Travelling South East Asia with a Nut Allergy

Travelling with any allergy can be tough, however travelling certain parts of South East Asia can be even harder with a nut allergy. For those of us who are a fan of international cuisines, we know that this part of the world are a huge fan of cooking using nuts and peanut oil. While this makes it absolutely delicious for us, if you have a nut allergy it can be particularly bad. Sometimes dangerous enough to cause severe injury and even death.

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However, as usual, we cannot let things put us off exploring when you can safely do so as long as you take the correct precautions! The chances of being hit by a car is 1 in 110, so if they’re that low while at home living every day life you may as well jump in the deep end.

So your first question is how severe is your nut allergy? Now I can’t tell you that, only a doctor has the power to figure this part out for you. The likelihood is that you’ve known since you were pretty young how bad it is. If it’s a mild allergy you may not know you have it, so if you’ve made it this long without anything too bad happening you’re likely to be OK.

According to Better Health, a mild nut allergy would incur symptoms such as a rash or raised bumps on the skin, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and headaches. Now don’t panic, I too google my symptoms online and find out I have only days to live based on very similar ailments. Obviously if you are seriously concerned, head to a doctor but hopefully you’re all set (please don’t become a hypochondriac because of me)!

A more severe allergy, as many of you will know, can result in much more serious reactions. Nut allergies are one of a few know allergies that can cause fast acting anaphylaxis which in turn leads to potential suffocation and death… Eeek! Not the nicest topic to discuss here on my little travel blog… However, even if you’re not affected by travelling with a nut allergy, it’s worth knowing this in case you travel with someone who does as it is one of the more common allergies that affect people.

1. Travel with your medication

First and most importantly, travel with your nut allergy medication. It’s unbelievably important that you take it for the most obvious reason. This is only a precaution as hopefully by heeding the below ideas you will be A okay, but you can never be too careful. If it were me, I’d pack double just to be extra sure.

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The most well known form of nut allergy medication you can travel with is an epipen, medically known as a epinephrine autoinjector. It works by using a needle to quickly inject the patient with medication to their specified dosage, to prevent the anaphylaxis and shock. As you know, it’s pretty important to have this on you at all times so don’t pack your full supply in your hold luggage. You’ll want it in your hand luggage for easy access while you fly, and just in case your hold luggage goes missing in transit (it does annoyingly happen sometimes).

Now having said that, it’s also fairly well known that airports and airlines get nervous when someone walks through security with anything sharp. With this in mind, as it’s a medical requirement they cannot block you from travelling with your nut allergy medication. All they require is your prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining why you cannot travel without this. It’s easy to get sorted, and once your doctor has written you one letter you can use it time & time again. Always made a copy of the letter just in case it goes missing when you’re exploring.

Essentially, always keep your medication in your hand luggage when travelling and on your person in each destination. Always carry more than you need just in case, it would be heartbreaking to end your trip before you had planned because you ran out of or lost your nut allergy medication.

2. Translation Cards Or Google Translate

One thing I’ve found to be particularly effective for friends travelling with a nut allergy is to do a little bit of translation. Specifically, google translate. Before leaving home, we researched how to say ‘No nut’s’, ‘Nut allergy’ and the most hilarious, yet effective ‘If I eat nuts I’ll die’. Pronunciation isn’t my strong point when abroad with any language, even with my half decent Spanish. With this in mind, we decided to print these three phrases off for each country to show waiters, street vendors and tour operators who didn’t speak fluent English and I’m happy to say it worked a treat.

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Of course I hear you sigh, we’re in the 21st century why print it out when you can use the google translate app. Yes, the app is wonderful when your phone is working and you’ve had a chance to download the chosen language and or have WiFi. But, when you’re in South East Asia facilities can be less reliable in remote areas, so I find it’s better to be prepared just in case with your back ups printed out. If you don’t use them, it’s not like it’s caused you any harm to print a few copies out to keep in your purse.

3. Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is always pretty important when abroad, especially when travelling with a nut allergy. You should always inform your provider of this, and any illness or disabilities that may apply. If they haven’t got it on file, they won’t be able to cover you for it. If they don’t cover you for it and you need to see a doctor, you won’t be able to get financial compensation for it.

4. Flying with a nut allergy

Can you fly with a nut allergy? Generally the answer is yes. Once again, I am no medical expert and there are some of you who are so painfully allergic to nuts that you cannot be near them. Airlines can be very sympathetic to this and will ban nuts on the aircraft if absolutely necessary, but some aren’t all that helpful at all so if you’re that severe speak to the airline first.

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If you can sit next to people eating nuts all ok, just can’t eat them yourself, then your route is much easier. After booking your ticket, get in touch with your travel agent or the airline directly to inform them of your allergy. Your first priority is to make sure you can eat the snacks and meals that will be served to you. Having worked as a travel agent in the past, you’d be amazed how many dietary requirements you are entitled to request as a passenger. On some of the lists there were special diets that I had never heard of, but apparently they exist. With this in mind, for the airline to serve you a meal that excludes nuts shouldn’t be too hard for them. Please note, the airline need at least 48 hours notice before the flight to implement this for you.

As we’ve mentioned above under travelling with your nut allergy medication, if there are any mishaps you will have your medication to hand and the airline staff will have it on file that you have an allergy from you submitting your request. Staff are required to have basic first aid training for emergencies so will help if required.

Finally, if you’re really nervous, bring your own snacks. If you know that what you’re eating hasn’t been an issue before, you’ll know that you’ll be all okay munching on it. It won’t be a long lasting solution for your entire trip, but will be good enough for the flight at least.

5. Dining Out

Finally, the big one - eating out with a nut allergy when in South East Asia. You’ve got google translate and your translation cards to hand so these will absolutely help, but it’s really important to do a little research into how the locals cook. With peanut oil being a very regular ingredient and cooking aid, it’s good to know where everything could be a risk rather than only some things. Again, this shouldn’t put you off. Remember, anyone from every background can suffer from nut and peanut allergies, so if someone is working in the food industry it is seriously likely you are not the first or last person requesting you meal be cooked in a different style.

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You should also do a quick search on local dishes. For example, Pad Thai in Thailand contains nuts as standard, but as with everything there are ways to cook the dish excluding nuts. If you absolutely love the dish then jump for it with your translate cards, but otherwise it may be a good one to steer clear of a meal traditionally so nut filled.

Another way to be really careful is to eat in western style restaurants. While this may be the safer bet, it does kind of take away from the travelling experience. Part of exploring is immersing yourself in the local culture, and for me a big part of that is the food culture. It also doesn’t discount the risk entirely. It’s really frustrating that this is always the recommended course of action because a huge number of western dishes include nuts as well so the logic isn’t quite so sound…

What we found easiest was actually dining at street food vendors. These guys cook it fresh and more importantly, in front of you. You can literally watch as they put the ingredients together and wave your arms around if they go towards anything that looks like nuts. Also, local street food in South East Asia is actually delicious and super cheap!

But this is really as hard as it gets to be honest. You have to be slightly more careful and alert than usual, but it’s really not something to put you off. I’ve had so many friends travel through South East Asia with a nut allergy safely, despite being told that they perhaps shouldn’t go by doctors. Take precautions, but go and enjoy yourself! if your doctor knows you’re going to go, they’ll give you all the information you need.


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Please note, Millie and the team are NOT medical professionals. We always advise you contact your doctor for a serious conversation about your allergy if they have advised against travel.