It’s time to get to know our Food Allergy Trailblazers a bit better. Danielle Barry is Canadian and has travelled to 8 countries with peanut and soy allergies. She dreams of travelling to the Faroe Islands.
- How long have you had food allergies?
I’ve always had food allergies. I reacted to formula when I was an infant, peanuts at two, and have no memory of not carrying auto-injectors with me.
- When did you first get the “travel bug”?
When I was about 15 years old I met a teacher at my high school who was a real travel lover. My friends and I used to go eat lunch in her classroom and she’d often tell us travel stories. During our Grade 10 year, she celebrated going to her 100th country and I remember that being the exact moment I caught the travel bug. She could remember details so vividly and I wanted nothing more than to see the places she described to us. She recently returned home from country #127, and we’re getting together to share travel photos sometime soon!
- What allergy-related items do you typically have in your carry-on bag/backpack?
I’ve always flown on airlines that allow a carryon and a personal item (my camera bag), and whenever I do train/bus travel I bring those two as well. My backpack has safe food for the trip and it doesn’t have to be right beside me, but my camera bag has things like my auto-injectors, wet wipes, snacks, drinks, and my wallet with all emergency contact info. I also always buy a few bottles of water/juice before I get on the plane, depending on how long the flight is. If it’s only an hour I’ll be fine with one, but during my longer ones I bring three or four just so I have some if the airline doesn’t have bottled drinks on board.
- Are there places in the world you would consider “off limits” because of your allergies? Why?
I don’t think anywhere is “off limits,” but you do have to prepare differently for some destinations than you would for others. For example, you’d have a different emergency plan for a remote area than for somewhere with quick access to medical facilities. I grew up in a small farming town, where our firefighters were volunteers and ambulances came from the town 20-30 minutes away. So I haven’t been raised to think of these types of places, where you’re not really close to help, as a danger, and I don’t avoid them when I’m travelling. You just need a good plan in case something goes wrong, and have the confidence to know you will be able to do what your plan outlines.
- What country have you had the most success in with food allergies? Why?
I’ve definitely had the most success in Finland but I’ve also spent the most time there. I did a student exchange there for a year while I was in university and I went back for about 5.5 weeks this summer. Their attitude towards allergies came off somewhat nonchalant at first, but I quickly realized it’s because they don’t see allergies as a glaring red panic button. I’m not sure whether it’s conscious education about allergies or it’s just something that has become engrained in them from a young age, but it sure makes being an allergy person easier! I know I’ll be able to find something I can eat, because even if the menu doesn’t have something safe someone will know where I can go to find something.
- 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 have not, thankfully! I always make sure I have travel insurance and a working sim card/phone, and that the phone plan my mom has back in Canada will work if I call her from abroad. I also take double the auto-injectors I normally carry whenever I travel, so at least four, just in case I need to use some. The last thing I want to do in a foreign country is figure out how to get more auto-injectors, so I just bring extras. Thankfully my insurance doesn’t limit the number of auto-injectors I can buy in a year.
- Cuisine is usually a big part of travel. Is it for you? If not, what’s your focus when you travel?
No! I honestly have no idea how people have time to eat when they travel! When I was in Bergen (Norway) this summer I looked at my phone and realized it was 4pm, I had been running through museums since 9am, and I hadn’t eaten anything yet. I had to force myself to sit down, take a break, and eat one of the trillion safe foods I packed to take there, but I really just wanted to keep exploring. I studied history and archaeology in university so I’m really interested in seeing those aspects of cities.If I can find a safe local food I’ll definitely try it out, but seeing museums is more important to me.
- Do you take and special precautions when flying?
I don’t eat airline provided food unless it’s something prepackaged and something I have had before. I follow the same rule when I’m in airports, too. I don’t eat at the restaurants and stick to food for sale in the stores that are familiar. I also make sure I’m wearing long sleeves when flying. I’m always cold so I’m never worried about getting too hot on a plane. Finally, I make sure my auto-injectors are in my camera bag under the seat in front of me, not in my backpack up in the overhead compartments.
- What’s your ideal accommodation while traveling?
My ideal accommodation is somewhere close to the places I want to visit and a grocery store. Honestly, I don’t worry too much about allergies when picking a place to stay. I bring my own soaps for hand washing/showering and wipes to wipe down whatever needs to be cleaned, but I haven’t had any problems so far. I am mindful of where hospitals are and where the major roads are (for an ambulance) in comparison to the hotel, but it’s not a deciding factor.
- Do you find that some countries are more allergy-conscious than others?
All of the countries I have been to have been equally allergy-conscious.
- Do you think there are any common misconceptions about international travel with food allergies?
I think there’s a big misconception, especially in North America, on food allergies being an isolated issue when they’re not. It seems that a lot of countries have people with allergies of some sort.
Even the thought of allergies being a reason someone cannot travel is a misconception. Whether I’m in Canada, Finland, Iceland, China, or India, the precautions I will take to ensure my food is safe will be the same.
- Any advice for others with allergies that might be hesitant or nervous to travel abroad with food allergies?
Before I travel, I try to find international Facebook groups for people with allergies and request to join them, so I can learn more about allergies in those countries. I’ve found and joined groups for Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, England, and the wider UK as a whole. Even something as simple as knowing what the major grocery store is called will be extremely helpful and saves you from wandering around when you get there (or spending hours trying to find the answer on your own on Google).
I don’t hesitate to contact local restaurants on Facebook or Instagram before I go places. I messaged a ton of places in Reykjavik before I went, so that I already knew which places were “potential food spots” before I even boarded the plane. I also contacted the Icelandic Food Authority for labelling information before I went to there, because I couldn’t find the laws in English, and they were extremely helpful.