There are many things that need to be done before you leave for your study abroad program. Is my passport up to date? Do I need a Visa? Should I get some foreign currency before I go? All good questions! For someone who has food allergies, the “to do” list is much more extensive and can feel somewhat daunting at times.
First, congrats on getting into your program! This is an exciting experience for you and we are thrilled for all the fun experiences you are going to have while studying abroad. Now it’s time to start thinking about the best way to make your experience a safe one. This list is to help make things easier for you as you plan for your time studying abroad
Notify Your Hosting Program
The first thing to do is to notify your Hosting Study Abroad program of your food allergies. They will be able to assist you with your room preferences, medical insurance and tips for your Allergy Action Plan (see below). The IES Program for Italy has been very responsive and has touched base several times before departure to make sure all the proper meds are being brought and the student is aware of the resources that are available to them. Keep an open dialogue with your counselor and remember they are there to answer all your questions.
Choose Your Student Housing
Homestay or living with a family are the most restrictive choices since, in most cases, food will be included in your plan and you will be eating food your Host Family will be providing. You cannot be certain they will know how to prepare your “safe food” so we do not recommend this option. Dormitory living is a little less restrictive if a shared kitchen is available, but sharing the same kitchen and cooking items may not be the best choice for you. If you still feel this may be the best option, check with your program to make sure this is available to you. Shared apartment will be the least restrictive since you will be able buy and prepare your own food and the number of other people sharing the kitchen will be limited. Whichever plan you choose, make sure you contact your advisor and explain why your option is so important to keeping you safe while you are studying abroad.
Get an International Insurance Plan
Most Study Abroad programs have an international plan with an automatic enrollment. Make sure your plan has adequate coverage in case there is an emergency. You can add extra coverage on your current program if you would like but we recommend you accept the international Medical Plan. Our son needed medical help while studying in Spain. His process was very easy, his doctors were great, and his medical expenses were much cheaper than our US plan. Additionally, make sure you have the phone number for the 24-hour hotline for your Host Program.
Make Appointment with Your Doctors
We made appointments with both the Allergist and the General Practitioner. It is important to let your doctors know you will be overseas so you can come up with an Action Plan while you are there. Another reason is you will not be able to order your prescriptions while you are over there, and many countries will not allow you to mail them. Your doctor will need to prescribe enough meds to cover your entire time you are Abroad (4-5 months). It’s best to get a doctor’s letter to accompany any prescriptions coming into a different country as many countries require this. We had trouble bringing liquid Benadryl into Heathrow Airport, but we were able to convince them after they read the Doctor’s letter.
Bring An Emergency Action Plan
FARE has a Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan you can download for emergency purposes. It has easy to follow instructions for both mild and severe reactions so others will know what to do in case of an emergency. Have your doctor sign this and place in your meds packets so you will always have it handy.
Order Food Allergy Chef Cards
If you are planning to eat out and are traveling to a country that speaks a different language, it is a good idea to have allergy cards available. This allows for easy communication with the restaurant staff and helps ensure you have a safe meal. There are several companies that offer translation cards in many different languages. Equal Eats, formerly Allergy Translation, has several allergy cards available in many different languages. You can choose one that’s right for you or you can create your own allergy card. A digital version is also provided to go with your printed copies so you can always carry it with you. Another option is Select Wisely which has a large selection of allergy cards with an option to make a custom card. If you would like to print your own, FARE has Food Allergy Chef Cards which has templates to download that you can custom to your food allergies and print out. If you are going to print your own allergy cards, we recommend you laminated them. The print won’t rub off and they will last for years.
Download a Translate App
There are many translation apps available that can help those who are considering travelling abroad with food allergies. These apps will help if want to buy a food item at a grocery store and need to read the ingredients or you are at a restaurant and want to translate the menu.
The earlier translation apps were hard to use and not reliable but have since become much more robust. We like Google Translate because you can use it without using your data and the camera can scan your text for easy translation. Our favorite option is the Conversation Mode which will give instant speech translation with an option to hear the pronunciation so you can feel confident when speaking your request.
If you would like to compare options, there is Microsoft Translator which offers text and voice content in over 70 languages, iTranslate which translates content into over 100 languages and can switch between different dialects. If you like, you can listen to translations in a male or female voice. Another popular translation app is TripLingo with its translation features but it can also help you learn how to speak a new language, complete with its offline dictionary, audio lessons, built-in flashcards, and quizzes. For an additional fee you can have access to a live translator.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Look up Local Restaurants
Google can help you find the nearest grocery store and restaurants and in some cases, you can look up their menus and have them translated. You could also email them with any special requests.
Find Nearest Hospital or Emergency Care
Anytime you travel, whether foreign or domestic, it is always a good idea to know where the hospitals are before you go. A simple search will show you the emergency number and location in your place of study. There is an app that can help you with this. With the TripWhistle Global SOS app you can access 196 countries and 70 different emergency numbers and they will provide your exact location to the responders in case you need assistance.
Look Up the Traditional Cuisine
We have travelled overseas several times and we recommend you take the time to look at common ingredients used in the local cuisine. For example, did you know restaurants in Ireland use egg to bind their burgers or the main cuisine in Costa Rica uses plantains (bananas) and mangoes in much of their foods?
We researched Italy and found out that Italy adds Lupin flour to many of their soups as a thickener. Lupin is a legume that is in the same family as peanuts. Since peanuts is one of our allergens, we ordered some Lupin flour on Amazon and made some baked goods to test it out. Thankfully it will not be a problem, but it is better to find out in familiar surroundings than in a foreign environment. For those traveling to several countries, we would suggest taking some time to learn about the food in these countries as well.
There are some great resources out there by people who have been out there traveling:
FARE lists their recommendations for allergy-free travel with links to the Emergency Action Plan and Chef Card templates.
Contributor Allie Bahn explains the steps she takes when she is traveling abroad with her many food allergies in the Trusted Travel Girl blog.
Tessa from Abroad with Allergies is a midwestern girl who likes to travel and her site is full of allergy-specific information on travel tips, places to eat and allergy free travel guides for US destinations and many locations abroad including to Denmark, England, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.
With this list, you should feel confident that you will be well prepared to study abroad even with multiple food allergies.