Food allergies are not only a nuisance, but also a serious health risk. I’ve had a severe peanut allergy since childhood, and it has created many obstacles throughout my years of travelling. Eating in a foreign country can be quite risky with a severe food allergy. Through my travel experience, however, I have learned that there are ways to be prepared and stay safe while consuming food abroad.
Research, Research, Research!
We all know that planning a trip requires extensive research, and if you have a food allergy, the research becomes even more time-consuming.
Here are 5 tips for Travelling with a Food Allergy:
- Get to know the local cuisine. Understanding the common ingredients used in the local cuisine of your destination is a key component to anticipating possible risks for an allergic reaction. For example, prior to my trip to Southeast Asia, I learned that traditional Vietnamese cuisine tends to use crushed peanuts as a garnish, while Thai cuisine uses peanuts in almost everything. With that knowledge, I was able to familiarize myself with specific Thai dishes due to the heightened risk.
- Learn the lingo. If you don’t know the language, I highly suggest preparing wallet cards. I found a fantastic website, KillerPeanut.com, which provides a free translation service that specifically caters to travellers with food allergies – simply select your type of food allergy, along with your travel destination, and the website will generate a series of phrases in the destination’s local language. The phrases can be cut into cards and kept in your wallet for easy access. The translated phrases serve the purpose of alerting Customs Officials that you are carrying an EpiPen, inquiring about the use of peanuts at a restaurant, and providing emergency instruction such as telling someone to call an ambulance or to take you to the hospital.
- Prepare for the worst. It’s a terrible thing to think about, but it never hurts to be prepared for the worst possible scenario. That is, accidentally ingesting an allergen and having to go to the hospital. Being aware of hospital locations and being insured for access to local healthcare is essential to staying safe while abroad. World Nomads provides excellent emergency health insurance for long trips, with very few stipulations.
- Bring your own food. If you’re going to a remote area, stock up on familiar food. Before my jungle trek in Thailand, I went to the 7-Eleven in the city and picked up a pack of noodles and a couple of mini cereal boxes, both of which were North American brands. These snacks came in handy when the local cook at the campsite prepared a meal over the fire – I decided to eat my snacks rather than take a risk in the middle of the jungle, where there was no access to a hospital.
- Cook your own food. Many hostels and budget accommodations are apartment-style, where a communal kitchen is available to guests. Cooking your own food is a great way to stay safe, not to mention the fact that shopping in local food markets is a great cultural experience!Don’t be restricted by a food allergy. If the necessary precautions are taken, then travel abroad doesn’t need to be limited.