An Introduction to Living and Traveling Overseas With Food Allergies
Going out and exploring a new place is always exciting: Getting to meet new people, trying to speak another language, seeing awesome sights, and eating new foods. That is unless, you have food allergies or sensitivities. You wouldn't want to get caught eating something you shouldn't and end up with a breakout, bad stomachaches, or even worse, end up in the hospital. Having a relatively restricted diet does not mean that you still cannot enjoy yourself or eat out. It just means that you need to be a bit more careful. If you take some necessary precautions, you will still have a fun and memorable trip. Below are some points to consider when traveling with a restricted diet:
Carry an Epi-Pen and Teach Someone You Trust How to Use It
This is very important, particularly if you have a very severe reaction to foods (or even environmental allergies). The best option would be a travel partner as that person is generally with you for the entire duration of the trip, and can help look out for you if things go awry. They could even warn you if you are about to eat something you shouldn't. If you are traveling alone, try to find a trusted local, or even the people at the hotel you are staying at just in case. If all else fails, sketch out a diagram on how to use the epi-pen, and have instructions translated into the local language, so you can (hopefully!) pull it out if you are unable to administer it yourself. It would also be helpful to have some common phrases that you'll need to say if you are going to the hospital.
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Do Some Research
Before you head out on your trip, do some extensive research on common dishes and ingredients used at your travel destination. Make note of dishes you can have, ones to eat every once in a while, and ones to avoid completely. There are so many resources out there, including forums where other online users can give you some much needed advice on your dietary restrictions before you hop on that plane.
Make Up Some Cards of Foods You are Allergic To
Once you have done your research, it is helpful to make a list of ingredients you are allergic to, along with translations of each one. If you find that you have to avoid certain dishes, make a list of that along with translations too. You might also want to consider making cards with pictures of the ingredients you can have or the specific dishes you need to avoid. Laminate the cards so they don't get damaged when wet, and a reasonable size so you can keep it in your wallet pockets to take out at a moment's notice.
Stay at a Place With Cooking Facilities
If you allergies are fairly severe or you just want to take some extra precautions, consider cooking your own meals. Many youth hostels have a fully supplied kitchen where you can store and cook your food. Some hotels (though a more expensive option) have a small kitchenette in your room. Even if you don't have access to a cooking facility, you can consider using more creative ways such as carrying some dehydrated dishes and boiling water to prepare them, or some people have bought rice cookers in Asian countries and cooked dishes with that. If you are really stuck for cooking facilities, consider bringing along a knife and cutting board and making raw meals, like a salad. You can still get a foodie cultural experience by visiting food markets and seeing how various ingredients are used, and speaking with the locals. If you're not staying for a few days at the same accommodation, however, this might be a more difficult option, or consider ways to carry your food with you to your next destination.
Bring Allergy And Other Necessary Medicine
Sometimes you accidentally have foods you are allergic to, it just happens. Make sure you're not stuck by bringing along medicine just in case this happens, such as antihistamines, antacids, and anti-diarrhea medicine.
Try to Modify Dishes At Restaurants
If you have someone with you that speaks the local language, you can try to modify some dishes at restaurants. If you're adventurous, take along your phrasebook and cards you made yourself and try to communicate to the waiter/waitress. Take note: Only do this for minor food sensitivities just in case there is a miscommunication and the ingredient you are allergic to gets added anyway. Only do this for food sensitivities, not immediate allergic reactions! Many higher end restaurants (such as five star restaurants) tend to have a lot of more fluent English speaking staff where you might be able to communicate your dietary concerns easier.
What Happens If I Am a Guest And Don't Want to Offend Them?
If you are invited to a guest's house, suck it up unless the allergy is that bad. Hopefully you have been good at this point and haven't had any incidents. Many cultures take offense if you do not eat what they serve, as many families take pride in their dishes and they see your refusal to eat what they made as an insult. When dining at the host's house, try to pre-eat, drink lots of water, and take small portions of what they serve you so you don't risk eating too much of the foods you are allergic to. If they insist you eat more or serve you, there are tricks to make it seem like you ate more than you did, such as cutting the food into very small pieces and pushing it around the plate. If you have a severe allergy, inform the host as far in advance as possible and make sure to emphasize that eating certain foods is a life or death situation. If they don't speak English, try to get a translator to help you explain.
Drink Lots of Water
If possible, drink lots of water with slices of lemon to keep your body alkaline. A more alkaline body is less susceptible to diseases. Drinking lots of water will flush out toxins and help alleviate your allergic symptoms if they arise.
With some work, you can still enjoy your trip while still being able to enjoy the many cultural food experience that travelers revel in. Hopefully these tips are useful to you and feel free to share others you have found useful.