Food allergies can be difficult to deal with when you are traveling. Preparing before the trip can make eating meals and snacks much easier.
Allergies, Sensitivities, or Preferences
I don’t eat beef. I’m not allergic to it, although I’m not sure how well my stomach would handle it since I haven’t had any for at least five years. Many people in my family have heart problems, so I avoid beef for health reasons.
My beef aversion is a preference, not an allergy. I will not become seriously ill if I eat it. Other members of my family have food allergies or sensitivities – to nuts, gluten, shrimp, dairy, and eggs – some more serious than others. For several years my daughter was a vegetarian, although she has since added some meat back into her diet. My friend doesn’t eat pork because it is against her religion.
There are several reasons you may want to avoid certain foods. At home, you know what to eat and what to avoid. It becomes more difficult when you are traveling, though, especially in a country where you don’t speak the language.
Allergic reactions to peanuts can be extremely serious. Apart from peanut butter, peanuts are infrequently used in meals. However, peanut butter may be used in sauces as a thickening agent. Satay is a sauce made from peanuts and often served on chicken.
People who are have a peanut allergy may also be allergic to tree nuts. If you are concerned that a meal or snack may contain peanuts or tree nuts, ask the server. If you are still concerned, avoid the product.
Airlines often provide peanuts as a snack during the flight. When booking your ticket, alert the airlines about your allergy – they will take care not to serve peanuts on the flight.
Carry epinephrine pens (epi-pens) with you whenever you are traveling. Other travelers may bring their own snacks and if your are especially sensitive, peanut dust may travel through the air. Be sure your fellow travelers know where your epi-pens are and how to administer them.
Gluten can be found in almost any type of prepared food. If you have a gluten allergy, it is relatively easy to avoid obvious problem foods – bread, buns, cakes, and cookies -but sometimes gluten is hidden.
My dad has celiac disease. At times it seems to be in remission, but even when it is, he should be careful about eating gluten. I tried for several years to convince him and my mom to go to Europe with me, but he was afraid to because of the disease.
My dad said that he was concerned about finding enough to eat, since bread and rolls are so much a part of the European diet.
His fear was unfounded. Although all restaurants serve bread in some form, they also serve meat, fruit, and vegetables. If you have celiac disease or a gluten allergy or sensitivity, order meals without heavy sauces or ask for all sauces and gravies to be served on the side. Again, your server can help determine the ingredients in prepared dishes.
Several years ago when my youngest daughter and I were traveling, she had what we initially thought was the stomach flu. We had a nice dinner at a familiar restaurant. The next day around noon, she started feeling poorly. We had a hike planned, and although we were able to complete it, she did not feel well the entire time. She vomited, and then just wanted to sleep. We had to change our plans for the following day to give her time to recuperate.
At the time, we wondered if she was reacting to the shrimp in her meal, but it wasn’t until months later, when she had another flu-like reaction to shrimp, that we really put it together. Allergy testing did show an allergy to shellfish, although the usual reaction is swelling in the throat remedied with an epi-pen. My daughter carried an epi-pen for awhile, just as a precaution, but she is always careful to avoid shellfish.
Another daughter once had a reaction to a mixed drink that came with froth on top. The froth was made with raw egg whites, something she usually avoids. Her reaction was mild, but now she is more careful.
If you have an allergy of any kind, be especially careful while you are traveling. Pack your allergy medicine, epi-pen, or other supplies as needed.
Vegetarian or Vegan
Eating as a vegetarian or vegan is usually a personal choice. You may want to avoid meat, fish, poultry, and dairy for health reasons or for concern for animals. Many restaurants serve a vegetarian option, but there may not be much choice. Ask the hotel concierge or desk clerk for vegetarian recommendations in the area. If you are staying at a B&B, contact your host. You can also find information on review sites online. If you will be traveling during peak season, make inquiries and reservations ahead of time.
If you aren’t sure what is included in the meal, ask the server. Once when we were in Paris, my vegetarian daughter ordered cheese bread, thinking it would be bread with cheese. What the menu didn’t say was that the topping also included bacon. In most restaurants, servers are familiar with vegetarianism and can clarify dishes and their ingredients.
Often travelers splurge on food they may not eat at home. If you are vegetarian for health reasons, you might want to eat a more standard diet while away. Local specialties are an integral part of the culture and add to your experience. If you decide to eat some meat on your trip, it’s a good idea to prepare your body by eating some at home before you leave. It’s better to have an adverse reaction – if this should happen – in familiar surroundings.
Religious or Cultural Restrictions
Some religions or cultures have restrictions about what foods can be eaten. My friend often told servers she was allergic to pork, rather than try to explain her religion to the server. If you have beliefs that affect what you eat, you already know what to avoid. If you usually give up a food for Lent, you might not want to plan your once-in-a-lifetime trip when your diet is restricted.
When you have a very restricted diet, research should be done before your trip to make sure your needs can be accommodated. In my friend’s case, she knew not to order anything containing pork, ham, or bacon – it wasn’t difficult.
Communicating with the Server
One of the most important preparations you can make if traveling to another country is preparing to talk to servers. BrokerFish offers printable cards for the eight most popular allergens in six different languages. There are other websites that offer more complete allergy translation services for a fee. In addition, you can make your own cards by asking someone who speaks the target language or using a translation app.
Traveling with an Allergy
Traveling with an allergy does not have to be an insurmountable problem. With preparation, you can travel anywhere in the world. Educate yourself about all the forms of your allergen. Be especially vigilant in avoiding foods that will cause problems.
Prepare before you go, so you can focus on the trip when you are away.