My Life as a Walking Allergy: A Travel Guide

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I’m a walking allergy. Seriously. If it were a contest, I’d have every average lactose-intolerant, gluten-allergy kid beat… although it’s not like anybody wants a ‘Most Allergic’ trophy.  Especially since my allergies have evolved (read: mutated) over the past 20 years, so it’s a lot easier to list what I’m not allergic to than what I am. But if you’d like a delightful little teaser, then just know that…

  • Carrots? Out. (It’s a good thing I don’t really miss carrot cake).
  • Apples? Off-limits. (And yes, it kills me every day knowing I can’t have apple cider, apple pie, or about a thousand other apple things).
  • Garlic, of all things, is another one. (How am I meant to keep vampires away?)
  • Dogs. Yep, you read that right—I’m anaphylactically allergic to dogs.
  • Nuts? Let’s just say that if you’ve ever eaten a nut at any point in the past ten years, you definitely shouldn’t breathe on me. Ever.

That’s right—my nut allergy is actually so severe that an anaphylactic reaction wouldn’t just be triggered by me physically eating a nut… but by anyone eating a Snicker’s in close proximity to me, or the cross-contamination that occurs when I eat ice cream scooped by a spoon that’s also been used to serve peanut butter ice cream. Same goes for hazelnut flavoured coffee or candles, and having to create kissing rules like, ‘You can’t eat a Reese’s Cup within 24 hours if your mouth plans on being near mine’.

TL:DR: If anything around me even thinks of a nut, I’m dead.

As you might imagine, this makes a few things inconvenient. Things like… pretty much all of life. And although it ranks incredibly low on the scale of disabilities, knowing that a trip to the movies could turn deadly is a super fun upgrade to life. It can also make things like travel a bit scarier for allergy sufferers. Maybe you know how to avoid your triggers at home—your favourite local restaurant caters to your allergies, you know all the right places to avoid— but what about in another country? And how do you effectively communicate your health concerns through a language barrier? So, if you’re looking for an allergy-friendly travel guide— congratulations! You found one!

  • PLAN (And I Cannot Stress This Enough) AHEAD:

Of the many perks of life-threatening food allergies, a dip in spontaneity is one of them. Going out? Hmm, can your clutch also hold your EpiPen, inhaler, and various assorted other meds? Friends are off for a curry? Aw, nuts. (See what I did there?) And although most of these are easily dealt with—I personally never take my meds out of my bag in the interest of avoiding last-minute panic—travel can supersize these issues. That’s why planning ahead is the absolute most crucial step of your journey.

  • Warn the airline about your allergy in advance:

Seriously. I have to do this every single time I fly, and yes, I feel like the biggest dork every single time. But if you communicate with the airline and ask them to not serve nuts on the flight (extreme example from personal experience) or simply provide you with nut-free meal options, you eliminate the risk of a near-death experience in an enclosed, airborne space. This works equally well for lactose and gluten allergies too! Whatever you struggle with, asking for special accommodations from the airline will make your journey—and your entire holiday—more pleasant and less death-y.

  • Make sure your hotel is allergy friendly:

In my case, this usually involves making sure that my accommodation doesn’t allow pets, so I don’t have an anaphylactic reaction whilst just walking down the hall. But if you suffer from different allergies— like asthma that’s triggered by mould, mildew, or cigarette smoke—or if you’re ever relying on your accommodation for meals, do your due diligence beforehand to make sure that your hotel will be clean, smoke-free, and offers allergy-friendly meal options. Most of this information can be found through either a quick glance at your hotel’s website or a simple call to their front desk.

  • Plan for Language Barriers:

Being unable to communicate your allergies is a really scary and vulnerable experience.  And although—unlike me—you’re probably not nerdy enough to practically be a walking sweater-vest, researching your destination in advance really pays off. When you’re visiting another country, do a bit of digging into the local cuisine before you go. Learn what (safe) food options are available to you.  And if you happen to be visiting a country that uses nuts or any other allergens as major ingredients—Thailand, India, and Japan come to mind—research how to communicate your allergies in the language of the country you’re visiting. Drafting laminated allergy-translation cards may not be the go-to strategy of anybody other than me, but it can save your life.

  • Pack What You Need:

Travelling with allergies also means that you need to have all your meds on hand. To be prepared, make sure all your prescriptions are up to date, that you have plenty of refills, and that you and your travel companions feel confident about what to do if you have an allergic reaction. For example, when I was preparing to move to the UK, I called my doctors a few weeks in advance and ordered refills of every necessary prescription to make sure that I wouldn’t run out of inhalers, EpiPens, or anything else in the middle of travelling. Likewise, when I’m out with friends or a date, I make sure to explain about my allergies and let people know what to do in an emergency.

Travelling with allergies can be a bit of a pain, but it’s not impossible. And as long as you plan in advance, it doesn’t even have to put a damper on your trip. In short, all you have to do is stay smart, take care of yourself, and always have a backup plan.

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