“Travel is never a matter of money, but of courage.”Paulo Coelho
I recently visited Kona, Hawaii for two weeks. It was my first vacation since developing a severe allergy to peanuts and tree nuts and I was nervous. Now, I’m not typically daunted by the prospect of exploring new places. I’ve traveled alone to Culiacan, Mexico and to Bogota, Columbia, for heaven’s sake! However, while many Americans imagine those places to be fraught with danger (“You could be kidnapped and held for ransom!”), travelling to Hawaii, the macadamia nut capital of the world, truly was dangerous for me (more about that in a later post).
As a frequent solo female traveler, I find that doing my research well in advance of my travel date, is crucial. I like to talk to people who have recently visited or lived where I’m looking at going to. This is particularly important when traveling outside the country you live in. If you don’t speak the language where you’re planning to go, that’s going to require a bit more planning on your part because, in addition to the translation (via phone app or guidebook, etc.) needed to get around a city as a foreigner, you must also be able to effectively communicate the nature of your food allergy and be able to seek emergency help in the local language, if needed.
Let’s assume you’ve done your homework and selected your travel destination…Here are some tips to make sure you have a safe journey and don’t spend any of it in the back of an ambulance or an Emergency Room:
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles – If you’re flying, check the airlines policy on food allergens. Many airlines have banned peanuts from being served on all flights but that doesn’t mean the kid sitting next to you won’t bust out a PB&J sandwich at 40,000 feet. Advise the airline of your specific allergy when you purchase your ticket. I have done this online with both Southwest and Delta Airlines. (Delta did a great job on my outbound flight but royally screwed up the return trip – I’ll share that story another time.) They should make an announcement in the terminal letting fellow travelers know that someone on board has an allergy and to please not consume any peanuts during the flight. Most airlines will also let you pre-board so you can wipe down your seat and tray – so bring you own antiseptic wipes in your purse or carry-on luggage. Wiping down the seat/armrest in a rental car (along with the steering wheel and gear shift) and on a bus or train, can also be helpful.
- Epinephrine Auto Injectors – Bring multiple Epipens on your trip. They are temperature sensitive so I keep one in my purse and the rest in my carry-on since the luggage compartment of a plane can be really cold or really hot. Make sure you have one of your Epipens accessible at all times (so not in the overhead bin of a plane or back in your hotel room when you’re at the pool). Keep your Epipens in the original packaging with your prescription information printed on it. No one ever asked me about it going through security, but on international flights, there may be a more thorough review of your luggage so having clear labels can make things go more smoothly.
- Accomodations – I love Airbnb and always start there when looking for a place to stay. Book a place with an adequate kitchen because the meals you prepare yourself are the meals you know are safe. I also let the host know about my allergy just so they don’t leave a dish full of nuts on the counter as a welcome gift, LOL. Remember that in someone else’s kitchen, there could be trace amounts of your food allergens on countertops, cupboard shelves, inside the microwave, on the refrigerator shelves, on utensils, in the toaster, etc. I wipe down the counters and the inside of the microwave but I also use barriers for added peace of mind; I don’t place things directly on a surface, I put down a papertowel or a clean plate between my food packaging and the surface. Personally, I don’t use the toaster. I feel like you can’t really clean them adequately and you don’t know if someone toasted a raisin and walnut bagel in there that could contaminate your english muffin, just sayin’.
- Eating Out – Here’s where things get tricky. Part of the fun of traveling is experiencing the local cuisine but eating out is also when those of us with serious food allergies are most vulnerable. Here’s how I try to minimize the risk…Before leaving home, when doing that initial research, I use an app like Yelp to search for restaurants in the areas I’m travelling to. I like to see if there are any chain restaurants that I regularly go to in my home town and feel safe eating at. You likely already have a sense of which ethnic cuisines tend to either use a lot of, or virtually none of, your specific allergen. Since I have a nut and peanut allergy, I know that Japanese food typically doesn’t typically include nuts in their cuisine so I will check for Japanese restaurants and sushi bars. Mexican food is often another good option, most of the time. However, many mole sauces and some salsas contain various ground nuts so you have to ask. On the flip side, I won’t even walk into a Thai restaurant because there are peanuts in EVERYTHING. So before I leave on my trip, I’m prepared with a list of potential places to eat out. So when you get to a restaurant, before ordering anything, tell the server about your food allergy and ask what their food allergen protocol is. What you want to hear is something like, “oh yes, we make a note on your order ticket and notify the chef when we put in your order and we have separate prep areas in our kitchen that are free from common food allergens”. On the other hand, if they look at you blankly, I would recommend you thank them politely and leave. In Hawaii, I found a little mom and pop diner near my rented apartment and they were so accomodating and helpful that I ended up going back almost daily. They asked a lot of questions, they used a separate, clean pan for cooking my food (instead of the main flat top grill) and I felt safe. If you find a place like that, let your tip reflect your gratitude! Let them know how much you appreciate their attention to your needs by leaving a good tip and leaving good reviews on their website or Yelp and other similar apps.
Delicious ramen (not keto but I was splurging) and a grilled calamari dish at a waterfront bar…YUM!
I hope these tips are helpful. Please like my page and subscribe, if you haven’t already. I would love to hear your travel tips so comment with those below. Thanks!