This post is dedicated specifically to hotels and being aware of peanuts. or your allergen, in a hotel setting. I’ll walk you through multiple hotel situations you may be in, from the lobby, to the halls and conference rooms, to staying as a guest. Since it is a lengthy topic, I made this its own post that is hotel specific, to try to keep things short. I’ll be going into more detail on precautions and planning vacations and travel in other posts!
Hotel Lobbies & Conference Rooms
The other day I had a UPS package to return and figured I would go to the Omni Hotel behind my work office to return it since it’s the closest UPS store to me. There was clearly a conference going on, there were a lot more people than usual, and as I made my way up the escalator, I noticed a lot of food related booths and people eating. I figured I would get to the top of the escalator (which suddenly felt like it was moving very slowly) and make a beeline to the UPS store on the other side of these crowds of people. I held my breath and made a quick walk past the people and finally was able to let my breath out where there wasn’t anyone besides two people talking with water bottles in their hands. I was almost to the UPS store when I took a quick glance, no more than a second, into an empty conference room where I saw there was some type of peanut butter & jelly sandwich making contest about to take place. I couldn’t resist snapping a couple of photos once I realized the gallon-sized jars of peanut butter weren’t yet open:
I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was a restaurant franchising and innovation summit, and this was set up for an activity they were doing! It just emphasized that it is good I always take note of my surroundings. Had I been there 30 minutes later when this PB&J activity began, it would’ve been a different story and a potential reaction!
I ran into the UPS store, and then left down the escalator as quickly as possible. I noticed it wasn’t peanut food that I could see or smell, but I did check in with myself once I got back outside the building to see how I was feeling, if I thought I may be having a reaction, etc. I wiped my hands with a wet wipe, made sure I had my epi-pens and Benadryl in my purse, I knew I did but it’s reassuring to just look and see, and I thought about how I wished I had brought a face mask with me that day that I could’ve just thrown on to feel a bit more secure (if you haven’t read it, I have a post on wearing face masks in public settings). I checked in with my breath, how my lips/face felt, and I went ahead and took a precautionary Alavert 10mg tablet. I felt a little freaked out, but ultimately I didn’t have any signs of an allergic reaction then or the rest of the day.
I thought to myself, what are the chances of me stumbling upon this type of event, how rare is this?! But the reality set in and I knew it wasn’t rare. Peanuts and peanut ingredients are common, especially in hotels and at events and conferences.
I used to walk on my breaks inside at the Hyatt hotel to get some exercise in the winter months– I got this idea from people at my work who recommended it, but often my lip would swell afterwards and I would get a dry, itchy throat and have to take allergy medicine. For a few walks I couldn’t tell why this was happening, but assumed there must’ve been something peanut-related in the air that I wasn’t seeing. I looked around for food and never saw anything, at all, so I did this a few more times until one day I noticed they had a bunch of food out for catering tucked back in a hallway. I was close, so I briefly glanced and did a quick check of the food, and it didn’t look peanut-y. Then one day, I caught a glimpse of peanut butter labeled cookies and another dessert clearly topped with a mound of chopped peanuts, and I couldn’t believe I even risked going back there after the very first time I felt the itchy throat and swollen lip, but hindsight is 20/20 as they say! I’ve avoided going there ever since. I knew once I felt itchy a few times it was not a coincidence, and I should’ve trusted that there were peanut products around, but I enjoyed walking with co-workers and stretching my legs. Now I just bundle up and walk outside in the winter, or do yoga at my desk in a conference room (my work doesn’t allow peanuts in the building, if you haven’t read my post on peanut free employers yet!)
I’m sure I will probably go back to that Omni UPS store, and maybe even sit in their lounge area with a co-worker sometime, but I will be extra cautious knowing events like this take place there and I KNOW that the air, the furniture, tables, the door handles, escalator grip, restrooms, could all be contaminated. I will also always bring hand wipes to clear my own sitting/work area, in addition to a mask, and my life-saving epi-pens & Benadryl.
Staying Overnight in Hotels
This brings me to the topic of staying and rooming in hotels! I always will call or email before booking, inquiring if they have peanut products in the rooms, in the lobby, and in their breakfast/food. Most of the time places DO have them in the lobby for sale or in their breakfast in some form, and bizarrely many hotels bake peanut butter cookies one day a week, so I proceed cautiously, and try to find a hotel chain I feel comfortable with where there’s no peanuts in use or limited peanuts in use. I have found places that don’t use peanuts, and in those rare cases, I book with them happily and let them know I have a peanut allergy and love that they don’t have them on their menu! Often these places can vary so I’ve been to larger hotels in a popular area and also kind of wonky motels where no peanuts were in use, and it was very bare in general in terms of amenities, so that was likely why. I always ask the same questions below before booking any hotel, and I began this habit after I had a negative experience in Denmark, of all places!
In Denmark, we had gotten to our hotel with all our luggage during our honeymoon, and immediately I noticed at least 10+ bowls of peanuts scattered on tables around the lobby! I quickly pointed them out to my husband and asked him to check us in while I fled back outside and waited for my husband. Since we had the reservation in advance, at this hotel I avoided the lobby as much as possible, holding my breathe as we walked through, but I knew to expect that likely a lot of things at the hotel were contaminated (elevator buttons, doorknobs, pens, etc.) so I had to be extra careful and not treat any signs of a reaction lightly.
I’ve accepted that public spaces are often contaminated by food in some way, so I make sure to not touch my hands to my face in these situations. My Free Guide to Food Allergies and Cross Contamination goes into this further! It’s safe to say that hotels are not one of my favorite places to be, as they’re usually risky and peanut-ridden! However, I’ve had plenty of very comfortable and safe experiences after taking precautions like checking with them first about allergens they keep & sell, if there’s a restaurant on-site and asking about that menu, wiping down the room upon arrival, and changing out my own pillowcase with one I bring rom home. When I say wiping down the room, I mean it, I wipe any surface I think I may come in contact with, and especially making sure to wipe door handles, remote controls, light switches, tables, etc.
Each hotel experience has it’s unique set of challenges, but I try to book a place with a kitchenette, or at least a microwave and mini fridge, if it’s a larger city where it’s too expensive to get our own Airbnb/VRBO with a kitchen. Sometimes hotels I can afford in busy cities like NYC will not have a kitchenette, and may not even have a microwave or mini-fridge, and you can ask if they have these upon request. If so, I will let them know it’s needed for my severe peanut allergy, and it can be very helpful to have to have access to hot meals and foods that requires refrigeration. I normally stock up on groceries once I arrive at my destination, but bring plenty of safe snacks with me to hold me over until then, and will get whatever works in the situation at the place I’m staying! If there’s no microwave, I will get things non-perishable, if there is one and a mini-fridge or full fridge, it opens up options like frozen meals, soups, and more! Fresh produce is great when traveling, because I can keep bananas, apples, mangos, etc. and not feel like I’m eating too much processed food. I usually have to bring my own dishes, cutlery, dish-sponge and dish soap, and I’ll wash dishes wherever I can, i.e. scraping any food into the trash and cleaning dishes in the bathroom sink! If it’s a place with a full kitchen, I don’t usually use their pots and pans and if we drove to the destination, I’ll bring my own! If I do use their stuff, which I normally don’t unless I really need to, I inspect it really well, and wash it all beforehand with my own sponge.
I hope this gives some insight into ways I’ve managed in various hotel situations in the past. It can sometimes feel cramped and a little uncomfortable, but I much prefer eating my own meals to having to dine someplace where I don’t feel safe. Please let me know if you have any questions and I’m happy to elaborate. You can comment below or contact me via my contact form!