Tag Archives: Caitlyn P.

Travels to Peru- Allergies Included

From stunning mountain tops, to lush rainforests and deep canyons, combined with a remarkable history, rich culture, and of course Machu Picchu itself—the hard question is, what isn’t calling you to Peru? South America has long been on my list of places to visit with Peru at the top of countries to explore within this vast continent. So needless to say, as soon as the time was right, I purchased my ticket! While travelling to a new country in a continent you’ve never been to causes a great deal of excitement and anticipation, it also leaves you with some unknowns to be discovered. This holds especially true when travelling with food allergies. With that said, I am a firm believer that you should not let your food allergies hold you back from new and exciting experiences! I found that with the right preparation, I was able to accommodate my allergies to wheat, eggs, and peanuts, and not have my allergies hold me back from making the most of my travels to Peru!

Llama in front of ancient inca town of Machu Picchu
Llama in front of ancient inca town of Machu Picchu

When planning any trip/vacation there is always extensive preparations beforehand. From booking your flights, to nailing down your itinerary, and of course packing a strategic suitcase, there is always something to be planned or done. Of course, there is always an extra degree of planning when you have to consider your allergies. Whenever I am picking a country to travel to, I need to look up what their typical cuisine is and assess the likelihood of finding some allergen-friendly food options. I found that when researching common Peruvian dishes, most consisted of grilled meats, potatoes (over 300 varieties…yay!), grilled vegetables, quinoa, and soups. Luckily, most of these work well with my wheat, egg, and peanut-free diet! I also ensure that whenever I am travelling to another country where English is not the primary language spoken, that I bring my allergy cards.  These allergy cards are laminated cards that I’ve ordered online which are the size of business cards and state in whatever language I order (in this case Spanish): my allergies, pictures of the specific food allergens, and also feature a specific card that states I need immediate medical attention and need to be taken to a hospital where they speak English. I’ve used these cards in the past in Tanzania, Nepal, and throughout Europe and have had very positive results. I also like to always have Google Translate on my phone, as another means of translation if needed.

When it comes to planning my itinerary, I again take some extra considerations. For this particular trip to Peru, the first part of my trip that I planned was a four-day trek.  When researching trekking companies, I considered their ability to accommodate dietary restrictions. The company I decided on was one that actually asked clients to list their dietary restrictions on their initial intake form. After further communication with this company they assured me that they regularly accommodated food allergies and would be able to provide meals during the trek that would be allergen-safe.  Since this trek was only four days out of my two weeks of travelling, when I was planning what other cities and sites I would be visiting, I also looked up what health services were closest and the presence of any English-speaking hospitals. I kept a log of the name and locations of these hospitals and health services hoping not to ever actually need them, but knowing just in case!

Holiday suitcase

Finally, when it came to packing for my trip, along with trying to strategically fit enough clothes and supplies for two weeks in one hikers backpack I also ensured I packed allergy-friendly snacks for what I thought might last the better part of two weeks as well as multiples of my auto-injector as well as anti-histamine pills.

After months of lead up, the day of my trip finally arrived!  After two long plane rides I arrived safe and sound in the city of Cusco— a city in southeastern Peru.  This is the city you are likely to visit if you are trekking to or planning to visit Machu Picchu.  Due to the popularity of Machu Picchu, Cusco is a city that is very traveller-friendly.  I spent two and a half days in Cusco as I acclimatized to the high altitudes. During my stay, I found I was able to eat out with relative ease with waiter or waitresses either able to speak English or by using my allergy cards. One of my favourite restaurants had to be a place that specialized in vegetarian/vegan dishes and used only organic ingredients grown in the sacred valley (and believe it or not, this was also probably one of my cheapest meals eating out!!).

After the two and a half days spent in Cusco it was time for some trekking!  The trail that I hiked is known as the Salkantay trail and is a 64 km hike over three days that leads you to the base of Machu Picchu, where on the fourth day you actually spend the entire day visiting Machu Picchu. The trek was everything I could have wanted and more. The days were tough first hiking up through the Andean Mountains until finally reaching the Salkantay Pass and then hiking down into the forested valleys below.  Every type of weather and degree of temperature seemed to be experienced and every form of clothing worn. The scenery and dramatic landscapes were absolutely spectacular and humbling at the same time, not to mention made every blister and worn out muscle worth it. Food wise, I always had food options I could eat on my trip. While the trekking company provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which I was able to eat, they also provided trekkers with a snack— which I found more often than not I could not eat. I definitely under-estimated how many granola bars I would go through while hiking 20+ km a day. One near miss at the end of my trip came after my trek was finished and when I was out for dinner and drinks with my fellow trekkers. Arguably the most popular alcoholic drink in Peru is known as a “Pisco Sour,” a cocktail consisting of pisco (brandy commonly found in Peru and Chile), lemon juice, and bitters all shaken together with a creamy froth added on top. It wasn’t until I had my glass and was about to take my first sip when a friend of mine listed the ingredients of this drink again and added that meringue was the finishing feature on top of the drink. This of course meant that the white froth I was about to slurp up was just beaten egg whites and would have lead to a less ideal end to my trek. So, instead of this drink, one of my fellow trekkers got an extra drink and I got to try the pisco sour minus of course any egg whites.

Silhouette of people near the mountain.

The rest of my travels took me to the Lake Titicaca region of Peru— this lake being the highest navigable lake in the world. I began my travels in the lakeside city of Puno, I visited islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, before following the coast down to Bolivia where I spent several days on the Bolivian side of the lake (I highly recommend giving a visit to the Bolivian side if you ever find yourself visiting Lake Titicaca!) Now being away from the popular traveller city of Cusco, it was definitely a rarity to come across locals who knew English and I either relied on using my allergy cards when eating out or fellow travellers who happened to be able to speak English as well as Spanish. I also was out of my packed snacks not long after my trek was finished.  When it came to purchasing allergen-safe snacks, I quickly learned that bananas and avocados not only taste a million times better in South America but stay ripe for days longer and pack well without bruising as easily as they do in Canada. I also ate way more Pringles then I care to admit. With all of that, I am happy to say that I did avoid any allergy incidents at all of the restaurants that I visited and was still able to indulge in some fantastic Peruvian cuisine! For anyone visiting Peru/Bolivia my top food recommendations have to be their Ceviche quinoa soup and for anyone super adventurous perhaps some Alpaca steak!

Anyone with food allergies knows the extra hurdles that come with travelling, but that’s not to say allergies should be a barrier to getting out and exploring the world a little more! Comment below with your favourite travel destinations and what you did to ensure you stayed safe while travelling with allergies!

– Caitlyn P.

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A Quest to Understanding the History of Food Allergies

When I was thinking of an allergy blog topic to write about for the month of June, my first idea of course was related to food. I was thinking about how food options for people with allergies has changed drastically in the past two decades. I too frequently tell the story of growing up in my small farming community and my parents ordering me allergen-safe food all the way from Toronto— now my local hometown grocery store has it’s own gluten-free section. The overall change in allergy-friendly food options is of course reactive to how the prevalence of food allergies, as well as awareness of food allergies, has increased over the years. Instead of questioning the change in allergy friendly options over the past two decades, I began to wonder about the history of food allergies in general and how they have developed alongside modern medicine.

Happy New Year 2016. Jigsaw puzzle timeline.

To look into this overarching question, like any good millennial I took to the internet.  I quickly found that learning about the history of food allergies wasn’t as easy of a search as searching common egg substitutes in baking. Despite the lack of volume of information, I did find some interesting reads that shed a bit of light on our early understanding of food allergies which I will highlight in this post.

Interestingly enough, the earliest documentation of the adverse effects of food on human’s health came from none other than Hippocrates.  He described adverse food effects in his writing On Ancient Medicine in 400 B.C.E (http://classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/ancimed.20.20.html):
“For cheese does not prove equally injurious to all men, for there are some who can take it to satiety, without being hurt by it in the least, but, on the contrary, it is wonderful what strength it imparts to those it agrees with; but there are some who do not bear it well, their constitutions are different, they differ in this respect, that what in their body is incompatible with cheese, is roused and put in commotion by such a thing”

Even in 400 B.C.E Hippocrates could empathize with not being able to enjoy the popular dairy product!

One of the most enjoyable reads on the history of food allergies that I found came from a short paper titled A Brief History on Food Allergies, which is actually a small chapter featured in the Super Allergy Cookbook written by Lisa Lundy. In this writing, Lundy describes the earliest recognition of food allergies in modern medicine at the beginning of the 19th century.  At this time doctors were making observations and documenting the connection between food and problematic health issues in their patients. One of the earliest modern writings came from Dr. Francis Hare of Australia. In 1905, Dr. Hare published a 1,000-page book entitled The Food Factor in Disease and sought to explain the relation between food and multiple diseases including: migraines, asthma, gout, headaches, eczema, GI disturbances, hypertension, bronchitis. See any connections to symptoms that we see today from food?

As for coining the term “allergy,” A Brief History on Food Allergies also discusses this moment. Dr. Clemens von Pirquet is given credit as the first to suggest using the word allergy to describe an inappropriate reaction to food or other substances that was typically not considered harmful. Another notable character on the road to developing or understanding of food allergies is Dr. Arthur Coca who not only proved the relation of exposure to food allergens causing a change in a person’s pulse, but went on to found the Journal of Immunology in 1915. These are just a small highlight of some of the early work to building our understanding of modern food allergies.

I would definitely recommend reading Lisa Lundy’s paper: http://www.thesuperallergycookbook.com/PDF/FoodAllergypaper.pdf

What about the history of developing medical treatment for anaphylactic reactions triggered by food allergens? In this day and age, the epinephrine auto-injector is the well-known treatment and lifeline for anyone suffering from an anaphylactic reaction and works to restore plummeting blood pressure that can prove to be very quickly life-threatening.  It turns out that the invention of the epinephrine auto-injector was a spin off a Cold War invention of a hollow-needle that allowed troops to self-inject an antidote to nerve gas! In the 1970’s, inventor Stephen Kaplan saw that simple modifications would allow this to be used by civilians particularly for those suffering from an anaphylactic reaction.  A brief history of the EpiPen® can be read in the article written by Mary Ellen Bowden A Mighty Pen and is featured online in the Chemical Heritage Magazine: http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/media/magazine/articles/31-3-mighty-pen.aspx.

Developing our understanding of food allergies has led to not only placing a focus on treatment and management of allergies but studying the exponential increase in prevalence of allergies in today’s society. A great resource that looks deep into more modern research on this topic is the Nature of Things- With David Suzuki episode “The Allergy Fix”:  http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/the-allergy-fix. In this episode, startling facts are addressed.  This includes the fact that children in today’s society are three times more likely to have food allergies compared to children twenty years ago. Different research hypotheses that have been proposed for this increase are also discussed in this episode including the Hygiene Hypothesis which suggests that societies have become too sanitary and therefore not exposing children to certain germs that can actually be protective to their immune system. An interesting historical research finding that highlights this point mentioned in the episode states that when the Berlin Wall came down those living in the industrial and more “polluted” East side of Germany had a significant lower number of allergies as opposed to those living in “cleaner” west Germany. The Allergy Fix is definitely an episode worth checking out that summarizes where we have gotten to with our modern understanding of food allergies.

Have any interesting facts or findings old or new about food allergies? Feel free to share below!

– Caitlyn P.

Travelling with Food Allergies – It’s Time for an Allergy-Friendly Get Away!

Like many of us, I have been bitten by the travel bug.  Wanderlust always leaves me searching, planning (and saving!) for another trip to a faraway destination.  My travels have taken me to four different continents outside of North America with trips ranging from a resort trip with friends to volunteer trips, along with some solo travelling. I will admit that travelling with allergies can cause some extra work in terms of planning and involves extra vigilance while travelling but can allow you to experience exciting adventures while still staying safe.

Young couple planning honeymoon vacation trip with map. Top view. Pointing to Europe Rome

Whenever I am beginning to plan a trip, I want to start with some basic research about my destination.  While part of this involves looking into the culture, history, must-see destinations, best times to go, currency, and transportation options (the list goes on and on!), I also need to do my “allergy research.” When it comes to doing allergy research I want to know about the foods commonly eaten at my destination. If this is a resort, I want to know their ability to accommodate allergies and guarantee allergy safe options. If I am travelling to a specific country or region, I want to know what their traditional cuisine consists of and what allergens might pose a potential threat to my safety. For example, when I first travelled to Costa Rica I researched what common breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals consisted of and what names common dishes went by— needless to say I was quite reassured when I found out they commonly ate beans and rice (two safe food options for me) at EVERY meal.

While you might have found out what food options will be safest while travelling, I know personally what is most intimidating is communicating your allergies with locals who do not speak English. Not only will there be a language barrier but a cultural barrier can also exist as food allergies are widely unknown in some areas of the world. For example, when I travelled to Nepal, not only were most of the people I met generally unaware of food allergies but I had to be careful not to offend locals when I had to decline food due to my food allergies.  My solution to this has been ordering “allergy cards” that are the size of a typical business card and state in any language, what my allergies are and that I cannot eat any food containing whatever specific allergens I order. I have also acquired cards that state, “I am having a medical emergency and need to be taken to the nearest medical facility.” I’ve personally used a company called “Select Wisely” and have had allergy cards ordered in: Spanish, German, Dutch, Nepalese, Swahili (you get the idea, you can order any language!). You could also try to get a native speaker to create a customized message for you. While these measures can help with staying safe while travelling with allergies, it is also necessary to use common sense and avoid risky behaviour while travelling. I also always try to pack convenient travel snacks for times when it is difficult to find allergy safe food options.

It’s also important not to forget about how you are getting to your destination and how your food allergies can come into play with this—in particular air travel. I always contact whatever airline I am using for my travels ahead of time and inform them of my food allergies.  While many cannot fully accommodate allergies it is still important to know what their allergy policy is and how best they can accommodate you. I personally tend to play it on the safe side and bring my own food as I do not trust airline food.

Airline Lunch served during long distance flight

Just as you should ensure you have all the appropriate immunizations and health checks for whatever location you are travelling to, it is also important to make sure your allergy medications are non-expired and that you have extras to bring with you. I always carry an auto-injector with me, so if I am travelling with friends or family I make sure they know how to use it, where I store it in my luggage and I also will give them an extra auto-injector in case of emergency. It’s important to know what medical services are available in the country and safe for travelers visiting the country and how to access these in an emergency. Just like any other traveler, health insurance is also a must!

Travelling is an extraordinary experience no matter the destination or length of your trip!  There is no doubt a lot to consider when planning a trip to ensure you stay safe with your allergies. Feel free to comment below and share your travelling with allergies stories and how you prepare for allergy safe travel adventures!

Helpful links:

http://foodallergycanada.ca/allergy-safety/travelling/

Allergy Translation Cards

– Caitlyn P.

Balancing Food Allergies and a Vegan Diet

Two girls friends preparing dinner in a kitchen concept cooking, culinary, healthy lifestyle

It would be a fair to say that alternative diets are one the rise. Dietary restrictions, food allergies, and food intolerances have definitely become more common place in today’s society.  For example, when I was growing up my parents had to have wheat and egg-free bread/crackers/cookies etc. shipped to our small town all the way from Toronto. Today my small town grocery store has it’s own health food section! Along with food allergy conscious diets, another diet that has increased in popularity and awareness is the vegan diet. Following a vegan diet does not include any food products that come from animal origin (i.e. meat, milk, eggs, honey, etc.) and in many cases this philosophy will extend to avoiding other items that may contain animal products (i.e. clothing, cosmetics, and cleaning products). When it comes to vegan baking and cooking at home, I find it fits in nicely with cooking and baking with food allergies, the main reason being it’s all about SUBSTITUTIONS!

When it comes to replacing milk in cooking and baking there are multiple non-dairy milks available that can easily be found in various grocery and health food stores. Soy milk is one option for those who do not have a soy allergy. Other options include almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and hemp milk. It should be stressed, however, that these milks all have different tastes and consistencies and can behave differently in recipes. For example, soy milk has a particular tendency to curdle and actually works best as a buttermilk substitute by adding vinegar or lemon juice and letting it sit for approximately five minutes. Coconut milk is a thicker milk and can be a great option for adding body and flavour to recipes such as frosting or icings when baking! Rice milk and almond milk are thinner milk alternatives and can be great for adding moisture to recipes. All it takes is a little extra research and thought into what you are cooking and baking and what purpose milk is serving in your recipe.

Eggs serve many different purposes in recipes and therefore many different ingredients can be used as a substitution based on what the eggs are being used for in a recipe.  Applesauce or mashed bananas are options that can add body and moisture to a recipe.  Ground flax seed and water can be combined to form a gelatinous texture and work to add a chewier, dense texture to baked goods. A commercial egg replacer can also be purchased which helps when you bake by binding ingredients and helping them rise. My friend once shared an article with me that stated using the liquid found in cans of chickpeas (I kid you not) served as an alternative to eggs when making meringue topping— please note I have not tried this food experiment so I can’t actually testify that it works! What this does show is that new ingredients and kitchen tricks are being created to enhance the vegan diet and make up for food restrictions.

Cheese is another food that has to be avoided in a vegan diet but again there are various alternatives. Dairy-free cheeses can be purchased at the grocery store or health food stores and can take on similar physical properties as cheese and even melt. Nutritional yeast is also a common ingredient being used in vegan recipes as it has a “cheesy” taste to it, but has the appearance of small yellow flakes. One of my favourite recipes includes a vegan mac ‘n’ cheese where the main ingredients used in the cheese sauce consisted of Daiya dairy-free cheese, nutritional yeast, and pureed butternut squash— hands down the best mac ‘n’ cheese I’ve ever had!

While meat is a common go-to for getting protein in one’s diet, there are also many meat-free alternatives that are also protein packed! Tofu is a commonly known option for those not allergic to soy, as well as Tempeh which is derived from whole soybean. Another popular way to make ‘meat inspired’ dishes with vegan friendly ingredients includes nut loafs which involve using ground nuts and other foods such as lentils to make a similar tasting meat-free alternative to things such as meat loaf.

When baking vegan recipes it’s also extremely important to follow the recipe exactly as these recipes are often not very forgiven if not made completely as directed. The United Nations (UN) has also named 2016 the year of the pulses. Pulses are edible grain legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas all of which are great and versatile plant based proteins. With increasing popularity, be sure to keep a look out for fun recipes that involve these foods!

With the growing popularity of vegan recipes there are a multitude of online websites and blogs that you can seek out as well as many fun and trendy cookbooks that you can find in your local bookstore. Many restaurants now offer vegan options and some are even going completely vegan to being with! When attempting new vegan recipes, just be sure to check for your food allergens, then do a little research to find substitutes for them since they are certainly out there! Feel free to share some of your favourite vegan recipes, websites, cook books etc. below!

– Caitlyn P.

Growing up and Growing out of a Food Allergy

 

Beautiful girl is looking at unhealthy donut with appetite. It is situated on a table. Isolated on a white background

I’ve always maintained that while food allergies are an important part of me, they are not something that defines me. That being said, when you grow up avoiding certain foods because of food allergies it is a pretty big moment when you find out that you are no longer allergic to a specific food. Not to mention the new doors that are opened in terms of experiencing new food options. Though I may be dating myself, I can still remember the first food allergen I ever grew out of. It was 17 years ago… and I was six years old. I had grown out of my milk allergy after doing a “challenge test” at my allergist’s clinic and I had just successfully drank an entire cup of milk. My mom then thought that the next step to celebrate this momentous occasion was to give me chocolate for the first time— after tasting, I proceeded to comment on how gross it tasted.

Luckily my taste buds for chocolate have changed. I would have to wait 16 years, but I have also been lucky enough to grow out of another food allergy. My entire life I have been allergic to peanuts as well as tree nuts, but after another visit to my allergist this past fall I was determined to not be allergic to any tree nuts! While my peanut allergy remains life-threatening, I found this to be an exciting change in what I am able to include in my diet.

The first couple of times that I included tree nuts in my diet, I always had a friend or family member with me and it felt very strange to be eating a food I spent my entire life avoiding at all costs. However, it didn’t take me long to discover Nutella and I almost finished an entire jar in one weekend (with help of course…). Over time, it felt less strange to include tree nuts in my diet, and it probably made my friends more uneasy to see me eat tree nuts than it did for me.  When I reached this point, it ended up being fun to discover all the different tree nuts that I could eat, how I could use them in recipes, and finding different menu items I could have that before I had to avoid. For example, I also have an egg and wheat allergy. A lot of vegan foods that I eat are egg-free and luckily, tend to be gluten-free as well. Vegan recipes, however, commonly use different tree nuts as a key ingredient, so I no longer had to be worried about missing an ingredient such as cashew butter, almond flour, or crushed walnuts! It also took me a while to get out of the habit when giving my “allergy speech” to waiters at restaurants to just say “wheat, eggs, and peanuts” instead of “all nuts” when I was stating my food allergies. But this, like with all things, practice definitely makes perfect!

Despite having a new world of foods to try with the elimination of my tree nut allergy, I still found my vigilance has to be up in terms of avoiding the risk of cross contamination with peanuts. Depending on what tree nuts and tree nut products I end up buying at the grocery store “may contain traces of peanuts” is often still included on the label— making strict ingredient label monitoring a must! As well, I have to make sure while talking to individuals about my food allergies, including waiters at restaurants, to stress that my allergy to peanuts is life-threatening and cross contamination is a big risk.

While I still have to be on my food allergy “A-game,” growing out of an allergy can involve a lot of excitement and new food discovery! Have you ever grown out of a food allergy?  If so, how was the transition of incorporating this food into your diet, and what things did you still have to be careful about?

– Caitlyn P.

Explaining Food Allergies to Kids

Birthday Party

When I was growing up my parents would go to exhaustive lengths to ensure anyone who babysat me knew the full extent of my allergies, how to avoid triggers, and what to do incase I had contact with a potential allergen.  As I got older, I switched roles and soon found that I was the babysitter now explaining to the children I was looking after why I couldn’t prepare them things like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

With the rate of childhood food allergies on the rise, it is becoming important to not over simplify or downplay your allergies when talking to children. Rather it is important to make sure they are told, in an age appropriate manner, what allergies are and the seriousness of an allergic reaction. From my perspective, there are two benefits that can result from taking the time to explain food allergies to children. The first obvious benefit is that a child is more likely to act appropriately around you with regards to your allergies. The second, larger benefit is the fact that, the more exposure to and education about allergies they receive, the more likely they are to understand the concept of food allergies in general.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind and assess when explaining food allergies to children is the actual age of the child and what they will be able to comprehend in terms of information and detail.  You don’t need to go assessing where the child falls on Piaget’s Scale of Cognitive Development, but gain a sense of what is appropriate for them to learn based on things they already know. When talking to a child about food allergies, engage them in the conversation, ask them questions to assess their ability to understand what you are explaining and, if you have the time and are really creative, feel free to get interactive and even make a game about the information they are learning! Okay. So not every time you explain your allergies to a child will involve a game about say ‘matching food allergies with symptoms’. But try to always get to know the child you’re talking to and see what’s the best way you can relate to them and help them with understanding this important topic.

In terms about what information to address, again this will involve assessing why you are bringing this topic up with the child and what they will most benefit from learning. If this is a child’s first exposure to someone with allergies, the obvious conversation to start with is what allergies are. For a younger child, the most important piece to get across is the emphasis that some foods are very harmful if eaten or even touched by people with allergies. As a child gets older, they will be able to understand and even be interested in a more in-depth explanation of allergies. This can involve going on to explain the body’s immune system and how it can overreact and identify certain food items as allergens. If a child is exposed to someone, such as a playmate with severe allergies, it then might also be worth explaining about the treatment involved when someone is having an allergic reaction. The explanation can again vary but could involve emphasis on notifying an adult or someone who is able to activate EMS and provide immediate treatment with an auto-injector or, if appropriate, the child could be educated about the process of using an auto injector. 

With food allergies on the rise, it is never too early to start educating children about what allergies are and how to act around those who do have allergies. And who better to start the conversation than a young adult who has grown up and has had the experience first hand!

Caitlyn P.

Nepal, Austria, Greece & Keeping on Track with Food Allergies

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This spring was quite busy to say the least. As I prepared to finish my Bachelor of Nursing Science degree, write my nursing licensing exam, and begin the search to find a “real person” job, I also found myself in the midst of planning a volunteer trip to Nepal for the beginning of June. I’ve volunteered abroad before and am quite interested in global health so I was very committed to the idea of taking some time to go on a volunteer trip before taking on ‘adult responsibilities’ in the ‘adult world’. Before I knew it, after I organized my trip to Nepal, I also tacked on a week of visiting relatives in Austria and then arranged a one week tour of the Greek Islands. Could you say that I had a bit of a panic attack thinking that after I got my first nursing job I wouldn’t have any free time to travel again? Absolutely. Was this a slight overreaction? Perhaps…but no regrets, right? Anyway, along with the challenges of organizing three very different trips there is always the challenge of taking appropriate precautions with regards to food allergies.

In the weeks leading up to my trip departure I did basic research on the cultures I would be visiting and what sorts of food I would likely encounter. In Nepal, their cuisine takes influence from India as well as China with their main meal being Dhaal Bhat (rice &lentils). With my allergies being to wheat, eggs, and nuts I was a-ok with that. I was familiar with Austrian cuisine since my grandparents would always cook Austrian meals growing up. That being said, before even booking my trip I knew their love of schnitzel doesn’t work with my wheat allergy and sausage would also pose a challenge. What I did have going my way was the fact that, when in Austria, I would be meeting with my cousins who luckily could speak German and would be able to help me find suitable food options.

Finally, the mediterranean diet would for the most part agree with my food limitations of wheat, eggs, and nuts. But it would still pose some risks in terms of cross contamination. After getting an idea of what foods I would encounter while travelling, I also did the routine task of contacting airlines and informing them of my food allergies. I will admit I did not pick my airline based on which ones were allergy friendly. Instead I looked at which ones offered the best deal. I then had to find out that some airlines such as Turkish Airlines did not accommodate allergies in anyway such as even offering a gluten free meal option to passengers. This at least tipped me off to be well prepared with snacks for my air travels.

Other preparations before I left for my trip included making sure that I had not only one auto-injector to take with me but in fact several stored in different bags so I had backup options in case one needed to be used or perhaps accidentally got lost. I also packed anti-histamine medication which I use for less severe allergic reactions and a few inhalers in case I had one of my in-frequent asthma attacks. Having travelled by myself to other countries before, something that I always like to bring is allergy cards. You can order these online through companies like Select Wisely.

These allergy cards are neat because you can have these pocket- sized laminate cards made to state your allergies as well as other phrases such as ‘I am having an allergic reaction please get me to an English speaking hospital’ in virtually any language. I naturally ordered a fresh batch of these allergy cards in Nepali, German and Greek. But the roadblock I encountered was that, although I ordered these cards five weeks before my departure date, because they were coming from the USA they didn’t actually arrive before I left. The real kicker is I flew out on a Saturday and my allergy cards arrived the Monday after! Oh well, c’est la vie! I found that a useful and convenient alternative for communicating my allergies was downloading the google translate app on my smartphone. By downloading this app I could use very simple language to communicate my food allergies and inability to eat certain foods and type this into the app. I then saved the phrases that were produced so I could easily bring them up when ordering food.

So after months of planning and prepping for my trip it was finally time for departure. For my time In Nepal, I was living in Kathmandu and the work I was doing involved volunteering with the largest women’s health NGO in Nepal. I got connected with this group through a volunteer liaison organization that provided room and board for those coming to the country to volunteer. This provided some obvious perks such as not having to find my own accommodations as well we had all of our meals provided for us by an in-house cook. I knew in Nepal it was customary to eat rice at most meals (usually at least two meals a day), but when I had my food allergies explained to the cook I could see her eyes bulge as I am sure she began to ask herself ‘what else can I make for this girl besides rice, rice, and more rice!?’

I will admit.. I ate ALOT of rice when I was in Nepal. Breakfast usually contained of fruit and some form of rice, rice donuts, fried potatoes or even fried rice noodles (I believe the cook was trying to get creative as I could not eat things like toast or egg). Lunch typically involved fried rice prepared with some fried vegetables and potatoes or beaten rice (another form of rice quite popular in nepal…usually fried). Dinner again usually consisted of dhal bhat (rice and lentils) with curried vegetables. If you want a true picture of Nepali cuisine don’t just use my blog as a source they DO eat food beyond rice including their famous stuffed dumplings called Mo-Mos as well as various noodle dishes but as I definitely experienced rice is their main staple grain.

While my day-to-day meals were always allergy friendly I did eat out from time to time and had to be careful with ordering my meals. It was tempting not to eat out in Nepal since for $3-4 american could get you a LARGE meal of your choosing. In terms of ordering safe, I always try to stick to foods I can identify as likely being allergen free and then reconfirming when placing my order. In Nepal this involved ordering a lot of curries and traditional plates of dhal bhat that came with curried vegetables, pickled vegetables, your choice of meat as well as potatoes. It was here that I would bring out my phone and show waiters my pre-typed allergy message. The organization I worked for was stationed in Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal) and I was surprised how many people in Nepal could speak or understand some English. That being said, allergies are next to non-existent in Nepal so while some educated Nepali people know of allergies this is not something they encounter regularly like we do in North America. Therefore it was important to always re-evaluate the waiters understanding while placing my order and even confirming again when the order arrived.

While I found it easy to avoid food allergens when eating out, I actually found it harder to avoid allergens at my place of work. The volunteer organization that I worked for had its main branch located in Kathmandu. However, due to the recent earthquakes that struck Nepal, we were going out to areas around the Kathmandu valley and working in health camps. Regardless of whether we were at the main branch or out in the field, lunch was always provided for the staff (something commonly done in many places of work in Nepal). These would be simple lunches of Mo-Mos (dumplings) or packets of dried noodles which are extremely popular in Nepal (yes, exactly like the ones you ate in grade school). That being said most days I could not eat any of these lunches and instead brought my own.

Some of the staff did not speak English so, when I politely declined their offer to have some of their food, it was hard not to feel completely rude. After a couple of these offers, during which I received strange looks for not wanting their food, I brought my phone with me to work so I could communicate to everyone that it wasn’t that I didn’t like their food but literally could not eat it. They definitely understood and even on my last day of work made me a special lunch with only foods I could eat— just one small example of the incredible kindness and hospitality of the Nepali people. I am thankful to say I did not have an allergic reaction while in Nepal and in fact was more successful at avoiding my food allergens than avoiding drinking untreated well water…but that is an accident and a story for another time!

After the trip of a lifetime to Nepal, I flew to Austria for a week. Here I will admit I was fortunate that, for about 2/3 of my travels, I was with cousins who could help with translating food allergies when ordering or helped with reading ingredient lists. While on my own I still didn’t find it too difficult to order food and communicate my allergies. I attribute most of this to the fact that I was in tourist centres like Vienna and Salzburg where it wasn’t hard to find those who spoke English. When it came to buying food at stores, when in doubt, I simply would look for a friendly stranger who spoke English and could help me translate what the package said. I had the google translate app ready to go but found I didn’t need to use it often at all. Again I was fortunate that Austria proved to be a trip that was reaction free!

For my final stop in Greece, I found it slightly more difficult to order food than in Austria. I obviously didn’t have family right there to translate, as well I found English wasn’t quite as commonly spoken here. That being said, while travelling the Greek islands, many of the cities are tourist hot beds so you will find someone working in a restaurant that does speak some English.

Another thing I found was that sometimes the personality of servers in Greece were such that, depending their mood or how busy they were or maybe just how they were feeling that day, this would dictate their promptness for allowing you to order with a ‘special request’ (i.e. a allergy safe meal). Despite this I did appreciate that they always did pay attention to my actual concerns and were very good about making alterations as necessary so I could eat safely wherever I was.

Even on my last night in Greece I was dining with some people in Athens and after having one of the best dinners of my trip the waiter/owner of the restaurant brought everyone at our table a piece of a pastry. I graciously thanked the man but explained that this was also something I could not eat. He of course understood and then came back a few minutes later asking if I could eat watermelon. After I said I could, he came back with an entire chopped up watermelon for our entire group! One of the greatest experiences of my travels had to be seeing the generosity and thoughtfulness of people are all across the world!

Yes, it can definitely be extra work and an added responsibility when travelling with food allergies. But I am a firm believer that it is not something that should hold you back from allowing you to gain life- changing experiences and travelling around the world! There are so many other things to consider and precautions to take when travelling with food allergies. While I tried to take precautions that made sense to me, feel free to comment below with tips and tricks you use to stay safe while travelling!

Caitlyn P.