By Amanda Orlando
Living with multiple food allergies my whole life, one thing’s for sure; snack hacks, travel tips, and coping techniques are totally my jam. I’m allergic to peanuts, nuts, soy, dairy, and legumes. To some that may sound like a lot to swallow, but I’m proud to say that I’ve turned those lemons into lemonade by making it my personal goal to educate and spread awareness about food allergies. It can be very difficult at times to navigate the world as a person with allergies, but I believe that by inspiring confidence in yourself and others with allergies, you can be unstoppable.
Travel is undoubtedly the area of concern that I am most frequently asked about. Which airline to fly, which countries to visit, which restaurants to go to, how to communicate. There are so many barriers and unknowns, and that’s what makes it scary. But that’s also what makes if feel like an accomplishment when you tell yourself to go for it. I’m not suggesting you jet off to a remote island tomorrow, but by taking small steps and making plans in advance you can see and experience the world.
My top suggestions? Pick a place that other allergic travelers have gone to and read about how they managed. Before I go away I always read Allergy Travels, skim online forums, and talk to people I know that have been to that place. I’ve even emailed allergy bloggers that live overseas to ask about their experiences. Do some research to get a sense of the culture, the environment, and the cuisine. Yes, there may be some places that you choose to avoid based on the cuisine clashing with your allergies. But there are countless other amazing cities and destinations to choose from.
Look up whether Epi Pens are sold in that country; you may be surprised to find that they are not universally available. I always bring 4 auto-injectors, so that I can have two in my purse and two in my hotel room as backup. I never store them in my stowed luggage because the temperature in the baggage area is not regulated and they’d be of no use to you in an emergency. Map out where the hospitals are in proximity to your hotel, and write down the emergency services number.
Research restaurants ahead of time and make reservations where possible. I’ve even gone so far as to have my Italian-speaking uncle call a restaurant in Italy for me to make a reservation and explain my allergies. Bring a stack of chef cards in the primary language of the place you’re visiting.
Book a hotel that has a kitchenette so that you can cook meals in the event that you’re uncomfortable or you can’t secure safe food. Go grocery shopping when you arrive, but also bring plenty of food with you. I always bring a load of safe snacks (like tins of tuna for protein, packets of crackers or chips, and FreeYumm bars) in my suitcase and carry on. You’ll need something safe to eat on the plane, and also to keep with you on your travels. It’s handy to have safe snacks in your pocket while sightseeing or relaxing on the beach.
And my final piece of travel advice is to have confidence in yourself and feel empowered by your knowledge. You are the best judge of whether or not a situation is safe for you. There have been times when I’ve skipped a meal or gone hungry, knowing that I could eat ten of my own granola bars for dinner in my hotel room later. By preparing yourself and planning in advance, you can see and experience so much, and that sense of accomplishment will feel so good.
Short bio: Amanda is the author and food photographer of Allergen-Free Desserts (2015, Skyhorse) and Everyone’s Welcome (2019, Touchwood Editions). She has a blog called Everyday Allergen-Free, and an allergy-friendly e-shop called Handled With Care. She lives in Toronto.