If you have just been diagnosed with food allergies, you might be thinking that you can no longer travel, especially abroad (and especially to countries where you don't know the language). Traveling abroad with a food allergy can be challenging, but it is not impossible -- and in some cases, you might find it downright easy. Here are five things you need to do before traveling that will make eating abroad delicious and not dangerous.
Prepare cards that politely state you can't eat various foods. For English-speaking countries, you can make these quite detailed, listing the foods to which you're allergic plus any derivatives, such as casein or albumin for dairy or egg allergies. You can find cards in other languages online.
Rent a Home
Instead of staying at a hotel where you'd be forced to eat out all the time, use a vacation-rental service to rent a home or apartment. That gives you a kitchen that you can use to prepare meals for yourself. In the meantime, you can research restaurants to see which ones have a good reputation for catering to allergy-suffering travelers.
Find Friendly Cuisines
Sometimes a country just isn't going to be a good fit given your allergies. If you suffer from severe peanut allergies, for example, Thai food isn't going to be the best for you because of the crushed peanuts and oil that are in so many dishes. On the other hand, Japanese cuisine might be easier to handle -- while not totally peanut-free, there are enough no-peanut dishes that you can eat pretty well in the country. On the other hand, Japan might not be the easiest place to go if you have a severe soy allergy, but Eastern Europe could be an option.
Know Where the Hospitals Are -- and Have Adequate Travel Insurance
Always check out where the hospitals and emergency clinics are in the cities in which you'll be staying. That way, if you think you're having a reaction, you know where to go. If you tend to have severe reactions, memorize the country's emergency phone number -- don't try to travel to a hospital on your own unless you have rescue medication. Be sure that your travel medical insurance will cover something like treatment for a food allergy reaction. Sometimes the policies can be restrictive, and you don't want to find that out as you're seeking treatment.
Learn to Say No Thank You
Learn the country's procedure for refusing food. Sometimes a simple "No, thank you" will do, but in other countries, you might be expected to take the item and then just leave it on your plate without eating it, or there may be a series of offers that you have to put up with before local etiquette says someone can stop offering you food. Learn to be firm about not eating anything you know you can't eat.
If you want other tips on traveling abroad with food allergies, talk to your doctor and discuss the places you want to go. If you have been working with an allergist, the allergist could have some great tips on how to handle unknown foods.