Bon Voyage – I’m off to Europe
Travelling with a food allergy may seem intimidating for some, but with some additional preparation you can make sure that your holiday is remembered for all the right reasons! Jaclyn Jauhiainen, a member of the 250K Youth Advisory Team, reminisces about her travels throughout Europe and offers advice for fellow travellers with food allergies.
Whether you are dreaming of basking in sun-drenched Tuscany, strolling through the museums of Paris or wandering the streets of London, travelling Europe with food allergies is definitely possible. A few years ago, I felt extremely anxious at the thought of international travel. All the different food and new places to navigate with my allergies felt too overwhelming to consider. However, with a love for meeting new people, other cultures and languages, I dreamt of hopping on a plane and immersing myself in a different lifestyle. Slowly, the idea of visiting Europe became something I really wanted to do.
Through my experiences, I have realised that preparation is key to help make travel as safe, memorable and as fun as possible. Being organised, trusting myself and building confidence in communicating my allergies are also important factors. Of course, travelling with allergies does come with some challenges, such as the extra time and care it takes when finding a place to eat out. However, these small inconveniences are so worth it! Below are some insights, reflections and challenges I experienced after travelling Europe with food allergies.
While I did not plan every meal or snack ahead of time, I researched possible locations to eat at in new cities. Doing some research while in transit (on trains or buses), can be a useful way to spend time. Many menus throughout Europe are available in English and most places I visited were accommodating and willing to help with my allergies. Although, this can vary between countries. In Norway for example, cafés and restaurants have allergens stated on menu items which made eating out more reassuring. However, even if an establishment lists the allergens contained in a meal, you should still declare your allergy.
Jaclyn’s tips for eating out when travelling:
- If I was in a city for a few days and I found a good place to eat that catered for my allergies I would regularly eat there. I would still declare my allergy each time! This would save some time and stress finding new places to eat every day.
- In my checked luggage I brought some safe snacks from home which I could pack to take on day trips. This meant that if I felt a bit hungry, I had quick and easy access to food and did not have to spend time scouting out something else safe to eat.
- Staying in Airbnb’s with a private kitchen is a great idea so you can cook your own meals and have a break from eating out.
Overcoming language barriers:
- To make communication easier, I travelled with cards that had my allergies translated in the necessary languages. This makes it easy for waiters and waitresses to directly take the card to notify the chef or the individual preparing my meal.
- Translation apps on my smartphone were incredibly helpful. These are great for assistance with translating ingredient labels and allergen statements on packaged food.
- If you are finding it hard to communicate your allergy at a particular establishment or if you feel unsafe, eat somewhere else.
Flying with food allergy:
While a long flight with food allergies can seem intimidating, I was able to make my experience as enjoyable as possible with plenty of organisation. I prepared a meal which did not need reheating and brought plenty of snacks to keep me going for the two flights and transit. On my most recent trip, I packed popcorn, fava beans, crackers and dried fruit – all safe snacks for me. These kept me going until I got to my first city where I had more time and options to find a safe meal to eat.
Confidence when travelling with allergies:
Be prepared to communicate your allergies up to several times every day (especially if you are eating out a lot). It may seem confronting, but your safety is important!
One experience in Germany left me with the reminder of how important it is to question something if you feel unsure (several times, if necessary). I ordered a burger from a restaurant and asked if the pesto could be left out, declaring my allergy. The waiter promised the pesto contained no nuts and my German friend double checked with him, just to make sure. When my burger came out, I felt unsettled when I looked at the pesto. Although I was embarrassed to take my burger up and check for the third time, the waiter offered to show me the pesto jar, so I could read the label. When I read through the ingredients, cashew nuts were listed near the top. I remember feeling thankful that I didn’t sit back when something didn’t seem right.
Never be embarrassed to ask – you have a right to make sure you are eating something that is safe for you.
A large part of travelling is meeting new people. If you make new friends, be sure to tell them about your allergies. I usually find a good opportunity to talk about my allergies if we start to discuss food. All the new friends I made on my recent trip were really interested and understanding about my allergies. It can be reassuring to travel with people who know about your allergy. However, if it is your first time overseas, travelling with someone you know is a good idea. When I have travelled with one of my sisters or close friends, they have provided amazing support.
While travelling with allergies is not always straightforward and not every detail can be planned, reducing risks is something you have some control over. Initially, the idea of visiting Europe did feel scary and overwhelming, but I am so glad I made the decision to go. At times, travelling with allergies can feel overwhelming and frustrating. However, it is important to be as flexible as possible. You may not be able to eat what, when and where you want, but reducing unnecessary risks is important.
Finally, do your research, ask questions and get organising! While avoiding my food allergens is a priority for me, I also did not want to avoid opportunities like visiting Europe. If travel is something you have always wanted to do, it is definitely possible to do with allergies.