Navigating the minefield of overseas delicacies can seem like a battle you can’t win when you have allergies - but take it from someone with a hefty list of dietary requirements, it can be done. Yep, that’s right. I am officially on country number 17 and am yet to have any severe allergic reactions (touch wood). Let me be the living, breathing proof that it doesn’t have to restrict your travel experiences. So, how do you survive?
Do your research
This tip just makes the whole experience so much easier, and saves the stress of sorting things out last minute. Hit the books, and do your homework to learn as much about the area you are visiting as you can. Look into where you are planning on staying – are there grocery stores close by? Having a supermarket nearby can save a world of hassle if you get stuck and starving. Not only will they provide you with a snack emporium, you can also grab yourself the basics to make a hotel room meal in a bind. Can you find local cafes and restaurants that claim to be allergy free? If you have a prepared list of pre-approved food stops, you’ll save time and worry when it comes to meal times. Most places are becoming allergy friendly, and even local delicacies are starting to provide alternatives. I like to scour Instagram pages that are dedicated to my specific allergies and save places for inspo – this lets me find yummy food, no matter where I am. Are there local hospitals or medical centres nearby? Something I’ve been lucky enough not to need but it prepares you for the worst-case scenario, and will leave you with the best care possible. Is your allergy a food that is commonly used in that country? A common example here is peanuts – if you have a peanut allergy chances are you’re avoiding Thailand like the plague, but in countries such as Spain odds are most places won’t even know what a peanut is.
Preparation is essential
Ensure you have all the medication you may need (I swear I end up travelling with a mini pharmacy), this way if any pesky symptoms pop up you’ll be able to get on top of them straight away. If you’re flying make sure these are in original packaging, and take a doctor’s note listing everything you are carrying as airport security can be a bit iffy if you are hauling around a case full of drugs.
Depending on where you’re travelling to you may not be able to fill your prescriptions, so make sure you take enough medication (and backups) to get you through. Carry these in your hand luggage in case you need them mid-flight, and to avoid any issues if your baggage gets lost in transit. Another great preparation hack is taking translation cards. Heaps of companies are now dedicated to offering this as a service, or you can easily DIY. These handy cards have translations of what you’re allergic to based on the language of the country you’re travelling to, allowing you to easily identify red flags on the menu yourself, whilst also minimising language barriers with the waiter/chef so nothing gets lots in translation.
Book somewhere with a kitchen
Whilst I encourage you to get out there and eat locally (as I said most places are surprisingly accommodating) if you find yourself nervous, start slow and book accommodation with a kitchen. Hotels with these facilities may be pricey, so look for Airbnb’s and self-service apartments. This way if you find yourself stuck and starving you can always prepare yourself an allergy-friendly meal.
Pack your own snacks
This can be a life saver, especially on long haul flights. Yes, I carry a mini pharmacy and a mini kitchen everywhere I go. I like to stick to pre-packaged, non-perishable snacks – think protein balls, muesli bars, popcorn etc. as these can come out of the airport with you on the other side. However, you can also bring fruit and prepared meals, they’ll just have to be eaten before you get off at your destination. This tip will allow you to avoid the plane food, which let’s be real isn’t worth writing home about anyway, plus, any leftovers can be transported with you on your adventures.
Be kind and speak up
Most places will be understanding about your allergies, but you’ll want to keep the waiters on your side. Ensure you are nice, and apologise for the inconvenience, but make sure you speak up and be your own advocate – if nuts are going to kill you don’t be afraid to shout it from the roof. If your meal comes out wrong, don’t – get mad, remember it is probably not the waiter’s fault, do – send the meal back and ask for corrections, reiterating the importance. Sucking it up and trying to eat around the allergy is not worth it, trust me.
Don't be afraid of street food
Street food can be tricky, and the universal assumption is that it should be avoided if you have dietary requirements. In many countries however, street food is a huge part of the experience. By all means you have to be careful but my tip is to look for the stalls that keep their ingredients separately and make their food fresh and from scratch. The best part of street food is the kitchen is literally in front of you, you can see everything that is being done and watch all the ingredients going into your meal, which should give you peace of mind.
I know it can be scary, but there is a whole world out there that you are lucky enough to get to eat your way through. If you stick to these hacks, no matter your location you’ll be able to stay symptom-free whilst enjoying everything on offer. Your travel plans may have to be slightly more thought-out and structured, especially when you start out, but these days I find myself going with the flow and enjoying every experience that comes my way. My final piece of advice is to be conscious, be alert, be smart and most importantly don’t miss out!