Previous Next

Feature Photo: dan4th Photo: steffenz

Traveling can seem impractical at best and deadly at worst with a nut allergy. But with a little care and preparation, there’s no reason it should stop you from hitting the road.

AS ONE OF millions of people around the world with a life-threatening nut allergy I know all too well the trials of eating abroad. I’ve spent an evening in Paris hooked up to an adrenaline ventilator, been in hospital in Peru and starved myself on a Sahara Desert trek thanks to my inability to pronounce ‘cashew nut’ in Arabic.

The risk of travelling with a nut allergy is very real but I’ve learnt the hard way, a few precautions and preventions can make the ride a lot smoother.

1. Know Your Emergency Procedure

Foreign hospitals often do not understand the severity of a reaction or how to treat it so ensure you are aware of what you need. Emphasize that you need to be seen immediately.

Ask your doctor to write down the medication and dosage to be administrated in case of an attack. Note the pharmaceutical names, as brand names can be different abroad.

If you carry an Epi-pen ensure you know when and how to dispense it and are able to do so yourself. Inform your travel partners of their duties should you become unable to help yourself.

2. Remember: You Can Never Carry Enough Drugs!

It goes without saying that you need to carry your prescribed medication, but make sure you have spares and store them in different places in case you lose your luggage.

Modern adrenaline dispensers such as Epi-pens are not available in some parts of the world so take enough for your journey and leave a repeat prescription at home.

Check the use-by dates of all medication if you are on the road for long periods- even recently purchased prescriptions can have short expiration dates.

Keep your prescription on hand when you fly or you’re going anywhere where your luggage might be inspected- taking a syringe into a nightclub can look suspicious to foreign security!

3. Don’t Eat Like A Local

Food trading standards vary drastically between countries and labeling is often done according to different standards. Be extra diligent when trying foreign delicacies as even common foods may contain unlabeled ingredients.

In Brazil, nut traces (especially cashew nuts) are commonly found in chocolate even if it doesn’t state it on the packet. They also serve a cashew nut juice. In France and Italy, almonds and pistachios are common in all cakes and pastries even if staff tell you they are nut-free. Indian and Chinese food is full of peanut oils and kitchens often use the same pans for cooking different dishes so cross-contamination is likely. Mediterranean dishes are often sprinkled with pine nuts.

Exercise caution of ‘home brands’ abroad- Cadbury’s chocolate in South America is actually made in Panama and does not contain the exact ingredients of the British variety.

Be wary of ingredients like sesame, poppy seeds and coconut that can provoke reactions in nut-allergy sufferers. If you’re not sure, this is not the time to find out!

4. Make Yourself Clear

Even if you can’t speak the native language, look up a few words before you go and carry a small dictionary to check food labels. Keep a card with you to show to waiters or shop-owners if you are not sure of pronunciation.

A literal translation may not suffice- in some languages the word ‘nuts’ refers to one type of nut and frequently nuts such as cashews, almonds and pine nuts, as well as items such as peanut butter, are referred to separately. ‘Dried fruits’ is a good catch-all term but try to memorize as many different names as possible.

Sometimes it is best to be dramatic: ‘I will die if I eat this’ avoids the common scenario of the nuts being scraped off and the meal being returned to you. Severe allergies are extremely rare in some parts of the world so the average waiter is likely to put you down as another ‘fussy tourist’ unless you state your case very clearly (and with a smile).

Photo: zonagirl

5. Plan Ahead

Problems arise when you entrust your food intake to strangers but it’s difficult to avoid these situations on holiday. Many hotels, hostels and tour operators will accommodate your requests if you explain the situation but always double check. Ask to see the packets wherever possible or to speak to the person preparing the food. Take a packed lunch if you are worried.

Contact airlines and bus companies before traveling with them and confirm that a nut-free option is available. Many airlines (British Airways, American Airlines) have banned nut products on-board but consider buying some sandwiches before you board the plane just in case.

Ensure your allergy is covered by your travel insurance- always declare it and shop around for a company that provides full cover. Many companies will cover you if you haven’t been in the hospital in the past year.

6. Eating Out

Experimenting with local cuisine is a vital part of experiencing a new culture so don’t let your allergies put you off eating out. However, it’s best to accept that you will never be able to have a carefree ‘try-anything’ approach to food.

Ask before you eat, even when pressured by locals to ‘just try it’.

Request to speak to the chef if the waiter seems less than knowledgeable about food content- calmly explain the importance that you know exactly what is in it.

Pass on spicy food as this can mask the tingling sensations of a reaction and it’s a good idea not to drink a lot whilst you are eating too- save the wine till you are safely past dessert!

7. Be Paranoid

Different symptoms to what you have previously experienced can occur so monitor any changes and if you experience any of the following, seek medical attention:

Tingling/ itching in the mouth or lips.

An itchy, blotchy rash

Swelling, particularly around the face and throat.

Wheezing/ difficulty breathing

Vomiting/ Diarreaoh

Stomach aches/ cramps

Faintness/ dizziness

There’s no reason to let a nut allergy put an end to your travel fantasies. You need to be warier than other travelers, but don’t let that force you into giving up and staying home.

Community Connection

Even if you don’t have to worry about something as serious as a nut allergy, it’s still important to stay healthy on the road. Try these five useful remedies from easily found ingredients when you’re really far out there. And it can’t hurt to pack these medical books for the road, or to brush up on some tips for staying healthy abroad.

Diet + Nutrition

 

About The Author

Zoe Smith

Zoe has lived in Buenos Aires for 9 months and is now preparing to spend the next year exploring Australia. She is a freelance writer and ESL teacher who dabbles in photography, humanitarian work and foreign languages.

  • Christine

    Great post! As food allergies become more and more prevalent (and deadlier), most of this information can be used by anyone who has a food allergy.

    I’m gluten-free, so I know the trials of dealing with getting things without wheat, barley, etc. (“Oh, it doesn’t any wheat in it.” “Does it have soy sauce?” “Yes, but soy doesn’t have wheat in it.” Sigh…). But hopefully as more and more travelers speak up about their intolerances, these very real food concerns will be taken seriously.

  • JK

    I also eat gluten-free. Eating out on vacation is a huge challenge, but I at least take some consolation that places around Europe and S. America are somewhat more aware of GF diets / Celiacs compared to where I live (USA). It’s still no fun trying to explain it wherever you go.

    Gluten just makes me slightly sick (but can eventually lead to numerous auto-immune disorders, which is why I follow a 100% GF diet), so I can handle a bit if I ingest it by accident. But I can’t imagine what it’s like with a potentially deadly nut allergy… must be very difficult.

    Sometimes I just want to smack vegetarians who complain about how “difficult” it is to follow their self-imposed diet… :P

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    Yeesh…that’s nuts! Very important info, and glad to see it doesn’t stop you and others from doing what you love doing.

  • http://www.bearshapedsphere.blogspot.com eileen

    Sometimes I just want to smack vegetarians who complain about how “difficult” it is to follow their self-imposed diet… (quoting JK)

    Really?

    :::::::::::::::::::

    Anyway, I have the utmost of sympathy for nut allergy sufferers, and have often wondered how people deal with this while traveling. I’m glad you’ve put together these good tips.

    It’s a cashew fruit juice in Brazil if it’s the one I’m thinking of (and I’m sure it could trigger the allergy). People should probably learn to identify the strange, pepper-looking fruit in addition to the word, in case it shows up at a breakfast buffet, as it’s also eaten raw, and I don’t think you’d have any way of knowing what it was just by looking at it.

    People whose allergies also include legumes also need to be aware of a variety of breads and breadlike items in India and the whole subcontinent, like pappadums and dosas that can be made with lentil flour.

    Great article!

  • Maria

    Hey,

    Great article! As a grad student with nut allergies on my fourth stint in China, I know how frustrating this problem can be sometimes. Then, I do something like eat a wonderful dinner overlooking the Forbidden City and it is all worth it. If your travels ever take you to China send me an e-mail.

  • Miranda

    Thanks a lot for this article. I am about to travel to China for the first time with a severe nut allergy – Maria it would be great to talk to you about it. Please email me on mirandahowardwilliams@googlemail.com if you are willing to dish out some advice.
    Thanks!

  • Meredith

    Maria,

    My husband is going to travel to China in September. I think I’m more worried than he is about his nut allergies. He is allergic to tree nuts, but not peanuts. If you have any tips that I could share with him, that would be fantastic!

    Thanks so much,
    Meredith

    meredith_porter@yahoo.com

  • Susan

    Hi All,

    Great website. I am just starting to plan a round the world trip next year and I am quite worried about eating in some of the places we are planning to go – North India, Thailand, South America. I was diagnosed with a peanut allergy about 14 years ago and was told at the time that I should avoid all nuts as it was very likely I would develop allergy to them all. I have totally avoided all nuts since then and everything has been fine.

    Any additional advice would be appreciated.

    Susan Xx

    • Liz Johnson

      Hey Susan,

      Maybe you’ve already started your world trip- hope it’s going/goes well!

      Just a quick word re South America- they have this amazing looking chocolately sauce called mole (mo-lay) there. AVOID IT! They use peanut butter as a thickener in it, and don’t consider peanut butter to be actual nuts- it nearly caught me out, wouldn’t want the same to happen to you!

      All the best,

      Liz (liz_johnson03@hotmail.com)

  • Daniel H.

    Hi everyone!

    I’m a current undergrad student with a severe allergy to tree-nuts but not peanuts. I have been to Germany twice before for long stays and not encountered any problems with my allergy (but I can read ingredients in German and speak the language).

    I feel trapped by my allergy,

    I would love to get out there and experience other cultures, I’ve been told that if I stick to eating things like plain fruit, plain meat, and very basic non-prepared things I could be alright. I’m still afraid of dying though, of course.

    I really appreciate this inspirational info, if you have any advice to an inexperienced traveler with my allergy I would appreciate it!

    thank you!

    dansh22@gmail.com

  • Liz Johnson

    Hi all,

    This is such a refreshing article compared to all the discussion forums either forecasting death if you so much step out of the house, or else claiming that we are all making it up and should stop being such attention seekers.

    I have had a severe allergy to all nuts since I was a baby, and try not to let it interfere with my life any more than I have to. I’m Irish, now living in London, and have successfully lived in France, been travelling in most of Europe, Mexico and the USA with relatively little hassle. I have yet to venture East, though going to Egypt this March!

    I think the key is to accept, like the article says, that you are never going to one of those people who can eat local food without caring what it is you are putting in your mouth.

    It can be frustrating to not get to try the local cuisine, but at the end of the day you are still there, seeing a new country and it’s culture, and food is only a small part of that to have to give up. I found Mexico the worst, because so much social activity revolves around food and they don’t really understand the concept of allergy at all, It’s just not worth the risk, especially when you’re not sure how good the emergency facilities are going to be. I spent a month eating pizza and fruit, untill I found I could eat quesadillas :)

    I always try to do self-catering where possible as well, so that I am in as much conrol of what I eat as possible. Then my boyfriend and I can enjoy dinner at our accommodation minus all the anxiety, then go out for drinks and enjoy ourselves!

    I also always pack Nutri-Grain snack bars (2x however many days I’m away for), so that if there really is nothing I feel safe eating, I will at least not starve altogether. Also, when I do eat out, I go for plain things quite easily identifiable, without sauce- so steak, fresh fish, grilled meat. Pizza is always a go to, though not pasta (hidden pesto has put me in hispital too many times)

    For those of you from the US, I’d like to reassure you about travelling in Western Europe- there really is quite a lot of allergy awareness over here- most supermarket food has allergy labels on it, and in restaurants the most important thing, like anywhere, is to speak up about the severity of your allergy, and usually people will try to accommodate you.

    Thanks guys, this is a great site! I’d be happy to try and help with any queries anyone might have: liz_johnson03@hotmail.com

  • Tawny

    Maria,

    I am going to China in July and taking my 9 year old with severe tree nut and peanut allergies (1/2 a cashew put him in a coma within 7 minutes when he was three). Will you let me know what tips you have for eating in China?

    Thanks, Tawny

  • Christy

    Thanks for the great info. We are trying to plan a trip to Korea in October. My 15 year old son has a severe peanut and tree nut allergy. My husband and my son are both allergic to seafood. We would appreciate any help out there about the awareness level in Korea about food allergy.

  • enterprize

    We are traveling to South Africa next month with my 11 year old daughter who has a peanut allergy.

    Any tips to eating out in Cape Town with a peanut allergy?

  • Sarah

    Hi I am travelling to Kenya in April and staying in a small village. I have quite a severe nut allergy, mainly to tree nuts, but was told to avoid all nuts. However I can eat nut traces and be fine.

    I would love some info on food in Kenya and what to look out for!

    Thanks! :)

  • Rdykins

    Hello Zoe,

    Really enjoyed your blog – I’m writing for Business Traveller magazine and I wondered whether you’d be available for an interview?

    I’m researching for a feature about dealing with dietary requirements when abroad – would be great to speak with you and gain your perspective as an experienced traveller with allergies?

    If you’d be interested, please get in touch as soon as possible at rdykins@businesstraveller:twitter.com. 

    Thanks!

    Rose Dykins
    Editorial Assistant
    Business Traveller magazine
    London

  • Rdykins
  • Astrid Morkot

    Please get your facts right – British Airways have not banned nuts on board their flights.

  • Karineh

    I am going to Paris in late Sep 2013, my daughter has a severe Peanut Allergy. Feeling confident that we will be fine, until I read in France there is a practice to add Lupine
    ( a bean/ legume) in their flour. Also, there are studies that have confirmed
    there may be up to 50% chance that it could trigger a severe allergy in
    patients who have peanut allergy. That translated to avoid baked goods, pasta,
    pizza, soups & sauces. Has anyone experienced an allergy to Lupine? Do you
    have experience on how to avoid it?

It’s another flight delay. Your life will not come to an end; in fact, it has been...
The national parks are bracing themselves for the busiest summer in the history of the...
Try this project at home to see if your potato grows vines.
Including a solution for male impotency.
What if you could find success simply by doing one thing for your health?
To change the community, the composition of the soil needs to change, and "we are the...
No vegan kitchen is complete without these items.
With New Year’s Resolutions Day just around the corner, here’s some fast food for...