For about 14 years of my life, the word “travel” had a very limited meaning for me. I mean, how could someone at-risk for anaphylaxis from eating peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish/seafood, wheat/barley, and buckwheat safely travel, especially to countries where you can’t even explain your allergies in the same language?
Well, when you really think about it, there are actually quite a few ways.
The key is to plan ahead.
Then, there’s also the natural anxiety that comes along with travelling with severe food allergies. I can say that this fear has not gone away for myself. However, I can confidently say that you can manage this anxiety by planning ahead.
For me, planning ahead started in 2005, when I discovered the world of cruising. I was quite skeptical at first when my parents brought up the idea of boarding a cruise ship for 7 days – I mean, what if something happened and I was stranded on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean? But, before I knew it, I was boarding the 140,000 ton MS Navigator of the Seas. From this trip, I learned a couple of things –
Communicate. If you’re travelling on a cruise ship or any other type of organized trip, inform the company, or organizer, of your food allergy weeks in advance, as well as while travelling. They will need the extra time to prepare, just like those of us with allergies need time to plan.
In the context of cruising, my parents called the cruise line ahead of time and provided them with information on my food allergies. Some cruise lines even have a “special needs form,” which must be filled out prior to sailing. Additionally, immediately after boarding the ship, we spoke to the Maitre’D, and discussed lunch and dinner with our wait staff the night before. This gave them enough time to ensure that they had the allergen-safe ingredients to make food that was safe for me, and had informed the appropriate crew members about the allergies. This also allowed them to have lunch and dinner ready for me, without having to wait for them to make it from scratch every day – which helped me enjoy more of my vacation!
Plan ahead. Bring dry foods that are easy to put in your carry-on luggage (in case of the off-chance that your checked luggage gets lost). For instance, foods I commonly bring in my carry-on luggage include dry pasta, bread, muffins, etc. This does two things: 1. Helps me feel comfortable and safe with the food I’m eating, and 2. Gives me a back-up for days where finding allergen-safe food is difficult, or for any unforeseen delays or changes in my planned itinerary. In cases where you’re not sure where lunch or dinner will be – plan ahead and bring food with you for those meals.
Again, in the context of cruise lunches and dinners, I provide the gluten-free dry pasta or bread to the kitchen staff on the ship, who can then add an allergen-safe sauce or toppings for me. The muffins, and other foods like Rice Krispie squares, are a couple of ideas for snacking throughout the day. For days at port, I either use my thermos from home to bring food with me, or bring an allergen-safe sandwich.
After 2005, we began cruising 1-2 times a year, and what I once thought was impossible, suddenly came within reach – I got the chance to visit Europe in 2012, and then again in 2014, both times on a cruise ship. It was then that I began using “allergy cards,” which I had in English, as well as in Italian (thanks to my good friend’s mom, who speaks fluent Italian). I even used pictures of my allergens on the back of the Italian cards to be extra safe. These “allergy cards” helped to reduce the risk of miscommunication, and gave me extra comfort that the wait staff were noting my food allergies correctly. The wait staff also appreciate it, as they can give the kitchen the card for their reference.
In 2009, my dad and I also began taking baseball road trips. If you know anything about me, it is that I am the biggest Toronto Blue Jays fan that you will ever meet. My dad and I have a bucket list of 162 baseball related things that we want to do, which includes visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. We are at 11 now, but hope to be at 14 by August 2016. This obviously entails travel as well – usually via car and on land. I apply the same tips and techniques from cruising on my baseball road trips – I plan ahead. The one difference is that we generally stay in hotels with kitchens which gives me the flexibility to make my own meals.
Ultimately, by planning ahead, you set yourself up for safe travels. This doesn’t mean there aren’t still risks – but planning ahead helps mitigate those risks significantly!
Allergy Translation Cards
– Shivangi S.