International Travel Tips for People with Food Allergies

Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” For frequent travelers, those are words to live by. For occasional travelers, international getaways — with their culture shock and jet lag — quickly can turn from an adventure into a stressful encounter. And, for those with food allergies, there’s an added layer of stress.

People with food allergies often rely on food labels to stay healthy. But depending on where you travel, food labels can vary drastically from those in the United States — or not exist at all. Here are five tips to eat right and enjoy all the enriching parts of traveling, even if you have food allergies.

Call Ahead

The first step is getting to your destination, and that usually means flying. Let your airline know if you have any food allergies. Often, airlines can accommodate these allergies prior to your arrival onboard.


Learn how to read and say the name of the food you are allergic to in the language or languages of the country to which you are traveling.

Don’t Be Shy

Always ask about cooking methods and ingredients when eating at restaurants. Be as specific as possible and don’t forget to ask about ingredients used in sauces and garnishes, too.

Pack Emergency Snacks

Bring non-perishable food items with you on your journey. Focus on items that are high in protein and fiber, which help you feel full and satisfied after eating in case you cannot easily find safe foods.

Be Vigilant

Before you travel, research the traditional ingredients and staple meals of your destination to learn which frequent allergens are nearly unavoidable.

  • Peanuts
    Often called groundnuts, peanuts are frequently found in soups, stews and sauces of West and East Africa, Latin America (especially Peru and Mexico) and Southeast Asia (especially Vietnam and Indonesia). 
  • Shellfish
    Coastal countries around the world often integrate shellfish into traditional dishes such as ceviche, paella, sushi, soups and stews. Before you order a meal, always ask if shellfish ingredients are used. 
  • Gluten
    Great strides have been made throughout the United States and abroad to help identify foods with gluten. The European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have regulations in place to identify common allergens, including gluten, on food labels. Note that these apply mostly to packaged products, and not necessarily restaurant menus. Always ask about the presence of gluten in your meal before you order. 
  • Dairy
    Scandinavian countries often consume high quantities of milk and dairy products. For those who are lactose intolerant, consider enjoying yogurts (look for those with live cultures) and hard cheeses (Parmesan and Swiss) that have lower amounts of lactose. Or, opt for non-dairy milks. 

Although traveling abroad can be intimidating and stressful, there often is no better way to learn about other cultures and explore the world. Stay curious in your culinary adventures, no matter what your preferences or allergies may be.

Alexandra Kuznetsov on Linkedin
Alexandra Kuznetsov
Alexandra Kuznetsov, RD, is a Chicago-based registered dietitian working on maternal and child health issues. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer from Burkina Faso, West Africa, and is the country representative for Burkina Faso with the American Overseas Dietetic Association. Connect with her on LinkedIn.