Travelling Using Hostels

In 2008, I travelled across New Zealand for three months and stayed in over 10 hostels. It was a dream scenario to take a leave from work and travel to a beautiful country with only a bag and a camera. But the reality was that I knew it was going to take some planning to make sure I stayed safe.

I chose hostels because of their affordability.

But as a person with multiple food allergies (peanut and fish) I was still worried about eating in a shared kitchen.

How did I do it? I travelled with my own little portable kitchen. With having backpack staples I would just have to pick up fresh veggies, fruit, and bread in a new location to have nutritious and safe meals.

I would first set off to find a grocery store and grab items that were simple staples (seen below) that were easy to travel with and made one bowl meals. Non-refrigerated condiments were key to making food taste delicious. Grains like couscous cook quickly and only need boiling water and boost up any salad.

I would eat during off-peak hours. It allowed me to have really clean surfaces and avoid other people’s cooking odours.

London, United Kingdom - March 17, 2015: A man at the entrance of the St Pauls Youth Hostel in London, England. The Youth Hostel Association provides accommodation in 200 locations in England and Wales

Tips for Travelling to a Hostel

  • Eat during non-peak hours. No one will be in the kitchen and you can sanitize an area and sink without worry of people touching or cooking something that you may react to.
  • Bag your groceries in a disposable plastic bag for the fridge. When leaving, I would transfer it to my clean cloth bag insuring that nothing from the fridge contaminated my items
  • Pack your own cutting board, paring knife, soap, and cutlery
  • Re-wash any dishwater you may use in the hostel before beginning to cook
  • Prepare simple meals that require little to no time to cook

Backpack Staples

  • Instant oatmeal
  • Brown sugar
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Couscous
  • Mustard
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Crackers

It was an affordable and positive way to travel. I met a lot of people who shared many common interests with me. Staying food safe was a big part of me feeling comfortable travelling by myself in a new country.

– Catherine B.

Hidden Allergens in Beauty Products

To the average person who does not have allergies, many believe that reading labels does not go beyond those on foods. Many people are surprised to find that when I shop for new make-up or beauty products, I will spend excessive amounts of time in the shopping aisle, struggling to read the fine print of lengthy ingredient labels.

When shopping for new beauty products, it is really important to know exactly what you need to avoid and that you take the time to read labels. The labels on beauty products are often very long and I am always tempted to skim through them. However, too often I find an ingredient I am allergic to.

set of  decorative cosmetic powder, concealer, eye shadow brush, blush, foundation

Personally, I try to stick to the same products that I know are safe, but being a twenty-year-old girl, I often want to try new brands of products. I have tree nut allergies, as well as an allergy to formaldehyde that results in dermatitis. Before finding out I had this allergy, I thought formaldehyde was simply used in laboratories for preservation, but little did I know formaldehyde-releasing chemicals could be found in many low-budget beauty products! To complicate things further, after being diagnosed with this allergy, my dermatologist provided me with a list of 6 chemical names that are actually formaldehyde, since you will never find formaldehyde listed in an ingredients list.

Formaldehyde is not the only allergen that has multiple names. Even with tree nut allergies, there are many different types of nuts and oils that can cause a reaction. Your best bet is to do some research about your allergens so you have a better idea of what ingredients to watch for. Make sure you check the label every time you buy a product, even if you always buy the same brand, because ingredients can change without warning. It is much easier to read the label than to deal with the consequences of a reaction.

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because a product claims that it is hypoallergenic, does not necessarily mean it will be safe for you. The meaning behind a hypoallergenic product is that it has a low chance of causing a reaction. Be sure to check labels regardless!

– Sara S.

Travelling with Food Allergies – It’s Time for an Allergy-Friendly Get Away!

Like many of us, I have been bitten by the travel bug.  Wanderlust always leaves me searching, planning (and saving!) for another trip to a faraway destination.  My travels have taken me to four different continents outside of North America with trips ranging from a resort trip with friends to volunteer trips, along with some solo travelling. I will admit that travelling with allergies can cause some extra work in terms of planning and involves extra vigilance while travelling but can allow you to experience exciting adventures while still staying safe.

Young couple planning honeymoon vacation trip with map. Top view. Pointing to Europe Rome

Whenever I am beginning to plan a trip, I want to start with some basic research about my destination.  While part of this involves looking into the culture, history, must-see destinations, best times to go, currency, and transportation options (the list goes on and on!), I also need to do my “allergy research.” When it comes to doing allergy research I want to know about the foods commonly eaten at my destination. If this is a resort, I want to know their ability to accommodate allergies and guarantee allergy safe options. If I am travelling to a specific country or region, I want to know what their traditional cuisine consists of and what allergens might pose a potential threat to my safety. For example, when I first travelled to Costa Rica I researched what common breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals consisted of and what names common dishes went by— needless to say I was quite reassured when I found out they commonly ate beans and rice (two safe food options for me) at EVERY meal.

While you might have found out what food options will be safest while travelling, I know personally what is most intimidating is communicating your allergies with locals who do not speak English. Not only will there be a language barrier but a cultural barrier can also exist as food allergies are widely unknown in some areas of the world. For example, when I travelled to Nepal, not only were most of the people I met generally unaware of food allergies but I had to be careful not to offend locals when I had to decline food due to my food allergies.  My solution to this has been ordering “allergy cards” that are the size of a typical business card and state in any language, what my allergies are and that I cannot eat any food containing whatever specific allergens I order. I have also acquired cards that state, “I am having a medical emergency and need to be taken to the nearest medical facility.” I’ve personally used a company called “Select Wisely” and have had allergy cards ordered in: Spanish, German, Dutch, Nepalese, Swahili (you get the idea, you can order any language!). You could also try to get a native speaker to create a customized message for you. While these measures can help with staying safe while travelling with allergies, it is also necessary to use common sense and avoid risky behaviour while travelling. I also always try to pack convenient travel snacks for times when it is difficult to find allergy safe food options.

It’s also important not to forget about how you are getting to your destination and how your food allergies can come into play with this—in particular air travel. I always contact whatever airline I am using for my travels ahead of time and inform them of my food allergies.  While many cannot fully accommodate allergies it is still important to know what their allergy policy is and how best they can accommodate you. I personally tend to play it on the safe side and bring my own food as I do not trust airline food.

Airline Lunch served during long distance flight

Just as you should ensure you have all the appropriate immunizations and health checks for whatever location you are travelling to, it is also important to make sure your allergy medications are non-expired and that you have extras to bring with you. I always carry an auto-injector with me, so if I am travelling with friends or family I make sure they know how to use it, where I store it in my luggage and I also will give them an extra auto-injector in case of emergency. It’s important to know what medical services are available in the country and safe for travelers visiting the country and how to access these in an emergency. Just like any other traveler, health insurance is also a must!

Travelling is an extraordinary experience no matter the destination or length of your trip!  There is no doubt a lot to consider when planning a trip to ensure you stay safe with your allergies. Feel free to comment below and share your travelling with allergies stories and how you prepare for allergy safe travel adventures!

Helpful links:

http://foodallergycanada.ca/allergy-safety/travelling/

Allergy Translation Cards

– Caitlyn P.

Top 10 Tips for Trying a New Food with a Food Allergy

  1. Talk to your allergist

This is a really important step, especially if you are trying a food that you were previously allergic to! Ask your allergist for their own tips and recommendations and ensure that it is safe for you to be trying the food. They can provide information such as how much to try, how to prepare it, etc.

  1. Make sure your auto-injector is nearby

When trying new food, you never know what might happen so it is important to have your auto-injector with you (even though you should have it on you at all times!)

  1. Have a buddy with you

Just in case something was to happen, you should make sure that somebody you know and who knows about your food allergies (and how to deal with a reaction) is with you when you try your new food.

Two beautiful young woman sitting at cafe drinking coffee and looking at mobile phone

  1. Eat at the allergist’s office

When trying a food you were previously allergic to, ask your allergist if you can try it in their office so they are nearby in case you have a reaction. Often they will have no problem with you doing this to make you feel more comfortable.

  1. Double check the ingredients

When trying something new it is very important for you to know exactly what it is you are eating! Make sure to read the label over several times or if you are at a restaurant be very clear with the staff about your allergens and cross-contamination.

  1. Try it more than once

This can be especially important for allergens that you have grown out of. Talk to your allergist about subsequent exposure and the affect it can have on your immune system.

  1. Cook it at home

If you are trying a new food that you can cook yourself, it is probably best to try it this way the first time. That way you can control the environment and kitchen it is being cooked in and know there will be no cross-contamination.

young couple preparing early morning eggs breakfast on stove in home kitchen

  1. Talk to others

To get an idea of what it is like to try new foods talk to other people with food allergies to see what they have tried and how they did it! They could provide some helpful tips or foods they have grown to love.

  1. Get creative

Often those who are at-risk for anaphylaxis have very limited diets but there are so many amazing types of cuisine out there! Try something totally new that is out of your comfort zone – just remember to do it safely!

  1. Don’t be afraid!

Trying new foods can produce a lot of anxiety in someone who is at-risk for anaphylaxis. If you have followed all the steps to ensure your safety, you have a friend nearby and you have your auto-injector ready, there is no need to be afraid.  Read our recent post on help dealing with anxiety.

Lindsay S. 

Long Weekend at the Cottage: The ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’

The great thing about June is that it is the month that officially kicks off Summer. I like to think of the Victoria Day Weekend as the unofficial inaugural long weekend devoted to the beginning of Summer: re-opening the cottage, outdoor barbeques, and family get-togethers. The Canada Day long weekend, only a month later, allows you to really enjoy all of the greatness that summer has to offer.

Green Canoe and Dock on a Misty MorningAs fun as family barbeques and cottage get-togethers can be, effectively managing your severe food allergy will always be a factor that you must keep in mind when planning your ‘getaways’ to the cottage. Here is a list of some tips and tricks to keep in mind when planning to host or attend events during cottage season this Summer. I’ve drawn these from my own personal experiences, so by no means is this a definitive list of ‘must-dos’. Think of this as a way to complement your existing routine and mindset.

  1. Managing the Barbeque Scene at the Cottage:

I love barbequed food – who doesn’t? I’ve always found barbeques to be the least “intimidating” form of a food-centric event, specifically in regards to managing allergies. This is usually the case given that I usually have complete access to the grill – I can see exactly what gets cooked and keep track of who handled what foods. Additionally, in most cases, barbequed food goes from grill to plate directly, which reduces the risk of cross-contamination as long as no sauces or marinades contain my allergen.

Having said this, however, you should always be acutely aware of what food is being prepared, and how that food is being prepared. At times, certain meats may be marinated in a sauce that may contain your specific allergen. In addition, some barbeque sauces contain a number of allergens, which brings home the point of ALWAYS reading the label, even if you think something is safe to eat. If possible, always try to handle you own food. Grill to plate, as mentioned above, is often the best policy when it comes to barbeques as it can reduce the risk of cross contamination. In cases where you know sauces containing your allergen have been used on the grill, try to clean the grill with soap and water before even turning the barbeque on.

Family having a barbecue party in their garden in summer

  1. Bringing Appropriate Awareness to your Allergy:

Always make sure that the people around you are aware of your allergy. Make sure that you show them your auto-injector, and, if necessary, do a quick demonstration of how to use one (with a trainer injector) just in case. It is essential that you speak to the “chef” (cousin, relative, etc…) preparing the food – make sure to explicitly explain the severity of your allergy and thoroughly explain the concept of cross-contamination. Many people (family included) have a difficult time grasping the risks involved with cross-contamination. Explain what it is, its importance, and how to ultimately avoid it.

  1. Travelling to your Friend’s Cottage:

The rules described above hold the same relevance when travelling to someone else’s cottage. Always let your “host” (friend or relative) know that you have a severe allergy and where you store your auto-injector. Never be afraid to speak-up about your allergies and never be peer pressured into doing something (or eating something) that makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy in any way – your health is too important for that.

Remember that your allergies aren’t everything – it’s something that is a part of you that you have to deal with. Own your allergies, let people know about it, but don’t let them stand in the way of having a relaxing and enjoyable long-weekend.

Saverio M. 

Allergies at the Club/Bar: Top 3 Tips

#1-Never Drink on An Empty Stomach
Ensure you eat an allergen friendly meal before heading out the club or bar. You never know if there will be an allergy-safe option to munch on in the bar and if you do plan on drinking, you might not be in the best state of mind to inform wait staff of your food allergy. Also, if you plan on staying at the club until closing time… your options for some grub will be significantly reduced and you may not be able to find a safe option.

#2- Stick to Allergy Safe Drinks
Broken-down-golf cart, Baby Guinness, White Freezie, Bazooka Joe, Cherry Cheesecake; they all sound fun don’t they!? Despite tempting names and specials on shots or specialty drinks, it is always best to stick to drinks that you know. If you feel you are still of sound mind, you can always ask the bartender about the ingredients. Keep in mind to ask about garnishes, and the tumblers used to mix drinks—you don’t want to risk cross-contamination.

Group of happy friends dancing at night party

#3- Check Ingredients; Do Some Research
Allergens can be present in alcohol and it’s important to be educated on current Canadian labelling laws. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency regarding alcoholic beverages:  “…if added allergens, gluten sources and sulphites at level of 10 ppm or more are present, they must to be declared. The new labelling requirements do not apply to standardized beer, ale, stout, porter or malt liquor products. These products will be dealt with once further consultations and discussions can be held by Health Canada.”  Learn more about alcohol labelling.

Therefore, in order for you to check out ingredients of some liquor (like beer for example), you may need to contact companies directly. Don’t assume that because one company makes allergen safe liquor, that all types of that liquor are safe. You should check with each brand as different methods may be used to blend and distill their alcoholic product.

– Nicole K.

Food Allergies at the Gym

 

I feel like every allergic individual is extremely cautious in every food situation as you want to avoid coming into contact with your allergen, but I believe that we need to be just as cautious in non-food related situations. I’m a gym-fanatic and I find myself most cautious and anxious about my food allergies in the gym or when I am doing some type of physical activity. Yes, you’re not typically ingesting any food at the gym, but that doesn’t mean that you are completely safe from having an allergic reaction.

I’ve suffered two severe anaphylactic reactions when I was doing physical activity. The first reaction was while I was running outside; the second was while I was at the gym. Both times I had not ingested food immediately prior to working out.

Shaped and healthy body man holding a walnuts, isolated on white background

The allergic reactions I experienced at the gym really opened my eyes. It was the first time where I had an allergic reaction in a situation where I was not ingesting any food, and had not for some time. My allergist once told me that no matter how prepared you are or how cautious you are at avoiding your allergen, accidents can still happen and that’s not your fault.  You can’t blame yourself or be fearful of things that are out of your control. Being prepared and taking precautionary measures that ensure you are not putting yourself at-risk when performing any kind of physical activity are the best things you can do to avoid accidental exposure. Think about these tips before working out:

  • Do I have my EpiPens® on me?
  • If I’m going to be alone, do I have a phone on me?
  • Does someone know where I’m going/approximately how long I’m going to be?
  • When was the last time I ate?
  • Did I accidentally eat something that said the words MAY CONTAIN… today?

If I say no to any of these tips, I simply do not workout and cannot work out until I can say yes to all of them.

Young beautiful woman at gym

Also, whenever I do go to the gym, I make sure I stick to the following rules:

  • Wash down every machine before AND after I use it – you honestly don’t know what the person before you touched.
  • Take frequent breaks to catch my breath and lower my heart rate – this way you’re able to make sure your body is recovering normally.
  • DON’T TOUCH MY FACE
  • Wash my hands (or shower if I’m smelly) after my work out!

Your workouts do not have to be affected by allergies, it just means that you need to be a little more cautious and aware when in these situations.

– Giulia C.

By Food Allergy Canada

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