It’s time to get to know our Food Allergy Trailblazers a bit better. Lara is from Washington DC and has travelled to 17 countries with peanut and tree nut allergies. She will be doing an instagram takeover this month as she travels through Europe.
1. How long have you had food allergies?
I’ve had peanut and nut allergies my entire life. My older brother was allergic to lots of foods so my parents had me tested as soon as possible.
2. When did you first get the “travel bug”?
I’ve always wanted to travel, but my first international trip that really made me want to continue was when I visited my brother who was studying abroad in Bilbao, Spain. It was my first exposure to a totally new culture and somewhere I didn’t speak the language. I haven’t stopped exploring since!
3. What allergy-related items do you typically have in your carry-on bag/backpack?
I always always always have Epipens and Benadryl. I always bring more than I realistically need because you never know when a situation could arise where you may not have access to the rest of your belongings. In Edinburgh, I was blocked off from my hostel by police barricading the street because of a rooftop chase. I had to spend the night elsewhere and couldn’t get to my backpack until the next afternoon (morale of the story: always be prepared)!
I also always have allergy friendly snacks. I LOVE to eat so constant snacking is necessary, and when you have allergies you never really know where the next safe meal is coming from. My bag is like Mary Poppins’ but filled with nut-free snacks.
4. Are there places in the world you would consider “off limits” because of your allergies? Why?
I don’t like to consider anywhere off limits. I’ve told myself my entire life that I’m never going to allow my allergy to hold me back from doing what I want to do. That being said, there’s no denying that some countries are easier to visit than others with a peanut/nut allergy. My travels so far have mostly been European based and while I’ve ran into my fair share of allergy difficulties, I likely haven’t had as hard of a time as I would have traveling to certain Southeast Asian countries. But I believe that allergies can be managed everywhere with proper planning.
5. What country have you had the most success in with food allergies? Why?
I would say the UK. When you can explain your food limitations in a shared language you’re automatically going to be more comfortable. Their food labeling is also comparable to the US or Canada, with all common allergens listed. Many restaurants also list whether or not common allergens are used in their kitchen and whether or not cross-contamination could occur.
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’ve been lucky enough that I’ve never had an allergic reaction while traveling. I still make sure I’m super prepared in the event that it does happen – I like looking up different country’s emergency numbers and hospital locations and letting family/friends know where I am on a daily basis.
7. Cuisine is usually a big part of travel. Is it for you? If not, what’s your focus when you travel?
I like to eat local cuisine but in the safest way possible. I’ll research common local foods ahead of time and always ask what’s in the dish before eating. I do think cuisine is an important part of experiencing a culture but I’ve never let not being able to eat something negatively affect my experiences. Is not being able to eat a French pastry really going to ruin your trip to Paris? No way.
8. Do you take and special precautions when flying?
I’ll sometimes notify airlines about my allergy ahead of time, and if I need to, I’ll ask my seatmate to save his or her Reese’s peanut butter cup for after the flight. I also bring an oversized scarf with me when flying to cover surfaces, as well as wet wipes to clean tray tables and arm rests.
9. What’s your ideal accommodation while traveling?
I like to go for the weird/exciting accommodation choices. My favorite so far has been a pod hostel I stayed in with everything you need in your own little box. My next fun choice is a giant see-through igloo in an Icelandic forest that I’m staying in next month .
10. Do you find that some countries are more allergy-conscious than others?
Yes, definitely. I’ve been to countries like the UK that are very allergy aware, and countries where allergies are hardly even a concept. All you can do is try to communicate your allergy in the best way possible and make safe choices.
11. Do you think there are any common misconceptions about international travel with food allergies?
I think a misconception is that it’s too dangerous, or even impossible. The risks can be managed with proper planning, and the rewards can be great.
12. Any advice for others with allergies that might be hesitant or nervous to travel abroad with food allergies?
You have to be a little brave. You have to take that initial leap of faith, and I promise that it’s worth it. Having allergies doesn’t mean you can’t do things, it just means you have to do them a little differently.