Tag Archives: Catherine B.

Travelling Using Hostels

In 2008, I travelled across New Zealand for three months and stayed in over 10 hostels. It was a dream scenario to take a leave from work and travel to a beautiful country with only a bag and a camera. But the reality was that I knew it was going to take some planning to make sure I stayed safe.

I chose hostels because of their affordability.

But as a person with multiple food allergies (peanut and fish) I was still worried about eating in a shared kitchen.

How did I do it? I travelled with my own little portable kitchen. With having backpack staples I would just have to pick up fresh veggies, fruit, and bread in a new location to have nutritious and safe meals.

I would first set off to find a grocery store and grab items that were simple staples (seen below) that were easy to travel with and made one bowl meals. Non-refrigerated condiments were key to making food taste delicious. Grains like couscous cook quickly and only need boiling water and boost up any salad.

I would eat during off-peak hours. It allowed me to have really clean surfaces and avoid other people’s cooking odours.

London, United Kingdom - March 17, 2015: A man at the entrance of the St Pauls Youth Hostel in London, England. The Youth Hostel Association provides accommodation in 200 locations in England and Wales

Tips for Travelling to a Hostel

  • Eat during non-peak hours. No one will be in the kitchen and you can sanitize an area and sink without worry of people touching or cooking something that you may react to.
  • Bag your groceries in a disposable plastic bag for the fridge. When leaving, I would transfer it to my clean cloth bag insuring that nothing from the fridge contaminated my items
  • Pack your own cutting board, paring knife, soap, and cutlery
  • Re-wash any dishwater you may use in the hostel before beginning to cook
  • Prepare simple meals that require little to no time to cook

Backpack Staples

  • Instant oatmeal
  • Brown sugar
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Couscous
  • Mustard
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Crackers

It was an affordable and positive way to travel. I met a lot of people who shared many common interests with me. Staying food safe was a big part of me feeling comfortable travelling by myself in a new country.

– Catherine B.

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Don’t Eat the Butter Chicken: What I Learned from my Food Allergy Close Call

I was invited to watch a soccer game in a box at a local stadium.

It was a chance to network for a new job and I was feeling a little bit out of my element.

So I said yes to the butter chicken.

toned image of indian chicken curry with basmati rice

The idea of a meal prepared by an Executive Chef in a kitchen sounded safe to me.

I spoke with the Chef, read their ingredients list, and went over all the possible questions for cross contamination. Did you use a clean cutting board? Is there a designated area where you prepare the ingredients? The staff assured me that this was the standard dish they serve to food allergic guests.

I dabbed the sauce on my tongue with my finger before dipping my spoon into the dish (the classic eating-out test for me).

But seconds after the sauce touched my tongue I was administering my Epi-Pen® and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

The most terrifying part of the event was the ambulance ride.

The driver was stopped at a traffic light only a block away from the stadium when suddenly there was pounding on the side of the ambulance truck.

A dad was driving his teenage son to the hospital because he was going into anaphylactic shock. He wasn’t carrying his medication on him.

And he had also eaten the butter chicken.

Here’s what I learned from this close call:

  1. Auto-injectors like my Epi-Pen® are a painless tool that will save your life. This was the first time I administered my Epi-Pen® on myself. Before this, I was terrified. I would typically rush myself to the hospital after consuming lots of Benadryl®. Was it denial of being in anaphylactic shock? Fear of doing it wrong? I’m not sure. That moment made me realize how important administering an auto-injector is during a crisis.
  1. Don’t feel pressure to eat out just to feel included. In my professional life, I often have moments where I feel like I fit in and my food allergies don’t exist. I feel like we’re all equals, part of a team, working together to create something awesome. If your friends or colleagues respect and understand your food allergies, compromises can be made to tailor to your needs.
  1. Always have a buddy who knows where your medication is located, at any age. My wonderful friend rushed to my purse seconds after the spoon hit my tongue. She gave me my Epi-Pen® within one minute of the reaction starting. She knew I had severe food allergies and remained calm in the situation. She stayed with me in the hospital and reached out to my emergency contacts.Sketch illustration of two hands holding each other strongly
  2. If you trust a kitchen with preparing your food, request to have something made fresh for you with simple ingredients. Don’t go for the prepared butter chicken from the chef who isn’t working the shift anymore. If the kitchen passes your trust test, choose uncomplicated, simple food. A grilled chicken breast without sauce and one side veggie is much easier than a complex soup with a long list of possible contaminants.
  1. Despite your due diligence, mistakes can happen. The teen who also had a reaction to butter chicken was a season pass holder for the stadium. He always ate the butter chicken at games. But that day the chef used one different ingredient. We can’t predict these things and it’s part of what we live with every day.
  1. Always go to the hospital. I received a second dose of epinephrine when I arrived at the hospital. About two hours after arriving, while in the waiting room, I went into anaphylactic shock again. Always seek physician care even if you have used your Epi-Pen®.

Cashew paste. The morning chef used cashew paste and didn’t follow the kitchen’s recipe.

That night I learned a valuable lesson. We all know that eating brings people together, and in that stressful situation, I wanted to feel included. But it’s never worth the risk.

After that night, I promised myself to never again concede to the pressure to eat out in public.

Do you have any lessons from a close call to add?

– Catherine B.