Saturday, November 14, 2009

International Travel

Travel is a passion of mine and a significant part of my life! It is when I feel most relaxed and at peace. The world has so many spectacular places and amazing sites. I don't want to miss any of them! Of course having anaphylactic food allergies does make this difficult!

I have been lucky enough to have many travel experiences. I have been all over the world! I have ridden camels in the dessert, sailed on boats in the Whitsundays, and rolled down giant sand dunes! I have driven in a huge jeep through the largest sand island in the world, smelled the scent of fresh rosemary while overlooking one of the most spiritual cities, and held a baby kangaroo that had just been rescued. These are just a few of the many incredible adventures that I have been fortunate enough to experience (even with my allergies)!

I never let my food allergies get in the way of where I want to go and what I want to do. I also though, will not go on adventures that make me too nervous so that I can't relax. I don't like feeling on guard all the time, and after putting myself through a few of those experiences, I have realized that since they are too nerve-wrecking, they are not enjoyable, and therefore, not worth it! It took experiences though to realize my comfort level.

Back last spring, there was a lot of controversy about airlines serving nuts on flights (particularly Northwest Airlines). There were irresponsible bloggers sharing their opinions with no knowledge of their writing subject or even any background. There were many angry people who could not understand why "all of a sudden" there were all these children with peanut allergies. Like many things, people who were uninformed and unaffected, were shouting out at all of these allergic reactors for having allergies and ruining their ability to eat peanuts on the airplane.

This truly emphasized to me how important education is, because there are so many people who are completely ignorant to the idea that people can actually be unable to eat certain foods. I have spoken with people who don't understand and don't believe me about my allergies, while I have also spoken to people who have been so understanding and completely amazing with my allergies. You just never know!

There are some airlines that I have had better experience with than others. My international flights I have always had a lot of trouble with. The first time that I flew to Australia, Qantas wanted me to fill out a form saying that they were not responsible when it came to my allergies. Since then, when I have flown to Australia, or even in Australia between cities, I have had pilots tell me not to bother flying. They have told me to "find another way." As if it is so easy to get from one big city to the next in Australia. The United States is the same size as Australia, except that Australia is mostly empty desert, speckled with six main cities spread out through the entire country! I refused to not fly. We already paid for our tickets, and we were going! I remember how frustrated I felt though, and how angry I was that these people could not even try to understand.

Since then I have had many other flights with similar experiences. Last fall I was on my way to Istanbul, Turkey. I was flying Luftansa and requested a nut free flight. At first the man I spoke with gave me a difficult time, and then went to go ask the captain. The captain said that they would still serve nuts (macadamia specifically). When I was told they wouldn't fly nut free, the captain asked me how severe my allergy was, then started to suggest I find another way to travel (riiight, like it is easy to get to Istanbul by other modes of transportation)! I hate when they do that, because then I have to turn the conversation around, so they will still let me fly and not feel like I am a huge liability for them! I remember sitting on the plane I felt a bit uncomfortable when everyone around me was eating dinner.

Airlines are so worried about liability. They don't actually care if you are okay or if they can help. They just don't want to get sued, like many restaurants, so instead of trying to accommodate, they refuse to serve. In an article from the Seattle Times, a spokesperson from Continental Airlines said, "We do not set up a peanut-free zone because it would mislead the customers into thinking the cabin is free of allergens, which the airline cannot guarantee." Although some airlines do have a peanut-free zone I have heard, I have never experienced it on a flight myself. Many airlines are so worried legally, that they are not nice, helpful, or caring in anyway.

Anyway, I DO understand the flying frustration (As I write this I can feel my own frustration as I am pressing the keys harder and faster)! I go with my gut feeling usually though, and have never turned down a flight. Often I won't eat even my own food on flights. I will wait until I get off the plane to eat. I feel more comfortable that way. It is difficult to feel comfortable eating when you know how far away you are from any kind of help! I ALWAYS carry hand wipes with me everywhere too, so I can wipe down my seat and wipe off my hands if I need to touch my face.

In an article I read on March 14, 2009, from Medical News Today, it said, "Families with food allergic individuals make significant lifestyle alterations when it comes to vacation planning." I agree that there are certainly alterations that must be made for us allergic reactors to feel comfortable while traveling.

There were a few surveys in this article. One survey said that 36 percent of the people that were surveyed said that they limited the type of transportation that they take for vacations, with 80 percent avoiding ships and 65 percent avoiding planes. That sounds like some very limiting travel! It is difficult to get anywhere far away for a vacation without either a ship or a plane!

The article also surveyed what people did to typically prepare for travel. There were 67 percent who got extra epinephrine, 94 percent who packed allergy-free food, 53 percent who requested special airplane accommodations and 48 percent who researched where the closest hospital was located. I usually do each of these preparations before traveling!

They also mentioned the least likely locations that people with allergies were likely to visit, which I definitely agreed with. They said Japan, India, China, Africa and beach resorts in foreign countries were were people were least likely to visit. I have yet to visit any of those countries, although I have gone to beach resorts in foreign countries before. Asia is a difficult place to travel with fish and nut allergies. I am not sure what I would eat there! My dad who is also allergic to nuts, has gone to Asia on business before and had trouble, but could eat some fish and plain white rice. I can't imagine how difficult it would be though! At some point though, I will probably try to venture there (probably with a suitcase of dehydrated food to eat!). There are many amazing places to see there, and such a different culture. I am sure I will figure it out, but for now it is not top on my list, knowing it is less allergy friendly for me. I still have plenty of places that I want to travel to that are a lot easier with my allergies.

There was a survey in this article that I found somewhat obvious, but interesting nonetheless. The survey showed that 68 percent limit the type of destination. It also said that 90 percent only vacation in the United States. There was only 0.3 percent that traveled to remote locations. This reminded me of my own remote location travels.

Although remote locations can be scary for allergy reasons, they can also be an exciting adventure that I don't want to miss! It puts me in a game of tug-o-war with myself. The adventurous, free-spirited traveler in me says, "GO! It's an adventure of a lifetime!" While the other rational side of me says, "It's not safe. You will be uncomfortable the entire time. It is not worth the risk." It is a hard game to win. I don't want to miss out on an interesting and exciting adventure, but I also want to feel safe and worry-free. Both sides have won at times...

One example of the adventurous traveler winning over, was when I lived in Australia and went traveling for my spring break from school. My friend Rachel and I went sailing in the Whitsundays for four days, and then to Fraser Island. Both parts of the trip were amazing, but both parts made me uncomfortable. Both trips were in remote locations, where getting help quickly would have been difficult. I brought my own food, and was extremely careful with everything, but it still was not the most relaxing trip! I was glad though that I had these expereinces for a few reasons. One reason is because I became very aware of where my comfort zone lies. Another reason is because I did have incredible experiences at these places that many people never get a chance to have.

There are ways that I have found to make most travel experiences comfortable for me. One way is to make chef cards in the language of the country I will be in. Another way is to pack dehydrated food if I know that there may be times where I won't find something to eat. The good thing about dehydrated food is that all you need is boiling water to heat it up, and then you have a meal. I will not rave about the delicious taste of these meals (because that is not usually true), but when I am hungry and there is nothing else, dehydrated meals don't sound so bad! I used them all the time when I was traveling one summer through Prague, Cyprus and Israel. I don't now what I would have done without them that summer!

There are so many travel experiences to talk about. To me, finding a way to make it happen with my allergies is a priority! The world is an amazing place! I don't want to miss it because of food allergies! That's not a good enough reason!


  1. My daughter and I will be traveling to Taiwan next month. She is severely allergic to milk and has an allergy to wheat. I'm anaphylactic to shellfish. It should be interesting... thanks for sharing your experiences!!

  2. Hi Stacia,
    Wow! I would love to know how it goes! Are you visiting people there or just traveling? Have you done any international travel with your daughter before? I'm sure that will be a wonderful, but challenging trip! Good luck with everything! I would love to hear about it when you come back! Thank for reading! :)
    -Miss Allergic Reactor

  3. You make some really great suggestions about travelling with an allergic family, and it reminded me of the time that we were in a foreign country and forgot to pack rice cereal for our baby. Not a canister of rice cereal on the entire island, so we decided to feed our child what the locals use as starter food, and she had a horrible reaction. We should have taken a cue from you and done some better packing. Thanks for a great entry.