This post is all about managing food allergies in a hotel setting. I’ll be walking through multiple hotel situations you may be in, from checking in and out of the lobby, to using conference rooms or the gym and amenities, and of course, staying in the actual hotel room. I’ll be sure to talk more about food allergy travel in other Invisibly Allergic blog posts. For now, I’ll focus on strategies to minimize reactions and make travel the most convenient and easy it can be when staying in hotels, motels, hostels, and Airbnb and Vrbo rentals!
8 Steps To Limiting Food Allergy Reactions & Cross-Contact In Hotel/Home Rental Settings
- Step 1: Email
- Email the hotel, motel, or hostel in advance before you book your stay, and inquire on what food allergens they have in each room, if they offer room service, provide breakfast, have a restaurant that serves your allergen, etc. This will help you understand the scope of what to expect and help you prepare for your trip, and/or determine if you feel comfortable potentially staying there.
- If you’re staying in an Airbnb/Vrbo rental, I let the rental owner know about my allergy and ask that they do not provide anything with peanuts for me during my stay.
- If I’m staying someplace for a long amount of time, I will book a place with a kitchenette or kitchen, and ideally a refrigerator and microwave. I’ve made many hotel scenarios work with some creativity and finagling, and have requested a mini-fridge or microwave at hotels before if they have that as an option.
- Step 2: Location
- Once I have a few hotel options to choose from, I begin looking into where nearby grocery stores are. Since I mostly will be dining in my hotel room and eating in, this is important for me to do so I have an idea of where I can go grocery shopping, especially if it’s in a city or place where I’m reliant on public transit. I also like to see if there’s an urgent care or hospital nearby, so I have a plan in place if a reaction does occur, and I’ll share that plan with anyone else I’m traveling with so they’re aware, too.
- Step 3: Cleaning Products & Kitchen Items
- Depending on if there’s a nearby store where you can pick up some items, it may be easiest to get most cleaning products and kitchen items when you’ve reached your destination. However, I like to always bring with me a fresh kitchen sponge, a roll of paper towels or napkins, cleaning wipes, and a kitchen towel from home that I know isn’t contaminated with food particles.
- If I’m traveling to my destination by car, and will have a kitchen, for example, if I’m staying in an Airbnb home with a full kitchen, I may bring my own utensils, pots & pans, etc. It really depends on the travel what I’m bringing with me, and what I’ll purchase once I’m there.
- Step 4: Clean Upon Arrival
- Even though hotel settings clean between people, I like to go the extra step and wipe down all the surfaces of my space such as light switches, door handles, table tops and surfaces, any other handles, remote controls, stove buttons/gears, microwave door, refrigerator door and shelves, and so on. Really anyplace hands come into contact with, or people may wipe their hands, I try to wipe it down with a wet wipe and/or paper towel. For surfaces like couches where they can’t be wiped, I’ll attempt my best and if it looks dirty, I’ll ask the for an extra sheet if I don’t already have access to one, and cover the furniture with it. Doing this doesn’t take that long, maybe 15-20 minutes, and gives me a lot of piece of mind. Pro tip: bring your own pillowcase from home and slip it on the hotel pillow if you’re worried about a contaminated pillow!
- Step 5: Wiping My Phone & Hands Often
- It’s a new environment and so I try to make sure I’m not touching my hands to my face, and am wiping my phone and purse and items often. I am aware of touching my hands to my clothing and then to my face, because if I sit on a public bus for example, I don’t want to go back to my hotel and then sit on the bed, so I try to just remain cautious of cross-contact in settings I’m out of my comfort zone in.
- Step 6: Wearing My Epi-Pen Keychain & Bracelet
- Since I’m not at home and around friends, neighbors, and family who may know about my food allergy, I do wear a food allergy bracelet when traveling by myself as well as attaching a food allergy keychain to the outside of my purse that says “epi-pens inside”. These are small actions that don’t have any guarantees, but may help me in the event of an allergic reaction.
- Step 7: Bring Snacks
- Bringing plenty of safe snacks with you to hold you over until you can get to a grocery store or safe restaurant is key. I don’t know about you, but I get hangry and need extra snacks on me at all times, keep non-perishable items in your purse/backpack/travel bags, it is better to have too many than too few.
- Step 8: You’ve Got Options
- Life with a food allergy for me is all about turning lemons into lemonade. If there’s no microwave, I will get things non-perishable and fresh produce like fruits and vegetables. If you have access to a microwave and a mini-fridge, it opens up options like frozen meals, soups, and more. I may bring my own dishes, cutlery, dish-sponge and dish soap, or buy it when I reach my destination and get all disposable dishes and cutlery. It’s not fun, but I’ve washed dishes and fresh produce in many bathroom sinks. It’s important to always scrape any food into the trash and take it out regularly.
Hotel Experiences I’ve Learned From
My Experience At The Louisville Omni
Not long ago I had a UPS package to return and figured I would go to the nearby Omni Hotel behind my work office to return it. There was clearly a conference going on, there were a lot more people in the hotel mid-day than usual, and as I made my way up the escalator I noticed a lot of food related booths and people chewing and snacking. 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 looked for my mask in my purse, and was surprised to find that I didn’t have one on me, so I held my breath and made a brisk walk past the people. I finally was able to let my breath out where there wasn’t anyone besides two people talking with water bottles in their hands in front of the UPS store. I took a quick glance into the hotel conference room, and shockingly 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 opened, and I just want to mention, I did have my epinephrine and Benadryl on me in my purse.
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! Stumbling on this in a hotel emphasized to me that it is good I’m always taking active 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 allergic cross-contact or airborne reaction.
I hurried into the UPS store for refuge, 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 my body sensations 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, 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 blog post on wearing face masks for food allergies 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 a rare circumstance. Peanuts and peanut ingredients are common, especially in hotels and at events and conferences. Same with all of the top allergens. I’m sure I may 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. The reality all public settings are this same way and have this same risk. I now always bring hand wipes to clear my own seating area, in addition to a mask, Benadryl, and my life-saving epinephrine.
My Experience At The Hyatt
I used to walk on my lunch breaks inside at the Hyatt hotel in Downtown Louisville to get some exercise in the winter months. I got this idea from colleagues 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 in response. My 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, or maybe even just an environmental or chemical allergen I have.
I would look 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 on tables for catering tucked back in a nearby hallway. I was close to it, 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, especially without a mask, but hindsight is 20/20 as they say! I 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 and didn’t want to miss out on this activity to chit chat and get some steps in away from my desk. However, it wasn’t worth the risk. From then on, I would just bundle up and walk outside in the winter, or do yoga at my desk in a conference room at my workplace where they didn’t allow peanuts in the building.
My Experience At A Portland, Maine Airbnb
I’ve had more negative Airbnb/Vrbo experiences compared to staying in traditional hotels and motels, and I think it comes down to the fact that there’s a cleaning crew in place at hotels compared to some hosts not doing as great of a job with cleaning. Even when people didn’t complain on reviews, I don’t feel the cleaning standards are the same at a home rental, at least not consistently across the board. I have had some positive experiences, but still take the same precautions and wipe everything down surface wise, try to not touch my face, etc.
There was one really bad experience at an Airbnb in Portland, Maine I stayed at where there was peanut butter smeared on a couple door handles and Chinese takeout food leftover in the fridge. Not the mention, the place itself was dusty and not cleaned to a typical hotel standard. Due to experiences like this one, I prefer to stay in hotels if possible, but the kitchen at an Airbnb/Vrbo rental is always nice to have compared to a small kitchenette. However, I’m not sure if the contamination level is worth it! It’s one of those food allergy aspects that’s just hard to control and hard to anticipate, unfortunately.
My Experience At A Fancy Hotel In Copenhagen, Denmark
During part of our honeymoon we went to Copenhagen and stayed in a hotel near Nyhavn. We arrived to our hotel with our luggage, walked into the lobby, and immediately I noticed at least 10+ bowls of peanuts scattered on tables around the lobby. I was so confused since I’d emailed with them before booking, and so I quickly pointed them out to my husband and asked him to check us in while I fled back outside and waited for us to be checked in. I felt embarrassed and frustrated to ask them to remove them. In hindsight, I would do that now, but this was 6+ years ago when I was less confident in asking for accommodations and my food allergy needs. Since we had the reservation in advance and already worked out, and there weren’t peanuts in my room specifically (this was something that I spoke to them about before arriving to make sure none of the food items in the room mini-fridge were peanut containing) at this hotel I just avoided the lobby as much as possible, holding my breathe as we walked through, or wearing a mask, and wiping my hands and avoiding touching surfaces like doors with anything but my feet. My husband and I assumed that likely a lot of things at the hotel were contaminated with peanut dust, like elevator buttons, doorknobs, pens, etc. so I had to be extra careful and not treat any signs of a reaction lightly. Luckily everything was okay, and after my stay I did email them about it to let them know it’s not a good environment for those with peanut allergies and to suggest another snack instead without top allergens. I also expressed that there was a miscommunication via email, because I asked about their restaurant and my room, but didn’t think to ask about peanuts in the lobby, but that it would’ve been good to for me to know about.
My Hotel Mishap In Prague, Czech Republic
During our same honeymoon as when we went to Denmark, we went to Prague in the Czech Republic and had a reservation at a hotel my husband’s family has stayed at in the past and loved. It was a long-term type of hotel rental with a kitchen, so we were super excited to be able to utilize it and cook there. Well, we dragged our luggage up a few bricks roads to the hotel entrance late at night after our flight, and when we arrived, they said our room was no longer available for our stay. I couldn’t believe it! I checked my email and asked why I hadn’t received anything, and explained that we really needed the kitchen and that’s why we booked it due to my food allergy. They had us set up to go to another hotel, and apologized, but the hotel they were going to put us up at instead was not close by in proximity to the one we anticipated and booked in advance, and also didn’t have a kitchen. Long story short, there was nothing we could do so we went to the other hotel they sent us to, and we made it work without a kitchen by speaking with the kitchen staff and taking time to reach out to restaurants about if they used peanuts in their kitchens. It all ended up working out better than we expected, but was really disappointing and scary initially due to my food allergy plan falling through.
Staying In A Hostel With A Food Allergy
To be transparent here, I’ve only stayed in a couple hostels and only in Middle and High School. For me, my food allergy is life-threatening and severe enough to where I don’t feel comfortable being in an uncontrolled environment with people I don’t know. I’ve stayed in Airbnb’s with shared bathrooms before, but wouldn’t trust using a shared kitchen and try to have my own space when possible. I don’t feel comfortable in hostel environments, but some people with food allergies may, so I wanted to state here that everyone’s allergy is different and hostels can be an affordable and fun option if you’re comfortable with them!
Let Them Know What They’re Doing Well
I’ve found that most of the time hotels and motels do have peanuts and other top allergens in their lobbies for sale or in their breakfast in some form, and bizarrely, many hotels bake peanut butter cookies one day a week! So when I find a location that doesn’t use peanuts, and does accommodations well, I book with them happily and make a point to let them know I have a peanut allergy and love that they don’t have them on their menu, in their lobby, in their breakfast area, etc. so they know it’s appreciated and hopefully don’t change it. I make sure to let them know I’ll be a loyal and repeat customer and leave a great review as well. So often people, and I’m guilty of this as well, only leave feedback when it’s negative, so I like leaving positive feedback around my food allergy, too.
Yay! Now You’re Prepared To Stay In A Hotel Setting
I’ve accepted that public spaces are often cross-contact contaminated by peanuts in some way, so it’s good to have a plan in place when going into these scenarios. Especially if you’re traveling and on vacation, you don’t want to spend your vacation at an ER, in a life-threatening situation, or dealing with allergic reactions the whole time.
With my food allergy, it’s safe to say hotels (and public spaces in general) are not my favorite places to be, as they’re usually unpredictable and peanut-ridden! However, I’ve had plenty of very comfortable and safe experiences after taking these precautions I’ve outlined here in this post. Now you have insight into ways I’ve managed in various hotel situations in the past, so you can do the same. 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!
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