It’s time to get to know our Food Allergy Trailblazers a bit better. Ariella is from California and has visited over 15 countries with peanut, tree nut, egg and soy allergies. She shares her travel adventures and advice on her blog Have Epi Will Travel
1. How long have you had food allergies?
I was diagnosed with food allergies when I was 11 months old. My mom was doing laundry and in order to actually fold a few shirts without a pesky little me on her, she gave me peanut butter on a cracker – my sister’s favorite snack. A few minutes later I had stopped crying and when she turned around to see why, I was completely swollen, black and blue, and choking to death. She rushed me to the ER where they diagnosed me right then and there. A few tests later my other allergies were discovered
2. When did you first get the “travel bug”?
think it started when my family went on a cross-country road trip. I was about 9 years old. It was then I realized there is so much more to life than Southern California. After that I jumped at every chance to travel – near or far.
3. What allergy-related items do you typically have in your carry-on bag/backpack?
The obvious medicines (EpiPens, Benadryl, Claritin, Inhaler). I also carry snacks like tuna, nutrigrain bars, fruits, and veggies. And finally an oversized scarf. I don’t go anywhere without one.
4. Are there places in the world you would consider “off limits” because of your allergies? Why?
I’m pretty nervous to travel to Thailand. Everyone I’ve talked to that has been has made it seem like peanuts and peanut sauce just walk around ready to attack those with allergies (like me). BUT I don’t know how much I believe that. I’m sure I’ll get there eventually.
5. What country have you had the most success in with food allergies? Why?
Israel. Israelis are extremely understanding of people with food allergies and will make every effort to keep us safe. In addition to being so great, the food is absolutely amazing.
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?
I did have an allergic reaction when traveling in Barcelona and another one while I was living in Israel.
In Barcelona the reaction was pretty mild – I could’ve just taken Benadryl but decided to opt on the safer side with my EpiPen. The story: I bought some cheese and crackers in Las Ramblas and then sat with friends to eat them. A few minutes later my throat started to get itchy and my lips a little numb. That’s when I took my EpiPen. The symptoms immediately went away and I continued about my day.
In Israel I bought a small eggplant dish from the market. After reading the ingredients I went ahead and ate it. That’s when my friend saw the peanut. I turned the Tupperware over and lifted the price tag. Hidden was “contains peanuts.” I took my EpiPen (in the end I took 2) and went to the hospital. A few hours and a lot of medicine later, I recovered. It was the scariest moment of my life.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve changed the way I travel, but I do have special measures in place. Before going somewhere I will find the closest pharmacy and hospital. And I’ll do some research to find out what foods will or won’t generally contain my allergens.
7. Cuisine is usually a big part of travel. Is it for you? If not, what’s your focus when you travel?
Cuisine isn’t really important to me to be honest. When I travel I focus on the sites and activities. I can’t really be bothered to stop and sit for hours in a restaurant anyway, so it’s not horrible for me that in many places I have issues with the local cuisine.
8. Do you take and special precautions when flying?
Yes. I wear long pants, socks and shoes, and a long shirt. I wear an oversized scarf around my head and neck, and I wear gloves. And before sitting down I wipe down my seat, tray table, hand rests and seatbelt.
9. What’s your ideal accommodation while traveling?
I love budget airlines. Passengers have to pay for every little thing, so they’re less inclined to buy snacks. That lowers the chance of having a secondhand reaction or issue.
10. Do you find that some countries are more allergy-conscious than others?<
Yes, for sure. For example: in India no one had an understanding of what an allergy is, whereas in Israel people were extremely aware of the seriousness and severity of it.
11. Do you think there are any common misconceptions about international travel with food allergies?
I’m sure there are. I think within the allergy community there is a lot of fear with international travel. From how to navigate flying to language barriers – there are potential threats and issues left and right.
12. Any advice for others with allergies that might be hesitant or nervous to travel abroad with food allergies?
You can go anywhere and do anything. You might just need to do it a little differently than others. Bring your own food, or get an AirBnb with a kitchen. Whatever the modification might be – I promise it will be worth it.
You might want to meet another trailblazer Brandon Labella