Category Archives: Travel and Allergies

Food Allergy Travel Awareness

Happy Food Allergy Awareness Month! I think all of us “allergy folk” raise awareness without even really knowing that is what we’re doing. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling in the past few years, and for this blog post I reflected on some of the ways I’ve been able to raise awareness while travelling through Europe. Here are two of my favourite experiences discussing food allergies while travelling.

The first story is from summer 2018, when I stayed in Finland for two months. I used to live in Finland, so I went back to visit some friends. I went to one friend’s parent’s house with her the first weekend I was in Finland and was pleasantly surprised to learn everyone in her family had an allergy of some sort. My friend can’t eat tree nuts and most fruits, her brother can’t eat apples, her other brother’s girlfriend can’t eat fish or dairy. Overall, her family was really educated about food allergies. I thought, great, I don’t have to work so hard here in explaining about food allergies! They had a barbecue and I ate some food I had brought with me, and we had a great night sitting by the lake behind their house.

I went back a second time, closer to the end of my trip, and we discussed food allergies some more. We ended up determining their family members have what we would call “OAS” here, or Oral Allergy Syndrome, whereas I have an IgE-mediated food allergy. We talked about the differences in our allergies and the differences in our treatments of a reaction. I learned a lot about my friend’s fruit allergies, which are actually an allergy to birch pollen that gets into the fruits during their development. I was able to teach them about my food allergies, but I also got to learn a lot about a different type of allergy that I didn’t know much about.

This second story is definitely my favourite story. I spent four days in Bergen, Norway in August, while on my Finland trip. On my first evening there, I met with an elderly American couple who were clearly lost. I gave them directions (pros of always having a valid data card when travelling!) and circled around the block, only to run into them again – still lost. I helped them find their hotel and they offered to buy me dinner as a thank you. I explained that I have a ton of food allergies and probably couldn’t eat anything at the restaurant, but I’d gladly go sit with them and get to know them more.

The wife, I learned, is a retired schoolteacher and knew a bit about allergies, as some of her former students had them. She really thought peanut allergies were “the bad allergy” and didn’t know other foods could cause equally life-threatening reactions because, as far as she knew, none of her students ever had other allergies. They were both very interested in why I was choosing not to eat at restaurants (I only eat from grocery stores when travelling), why I carried so many auto-injectors (in case I had a reaction and couldn’t find more, I brought an extra set), what my soy allergy meant compared to my peanut allergy, and what I typically eat. They were surprised to find out that soy is in so many foods in both the US and Canada, but also surprised about the variety of foods that I could still eat. I showed them the allergy menu in McDonalds and explained why it was there, and they were both shocked that even fast food restaurants had these allergen-aware menus. The wife was fascinated about the science behind what happens during a reaction.

I ended up spending a lot of time with them over my four day stay and we went to a lot of museums together. We’ve kept in touch through Facebook ever since. A few months ago, the wife commented on one of my posts saying she’s learned so much about allergies since we became friends and that I’ve made her much more empathetic towards people with all allergies. Sometimes, it’s the people you least expect to educate that end up learning the most!

– Danielle B.

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Exploring Colombia with Food Allergies

Travelling to a foreign country offers an exciting opportunity to immerse oneself in a new culture, to meet new people and to take on new adventures. Before one begins their trip, there is always research and planning that must be done.  This includes trying to foresee and account for any difficulties that may arise when navigating in a new destination. For anyone travelling with allergies, the added challenge is planning how to stay safe and avoid any food allergy reactions— while also not going hungry. My own experience planning for and travelling to the South American country of Colombia was no different.

To add some context to my planning and actual travels; my trip to Colombia was a two-and-a-half-week adventure trip that involved lodging in hostels tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains as well as trekking five days through the jungle to reach the famous site of “the Lost City”. I also spent time touring cultural hotspots including Cartagena and Medellin and finished off by exploring Colombia’s coffee plantation region. While my trip proved to be an amazing adventure that balanced hiking the great outdoors while also experiencing and learning about Colombia’s unique culture, I still had to go through certain precautions to ensure I stayed safe during my vacation!

Planning for My Trip

When preparing for a trip to any foreign location, I always extensively research the country. This includes researching the languages spoken, popular destinations and sights to see. Because of my allergies, I also always research what common food dishes are popular and what ingredients are commonly used in the country. Being allergic to wheat, eggs and peanuts, I was happy to discover when researching about Colombia that one of their popular food items is a type of corn bread called “arepas” that are naturally gluten/egg free and prepared in numerous ways. Having been to Peru last year and having fallen in love with ceviche (raw fish cooked in lime juice and spices), I was also excited to find out that Colombian styled ceviche is another very popular dish in the country. While this sort of research doesn’t eliminate the risk of encountering an allergen while travelling, I always find it helpful to be knowledgeable of a country’s food traditions before trying to navigate one of their menus.

When preparing for my five-day trek to the Lost City, I signed up with a trekking group and was able to contact the trekking company via email and ensured that they could accommodate my allergies with the food served on the trek. (I also sent two follow up emails before leaving for my trip just as an extra double check to ensure they didn’t overlook my food restrictions!)

Further preparations for my trip involved notifying the airline that I was flying with about my allergies. When travelling, I also always ensure that I have my “allergy travel cards.” These cards are the size of a business card and say in a specified language (in this case Spanish) what I am allergic to along with pictures of my allergens. I also have cards that state “I am having an allergic reaction and need to be taken to an English-speaking hospital. This is not a card I ever want to use, but crucial to have in case of emergencies! I’ve found different companies offer versions of these travel cards and can be ordered online. When planning, I also ensured that my auto-injectors were not expired and that multiple were packed.

Travelling in Colombia

When travelling in Colombia, I found that having my “allergy travel cards” was the most useful and effective way to communicate my allergies since I am not fluent in Spanish.  These cards were concise and provided a visual clue to servers about my food restrictions. It was almost amusing to see their first quizzical look on their face when I passed them my allergy card and then this look change to disbelief that I couldn’t eat all the foods listed on the card. Despite that, I found every restaurant to be quite accommodating and understanding. I also used my broken Spanish to try and order alternate food options with my usual “go-to” being some form of arepa.

For snacks on-the-go or while I was hiking, I had pre-packed granola bars that I brought from Canada or would buy bananas or avocados from local fruit stands— you would be amazed at how long an avocado stays ripe in a hiking pack!  While on my five-day trek to the Lost City, each night I stayed in hiking refuges, and having touched based with the trekking company beforehand, I had very few issues finding food that I could eat. That, combined with the size of portions that were given out, I never went hungry!

Overall, while I had to undergo some extra planning and exercise certain precautions while travelling to Colombia, I found I was still able to experience the best that this country had to offer in terms of destinations to see, activities to do and people to meet, all while staying safe and avoiding my allergens.

Feel free to comment below with your own experiences of travelling abroad and staying allergy safe as well post any questions you may have about preparing for your own travels in the future!

For more tips on travelling with food allergies, visit Food Allergy Canada’s travel section.

– Caitlyn P.

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.

Skiing with Allergies

Downhill skiing attracts those from all ages to ski hills and resorts during the winter months to enjoy the thrill of “carving pow” and enjoying time with friends and family, sipping hot chocolate in the chalet après ski. Downhill skiing also boasts health benefits, with moderate skiing burning approximately 400 calories per hour, increasing aerobic capacity, and improving leg strength and core stability. However, it is important to recognize some risks of skiing with allergies.

Remote locations

Ski hills are often located in exciting and remote locations, often a few hours from hospital facilities. Many ski hills and resorts can be situated near local hospitals, or even major health centres, but on a mountain, it may take time to get down to transportation. There are locations on the mountain that lend themselves to further isolation, such as chairlifts and gondolas. Often times you can find a skier having a bite of a snack on the chairlift or in the gondola while enjoying the wondrous mountain views. An allergic reaction in this situation, albeit rare, may be tricky. Furthermore, the best ski conditions are during or after heavy snow falls, so prime skiing may involve a treacherous drive to the closest emergency facility. In 2012, a news reporter Gemma Morris suffered an anaphylactic reaction at the chalet of a European ski resort and was transported to hospital where she spent 24 hours in the intensive care unit (Daily Mail). Thankfully the weather was clear, but a snowstorm in this situation may have impeded Morris’ travel to hospital and possibly worsened her care. Knowing how long it might take get to a local hospital will definitely keep your mind at ease while enjoying some exciting skiing or snowboarding after a fresh, crisp snowfall.

Health Facilities

It can be good to know that some ski hills do house physicians on site. Larger resorts often have medical centres where physicians or nurses are able to diagnose and treat skier and snowboarder ailments, such as broken limbs, and even help treat allergic reactions. However, some patients may need definitive care at a local hospital. Knowing the resort’s medical facilities in advance can also help ease the stress of being in a relatively remote location.

Extended stays

Ski and snowboard trips often extend for a few days, so it’s important to understand the implications of an allergic reaction on the ski hill. Let me put forth an example where a young male skier suffers an anaphylactic reaction on day one of a three-day vacation. He is taken to the medical facility on the mountain where he is treated, observed, and then safely discharged. There may be considerable anxiety about having another reaction, especially if the first one occurred accidentally at one of the chalets or restaurants. It might be a good plan to bring some safe food that you know is allergy friendly in the event that options may be limited at the mountain. This is also why it is important to take a few minutes and either call or research the food options at the mountain before departing.

My story

I am an adult with several life-threatening food allergies and I enjoy skiing. I live about 2 hours from a large, Canadian ski resort, but the first time I was planning to venture up the mountain I was scared of an allergic reaction on the ski hill. The hill is remote. What if a reaction happened while skiing after a snack and I crashed? What if it happened while snacking in the gondola up the mountain? I listened to some advice from a friend, brought extra food which I knew was safe, made sure to pack two auto-injectors in my jacket and not forget them in the car or in my backpack, and researched how far away the nearest hospital was (including a print-out of directions to the hospital). The first time I visited the hill and skied, I was anxious, but after some brief but important preparation, I had a blast! I skied there 16 times that winter, and this winter I’ve been back for more wide turns, fresh powder, and allergy safe hot chocolate! Shred the pow!

– Fraser K.

Tips and Tricks to Travelling with Allergies

From bag-checking and unexplained delays to getting lost in Paris’s extremely complicated transit system and your Airbnb © host cancelling your reservation 24 hours before you’re set to arrive, travelling can be a huge hassle. If you’re living with an allergy, travelling can raise health concerns that other people would never have to even think about before boarding a plane or packing for an adventure. Your allergies, however, shouldn’t prevent you from travelling. You can take steps to minimize your risk of having an allergic reaction while on your once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Before travelling, regardless of whether you’re going just south of the Canadian border or you are flying 12 hours across the Atlantic, you need to be prepared. Preparing in advance before travelling will make a positive difference in your allergy travel experience. Here are some allergy travel tips and tricks that you can follow to minimize risks:

1) Do your research beforehand – Find out about potential encounters with allergens at your destination before you leave. This can prevent potentially adverse reactions. If you’re allergic to peanuts, find out which local dishes could potentially contain them or could be cooked nearby. For example, the research I did before I travelled to Italy taught me that peanut oil is one-third the price of any other type of oil. This makes restaurants and bars much more likely to use peanut oil just to cut costs and save money. Knowing this, I knew that eating out in Italy would be particularly challenging for myself.

2) Get a kitchen when travellingAirbnb © saved me in Costa Rica in dodging fish and shellfish. Not only was getting a place with a kitchen a better alternative for me and my allergies, but my friends and I also saved a ton of money by cooking in our apartment. I also had much more peace of mind when I was cooking my own meals. The best part about cooking while travelling: finding a good grocery store! Going into town and grocery shopping with the locals is one of the coolest experiences because you’re literally engrossed in the everyday culture.

3) Pack protein bars & snacks Believe it or not, my carry-on bag is reserved almost exclusively for packing snacks/protein bars for my trip. Bringing your own snacks gives you options if you feel like you need a quick midday snack without hassle. Snacks are also great for when you return from a long day of travelling or hanging by the pool and you feel like munching on something comforting from home. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve craved my favourite chips and chocolate bars when relaxing on the beach.

4) Check epinephrine expiry dates – Bring multiple epinephrine auto-injectors when travelling. Check expiry dates well in advance leaving you time to get new ones before you depart. You do not want to travel with expired epinephrine auto-injectors!

5) Call your airline before your flight – Alert your airline before getting on a plane about your allergies. Some airlines hand out complimentary peanut/nut snacks to passengers while flying, so it’s important to alert the attendants of your allergies beforehand, and become familiar with their allergy policies in advance.

6) Alert others about your allergy – Always travel with a buddy and make sure your buddy is aware of your allergies before travelling with them. When I’m travelling with friends or family, I make sure every person I’m travelling with is trained on how to use my EpiPen®.

7) Translate common words for your allergy before dining out – Do you know how to say egg in Spanish? Peanut in Italian? Shellfish in French? Knowing the words for your allergens in the language of the country you’re travelling will make it easier to identify potential allergens on menus.

8) Bring allergy cards in the language of the country you are travelling to – If travelling somewhere where you can’t easily communicate and can’t speak the language, it’s important to bring allergy cards identifying your allergens in the language of the country your travelling to. Give this to your waiter as soon as you arrive at the restaurant, and the card will usually do a much better job at explaining your allergies than you could ever do. I’ve literally watched my waiters read my card with the widest eyes, and then ask me if they can keep it so that they can show all their managers and co-workers because it’s literally the wildest thing they’ve ever seen. Tip: bring multiple cards!

So there you have it folks, some tips and tricks to travelling as stress-free as possible with food allergies. Though these tips are supposed to minimize risks, accidents can still happen so it’s important to be prepared with a game plan in case you do have an allergic reaction. Write down the emergency number of the country you’re staying in and research the closest hospital. I want you to be as prepared as possible whether something does or does not happen. Happy travelling!

– Giulia C.

 

Travelling in the Winter with Allergies

When people travel in the winter, most of them head to somewhere warm like Florida, Jamaica, or Mexico. I’ve always been the odd one out – I’ve never been interested in going somewhere warm and relaxing on a beach. I moved to Finland when I was 19 and spent a year living in its lovely northern coolness, preferring the forest hikes and rocky ground over a sandy beach. The winter was another realm of newness for me, where the sun disappeared for three months and the country became a bit less lively. Naturally, this meant I had to explore. You know what is even better than living in a northern country during the winter? Going even further north, to its most northern region!

My friends and I went on an official exchange student tour to Levi, a small ski-resort town in Lapland. Have you seen the video floating around Facebook of glass-roofed igloos you can sleep in while watching the northern lights? That’s Lapland, and it’s every bit as beautiful in person! Instead of the glass-roofed igloos, we chose a much more affordable winter cabin to stay in, partially because they had their own kitchens and I could prepare my own food. Who knows what kind of restaurants are around in the arctic, and I found it easier to book an accommodation with a kitchen than to try and contact restaurants in advance.  I had heard from friends who had gone to Lapland previously that food in grocery stores is expensive there, so I packed some extra food from the south to take with me. I also packed my own dish soap and sponges for the kitchen, so I didn’t have to worry about finding any there once we arrived if the cabin didn’t have any. We found a grocery store to get some fresh produce, but otherwise I had brought precooked meals and snacks with me.

While there, I managed to find a restaurant that was amazing for the management of my food allergies (peanuts and soy). There aren’t many choices for restaurants in Levi, and most of them serve similar dishes to one another, so I wasn’t holding my breath on being able to eat out (hence why I packed so much food). My friend and I were able to find a locally-supplied reindeer restaurant, where all of the dishes featured some component of reindeer. I really wanted to try reindeer, since I knew there was a low-risk of a reaction for me and it was locally sourced. The waitress and chef were knowledgeable about food allergies and the waitress was able to translate my questions into Finnish to make sure the chef understood. In the future, I’ve made sure to travel with translation cards, but at the time, I fully trusted this chef’s knowledge of food allergies and the waitress’s translations. My friend and I split a massive reindeer burger, and I didn’t have a reaction! Allergy win!

Because the local culture relies so heavily on the wild reindeer, a lot of the tourist activities have to do with reindeer in some way. I went on a reindeer safari with a friend, where we were in a sled led by a reindeer. Afterwards, the reindeer’s owner brought us to her cabin for a warm drink and some cookies. She grabbed a fresh package of cookies for me, to minimize cross contamination, and since they were cookies I had eaten before and had checked the ingredients on, I was okay with eating them from a new package. We also went to a museum that had an outdoor reindeer park, where you could feed reindeer! The owners of the reindeer could confirm the feed for the reindeer was safe for me to handle, as it was just dried moss, but offered me a pair of plastic gloves to put over my own gloves if it would make me feel better. I fed a lot of reindeer, and I’m not sure if they were more excited to be fed or if I was more excited to feed them (see the photo? Not sure who is more excited). Overall, the week was fun and reaction free, and totally worth the little bit of stress that packing extra food caused.

 

In addition to Lapland, I’ve also travelled to Iceland during the middle of February. Preparing for that trip was a bit different, because I was going with a friend who is a Type 1 Diabetic who had never travelled before, and we needed to make sure we planned our excursions with her eating times in mind. The flights we found were such a good deal, so we couldn’t pass them up. We made a schedule for our tours, packed a bunch of easy-to-prep meals and snacks we could take with us during tours, found a small Airbnb© apartment with a kitchen, researched some restaurants that had nutrition information for her and allergen information for me, and headed over to Reykjavik for three days.

Once we got there, everything we had planned fell apart. Iceland experienced the worst storm it had had in 100 years, every road in the country was closed for two days, two of three tours were cancelled, buses couldn’t get driven on the hills within Reykjavik, buses to the Blue Lagoon fell completely off the roads, grocery stores were running low on supplies, emergency services couldn’t get anywhere in the country …you get the idea. The storm didn’t stop for the entire three days we were there and the snow was past my waist when we left.

Thankfully we had packed a suitcase full of food for ourselves, so I didn’t need to worry about a reaction to a new food or us not having enough food for my diabetic friend. We had researched restaurants beforehand, so we knew exactly where to go in Reykjavik if we ran out of food at the apartment. Allergies or weather, nothing held me back from visiting Iceland’s Viking-age longhouses! It’s a truly beautiful country, and we got to experience it in a unique blanket of snow not many people will ever experience. We even found some nice Icelandic dogs to pet!

Even when you have a perfectly planned trip, things can go sideways. Usually it’s not the-worst-storm-in-a-century type of issue, but being prepared, having an open mind, and having a backup plan is key. My advice is to bring extra food no matter where you’re going (sunny or snowy!), have a clear idea of what you will need to do in an emergency, make sure you have valid travel insurance that covers food allergies, and make sure you have extra supplies of whatever medication you may need during your trip. If you’re going somewhere cold in the winter, make sure you have somewhere to store your auto injectors so they don’t freeze up. If you haven’t gone somewhere extra snowy during the winter months, I highly recommend it. Beaches are nice, but reindeer are nicer!

-Danielle B.

 

 

The Caribbean with Food Allergies

Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I want to take ya…

Off the Florida Keys…to a place that’s good with allergies!

Sunshine and safety were the top two thoughts in my mind on a recent trip to the Caribbean. My family and I all opted to go to an island that we’ve always dreamed of – Aruba. We heard wonderful things about it, especially that it had consistently hot weather in January, it was safe and it had great food.

I was very hands off during the booking process, and I now regret that fact. I learned the hard way that some resorts in the Caribbean are more flexible than others in terms of providing customized meals. Most have a main dining hall with buffet style food. I’ve been to resorts before where you can simply chat with the chef and have a personalized meal made for you. This wasn’t the case for me this time around as I was at a massive resort where they couldn’t do one-off meals.  I ate in the general dining area, but played it very safe and didn’t even venture near the areas that had my allergens present.

Restaurants at resorts usually have much more flexibility in terms of creating safe meals for you from scratch. I had great success talking to wait staff and chefs at these nighttime dinners. They were very aware of allergens and made some adjustments to the menu for me.

Another thing to be alert about are drinks. You want to let loose on vacation, however you still need to be diligent. Some alcohols contain common allergens, especially some of the fruity and exotic drinks that they serve at resorts.  Check with your bartender before blindly ordering the hotel’s “drink of the day”.

Bring U.S. money. You may hear that they will accept Canadian money at the hotel, but I have now had two experiences in the Caribbean where I needed to see a doctor (non allergy related) and they wouldn’t see me unless I paid U.S. cash.  Most islands have their own currency, but U.S. money talks. Have some for an emergency on top of your travel health insurance.

I don’t have much experience with pre-packaged products, but most seemed to be imports from North America, so there are many familiar things to eat.

Once you’re ready to hit the beach, remember to bring suntan lotion from home. Not only is it likely cheaper, it’s a lot less likely to have any surprise ingredients in it.

Be sure to visit Food Allergy Canada’s travel page for more general tips and advice! www.allergytravels.com is another great resource for allergic travellers.

Bon voyage!

– Kyle D.