Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Travel Tips {Traveling with Food Allergies}

Most of my friends and family know that I have some food allergies which can make traveling a little challenging at times, especially when I don't know the language.  But I don't let it stop me from traveling and enjoying the amazing places this world has to offer -- and allergies shouldn't stop anyone!

So first -- I am mainly allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, garbanzo beans (chick peas) and soy.  In case you didn't know, tree nuts are all nuts (but not peanuts) -- so almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.  Peanuts are a legume (so in the bean family) which is how and why I am also allergic to garbanzo beans and soy.  I found out I was allergic to all of this later in life, in college.  It made for quite the life change, but its been a good chunk of time now so I am used to it...

I am also lucky in the sense that while I do need to carry an Epi-Pen and Benadryl with me at all times, I am still able to handle trace amounts.  So I can eat items that may contain allergens or things that are cross contaminated.  This allows me to still order most things and just stay away from obvious foods that have nuts/soy in them.  I can eat at bakeries where products have been made with nuts -- I just won't order something that has been sitting next to/touching a product with nuts or that obviously has nuts in it.  Hope that all makes sense.

Over the years of traveling and dealing with my allergies, I have come to learn which foods are safe and which are not -- and which foods can contain hidden allergens.  This is a great website for more information on allergies, especially if you are new to living with allergies.  But here are my tips for traveling with food allergies:

Know Which Foods You Can and Cannot Eat: I always stay away from marzipan and macarons (the French ones) because they are always made with almonds.  I also avoid Asian food, including Thai food because it always has soy.  But I know that yogurt, meats and cheeses are typically safe for me.  This is always an easy (and cheap) grocery store/picnic option when you are traveling.  Pick up some bread or crackers to go with your meat and cheese and of course wine and you have a complete meal!

Read the Labels: Europe is wonderful at labeling all of their products (in grocery stores), putting allergens in bold.  Europe did this long before the United States caught on so grocery shopping is fairly easily in Europe (just know the words to look for when reading labels in another language).  Many restaurants offer menus with labels including the top allergens as well (especially in tourist areas).  We were in Sweden recently and every single restaurant had an allergy policy on their menus -- it was wonderful.

Do Your Research: know about the foods in the countries you are visiting -- for example, France is famous for their macarons but they are not nut-free.  Morocco likes to put nuts in a lot of their foods, even savory ones so you have to be careful....  Whereas English pub food is usually safe, same with typical German foods.  Know a few foods you can for sure eat in each country and you'll be a lot happier.

Be Prepared: the language barrier can be challenging, especially when trying to communicate you have allergies -- so learn the words in the language of the country you are visiting.  Some of the first words I learned when we moved to Spain was how to say "I am allergic to nuts."  But with the amazing internet, you can easily find travel allergy cards in various languages or use Google Translate to learn how to say what you are allergic to, keeping yourself safe.  I use the Google Translate app to figure out how to say what I am allergic to in the needed language and then take screen shots of the translations to use.  Just be warned that Google Translate is not perfect by any means.  For example, in Southern Spain, they use frutos secos for tree nuts (which literally translates to dried fruit), if you use the Google Translate translate word for nuts (nueces) most people won't know what you are saying!  So I often I will translate "I am allergic to nuts" and also include the words of various nuts, including peanuts so my message is more clear.  I also include things I can eat.  Many people assume I can't eat seeds because I am allergic to nuts, which isn't the case at all.  So just cover all your bases.  And if you know someone who speaks the language, get them to write down something for you!

Extras: while the United States uses vegetable oil for literally everything, which is straight soybean oil -- that doesn't really exist in Europe.  They use olive oil, sunflower oil or rapeseed oil much more commonly.  Soy is not used as an additive nearly as often in Europe as it is in the states.  I hardly ever have to tell people I am allergic to soy while traveling as it is typically only used in very obvious dishes -- like vegetarian food with tofu.  Europe has much stricter food laws and many countries are well ahead of the states when it comes to allergies -- making it easier (in my opinion) to travel even with allergies.  For example, Italy is one of the best and easiest places to travel if you have a gluten intolerance/allergy or even celiacs disease. 

And finally, don't feel left out or sad or frustrated for missing out on various things.  Yes, it is frustrating I have never had a macaron or never had the chance to eat some amazing Danish treats because of my allergies... I am still out traveling and experiencing the world, even if I can't eat my way through it!  Don't let allergies stop you from traveling and seeing the world.
enjoying amazing Danish food that I can eat!

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