Tag Archives: Travel

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Tips for Travelling with Food Allergies

Before you Travel

Planning for the worst might seem stressful, but that’s how astronauts survive travelling out of this world. If you have allergies, it makes sense to plan out your contingencies when you travel outside of your home. Here are some pre-travel tips:

  • Know where the closest medical care is available, what it will be, what it will cost, and how to arrange to get there.
  • If travelling alone, find out how you would call for help.

When travelling with others, teach them what to do in case of a reaction. Food Allergy Canada has fabulous free online courses available at www.allergyaware.ca.

  • Get Travel Insurance. Travel Insurance is not only helpful for medical care in other countries, but also helps in case there are unforeseen reasons you need to cancel or change your flights.
  • Learn as much of the local language as possible, especially the terms associated with allergies so that you can recognize what your allergens are called, and explain yourself when you are having a reaction and need help. Hellolingo.com is one free language sharing site, and Duolingo is a great language learning app for your smartphone.
  • Make a small business card with your name, picture, and allergens in English and the translations to the local language. I also put pictures on mine when I was travelling where the literacy rate was not particularly high.
  • Plan what medications you would bring with you, by speaking with your allergist and your travel doctor if going overseas.
  • Plan where you can find safe food/snacks, and call ahead to hotels and restaurants about their food allergy accommodations if possible.
  • If you need to bring your own safe food, be sure to check customs regulations about what you can bring, and how much, to avoid your safe food being confiscated.
  • If you can, book a hotel room with a kitchen, and find out where local groceries can be purchased.

When you travel by car:

  • Bring what you need if you can! In my car have a little emergency stove, water, a camping pot, towels and soap, and dehydrated meals at all times so that I can safely make meals anywhere. I also found a portable kettle, which allows me to use any ceramic mug to boil water. It takes a long time, though…
  • Be aware of how far you’ll be from medical care, and whether there are any areas you’re driving through without cell phone coverage. Consider not eating while you are outside of cell phone coverage areas, or as an alternative, find out where the closest emergency pay phones will be, just in case.

When you travel by bus/train/plane/boat:

  • Bring your own food with you, and lots of wipes. The wipes won’t necessarily remove allergens, but at least you’ll know your eating area is disinfected.
  • Ask when booking for early boarding, so that you can wipe down your seat. Some companies will create an allergy-free buffer zone for you, while others will not. Ask in advance to avoid conflict.
  • Often hot water is available on trains & airplanes, so you can bring dehydrated or freeze dried meals on board and make them easily. Sandwiches work well for your outbound journey and you might think about bringing canned food for the way home. Check customs regulations before you make your meal plan; many countries have restrictions on fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products.
  • If you’re heading on a cruise, call the company beforehand and ask about medical care and food accommodations on board the ship. Some companies are really good at accommodating food allergies.

When you travel in the wilderness:

  • If you have allergies, it’s probably best if you don’t travel alone. At the very least, have someone who knows your route plan and have regular check-ins so that they know where you are and whether you’re safe.
  • Bring some form of emergency beacon, satellite phone, GPS or all three, so that if you should have a reaction, you can get help.
  • Bring lots of auto-injectors. Call the local health authorities in advance to find out what they recommend in terms of what you should bring.

Finding safe food in other countries:

  • Labelling laws differ between countries! Look out for what regulations are in place.
  • Many products change recipes from country to country, so READ THE LABEL EVERY TIME. For example, a popular soda brand tastes different internationally & a UK version of a popular energy drink in Canada contains apple juice.
  • It might be safest to cook food from scratch, rather than buying pre-packaged food or eating at a restaurant.

Don’t give up!

Even with multiple severe food allergies, it is possible to travel. Hopefully these tips will help you to get out there, and explore the world!

Happy Travelling,

-Janice

Travelling to Africa with Food Allergies

Africa is an incredible continent, one which I have had the pleasure to visit several times now. I first went to South Africa in 2004, and then visited Angola in 2009 via Namibia. In 2010, my parents moved to Angola, so I decided to go back for a surprise visit in 2014. It was a pretty epic adventure, not only because I wanted to keep my very social parents out of the loop… but also because it was to be my first international trip with new severe food allergies. It seemed impossible at first, travelling at all, and especially with the added element of surprise. I wasn’t even sure my parents would be home, since they travel frequently…

But looking back, the look on my father’s face was WELL worth it. The planning, getting a visa, calling airlines… all the logistics worked out. So how did I pull it off? Well, here are my tips for travelling to Africa:

1. Bring Emergency Food!
If you’re travelling in a more developed/stable country, like South Africa, Namibia, Egypt, or Morocco… chances are that the local grocery stores will have some food you can make from scratch. You might even find specialty allergy safe food, but be sure to call the company: Each country has different labelling laws so the definition of “gluten free” (for example) might change from place to place.

If you’re more likely shopping at the local market, bring your specialty food with you from your home country. I found it very helpful to have dehydrated/ freeze dried meals with me, but I had to leave a bunch at home when I realized that dairy and meat are completely forbidden to travel through the UK. Those were particularly useful on board aircraft, and when I was camping, but that’s a story for another time.

2. Allergy Card
Many of us with allergies know how helpful it is to carry a card with your allergens that you can hand out at restaurants. I designed mine to be a double-sided business card with both English and Portuguese (the main language in Angola). I also added pictures in order to try and minimize misunderstandings, and to prevent a lack of literacy from being a problem.

3. Travel Insurance
If you’re going to Africa… buy travel insurance. Even before I had severe allergies, having travel insurance saved me thousands of dollars in change fees when the airlines changed the locations of my flights. But with severe allergies, travel insurance gave me peace of mind that I would have medical coverage while overseas, should an emergency take place. Medical care can be limited in Africa, and more severe cases are referred out of country, so having a plan to pay for those emergency transportations is key!

One of my favourite food-related moments was in Luanda, on the way home. My father came with me so as to maximize spending time with me, and we spent a few lovely nights being treated like royalty by one of his friends, Etienne. Etienne took us to some fabulous restaurants (where my allergy card came in handy), and then put us up in his guest house, complete with a private chef! It happened that she (the chef) had family members with allergies, so it was such a high note to end my trip there! She was able to accommodate all of my allergies, and her personal attention was very much appreciated.

Pride of Lions

All in all, the trip was a huge success, and while I have developed even more allergens since then, I have already started planning my next trip. It might not be until 2020… but I’m determined to make it happen! Have you ever travelled to Africa with a food allergy? Let me know your experience by commenting below!

-Janice H.

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.

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now: Travelling is Do-able

Back view of a couple on a hiking path taking a break and looking at the view

I was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies at a very young age. Growing up I had always wanted to travel, specifically to Egypt so I could dig up mummies! I am at-risk for anaphylaxis to all seafood, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, peas, and beans. As I got older, I thought that travelling to the dunes of Egypt might not be in the cards for me—perhaps it was too risky. I always thought that the varying cuisines, array of languages and cultural differences would make it impossible. Over time, however, I have learned that travelling is in fact a manageable task! Sure, the above mentioned factors may make it more challenging, however, I learned to cope with the risks because seeing different parts of the world was important to me! It takes a certain level of forethought, but if you plan accordingly, trips can be safe, and eye opening!

I’ve had the pleasure of travelling throughout the Caribbean (Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Lucia), United States (Florida, Louisiana, Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania) and Europe (Prague, Italy, France, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia). In some of these places, many of the foods I am allergic to were common among their well-known cultural dishes. For example, in New Orleans, seafood is used in many dishes like Jambalaya, a Creole dish, that is similar to other rice and meat dishes, combining various meat/seafood and vegetables. It’s been said that this dish originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans when the Spanish attempted to make paella with available ingredients in the New World. Also, pralines (known notoriously to contain nuts) were a huge confectionery item sold in numerous gift shops! The French brought this sweet treat to New Orleans as pecan trees and sugar cane were plentiful! Eventually, cream was added and almonds substituted pecans forming what is now known as the American South praline.  Surprisingly, I found that many restaurants in New Orleans used peanut oil! Despite the prevalence of my allergens, I had an amazing time visiting New Orleans. It really is a very vibrant, and unique city. The streets themselves seem to be alive—energy exudes a constant buzz and feel-good vibe. Something was always happening. And even in the moments when a wave of calm swept over the city, it seemed momentary—signifying a celebration dying down, or a new one just getting started!

I’m grateful that I had the courage to go. It wasn’t easy, but I definitely won’t ever let me allergies hold me back from seeing a new place. As long as I get travel insurance, carry auto-injectors, pack extra food, and communicate, then I know I am go to go! Who knows… maybe Egypt is still a possibility!

Nicole K.