Travelling with one, let alone multiple food allergies is never straightforward. However, it does get more and more complex as you literally venture into more foreign territories.
I’ve had the travel bug for ten years now and have gradually grown my comfort and confidence in travelling abroad. This was built on years of domestic travel where English was the first language and extra precautions consisted of bringing extra epinephrine, extra food and not being too adventurous with new restaurants or food brands.
Then came Europe.
It seemed like a good step into the world of international travel. It was intimidating to think that there were so many languages crammed into one continent. However, I quickly learned that communicating my allergies wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be due to the prevalence of English in touristy areas. My early travels took me to Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Vienna and Stockholm where wait staff were surprisingly helpful accommodating my allergies. I found this to be a great entry into foreign travel and would recommend it to those starting out travelling abroad with food allergies. Plus, big touristy cities are touristy for a reason – they have a lot to offer and are beautiful!
Then came Eastern Europe.
Countries like Croatia, Bulgaria, and Hungary were a bit more of a challenge as English became less prevalent. This is when Allergy Translation Cards were truly valuable. Wait staff that I encountered had somewhat of a grasp on English, but I still wasn’t 100% sure if they knew not only what my allergies were, but that they were possibly life-threatening. The other challenge I found to be with pre-packaged products where ingredient lists commonly featured over a dozen languages in tiny print. Sometimes they would include English under the category (GB) for Great Britain, sometimes not. I found it best to stick to the perimeter of the grocery store finding fresh breads, meats and fruit/veggies. Plus you can use your translation card with bakers, butchers etc. who can help you avoid those food labels altogether.
Then came Asia.
Spending three weeks in a small town in China proved to be the biggest challenge yet. English was practically non-existent and I had a constant “fish out of water” feeling. Allergy Translation Cards were vital during this trip, but found the risk of cross-contamination very high wherever I ate. I bought a hot plate at Wal-Mart (yes they are in China!) and cooked basic, but safe meals in my hotel room. Things like rice, pasta, and soups kept me afloat as I toured around a beautiful country with a vibrant culture. I felt limited at times in terms of cuisine, but I really wasn’t there for that reason. I kept my food expectations low, and as a result, view the trip as a great success as I visited a place I once thought of as “off limits” due to my food allergies.
South America seems to be drawing me in as well as Russia. Wherever it will be, I now have the confidence to know that all countries can be manageable as long as you are taking proper precautions and doing your research in advance.
Growing your comfort zone can take time, but with each new country, you will gain that much more confidence and peace of mind knowing that travelling with allergies is not so scary. Things that were once unknown, will be known, and the “what if” scenarios that played out in your mind will hopefully turn into “this could happen, so I’ll prepare by doing this”.
Happy and safe travels wherever you go!