Road-trips and Allergies

wheat field(large)

Allergies and road-trips = the potential of being far away from a hospital and immediate medical attention for equally possible long durations of time. This definitely makes the list of “things that make me uncomfortable and slightly stressed while away from home.” I’ve had a decent amount of experience to live through this stressor—mostly thanks to my parents. We have travelled in our tent trailer since I was about 5 years old as we road-tripped all across Canada.

I’ve had to manage anaphylaxis since I was 16 months old (okay, my parents did for the first while…); and my parents brought me up to always be conscious about what I was ingesting, cross-contamination, and about the management of possible allergic reactions. (To this day, I cannot imagine the stress involved in leaving me as a 6 year old at kindergarten and to my own devices!) My road-trip experience growing up looked mostly like this. For 2-3 weeks each summer, I would travel via mini-van and tent-trailer with my brother, parents, and dog to somewhere in Canada. We travelled to the east coast, west coast, prairies, and northern territories… suffice it to say that I learned quite a bit about Canadian culture. I also learned a few staples about road-tripping with allergies. Here they are (in no specific order):

  • Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan! 

It is so important to have your own food that is safe for you to eat. One of the reasons that my family went camping so much is because we could easily manage what we were eating and know it was safe for me. Stock up on all ingredients you will need to have and take them with you.

  • Auto-injector, plus a spare!!!

I cannot stress this enough. I always carry two auto-injectors with me. On a recent trip I took, when I was unsure about medical care, I took more than two. You can never be too careful. As for any other medications you may possibly need—bring them. Check that all of your prescriptions are up to date and you have extras if you think you may need them.

  • Extra safe snacks:

It’s easy for friends to stop off and pick up a snack here or there; but it is not always that easy for those of us with allergies or food sensitivities. Carrying your extra snacks or treats with you can make it so much easier, and more fun, to be able to share similar experiences and not feel left out. As much as possible, I want to limit feeling like a burden to my friends and family because my allergies limit where and what I can eat. So I always make sure I have some kind of snack with me. They want to stop off at a cafe? Cool! I’ll grab a tea and have a snack that I brought. They can enjoy their latte and cake or whatever they get. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

  • Can you bring food? 

I was recently at a music festival where they had a policy that no food was allowed to be brought in unless you had allergies. Check to see if this is a factor for any of the stops you are making on your road trip! Also, make sure you see if you need any kinds of letters from your doctor about needing auto-injectors or any other drugs that are to be kept with you. I have been hassled about this before. Leave my auto-injectors with the security staff at the front gates? Yea, right…not happening!

  • Map medical facilities:

This is something I have been more vigilant about doing since I have been older as opposed to when I was younger. I look at where I am staying and figure out where nearby medical facilities are. It puts me at ease to know what I have accessible to me and how readily available I am to medical care should an emergency happen. If I am not staying in a city (i.e. camping), I know what the easiest route back to where medical care is and, if I am remote, I know what my options are in terms of who to contact for help (i.e. park rangers) if we need immediate assistance.

  • Tell your friends about your allergies:

This is another point I cannot stress enough! It is so important to communicate your allergies/food sensitivities to the people you are travelling with. I find it to be a less than fun feeling when we’re in the car and I see that chocolate bar or bag of trail mix that has peanuts in it (one of my allergens); and I think “oh no, I can’t be near that… It is never fun to feel like the ‘buzz kill’.  Tell your friends/travel companions beforehand to avoid this situation!

  • Medic Alert: 

I do not remember a time in my life when I haven’t had my MedicAlert bracelet (actually, I only remember the times when I do not have it because I lost it!). A MedicAlert is something that is so important to have. Even in the recent first aid course I did, it is part of the training to look to see if there is medical identification jewellery on the person. This jewellery can speak for you when you can’t when, for example, you have passed out or are in a panic and forgot to say certain things. Specifically, my MedicAlert advises that I am allergic to penicillin. This is important if I have an allergic reaction. The medical responders will easily be able to identify that I cannot have that drug. For the small cost that it is, having a MedicAlert is like a safety blanket that is always with you; and there are a lot of styles it comes in now. Being ‘fashion forward’ isn’t an issue anymore!

Those are my top suggestions for embarking on a road trip when you have allergies. There are definitely multiple other considerations that should be made before going on a trip; don’t limit yourself. Do you have any tips that have been useful? Share in the comments!

Happy travels!

Joanna C.

2 thoughts on “Road-trips and Allergies”

  1. Hey Joanna.

    I just got back from travelling for three weeks to surprise my parents, who live in Angola. I’ve travelled a lot before, and I’ve managed a mild allergy to hazelnuts for years, but in the past few years my allergies have grown and I’m now anaphylactic to cucumbers and cherries, as well as a whole list of milder allergies that could become more serious anytime.

    Here are my tips:
    1) Airplanes have boiling water, so if you want hot food bring camping food
    2) Any travel to or through Europe means that meat and dairy is strictly prohibited even in vaccuum packed form. Sigh. I left most of the food behind for another time, and trusted that maybe my parents could learn to cope while I was there.
    I did also find lots of great snacks at the camping store, too- I decided that energy gels and chews were a great way to a) let me have gummy treats that I usually can’t have and b) keep me energized and moving even if I had to skip a meal because of allergens.

    3) Check with an embassy to learn about labelling laws. For ex, in the UK my sister can’t trust any of the “gluten free” labels because they tolerate a lot more traces of gluten than Canada does.
    4) Bring a translated card. Make yourself a business card with your name, and your allergens. I did mine in English/Portuguese and in colour with pictures because sometimes in Angola not everyone is literate… Now I have a whole lot extra for my friends to put on their fridge. They love Potlucks and so do I- if someone can tell me what I’m eating.

    5) Stand your ground. Mom and Dad decided we should go on a road trip, literally several hours drive from the nearest excuse for a hospital. “Let’s talk through a contingency plan” I said to my mother… Which she grudingly did. I forced her to leave all the cucumbers behind (yes, usually you can eat them while I’m around. No, I’m not taking any chances while we’re in the middle of nowhere Angola.) and in the end only one of my milder allergens showed up… I was a little more anxious than usual, and a lot m

  2. More wound up, but in the end it all worked out. I wouldn’t have gone with just anyone- my mom is a very experienced nurse and my dad had a whole bunch of extra epi’s for himself and his bee sting allergy.

    Last tip: 6) Learn the language. The better and faster you can learn to communicate, the less likely people are to be offended by your inability to eat their food. Being able to explain that eating or drinking something unknown could kill me was a huge help for me, and there’s no way I would have done the trip alone without already being pretty fluent in Portuguese. I can ask what’s in something and understand the answers, so that was key.

    Hope that helps!

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