There are so many places that I want to visit in the world. Asia, India, Africa, Australia, Europe, America… basically I want to visit everywhere at some point in my life. The only problem is, is that some of these locations fill me with really bad anxiety at the thought of going there.
It’s not because I’m worried for my personal safety of being attacked, or being afraid of flying etc. I am scared of what I might eat when I get to those countries.
Now, before you begin to think that I’m a fussy eater, I’m really not. Sure, I don’t eat meat, but that’s as far as it goes. I will pretty much try anything… unless it has the risk of having nuts or peanuts in it.
Here, at home in the UK, I can’t even enjoy going for a curry at the local Indian restaurant or get a Chinese takeaway without the risk of potentially dying, or becoming very ill. I’ll write another post at some point for you to understand better what a nut or peanut allergy actually entails because I feel like many people don’t understand it properly.
So the idea of being abroad in a country where I can’t speak the language, is quite frankly, terrifying. Even when boarding an aeroplane, I have to ask the flight attendants to make an announcement to ban the selling of your beloved peanuts for the duration of the flight. (If that offends you, then I am very sorry that the risk of my life is such an inconvenience to you.)
So here are my tips for you if you, too, are nervous about travelling with a peanut allergy. Hopefully, they will prove effective and keep you safe from harm so you can enjoy your vacation with as minimal anxiety as possible.
Research the country you’re going to
Before I go anywhere, I always give the country a google. I check what kinds of foods are customary there and whether they are likely to contain nuts or peanuts. I also check for whether peanut oil is common. (You’d be surprised how many places use peanut oil, even in the U.K)
There are many websites out there with people’s own experience of travelling with an allergy, which can give you hints and tips. If you also look up the classic recipes for speciality cuisine then they will usually say what is commonly put in the food. Of course, never assume that a recipe will be the same from place to place or night after night. Always state that you have an allergy when you place your food order anywhere – even at a buffet.
Print out translation cards and carry them on you at all times
I always print out a translation of how to state that I have a peanut and nut allergy in the languages of every country I go to. This can help make the process a lot smoother if you are struggling to communicate with your own broken language skills or if their English doesn’t stretch to allergens.
I always state in the translation that I have a severe peanut and nut allergy and carry an adrenaline auto-injector. Please can they inform me if any food contains peanuts or nuts, or is cooked in peanut oil.
Then I have a separate card that says to call emergency services immediately as I am having an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts or nuts. Please administer my adrenaline injector, which is in my bag, by taking off the cap and injecting it into the side of my thigh.
Obviously, you hope that you will never have to whap out the second card, but I would definitely recommend showing the first card in every establishment you eat at. Even at a food vendor or stall.
Always inform your flight attendants of your nut allergy before boarding a flight
Ask them to make an announcement and explain that you carry an adrenaline auto-injector on you at all times. It also helps to mention that you are at risk through airborne contamination so that they understand the severity of your allergy. After all, you don’t want to be halfway across the ocean and suddenly, the guy sat next to you cracks open a packet of peanuts…
Always travel with a minimum of two EpiPens
Doctors should really be prescribing us with two EpiPens nowadays, as it has been proven many times that one adrenaline shot is sometimes simply not enough. But thanks to current EpiPen shortages, it doesn’t happen very often.
So if you only have one EpiPen, A: make sure that it is ‘in-date’ for the duration of your holiday, and B: go back to your doctor and explain that you are going on holiday and need an additional EpiPen for safety purposes.
Teach whoever you’re travelling with, how to use your adrenaline auto-injector in an emergency
I often feel like a broken record when I explain to people that I have a nut and peanut allergy and carry an EpiPen. But I’d much rather sound like a broken record than be in the midst of anaphylactic shock and have nobody around know how to help me.
This is a great video to teach you how to use an EpiPen, so send it to your travel buddy before you go away together so they feel prepared. Remember, it can be daunting for your travel companion to have your life in their hands…
If you have a Jext or Emerade auto-injector then the process of administering is slightly different so you will need to show your travel partner their specific instruction videos. I have linked them for you via their names.
Pack a few dry snacks in your case for any occasions where you feel anxious about eating the food whilst out
This is a little bit over-kill, but I hate being hungry so this is just for emergencies. I’ve never even had to eat my resources whilst trvelling, but when I went to Thailand I felt like it calmed my anxieties to know that I had options.
Just a few snack bars or dry super noodles will do the job to give you peace of mind. You obviously don’t want anything that could melt in your case (or not make it past customs).
Buy one of those devices to test your food
I’m sure you’ve heard about these devices or seen promotional videos on the likes of Facebook, before. While I am not sure if they are available in the U.K yet, you can now preorder a Nima Sensor in the U.S and Canada.
These devices work by putting a sample of the food you are about to eat into the device. It then detects whether the food has any peanut proteins in it. It claims to be 99% accurate. Sounds too good to be true, right?
There may be U.K equivalent products but this product isn’t even officially released abroad yet. So this is probably ‘one to watch’.
Place a little bit of your food on your wrist and wait for a reaction
I always feel like I’m absolutely bonkers when I do this, but I heard it mentioned once before and thought it was a good idea.
If you’re unsure about the food you’ve ordered and want to double-check, rub a little bit of the food and sauce on your wrist. Then wait a few minutes to see if your skin reacts. If you come up in hives then it’s likely there is something in the food that your body doesn’t like and you can wash it off immediately and take an antihistamine.
If after a few minutes nothing happens to your skin then you’re probably good to go. Trust your gut – if you feel anxious about eating something, then just don’t. Get something else. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
At the end of the day, if you are anxious about travelling with a peanut allergy to a certain location then you don’t have to go. If you are worried about your safety, then it is not your obligation to go to every single place in the world. It will be a much better experience if you enjoy your time and feel relaxed.
But that’s not to say that you should miss out on going somewhere you would absolutely love to go. Take precautions and stay safe. Don’t put yourself at risk and use your head. Maybe even use some of these tips to help you go travelling with a peanut allergy confidently and safely.