Travelling to Africa with Food Allergies

Africa is an incredible continent, one which I have had the pleasure to visit several times now. I first went to South Africa in 2004, and then visited Angola in 2009 via Namibia. In 2010, my parents moved to Angola, so I decided to go back for a surprise visit in 2014. It was a pretty epic adventure, not only because I wanted to keep my very social parents out of the loop… but also because it was to be my first international trip with new severe food allergies. It seemed impossible at first, travelling at all, and especially with the added element of surprise. I wasn’t even sure my parents would be home, since they travel frequently…

But looking back, the look on my father’s face was WELL worth it. The planning, getting a visa, calling airlines… all the logistics worked out. So how did I pull it off? Well, here are my tips for travelling to Africa:

1. Bring Emergency Food!
If you’re travelling in a more developed/stable country, like South Africa, Namibia, Egypt, or Morocco… chances are that the local grocery stores will have some food you can make from scratch. You might even find specialty allergy safe food, but be sure to call the company: Each country has different labelling laws so the definition of “gluten free” (for example) might change from place to place.

If you’re more likely shopping at the local market, bring your specialty food with you from your home country. I found it very helpful to have dehydrated/ freeze dried meals with me, but I had to leave a bunch at home when I realized that dairy and meat are completely forbidden to travel through the UK. Those were particularly useful on board aircraft, and when I was camping, but that’s a story for another time.

2. Allergy Card
Many of us with allergies know how helpful it is to carry a card with your allergens that you can hand out at restaurants. I designed mine to be a double-sided business card with both English and Portuguese (the main language in Angola). I also added pictures in order to try and minimize misunderstandings, and to prevent a lack of literacy from being a problem.

3. Travel Insurance
If you’re going to Africa… buy travel insurance. Even before I had severe allergies, having travel insurance saved me thousands of dollars in change fees when the airlines changed the locations of my flights. But with severe allergies, travel insurance gave me peace of mind that I would have medical coverage while overseas, should an emergency take place. Medical care can be limited in Africa, and more severe cases are referred out of country, so having a plan to pay for those emergency transportations is key!

One of my favourite food-related moments was in Luanda, on the way home. My father came with me so as to maximize spending time with me, and we spent a few lovely nights being treated like royalty by one of his friends, Etienne. Etienne took us to some fabulous restaurants (where my allergy card came in handy), and then put us up in his guest house, complete with a private chef! It happened that she (the chef) had family members with allergies, so it was such a high note to end my trip there! She was able to accommodate all of my allergies, and her personal attention was very much appreciated.

Pride of Lions

All in all, the trip was a huge success, and while I have developed even more allergens since then, I have already started planning my next trip. It might not be until 2020… but I’m determined to make it happen! Have you ever travelled to Africa with a food allergy? Let me know your experience by commenting below!

-Janice H.

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