Travel by Map: Road Trips with Food Allergies

You’ve got the perfect playlist queued full of your favourite songs. Your car is full of friends, a full tank of gas, and your destination is loaded up into your GPS. You’re ready to hit the open road and see all that this great country has to offer. Since you have a food allergy you’ve probably packed a cooler full of food and plenty of snacks to fill those long road cravings.  Planning ahead and being cautious comes with the territory of having a food allergy regardless of your location.

But, what if your car companions (and even you) want something warm, delicious and not consumed in a moving vehicle? Where do you stop and how do you tell people you’re traveling with about your food allergies? It can be a tricky subject no matter what the circumstances. Small town diners and roadside stops can be quaint, kitschy, and you can find some really great food and drinks in these mom and pop gems. With a food allergy, it can be challenging going somewhere new without planning ahead such as having the ability to research, or call and discuss your allergy with the food preparation staff. As adults with food allergies, our goal is to always be prepared and informed but sometimes on a road trip we just can’t plan our meals ahead like that on the road. So, what do we do? Ultimately, it’s up to you and whatever you feel the most comfortable with, but I personally jump between two ideas depending on various things.

One: You can bring your own food for the whole trip. Eat before or after you stop and only have drinks you’re familiar with when stopping at a restaurant. Never feel pressured or forced to eat somewhere you don’t feel comfortable. Just because everyone else is eating doesn’t mean you have to. You can still have fun and enjoy yourself without food. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment or excitement of travelling and forget to take your allergies as seriously as you do at home. Always consider your comfort level and what makes you feel safe.

Two: What if you’re swayed to try some local cuisines?  Since you don’t always know where you’re going, you can’t always make a reservation or talk to a chef in advance, but there are still some pre-emptive measures you can take. Call ahead to a few places along your route, read their menus online, or ask other food allergy travellers for their advice. Just because you don’t have a set plan, doesn’t mean you can’t map out potential safe places to eat, locations of where to buy safe snacks, etc. Take the precautions you can, prepare safe food, pack multiple auto-injectors and see what you’re comfortable with when it comes to eating in new places.  Ask the right questions and inquire about cross-contamination or any other questions you’d normally ask at any restaurant. Just because you’re in a new city or different province/state doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the same precautions that you always take.

On the road with the wind in your hair and adventure in front of you, you obviously don’t want your allergies to be a constant distraction, but they sometimes make us put up a guard, ask tough questions, and make sacrifices when we’re travelling. This doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time or participate in any activity, it just means we have to think and a plan a little more beforehand in order to ensure our safety.

It’s easy to feel like you’re letting your travel companions down or ruining the spontaneity of the trip by having a list of safe places to eat or having a cooler full of food. When you’re away from home and your comfort zone, it’s easy to slide into a dark place full of anxiety and worry; but you should feel confident in telling yourself and everyone around you when you don’t feel comfortable or safe. Save the spontaneous actions for a random beach visit or souvenir, not the food you’re eating. A road trip with friends is an amazing bonding experience and a wonderful way to see the small gems of the world, now get out there and explore!

– Arianne K.

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4 thoughts on “Travel by Map: Road Trips with Food Allergies”

  1. I spend a lot of time abroad and recently went to the Arctic CIrcle to dog sled. I have a serious allergy to capsicum so I thought I’d be fine with the bland food and still got ill. Turns out, they use a lot of cumin in bread and potatoes (staples there). Thanks for the article!

      1. Yes, you never know….also recently went down on a pumpkin bagel as it had paprika in it. I didn’t know until I became very ill.

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