Food allergies are terrifying. In a split second, a single bite can end everything. Those with food allergies must become vigilant with everything they put between their lips. Even the laziest among us are inclined to read every last ingredient to ensure there isn't a chance a reaction can be triggered.
So how do those with food allergies manage to survive in a country that doesn't even speak their language? When every restaurant is a possible death-trap, and grocery aisles become a stock-pile of personal poison, how do they get by?
1. Prepare for the Worst
Murphy's Law states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
So, it's important to be as prepared as possible. This means checking that your epipen is up to date and that you have Benadryl on hand. It will also be helpful to get travel insurance. Then, if you happen to have to go to a doctor because of an accidental allergy attack, you should be covered.
2. Research Restaurants in Advance
Just because you have a food allergy, it doesn't mean that you're not going to want to try local food and new restaurants. Right before you go, look up restaurants in the area and check out their menus using Google Translate. Then you'll get an idea on what you can and cannot order. This will save a lot of time and frustration, as you won't have to mime-translate your allergies to the waiter.
3. Learn Key Phrases in the Native Tongue
Even though you may have researched restaurants in advance, it's important to know how to voice your allergies. Look up how to spell, read, and pronounce the foods you're allergic to, and how to emphasize that you cannot eat it for medical reasons. Knowing the language will help prevent any accidents from miscommunication.
4. Research Local Doctors
In case of an emergency, you're going to want to know where to go. Look up doctors that specialize in allergies and allergy treatment. Also get to know where all the local hospitals are, their level of care, and what the country's emergency number is. Make sure you do this research with whoever you're traveling with. Then they will be prepared in a time of panic and you will get the help you need.
5. If the Airline is Serving Meals, Let Them Know Your Allergy
Something great about airlines is that most offer options to customize meals. Whether you have food allergies, are a vegan, or both, you're going to be covered. The important thing is to not wait until the last minute to request a custom meal. Most airlines require at least 24 hour advance notice. Making the change is easy enough, though. All you have to do is log into your flight and select their meal preference section.
6. Make Sure You're Allowed to Bring Your EpiPen Where You're Going
This goes for all your prescriptions as well. Double-checking that the country you're visiting allows your prescriptions will save you a lot of time and stress. If they don't allow them, talk to you doctor about alternatives. Although no countries outright ban EpiPens, some travelers have had theirs confiscated because "adrenaline" is on the label. If your EpiPen is confiscated, make sure to stay calm and patient. Keeping your cool will help expedite the process and help clear up any confusion.
7. Keep Your Meds in Your Carry On
There's always a risk when it comes to checked luggage. Our travel insurance even covers lost baggage. So, the last thing you want is to have your meds be one of the things you lose. Then you have to go through the process of calling your doctor, getting an emergency prescription, and then finding somewhere to fill that prescription. Plus, if you have your meds on your carry on, if you happen to have an allergy attack mid-flight, you have help at hand.
8. Carry Allergy Translation Card
Keep an allergy translation card on you at all times if you don't speak the language. Even though you may have learned some key phrases in preparation for you trip, in an emergency it may be difficult to remember them. It will be easier to hand the card to someone and get specialized help as soon as possible. Make sure the card details your allergies, what medicine you take, and any emergency contact information.
9. Go With the Safe Option
Although living on the edge can be fun, when it comes to food allergies it's better to be safe. Who knows when your special request for cake *without* the walnuts may get confused for extra nuts. Make sure to confirm multiple times that the food you're ordering is allergen-free, and if something feels off, go with your gut. If you do your research on regional food, you'll learn in advance which dishes you can be adventurous with, and which you should avoid.
10. Don't Be Afraid of Being "Rude"
Of course, it's important to be polite while doing anything. This doesn't mean you should stay quiet about your food allergy. Speak up like your life depends on it, because it literally does. If you feel like your waiter didn't understand your request, explain it to them again. Don't be afraid to make yourself totally clear so that you can avoid any confusion or deadly mistakes.
Before following these steps, be honest with yourself. Do you have a life-threatening food allergy? Or do you just not like certain foods. Either way, waiters should be happy to help you get a meal fitting your dietary needs. The difference between the two is a pretty big deal. For example, if you're not actually allergic but you give yourself permission to follow #10, you're probably actually being rude. Serving isn't a very forgiving job, so make sure that no matter what, you treat your servers with utmost respect.