Managing your allergy abroad on work trips

Translation cards for me don’t even have to be the fancy ones that you buy online for £50, sometimes they can be text that I’ve stored on my phone from Google Translate

Holidays are meant to be a stress-free time to enjoy yourself and relax, eat some lovely local cuisine, and enjoy your time away from work/life. But what if you have an allergy? Often, it’s not quite a stress-free experience. For some, it leads to anxiety and spending quite a lot of time worrying about where you’re going to find food, and what you’re going to be able to eat when you get there.

This is especially true for trips abroad with friends, or work, where things might be slightly out of your control. Kayleigh and I have both recently been away on trips with work, so we thought it would be a good opportunity to share our experiences, and hopefully make more people feel at ease traveling abroad with an allergy.

Hamburg - Dan

My first experience travelling to Germany was when one of my work colleagues bought me a secret Santa flight to Bremen (I recently vlogged about my experience). The initial reaction was ‘Where the hell is Bremen?’ - I later found out it was a small town in Germany.

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The first thought that came to mind was ‘will I be safe eating there?', but since visiting the country on 3 different occasions now, I have always had very good experiences and they have always been very understanding about the seriousness of my allergy. So when I found out in March this year I would be traveling to Hamburg with work, I felt a lot more at ease knowing I would be safe eating there.

When traveling abroad, I always make sure I always have the Google Translate app installed on my iPhone. I always try and translate the message beforehand that I'm severely allergic to nuts. What makes the app so great is that once it's translated the message, you can turn your phone on the side and it shows the message on the full screen, plus it’s handy to have on your phone as I know I won’t ever forget it. I do also usually take a screenshot so it is saved offline, just in case I don't have internet when I arrive. I used the app in a restaurant in Hamburg, and the waiter told me that the message was translated very well and he understood very clearly the severity of my peanut allergy.

When eating abroad I usually stick to eating at restaurants I've been to before. When I was in Hamburg I came across the Vapiano restaurant chain, that have an allergy menu online (however I found it very confusing as it uses numbers to represent the different allergens). I always kept it very simple and ordered pizza, and have always been safe. However, I wouldn't risk eating the pasta dishes there because there’s a risk of contamination when the chef handles nuts.  

As a general rule, I have always felt safe eating in Italian restaurants as the food tends to be safe and doesn’t use much in the way of nuts. But always go with your gut feeling and never eat at a restaurant if you feel they don't understand how serious your allergy is.

Paris - Kayleigh

Recently, I went to Paris on a company trip. The whole thing was amazing, and so well organised, but boy did I stress out about it on the lead up. The reason being that the Friday night dinner was a pre-arranged thing with a set menu, and the Saturday was catered food at an event. There was also breakfast at the hotel to think about – the French love their Almond Croissants and Hazelnut pastries.

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For me, the biggest worry is that I’m not going to be able to communicate my needs accurately, and that if someone else is doing it for me then they won’t put enough emphasis on just how serious it is. That’s why I’m a massive fan of translation cards/apps.

Translation cards for me don’t even have to be the fancy ones that you buy online for £50, sometimes they can be text that I’ve stored on my phone from Google Translate like Dan mentioned, and sometimes they’re scrawled on paper by someone who speaks the language. The point is that I like to have something that I can give to a restaurant/café/waiter that they can take away and provide to the chef.

I have done this for the past 4 or so holidays that I’ve been on, and I can say that each time it has been received incredibly well, and I’ve not had any issues. On one occasion I had the waitress tell me that the meal was safe, but upon taking the card to the kitchen, the chef informed me it was definitely not.  

With Paris, I was really worried that I wasn’t going to be able to eat well on my trip as the cuisine tends to use more nuts then other places I’ve been in Europe, but actually everything went fine. For the set meal on the Friday night I managed to speak to the waiter, show him the translation card I took with me, and he took it to the kitchen to check. There was only one dish that I wasn’t able to eat, and the rest was fine. I could even have the dessert which was amazing as that is a very rare occurrence!

Breakfast was a bit challenging, as there were lots of pastries, but actually there was a lot of fruit and yogurt, and some plain bread rolls so I managed to eat quite well. Then while sight-seeing on Saturday I managed to find a wood fired pizza place for lunch. I did play it safe on the Sunday and found a McDonald’s for lunch, but we just needed a quick bite before the train home so I was more than happy to do that.

Overall, I didn’t have any issues and really enjoyed my trip! I could say that I spent too much time overthinking and being worried about how it was going to go, but sometimes it’s being cautious that saves you from having any reactions so I’m happy that I was more prepared than I needed to be.

If you are the sort of person that likes to have translation cards (I can’t recommend them enough!) there are a number of good websites where you can buy ‘professional’ ones – MedicAlert, Allergy UK, SelectWisely etc. I personally prefer to make my own, or use Google Translate, and I came across a really helpful site for this via the Anaphylaxis.org site: https://allergyaction.org/translations/

This site gives you free access to translations of allergies for 15 languages. It may not be the be all and end all – but it’s definitely a start. I often do a mix of Google Translate, and looking on Trip Advisor forums or other blogs in order to gather my translations, but this website massively helped me out. It helped me to understand that there are a few French words to explain ‘nut’ and ‘peanut’, for example, Arachide does sort of refer to a peanut, but it is actually more ‘groundnut’ and is usually only seen in the case of nut oils. The word ‘cacahuette’ is actually more accurate for peanut.

I have fairly strict rules when I go on holiday, like not eating dessert (unless it is very obviously safe – fruit/yoghurt etc), staying away from ice cream if the place serves ice cream with nuts in/on, and I would hardly ever eat pastries, cakes, cookies etc. For me, it’s just too risky, and to be honest I usually avoid these in the UK too! I also stay away from heavily seeded bread (unless they can guarantee there are no nuts in it), and any foods that I wouldn’t eat in the UK – Chinese cuisine, Thai food, etc – I play it pretty safe. For some, this might be limiting, and annoying, and I appreciate that, but as long as I can experience the place I’m visiting without a trip to their hospital, I’m good with missing out on certain foods.