how easy or hard it was to get around South Korea with a son that has a peanut allergy.

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      Author

      We did not see much in the way of peanuts in the food in Korea, however, we were only here for one week and we ate at western style restaurants and made sandwiches a bunch of times while we were there. The times that we did eat the local food it was seafood served in a broth and served with noodles…no nuts of any kind. You will not have a problem finding western restaurants in South Korea, or people who speak English, so you should be able to travel with your son safely. Cheers, Julie

  4. I have been discussing travelling with my boyfriend and with my Peanut allergy I was concerned it wouldn’t be an option, so I was thrilled when I came upon this page which has enlightened me and we are going to start planning which countries to go to and which would be best suited for me! I am so happy to hear it hasn’t stopped you from travelling and showing Tyler the world!

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      Author

      Yes, with the proper precautions it is possible to travel with a peanut allergy (you just may have to pass on the local food in some countries…a small price to pay to be able to travel safely, however). Cheers, Julie

  5. Thank you for your article. It does give some hope for travelling with our peanut allergy daughter. I know you wrote that your son would eat at western restaurants, but did that mean you ate at different times, or not together? I’m trying to get a sense of the logistics of how that worked. Also how did you know if the ingredients at restaurants weren’t cross contaminated even at the western style restaurants?

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      Author

      Hello Jennifer. Yes, occasionally we’d get Tyler food at a “western” restaurant (Subway, Pizza Hut etc) and then we’d go to a second restaurant to try the local food. We only did this in the more difficult countries in Asia. We never knew for sure about cross contamination, but then again, we never know for sure even at restaurants at home. Cheers, Julie

  6. Hi All,

    I acquired a nut allergy about 5 years ago… Almonds is the real issue. Your article was awesome and thank you as I had the same concerns about overseas travel and my nut allergy. I’m 37, so going from being able to eat all nuts to acquiring an allergy was definitely daunting at first.

    Glad to hear Tyler was able to enjoy the journey without any major incidents.

    -Ai

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      Author

      That must have been a shocker…developing an allergy midlife. At the age of 38 I developed a serious allergy to stevia of all things. It’s not a serious as Tyler’s allergy but it does have the potential to land me in the hospital. It’s crazy, learning to live with something like this when it never was an issue before. Thanks for writing in and good luck with your travels! Cheers, Julie

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      Author
  7. Hi, I was wondering if you think that I could live a year in Hong Kong. I have a severe allergy to peanuts and I am unsure about other nuts but I avoid them just in case. I would love to take part in an exchange program with a Hong Kong University but I always assumed that Hong Kong was off limits.

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      Author

      Hong Kong is a huge city with lots of restaurants serving “western style” food. You may not be OK eating the local food but there are plenty of “safe” restaurants to eat in. This was one of the easiest spots in Asia for Tyler and his peanut allergy. So yes, I think you will be fine for a year here. Cheers, Julie

  8. Great article. I’ve been feeling a little paralyzed lately about travel and dinning out in general. We learned that our son had a severe peanut and serious tree nut allergy when he was 13 months old. I’m trying to plan a tropical beach destination vacation that’s not too far from home (USA). Do you have any suggestions? He’s 18 months now. Thanks.

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      Author

      If you visit the Caribbean, the easiest thing to do is to take a cruise or stay at a resort. You can contact the cruise line and the resort about their dining options. And always discuss your travel plans with your allergist. When we told our allergist we were traveling to Asia for 6 months, he had no reservations or concerns (but I still wondered if I was being irresponsible, thinking we could do this). I think that it is an adjustment, getting “used to” your son’s peanut allergy. We were always nervous about taking Tyler out to dinner with him when he was a toddler. It was an ordeal that almost had to be planned out. As he has gotten older, it has gotten easier for us to accept it and not let it limit what we do. He just has to miss out on eating local foods, depending on where we are. But at least he still has the chance to travel. Hopefully, once you get a few trips under your belt, you will feel more comfortable also. Cheers, Julie

  9. Thank you so much for this article. Myself and my partner are desperate to go to Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka) this year and this has been a major concern for me. I have a life threatening peanut allergy and was very concerned.

    Did you use the translation cards, did they work well?

    Thank you so much for this article

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      Author

      We did not use the translation cards but we did have hotel staff in each country write out a “translation card” for us. I think that getting the translation cards before your trip is better than how we did it (we did not know about the translation cards when we took our big trip around the world). You could always do both. Cheers, Julie

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