Be Prepared for Language Barriers
Think of that time you had trouble explaining your allergies at a restaurant at home. Now think of trying to do it in another language. Be prepared by ordering an Allergy Translation Card in advance that you can simply present to wait staff or chefs.
Tourist areas are a great bet since they usually have restaurants with staff that are capable in English and are somewhat familiar with special dietary requests. Signing up for a tour can be helpful as the tour guide can often act as a liaison between you and the restaurant staff.
Plan for the Worst
Hope for the best, but have a contingency plan. I recommend having a convenient wallet card (or write on the back of a business card) with key info such as your allergies, local emergency number, your insurance hotline, emergency contact info and where you are staying. You never know when you’ll need any of this info, but it’s best that you have it handy. I also have a backpack full of granola bars in the case I’m unable to find safe food throughout my trip. I had one experience at a resort where a doctor’s visit was necessary (non-allergy related), and the doctor would only see me if I paid in U.S. cash, so bring some physical money just in case! Lastly, bring extra auto-injectors in case you lose or use one.
I don’t feel international travel is the time for me to be adventurous with food. I play it safe and do a lot of grocery shopping where I stick to the fresh departments (produce, dairy, meats) in the supermarket. It’s also good to research local food labeling laws in advance of your trip. Also look up if there are any local dishes or cuisine that commonly contain your allergen(s).
Everyone has different preferences, but I’ve started to use AirBnb quite often for travel because I can easily find accommodation with its own kitchen. Alternatively you can search for hotels that feature a kitchenette and cook some meals on your own. If you are staying at a resort, look into their policies in advance and try to arrange a meeting with a manager or chef on their food service staff.
This final tip is the tip that I feel most strongly about. When I travel, I’m not going for the food. It’s the last thing on my list of things to experience. I shift my focus to the culture, people and attractions. I love seeing live local music, going to museums, relaxing in spas, and sipping on local wine.
A few years ago I went to China for 3 weeks. A lot of planning went into the trip and I ended up bringing a second suitcase full of food. I was glad that I did, as I didn’t feel safe with the food there. Instead of being upset the situation, I made the most of it and focused on experiencing a beautiful country, not its food. My homemade meals were nothing to write home about, but it was still truly a trip of a lifetime.
With the right planning and frame of mind, food allergies don’t have to limit your travel destinations or overall experience. Bon voyage!