It’s time to get to know our Food Allergy Trailblazers a bit better. First up is Brandon LaBella from New York. He has travelled to over 30 countries with milk, nut and fish allergies and says it isn’t easy, but has led to some of the best experiences of his life.
1. How long have you had food allergies?
Since I was born ☹
2. When did you first get the “travel bug”?
When I studied abroad in Belgium I traveled to 16 countries and haven’t stopped since. I will be at 35 soon and still have a lot more trips planned in the future! I will say that once you hit a certain amount of countries, it becomes more of ‘how can I create the most memorable experience with other people, how can I positively impact the locals, and how can I craft the most fulfilling experience for myself and other people’ rather than just exploring sights.
3. What allergy-related items do you typically have in your carry-on bag/backpack?
Bendryl and Epi-Pen are a MUST.
4. Are there places in the world you would consider “off limits” because of your allergies? Why?
No, because I won’t let food allergies stop me. However, when it does come to countries that may be less understanding, it comes down to your own preparation. Traveling is so much more than food consumption.
5. What country have you had the most success in with food allergies? Why?
The ones where I easily cook myself.
6. Have you had any allergic reactions while traveling abroad? What happened? Has it changed the way you travel? Do you have any special measures in place in case you have a reaction?
7. Cuisine is usually a big part of travel. Is it for you? If not, what’s your focus when you travel?
I look to try local foods that I know I am safe with but mainly buy food from the grocery store and cook it myself. I travel for the experiences I create with other people. There is nothing like experiencing events with people you just met and having the most fascinating conversations. The most memorable experience this year was taking a hike in Bogota, Colombia. Near approaching the top, I looked around and found no one in sight. I then ran up to make sure I was on the right path and found some horses and tourists and followed them. Turns out they were on a 20km tour to a mountain so I kept up for the next 4 hours, running on foot while making awesome friends. It moments like these that make my travel experiences so epic.
8. Do you take and special precautions when flying?
I usually bring my own snacks and use a paper towel to open the bathroom door in order to avoid any chance of an allergic reaction.
9. What’s your ideal accommodation while traveling?
I love finding the best hostels. They are so welcoming and friendly, help choose the best itinerary for me as well as have some travelers that I meet.
10. Do you find that some countries are more allergy-conscious than others?
The more understanding one country is, the more allergy-conscious it will be. It is very important to find someone with strong communication skills to understand the severity of your food allergies and be able to relay it to the person who is in charge of preparing your food.
11. Do you think there are any common misconceptions about international travel with food allergies?
I think the misconception would be the severity aspect of food allergies as well as the thought that food allergies are just limited to consuming a specific type of food. This is why it is quite important to find someone who can understand your language so you can explain that it can’t be cooked with certain oils, can’t have any cross-contamination, and needs to be cooked away from everything. As stated above, this is why communication to the right person is MANDATORY.
12. Any advice for others with allergies that might be hesitant or nervous to travel abroad with food allergies?
Traveling with food allergies is not easy. But at the same time, I highly recommend it and would love to set up travel plans for anyone interested because that is where I have overcome my fears, been able to find myself, and have had some of the best experiences of my life. I will not let food allergies define me!
Have you got a question for Brandon? Leave it in the comments below or on our Facebook page.