Traveling to a country where you don't speak the language? Consider packing an allergy translation card to help you communicate with hoteliers and restauranteurs. An allergy translation card is a credit card-sized document that you can give to waiters, concierges, physicians, and other people who may be in a position to help you with food service needs while you're traveling abroad.
Allergy translation cards indicate your allergy needs in the language and dialect of the region you'll be traveling in. A small cottage industry has sprung up in translation cards, with prices ranging from free to around $8 to $10. Here are some features to look for and issues to consider:
- Cards should indicate all of your dietary needs and should mention the possibility of cross-contamination, ideally recommending that completely clean utensils, pans, and cutting boards be used for your food (since it will be difficult for you to clarify your needs with the kitchen).
- Cover your bases. Make sure you have at least two copies of your card (in case of loss or in case you accidentally leave one in your hotel room). If you're flying through a country in which you're not fluent in the local language en route to your final destination, consider buying one for the language of your stopover city in case your flight is delayed, especially since these cards are inexpensive and portable.
- If you're ordering a card that needs to be delivered, be sure to order early enough to check for completeness. Many cards can be ordered via PayPal or credit card and printed on your computer. Consider laminating cards you print yourself for durability, or backing them with cardstock.
Here are three companies that offer allergy translation cards, along with some of the features of each. You'll find that most languages and diets are already represented by these companies, and two of them (Select Wisely and Dietary Card) offer custom translation services. However, if your dietary needs can't be met by any of these companies and you would still like a portable card, consider contacting the nearest major university or a local translation firm to inquire about hiring a professor, graduate student, or professional translator to create a custom translation for you.
- Select Wisely offers cards in over 25 languages and for over 40 foods, including the eight most common food allergens, plus other relatively common allergens like MSG, alcohol, corn, rice, gluten, mushrooms, onions, and peas. Their cards are based on simplicity and brevity. They offer a "strongly worded" allergy card stating that your allergies are severe enough to require emergency services should you eat a trace of your allergen. They can also create special orders for unusual languages or diets.
- Dietary Card is a UK-based company that specializes in translations into EU languages, although they do offer translations into several East-Asian languages. They offer cards for nut allergies and celiac disease as well as custom translations for virtually any allergy or food sensitivity including combinations of restricted diets. These cards are delivered by mail, rather than printed from a computer.
- Allergy Translation offers cards in 21 languages for 175 allergens (although this counts each nut and type of fish as a different allergen). In addition to the "big eight" allergens, they offer cards for caffeine, many grains, many spices, animal products, and quite a few religious and medical diets. The cost of these cards is $8, but that price allows you to print an unlimited number of cards from your computer.