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Emily: Traveling with a food allergy or other dietary restrictions can be a scary experience. It’s even more frightening when you have had a near death allergic reaction, like me.
Several years ago, I had an allergic reaction after eating some contaminated food in Spain.
Thankfully, I survived that trip, but I literally thought it was my time to go. Ever since then, I’ve been much more prepared and cautious during my travels.
Here are my top 5 tips for folks traveling with food allergies:
1. Bring Multiple EpiPens
EpiPens are the single most important thing to take with you. They combat anaphylactic shock, and can buy you time to get emergency care. A few minutes can mean life or death. With my predicament in Spain, the nurse said that if my travel partner, Daraius, had not used an EpiPen on me, I probably wouldn’t have survived.
2. Bring Other Emergency Medication
Visit an allergy specialist and get prescriptions for the drugs you need. I always carry Benadryl (available over the counter) and Prednisone (an anti-inflammatory).
3. Minimize Risk By Formally Notifying Service Staff
I always carry Select Wisely’s chef cards with me. You can customize them by language and allergy.
These have been invaluable for preventing allergic reactions from happening in the first place. Restaurants seem to take written instructions more seriously than an informal conversation.
In Spain, I verbally informed the waiter that I had a life-threatening allergy (and I speak fluent Spanish, so I know it wasn’t lost in translation). I think if I had a written card that he could read and take to the chef, it may not have happened.
4. Bring Back-Up Food
When I travel to extremely remote locations, or to countries with less-than-developed emergency care, I always bring my own food in case I don’t feel safe. In the Dominican Republic, I was once on a snorkel excursion where fish was served for the group lunch. So instead, I ate a few granola bars that I brought from home. My favorites are Probars because they are packed with protein and fiber.
5. Train Your Travel Partner(s) on How to Administer Your Medication
If you are traveling with others, let them know the signs of an allergic reaction and how to use your medication in case of an emergency. And consider staying with that person up to 2 hours after eating, which is when most severe reactions occur. Daraius was thinking of going back to the hotel because he was tired right after we ate dinner, but I asked him to stay with me. If he would’ve gone back, I might not be here to write this post today!
I am deathly allergic to a variety of seafood, so I have to be constantly on the alert, especially when I travel! If I don’t understand the language, can’t read the menu, or can’t proficiently converse with the folks making my food, I always have a backup plan.
If any of you have food allergies, I’d love to hear your ideas for dealing with them while traveling abroad!