I have been meaning to write this post for a long time. Before we embarked on our life of travel over two years ago, I put a lot of research into how I was going to manage my nut allergy while away. To be honest, it was something that really intimidated me about travelling as I found it hard enough communicating this with people in New Zealand without throwing unfamiliar food and languages into the mix. What I found most helpful was reading about other peoples experiences travelling with allergies, so I hope that I can pay it forward and help others out by sharing my own tips and tricks.
How I manage my allergies while travelling has evolveded quite a bit over the last two years as I have learned what works and doesn’t work well (for me). This is currently what I do:
Talk to your doctor before travelling
This is the most important step of all, hence it is going first. Your doctor will be able to recommend the type of medication that will work best for you to manage your symptoms while away. My doctor back in New Zealand had a son who also had a food allergy so she was incredibly helpful and understanding. She prescribed two sets of all my medication so I could keep one lot on me and one in my bag as a back up in case my belongings got stolen. They should walk you through how to take your medication, how much of it to take and when. If you are travelling with someone, then I would recommend explaining all of this to them as a back up.
If you are a UK resident, apply for an EHIC card
For the time being, this card entitles any UK resident travelling to an EU country to receive the same healthcare that the residents of that country are entitled to. I would recommend researching what this actually entitles you to in each country (as it may be nothing), but it is a good fall back should something happen to you, especially since a lot of travel insurance policies will exclude cover of allergies.
Create allergy translations
Currently what I do is go on Google Translate (see cover photo) and translate “I am allergic to nuts” and then translate every type of nut that I can think of. I screenshot the translations in both English and the translated language, add all to a Word document and print this out to carry with me all the time. I find this is very helpful when eating out as it is a clear way to communicate with the restaurant staff. Often, they will take my translation sheet to the kitchen so the chef can check themselves. It is important to translate everything that you can think that you are allergic to as some languages do not use the word ‘nut’ in the same way as we do, i.e. peanuts are commonly not considered to be nuts (as they really are legumes), in some languages ‘nuts’ refers only to walnuts. Previously, I would just get my friends who I knew spoke another language to translate everything for me, but this became tricky when I started travelling to countries that I didn’t know anyone from, such as Norway, Sweden, Latvia, Turkey etc.
Research the food of where you are travelling
It is good to research the common food where you are travelling to before you head off. I like having a bit of a heads-up as to what I should be looking out for to avoid. I have found this to be particularly helpful when I find out that nuts are used in a way that we do not commonly use nuts, i.e. one of the famous Venetian dishes, Sarde in Saor, is sardines with fried onions, raisins and pine nuts but when it was recommended to us no mention was made of pine nuts, or a common ingredient in French saucisson is walnuts which is something I would not have expected to be an ingredient in a salami. This step is also good for getting you excited about all of the delicious food you will be able to try on your travels as there will still be plenty of food on offer that you are able to try.
Nibble your food
This probably sounds stupid, but I think that it is really important. My allergy is one that affects my tongue first of all, getting really itchy as soon as I have eaten something I am allergic to. I use this as a litmus test for the food that I have been served as it is was better to find out that there are nuts in your food by only eating a tiny bit. It can be a little embarrassing when you are out with people you do not know well and you are not really touching your food for the first 5 or so minutes, but just get over that, because I find this really helpful. One time when this saved me from having a much more severe reaction was when we were in Turkey and despite the reassurances from the restaurant staff that they do not have any nuts in their kitchen, there was some sort of nut in the hummus. Luckily I had only had a tiny bit so did not have a particularly severe reaction, but it could have been a lot worse if I just took their word for it and dove right in. Obviously this would not work for someone who has an extremely severe allergy, so approach this step with caution.
Carry your medication with you everywhere
I mentioned this in passing earlier, but it is important. If you are going somewhere you cant take anything, then don’t eat, or eat something you know will be safe, i.e. fruit.
Download the google translate app
This app has a great feature in it where you can download a specific language to be able to use offline. The camera feature is great for quickly translating the ingredients lists on packaged food at the supermarket as you just hold it up to the words you want to translate and they change into English. Just note, this is not the most accurate way of translating items, but it gives you a good idea what is in the food. If you have any doubts at all, don’t buy it.
Be realistic with your expectations of your culinary journey in each country
This is the step I wish I didn’t have to write, but I think it is important to remember. I am a massive foodie and wish more than anything that I could be like my friends and just try everything without knowing what it is, getting random recommendations from locals, buy market food without too much thought, but the reality is, that is not what the food experience is going to be like when you have an allergy. Travelling with an allergy can be really difficult and stressful at times, but I think the more effort your put in to the steps above, the more you will end up enjoying your experience in each country. You will still get to try an amazing array of different food, it will just take more effort to get there. Anything that you miss out on, just forget about and move on.
I hope this has been helpful. If anyone has any further tips for managing their allergies abroad, feel free to leave me a comment.