Travelling with allergies

Beware of travelling with allergies.
Beware of travelling with allergies. Photo: Getty Images

Going on a holiday, however humble, with our loved ones, is something most of us just take for granted.

But if you have a family member with an allergy, it can be life-threatening.

What if the airline serves food containing nuts?

Or restaurant plates are contaminated by shellfish?

Or the takeaway outlet mixes up your order?

Former president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, will never forget his first experience with anaphylaxis, with his infant son Jeevan.

"I gave him a piece of chocolate, having removed the nuts carefully. He went bright red and had difficulty breathing and was vomiting. We called an ambulance and got him to hospital," he recalls.

About 10 per cent of Australian infants have food allergies, decreasing to 3-5 per cent in older children.

Dr Haikerwal lauds Singapore Airlines and Qantas, which will "quarantine" part of the cabin if you inform them of a nut allergy several days before the flight. But in his experience, he's found Malaysia Airlines "less than responsive" to requests, because satay is its signature dish


Katrina Roe, author of Marty's Nut Free Party, avoids travelling overseas with her husband Chris, who's wheat allergic and gluten intolerant, and six-year-old daughter Caillie, who's at risk of anaphylaxis from peanuts.

"In many Asian countries, culturally, they don't like to say no," she contends. "So questions about what ingredients are in foods may not receive a straight answer."

They won't eat at hotel buffets because, Roe says, "there's a lot of potential for cross-contamination".

Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne took matters into her own hands, after discovering one of her kids had a severe gluten intolerance.

The founder of Genius Foods always carries gluten-free biscuits, cereal bars, a loaf of bread and box of cereal in her luggage, in case of travel delays.

She says you should try to stay in accommodation with a kitchenette, or choose restaurants that "match" your child's diet. "For example, for a dairy-free child, Asian restaurants are perfect because they're unlikely to include dairy products in their cooking."

Many families are turning to low-chemical elimination diets, which are free of additives, and low in salicylates, amines and flavour enhancers.

Despite having two small children at the extreme end of the food sensitivity spectrum, blogger and author Naomi Cook travelled to Egypt earlier this year.

"The head chef at the Sheraton in Soma Bay made it clear his kitchen was my 'home', too," she says. "He was our lifeline, brainstorming a meal plan, finding out what permitted foods he had stocked."

For her next trip, Naomi plans to make a pre-mix of yeast-free bread, and pop it into zip-lock bags, so she can add oil and water at the destination.

If meat's not your thing, check out for a multilingual phrasebook, dubbed the Vegan Passport.

At the end of the day, travelling with kids who have allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities is hard work, but it is possible.

Young Jeevan, who almost died from a nut allergy, is now 17. He recently travelled through Cambodia.

"If you eat at reputable food outlets, it's OK," says Dr Haikerwal. "Teach the kids to ask questions - and be wary."

Getaway: Pedal pushers

Get the kids off the iPad and onto the bike on a cycling holiday in Victoria's High Country. Skip trying to ride up Hotham; the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, from Wangaratta to Bright with smaller loops, is a gentler, sealed, off-road cruise interspersed with scenic picnic spots and gourmet villages.

The cycle-mad stores along the trail hire kids' bikes, baby seats, trailers and tag-alongs. Other great cycle routes in the region include the Great Victorian and the High Country Rail Trails.