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Travel Blogger Shares Tips for Managing a Food Allergy When Going Abroad

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This article was written exclusively for PeanutAllergy.com by Elizabeth Carlson, author of the "Young Adventuress" travel blog and peanut allergy sufferer.

She shares her top 4 tips for managing a food allergy when traveling abroad.

Personally, I think one of the greatest ways to get to know a foreign country and culture is through the food. In spite of growing up with a life-threatening illness, I also grew up with a deep abiding love for food and travel. Now I’ve already waxed poetic about how I think having a peanut allergy shouldn’t keep anyone from traveling the world, though it’s important to back up such encouragement with some solid advice. Here are my four best tips for how to travel safely with a peanut allergy:

  1. Always ask and explain, no matter what
  2. Whether I’m afraid of sounding rude or run the risk of offending someone, until recently I would not always ask about ingredients when ordering food out. Even now I forget to ask, especially in places where the likelihood of peanut contamination is almost impossible. Asian food? I always ask. Italian food? I usually forget. However, the worst peanut reaction I ever had was in something unexpected: a fruit smoothie.

    Because peanut allergies around the world are rare, restaurants and waiters are in general not as aware of the serious nature of the allergy, so it’s vitally important to be clear when asking. To say that you have a peanut allergy is insufficient. I always go to great detail to explain that nothing I eat can have touched peanuts or peanut ingredients. I will also speak in absolutes if I’m really concerned, saying that I will die if I come in contact with peanuts. Better safe than sorry.

  3. Carry allergy translation cards
  4. To help with explaining peanut allergies overseas, especially in countries where English is not the first language or isn’t widely spoken, I always make sure to bring along some allergy translation cards I’ve acquired online translated into whatever language of the country I’m visiting. I also bring photos or have some images saved on my phone of peanuts to help explain what exactly it is that I can’t eat. Nothing works quite so well as you showing a picture of peanuts and then grabbing your throat, gasping and miming asphyxiation.

    Something important to remember that peanuts are not very common in many places around the world, or if they are used in dishes, it’s most likely as a sauce or topping, not actually cooked with the food. Many times people don’t know the difference between peanuts and other nuts, like hazelnuts or pine nuts. It is a very specific word. Sometimes it’s best to just say you can’t have any nuts at all, to be on the safe side. But never rely only on faith that whoever you’re talking to understood what you were asking. That’s why cards and photos can be the perfect tool to help explain your allergy.

  5. Watch your food being prepared
  6. Just as I am an avid proponent of eating as much local food as possible when traveling, I am even more vehement in encouraging street food consumption. Initially, I think people in general can be hesitant to try street food when on the road, believing that it is much more likely to cause food poisoning or illness, or even peanut contamination. In fact, I believe the opposite.

    Aside from the fact that street food is both a cheap and great way to experience local dining, it is usually much fresher than what you’d find in your average restaurant, let alone a tourist-geared restaurant. You literally get to watch the food being prepared right in front of you; you can see how fresh it is for yourself. This is great news for people with peanut allergies because unlike in a restaurant, you actually get to see what goes into your dish, peanuts or not, making a much safer way to dine than anything else.

  7. Travel with extra Epi-pens and Benadryl
  8. As much as you can do to prevent ever consuming a peanut while on the road, it would be reckless not to prepare in case of an accident. Depending on where you are, pharmacies and hospitals are not readily accessible, so you need to be prepared as best you can.

    When I travel, I normally bring plenty of Benadryl with me as well as three Epi-Pens. Three might seem excessive but actually it’s the perfect number in case one doesn’t work properly or you might need two. I also make sure I always have a working phone with me or I’m with someone with a cell phone in case of emergency. These small steps can really make the difference if you ever do have a reaction while traveling.

Click here to read about Elizabeth's experience traveling the world with a peanut allergy.

Keep up with Elizabeth's adventures as she travels around the world: Check out her blog, Young Adventuress, and her Twitter page, Facebook page and Instagram.

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