Tag Archives: Travel and Allergies

One Restaurant, Two Different Dining Experiences

I travel once a month for work to a small town where I stay for 3 nights. The town has limited restaurant options but enough to give me a variety of foods from which to choose. For this blog post, I want to highlight my experiences at a Tex Mex chain restaurant in particular. I’ve visited countless times and my overall experience has been great! That being said, I want to share two stories of how you can sometimes have completely different experiences at the same restaurant.

Situation #1: The First-Timer

The first time I travelled for work, I chose to eat here because I looked at the menu online and trusted the overall “vibe” I was getting in terms of allergen (peanut/tree nut) safety. What I mean by this is that I saw no peanuts on the menu and the only tree nuts were located in the salad section of the menu, which seems to be very normal these days. They also have a little blurb on the menu outlining their caution with food allergies and their ability to accommodate those living with food allergies. When I got to the restaurant, I let my server know about the severity of my food allergy. She assured me that the restaurant staff are very careful with food preparation in the back and that she would let everyone who handles the food know about my allergy. A few minutes later, the manager approached my table to inform me of their protocols. A specific chef was assigned to the preparation of my meal, sterilized utensils and pots/pans were to be used and they would do everything to ensure there was no risk of cross-contamination in the back. This sounded awesome! I was blown away by the awareness and the careful preparation that their restaurant protocol followed. I was served my meal and the wait staff followed up with me twice to ensure everything was going well, and I have to say, it definitely went well. I walked away feeling quite impressed with my new experience!

Situation #2: The Weird Vibe

The next month when I went back to this restaurant, I asked for the same menu item (steak fajitas-they are SO good!) and the restaurant staff followed the same protocol, with the manager approaching me before meal preparation. Where it got weird was when the manager followed up with my meal after I had taken a few bites. After asking how I was enjoying my meal, she said, “well, we haven’t killed you yet, so that’s a good sign!”

I’m a very easygoing person but for some reason this line irked me. It just didn’t sound right! It could be that the manager was feeling awkward about approaching me as the only person sitting at a table (I’ve noticed wait staff can be very awkward when I go to a restaurant alone, but what else can I do? I’m working!) It could also be that the manager just thought she needed to say something and didn’t filter herself before speaking. Whatever the case, I don’t think a line that includes “not killing” someone should ever be used, especially at a venue that serves food to someone with a life-threatening food allergy.

I’m not overreacting. I’m not even truly upset. I just wanted to share these stories to demonstrate how experiences can sometimes be amazing or weird at the same place for the same person. Weird vibes happen, but what I learned from these two visits is that as a person with food allergies, I should try to not let my guard down or become complacent just because I’ve had a good experience somewhere in the past. Diligence is my number one protector and as long as I am thorough in minimizing my risk, I can feel safe eating out and experiencing the wide world of eating while on the road!

– Dylan B.

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Traveling to PEI with Food Allergies

This summer I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful province of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) for the first time on a semi-family vacation. As an adult going out east was a bit difficult since I was recently diagnosed with a fresh water fish allergy that has crept over into almost all fish. After a few hives and some close calls, I decided I’d stay away from all fish until I had more tests completed and information received. So what better place to visit this summer then “The Land of Anne” and fresh seafood? Prepping for the trip, I can break down my experiences into three significant food allergy related areas: Road trips, great food and a real confidence boost for me regarding my food allergies.

Part One: On the Road Again

My family and I all piled into an already packed car to drive the 11-ish hours through four provinces, three bags of chips, two bridges and only one cell phone charger. I’m lucky the people in the car knew about my allergies before the trip but that didn’t stop us from encountering a few speedbumps along the way. As a group, we had an on-going group chat where we talked and planned activities. Here I was able to communicate all of my allergies and more importantly, I was able to talk about the risk of cross-contamination, and about how I will not eat anything if I can’t read the ingredients first or know where/how it was made. This was cause for a bit of back and forth regarding homemade baked goods and assurance that it would be safe. For me, I am just not comfortable eating something that I am not familiar with, especially on the road in a new place. Mandatory road snacks aside, the biggest issue on the road came late at night. Our first and only stop before reaching our destination was in the province of New Brunswick late at night. Arriving at the hotel we all had cabin fever from spending nine plus hours in the car. I foolishly assumed we’d be able to find somewhere allergen-friendly to grab food before turning in for the night. Well boy was I wrong! Everything was closed and what was open was a pizza restaurant that couldn’t distinguish between sesame seeds and what they called “flavour seeds.” So I choose to play it safe and not to eat there. At 1:00 am, my only option was a vending machine and breakfast bars that I had packed for the next morning. I realized I packed like an unprepared fool. I had no plan B and I paid for it. The next day when places were open, I was able to find food before the last leg of our trip, but it taught me an important lesson of not taking things like pizza places for granted. I made a mental note to pack sandwiches and other things to eat for our way home.

Part Two: Great Food

It can be tough when travelling to a place where your allergen is extremely prominent, especially if it’s a new allergen. I was diagnosed with an allergy to fresh water fish only a few years ago, and I am still not as comfortable with it as I am with my other allergens. Since my nervousness tends to get the better of me, I did some serious emailing and calling to find some allergen-friendly places to eat in P.E.I before we left home. Luckily, we were planning to stay in a cottage where we had the ability to cook the majority of our meals. But, I was still extremely excited to try some local brew houses and great cuisine, so I was both extremely happy to find incredible safe places to eat and disappointed that some places were not safe. The biggest thing I learned was trusting my gut and calling ahead. I am so glad I took the time to call restaurants ahead of time and even received some suggestions from my sister-in-law on where to go. I didn’t let it get me down when places weren’t allergen-friendly, and I certainly didn’t let it stop me from having a drink there or discouraging others from eating or visiting places where my allergens were present. All in all, I had amazing food both made by me and my travel companions, and in lovely restaurants.

Part Three: Confidence Boost

The most important thing I can say about my trip or any trip for that matter, is to stay positive about your food allergies and not let your limitations get you down. If you’re uncomfortable eating somewhere, let people know or refrain from eating and wait until you get back to an allergen-friendly spot. Always carry extra snacks or something when you’re on-the-go and most importantly, speak up about your allergies and let others know if you feel uncomfortable. Even if it may feel awkward to bring up or impede on your travel companions’ food and traditions, if you feel unsafe, speak up and let others know. The weight you feel lifted off your shoulders when you share your food allergy concerns with others is amazing because they’ll likely want to help you and keep you safe. It can be a real boost in confidence when you speak openly and honestly about your allergies, and I’m always grateful when the people around me care and want to listen as well.

I love to travel, whether its seeing our beautiful country or abroad, it’s amazing to get out of my comfort zone and gain a new perspective. Just because I have food allergies, doesn’t mean that I can’t try new foods, see new places, and enjoy myself. Having a plan, packing safe food, and maintaining a good attitude is a sure-fire way to have the best allergy-friendly vacation. Don’t hold yourself back; trust your gut and go out there and explore the world!

– Arianne K.

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.

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.

Exploring What Not to Do During a Reaction

“Hey guys, can you help me figure something out?”

Four of my friends were sitting at the kitchen table and looked up from the card game to give me quizzical glances before returning their attention to the cards in their hands. Between the drinks, cigars, and fun we were having it was hard to get their attention.

“OK, let me be more clear” I said as I lifted up my t-shirt. This of course got their attention as they wondered what the heck I was going on about. “Do these look like hives on my chest?”

I’d been deliberating this very question over the past 45 minutes or so. I had a huge rash and was concerned as I’d experienced a couple anaphylactic reactions in the past.

The questioning looks from the group became concerned and sober in a flash. Suddenly everyone was deliberating like a group of experts trying to unravel a political controversy.

“Well, your skin is red but I think hives would be more raised.”

“It’s definitely hives, what else could it be?”

“It can’t be hives, we weren’t even eating!”

After a few minutes, and a clear progression of a red rash across my chest, we decided it would be prudent to act, just in case. This moment is where I think we all collectively made our biggest mistake. This is a moment I’d like to draw your attention to, because I’ve been here more than once, and I’ve messed it up more than once as well. In this moment we decided that I was probably having an allergic reaction, but we failed to act in any meaningful way.

In a panic we quickly tried to figure out who was able to drive to a hospital. This was a short conversation:

“Well, I’m drunk and I’m having the reaction, I can’t drive”

“I’m drunk too”

“Me too”

“Dammit”

And that was that. Here we decided to take a different tactic and call a nurse hotline, the kind you call to figure out if you should go to a doctor when you have a cough. The nurse seemed shocked and frustrated that I was even speaking with her.

“Take your auto-injector and get in a bloody ambulance! What the heck are you waiting for?” She even patched me through to the emergency 9-1-1 line.

By now we’d wasted close to 15 minutes on top of the 45 minutes I wasted keeping the hives to myself. This is critical time when a life-threatening reaction is upon you. This is the moment when we got the train back on track so to speak.

While one of the guys spoke to the ambulance dispatcher I took a dose from my auto-injector. My legs began to shake dramatically but it was a fair trade as my symptoms began to stabilize a little as well. This is what I should have done an hour before when I first noticed the hives. It’s also what I should have done when my friends correctly identified my hives.

We were staying at a cottage in the Muskoka area in Ontario, so the ambulance took nearly an hour to arrive. Even then the paramedics told us that they would normally have been much longer but random chance had them driving from a different district at exactly the right moment to pull onto a highway and come to us. For those keeping track this means about 2 hours passed between the appearance of my symptoms and the arrival of medical intervention.

In the end I made it to the hospital and lived to tell the story. But to be sure it is luck that allowed this, not my response.

Like many others before me, I wasted so much time deciding whether I was in danger that I, in fact, put myself in much greater danger. An important detail that I have so far left out is that this was my bachelor party! Imagine what my wife said to me when I relayed this story! You can bet it was quite the tongue lashing I received.

The moral of this story is simple: Don’t waste time.

By the time we called an ambulance I’d known about my reaction for over an hour. First, I tried to keep it to myself so that I didn’t ruin the party. Then we collectively tried to convince ourselves that everything would be just fine as it was. Finally, we made the right decision, but only after a tele-scolding from a nurse.

Like me, if you experience an allergic reaction, you are likely to experience denial. But unlike me you now have an opportunity to learn from my mistake before it happens to you. It may feel wrong at the time but the best thing you can do to save a party is come clean and deal with the reaction and ask others for help. It may feel like a bummer but imagine how your friends will feel if you wait until the reaction is much worse.

You can be smarter than I was. Prepare now for that ultimate decision, that way if it happens to you then you can act swiftly. Know the symptoms of a reaction and decide right now how you will act if you notice them.

Trust me, the party is more fun with you alive and well!

– Jason B.

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.