Help! I'm Allergic to XYZ (Backpacker)

So since my recent post about how to travel and stay safe when being allergic to foods was such a success, I’ve been asked to write a similar post about how to manage when backpacking! When travelling on a budget as many of us do, it’s hard to stop and chat with the chef each time especially when in more eastern countries!

While I’m not allergic to anything, I’ve travelled with friends who are allergic to nuts, are vegetarians and even those who can’t eat oranges (bizarre I know). I think the hardest is a nut allergy when exploring Asia. Nuts are in almost everything, from curries in India to a Pad Thai in South East Asia - so I can see why doctors recommend that those with serious nut allergies steer clear especially with the temptation of street food all around. So what can you do about it?

  1. Take your medication - this is obviously essential. Whatever medication you require remember to take it, and take triple the normal amount you travel with. I would recommend this even in western countries - it’s not home and even in English speaking countries we have different words for foods (eggplant for aubergine etc). Always carry it on you too, you never know when you’ll be chilling on a beach having taken a trip to that abandoned island an hour away and take a bite of something deadly.
  2. Translation - Always take a translation in writing of the problem on paper or on your phone. This way you can show your waiter in their own language that you cannot eat XYZ. This isn’t a definitive method as messages aren’t always passed on too well but it generally works well.
  3. Do you homework and research local dishes - It could be that a local dish is FULL of your favourite tastes just looks like it contains your allergy. Generally, if it’s not in the recipe you’re going to be safe, but maybe always check with your translation method above.
  4. Street food - depending on what your allergy is, avoid street food where you can. Please do try it, as some of my favourite meals have been Asian street food dishes, but I know they don’t clean pans between cooking sometimes so even if you say no nuts, it still could have the nut residue on the pan (depends how allergic you are as to if you want to risk it). If you’re a veggie and really serious about it, just mention it a few times as they sometimes like to throw in chicken without telling you… Or just go to India where even McDonalds is mainly a vegetarian joint.

In my mind, if you’ve done your research you’ll be fine! Listen to your doctor, but don’t let them stop you! My travel buddy for Thailand (the second time I went), had missed coming with me the first time as she was told by her doctor that her severe nut allergy would cause her serious problems. She clearly regretted is as when I mentioned I was going again she was ok with a 37 hour journey from Canada to get there for only a couple weeks (she is insane, but the BEST)!