You don’t always have the luxury of the internet or knowing the local language when you’re backpacking, but even though you have food allergies, this shouldn’t stop you from staying safe. Over the years I’ve developed some travel hacks that kept me safe and prepared when I was out of WIFI or had limited food options.

When you are off on adventure you don’t know what you are going to encounter. You’re going to throw yourself into experiencing a country and it’s culture. But a problem is, sometimes you don’t share a common language or a situation arises you are unprepared for. It happens, don’t worry, but what do you do?

When life throws a curve ball, you have to remember you have a bat you just need to figure out what to make it from. My backpacking has taken me across Western and Eastern Europe and South India and I always made sure I felt prepared, but while I was on my travels sometimes situations came up that I hadn’t expected. These included deciding to travel to a place not on the original itinerary, I found that my allergy lingo skills weren’t enough or I had limited cooking facilities.

The key to enjoying your travelling is to face challenges head on and find the travel hack way of doing things. So here are some of mine and the stories that go with them:

Learn allergen names at the supermarket.

I started doing this while I was travelling around Europe. I realised that I didn’t know all the different names for the different types of nuts but at that point there wasn’t Europe data roaming, or at least as a poor student I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant prices. I didn’t have a dictionary to hand either, so while I was in the supermarket I went to the aisle with all the packets of nuts and I started writing down all the names. I have to thank my Mum for this because she made sure I could recognise all the different nuts I was allergic to in their various forms by taking me to the nut aisle on our family food shops and if she was eating nuts around me, she’d make sure I’d know what they were.

Boil eggs in a kettle.

While I was backpacking in India, my friends and I spent our first few weeks teaching in a school for underprivileged children. We were staying on site at the school but there were no cooking facilities. There were a few restaurants around and market stands around but it wasn’t that accessible and on Sundays many weren’t open. So along with buying raw fruit and vegetables that wouldn’t go off overnight in the heat we would also buy eggs and boil them in the kettle that came with the apartment.

Have a (portable) cooker if you’re in rural area.

Now living on eggs and fruit and vegetables wasn’t sustainable long term for my friends and I while we were in South India, so we asked the school to get a gas cooker so we could cook. With some persuasion and our monetary contribution the school bought a small outdoor gas cooker and provided some pots, pans, utensils and crockery for us to use. The lesson is, sometimes you just have to ask for the stuff you need to live rather than suffering in silence.

If you’re having trouble asking about allergens, ask general questions first then specific ones after.

Depending the country you’re visiting you may need to change the way you ask for information. This may be down to language barrier or they try to tell you what you they think you want to hear rather than telling you the plain facts. In both these cases I find the best way is to ask really general questions so that you can then deduce information and then confirm with a specific followup question.

I made use of this tactic in India, partly because people would want to tell me what they thought I wanted, because sometimes they just didn’t understand what a nut allergy was, and saving face is important in Indian culture.

So when I asked general questions in search of general information, they would be like this:

“What’s this [pointing at food/menu item] made of?”

“What oil do you use?”

“How do you make this dish?”

I’ve found general questions aren’t perceived to need a certain answer and therefore people answer more truthfully because there isn’t a wrong answer.

Then I would follow up with more specific questions related to my allergy and at this point I may or may not introduce the fact I have a nut allergy. These specific questions would include examples like:

“Do you use peanut oil?”

“Do you put cashews in this dish?”

“Do you sprinkle with ground peanuts?”

I get a variety of responses ranging from confident they know what they’re saying to just saying it because they think so. Then the next stage is to say…

“I ask because I am deathly allergic to nuts. So I cannot have peanuts, almonds, cashew, pistachios, hazelnuts, all of them. I have to go to hospital if I have any, even the smallest amount.”

Next, the waiter will usually go talk to the manager or say that they will go check with the kitchen just to be sure. When I order food I also ask that my allergy be written on with my order so that chef knows to be extra careful.

My friends will often ask me questions checking I have my medication, confirm they stab me in the leg if I have a reaction and ask when I would know, in front of the waiter. This is especially helpful if the waiter or person is one of those who is not taking me seriously, it just provides a bit extra support and weight to what I am saying. (It also shows you who your real friends are!)


Want to read more about my backpacking tips? I wrote a quick guide to backpacking over on with what you need to prepare and how I stayed safe traveling around Europe.


My next post for Allergy Awareness Week 2018 is especially for allergy teens. Having allergies as a teen can suck but I say it could be the best thing that ever happened to you! Find out everything in tomorrows post and to make sure you don’t miss it, get it straight to your inbox by signing up to my newsletter (on the sidebar to the right).


Liked this post, have a read of my other Allergy Awareness Week 2018 posts:

#1 – What Allergies are NOT

#2 – How to Build Confidence in Your Allergy Kid