AllergyTravels.com – Hub for Allergic Travelers

When I put my guitar down, there are many other hobbies and interests I have at the end of the day. One of my greatest loves is TRAVEL!

I have owned and operated http://www.allergytranslation.com for ten years now. It’s a website that allows users to create customized cards that feature their allergens translated in foreign languages. They are super helpful whenever I travel internationally to help communicate my allergies and severity at restaurants.

Over the past year I have been working hard on another travel related project, this time with a team of three other wonderful allergy advocates. We wanted to create a hub for people with allergies who are searching on information to travel internationally with food allergies. With that, http://www.allergytravels.com was born! It features:

  • Essential information (e.g. emergency numbers, food labeling info)
  • Country/airline ratings and reviews
  • An interactive forum to discuss every country in the world!

Allergy Travels Homepage Screenshot

As a special promotion to kick the site off, we are offering some prizes to one lucky person! All you have to do is leave a review before the end of August to be eligible. Simple! Leave a country or airline review today and help grow our community of international knowledge!

at cards

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Have Baby, Will Travel – Going on Tour with an Infant

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Cruising the beaches of Long Island, NY!

Talk about niche blog topics, not only will this article focus on travelling on the road with an infant, but also covers info for musicians taking their babies on tour with them!

When I told people that I was going on tour this winter, they thought I was crazy for several reasons. For one, touring in winter can bring about awful snowstorms and cancelled shows. Secondly, how on earth are we going to travel with a 3-month old baby without the comforts of home?

Looking back, not only did we do it. We would do it again in a heartbeat. However, I would imagine it being more difficult as she gets older (e.g. 7-12 months when more aware of her surroundings).

It wasn’t easy, and it took a ton of planning, but we had the most special family adventure with moments that will last a lifetime.

Let’s break it down.

The Trip

February 1 – March 25
Two Weeks – Bay Area, California
Five Weeks – North East U.S. – NY, NJ, CT, MA, PA

The Planning

  • Sensible travel – I’ve done tours where I drive 3-4 hours a day – every day in order to reach more schools. This tour, I was much more strict on the areas I would visit. The goal was to stay in one place at a minimum 4-5 days. The less packing/unpacking the better!
  • Introducing foods – We knew that we were entering the stage of solid food introduction and made a game plan of introducing only fruits and veggies while living on the road. Introducing common allergens would wait until we got home.
Dining with the Dines at a Diner

Dining with the Dines at a Diner

The Accessories

  • The strollerThe most important thing of all. We needed something not only compact, but that could double as a bassinet for sleeping if we couldn’t find a crib. We found the perfect one second-hand online.
  • The carrier – Our Baby Bjorn carrier rocks. Strap on a baby and go! There were times when this was essential – especially airports.
  • The feeding chair – A high chair wasn’t an option as they take up too much room, so we brought a cool little seat that we could plop anywhere. Most meals, she was on top of the kitchen table. It helped keep a bit of consistency to mealtime as we started introducing solid foods.
  • The play centre – We did not bring this originally, but saw a really compact foldable one at a consignment baby store. Baby LOVED it and it gave my wife a bit of time to catch up on work when I was out at gigs.
Try before you buy! We loved browsing through baby consignment stores.

Try before you buy! We loved browsing through baby consignment stores.

The Pit Stops

  • 2 Hour Max – We found that two hours was the maximum driving time before needing a break. We all appreciated to stretch, feed, and have a bathroom/diaper-changing break.
  • Starbucks – Coffee and change tables? Need I say more?
  • Family Bathrooms – For the first time in my life I used them. They are wonderful. Malls/rest stops that go out of their way to make a private/clean place to change a baby have my newfound respect.

The Accommodations

  • AirBnb – I couldn’t recommend this enough. I was very transparent when requesting to book that we are travelling with a baby. She cries minimally in the night, but I still don’t want hosts to be surprised by this as it’s not for everyone! We had many private spaces that gave us our own kitchen and even backyards to play in. It also makes a long trip not seem so long when you are discovering new areas as you start to feel at home.
  • Hotels – We did two nights overall in hotels which went fine. We were given foldaway cribs upon request. We couldn’t imagine staying any more than 1-2 nights at a hotel after knowing the benefits of AirBnB places.
I loved this AIrBnb because of the large play area.

I loved this AIrBnb because of the large play area.

The Travel

  • Airplanes – We took advantage of family pre-boarding which gave us some time to gate-check the stroller and get settled in our chairs with toys and food accessible. Aisle seats were key in order to get up and walk around with baby. Feeding on takeoff and arrival helped dealing with the air pressure.
  • Rental Cars – Making sure that our rental car came with a car seat (about $75 extra). Also enough space to fit my guitar, a hockey bag of music gear and two speakers. That space proved to be tough, but we packed that car like we were playing Tetris!
  • Minivan – We had access to a minivan for our big east coast trip (1 month+). It was amazing for carting around little extras that we couldn’t afford in California (e.g. feeding chair, play centre, extra music gear!)

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The Entertainment

  • Children’s Museums – Our GPS would show us “Children’s Museums” under the “nearby attractions” area. She loved the “baby room” in the Nassau, CT children’s museum.
  • Aquariums – What a treat to see the Monterey Aquarium! Our baby loved it!
  • Parks – Not an option on the cold east coast, but we greatly enjoyed strolls around some beautiful parks and trails in California.
  • Swimming Pools – We searched up local YMCA’s and community centres and went to “family swim” several times. We were disappointed a few times with places that wouldn’t allow babies under the age of 6 months.
  • Department Stores – We shamelessly went into many department stores to kill some time between shows, as well as check out (or perhaps play with….) the baby toys.
  • My gigs of course! She didn’t come to all, but it was so fun seeing my little one at the back of gymnasiums soaking in the kid-friendly music. She didn’t cry at the sight of my puppets so that’s a good start!

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As I gear up for another solo tour, I know I will be reminiscing a lot about this special family adventure we had. Thank goodness for FaceTime!

Daddy long legs! Having a blast in Atlantic City :)

Daddy long legs! Having a blast in Atlantic City 🙂

Camp Emerson – An Extraordinary “Allergy Aware” Summer Camp

 

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I had a great childhood. I played baseball, rode bikes with friends, played hockey on the pond and played maybe one too many video games! However, there was one common connection to everything I did – I was close to home.

With all of my food allergies, summer camp was only something I heard about through movies. Although my summers were great, they were generally confined to an area that circled around a particular epicenter – my kitchen.

This is why I am THRILLED to hear of places like Camp Emerson in Massachusetts.  As a proclaimed “Food Allergy Specialist”, they pride themselves in providing a worry-free experience for campers and parents alike.

What’s really impressive is that they “walk the walk” too…and then some with incredible attention to details. Here are some of the things that impressed me most about Camp Emerson that could give peace of mind to prospective parents:

The Food Situation

  • They are peanut, tree nut, shellfish and sesame free.
  • They have successfully supported children with up to 9 anaphylactic allergies.

The Kitchen Situation

  • A team of Registered Dietitians prepare the menu with you prior to camp.
  • Parents are able to review the menu in advance and read all labels.
  • They have dedicated equipment and kitchen area to avoid cross-contamination.

 The Staff Situation

  • All staff are trained on anaphylaxis emergency procedures (including EpiPen training)
  • There is on-site medical staff (pediatrician, nurses) trained in allergies.
  • The directors have food allergies and truly “get it”.

I can go on, but I recommend you take a look at their brochure all about campers with allergies: http://www.campemerson.com/future_families/food_allergy_specialist.

It wasn’t until college that I entered the summer camp world as a staff member at a camp in Ontario. It was an incredible experience that kept me coming back – 5 summers in total! It opened my eyes to the value of camp and the countless benefits it provides children. Camp Emerson has generously supported my tour and DVD as a sponsor, and I am thrilled to endorse them, as I believe they are trailblazers setting gold standards for how camps can accommodate allergic campers. They share my belief that food allergies shouldn’t be a barrier for summer camp.

I know their spaces are filling up fast, but here are more details for this summer:

Camp Sessions:

  • 6 weeks – Sunday, June 28 – Saturday, August 8, 2015
  • 4 weeks – Sunday, June 28 – Saturday, July 25, 2015
  • 2 weeks – Sunday, July 26 – Saturday, August 8, 2015

For more information, visit http://www.campemerson.com, or pick up the phone can call:

Sue Lein, Owner & Camp Director (she’s so friendly and fantastic!)

directors@campemerson.com
800-782-3395
203-894-9663

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Canoe Tripping with Food Allergies

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My absolute favourite thing to do in the summer is to go on canoe trips! I admit that I am Canadian to the core –  I love hockey, maple syrup, and have spent most of my summers either in a canoe or with a canoe on my head. However, the thing that draws me in every summer is nature. Going into the backcountry lets me fully check-out of the real-world craziness and turn off my phone and email for days on end. It makes me get back to basics and appreciate how lucky I am in life. I always end up leaving completely refreshed, not to mention sore!!

My nifty canoe hat

My nifty canoe hat

Last week I went on a quick 3-day trip with my wife and a few friends. I always volunteer early on with my canoe trips to take on the meal planning as I want to ensure everything is safe for me – and delicious for all.

Canoe Trips and Meals

With car camping, you have the luxury of bringing lots of food, coolers, and sometimes having access to electricity. With backcountry camping, you must be much more cognizant of how much your food weighs since you will be lifting it on portages, and paddling it around lake after lake.

I usually bring safe hot dogs for the first night and cook them right over the fire. I freeze them ahead of time so they thaw and are still cold by the time we eat them. For a snack afterwards, roasted marshmallows of course!

For breakfast on this trip, bagels with pre-cooked bacon and cheese hit the spot! I topped with Sunbutter too which was a hit with everybody else. One even thought it tasted like a gourmet peanut butter!

Lunches consisted of wraps with beans and fresh peppers as well as cheese and crackers. Our other dinner was gluten-free pasta which was a good hearty meal to refuel after a long day of paddling.

At the end of each day, we hung up our food in a bear hang up on a tree branch to make sure we kept our food to ourselves!

Chef Kyle in his rustic camping kitchen!

Chef Kyle in his rustic camping kitchen!

Cooking Accessories

I own a little camp stove that hooks up to a small butane canister. It’s quick and easy to make hot meals and my morning cappuccino (allergy-safe powder mix). I also make sure that I have my own cutlery set. Even though everything is allergy safe, I’m always conscious of cross-contamination with gluten since my wife has celiac disease. I bring a medium sized pot and pan with me which I wash thoroughly with lake water after each meal. I also have a water pump and drink my water out of the lake with it. I sometimes use juice crystals, but the lake water by itself is surprisingly good.

Kyle eating his peanut free gorp mix.

Kyle eating his peanut free gorp mix. Also trying to find where on earth he is with a trusty map.

What about the GORP?

GORP stands for “Good ol’ Raisins and Peanuts” and is another word for trail mix. It goes without saying that this is usually the biggest problem for those with allergies out in the bush. I make sure to communicate with everyone that I’m tripping with about packing a nut and peanut free trail mix. I pack mine full of raisins, pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips, dried strawberries and dried cranberries. It’s delicious!! A perfect snack after a long portage holding a canoe above your head.

Getting my marshmallow stick ready

Getting my marshmallow stick ready

What about Keeping your Epi Safe?

I pack my Allerjects in a waterproof sack along with my wallet and car keys. I treat this bag like a bag of gold on the trip. It’s never out in direct sunlight and is always packed securely. I have never noticed my epinephrine being too hot from the sun, or too cold (luckily I haven’t tipped my canoe and got this bag wet!). You can get these bags at your local camping store and are great for any summer activities around the water.

Keeping my Allerject auto-injector safe in a waterproof sack.

Keeping my Allerject auto-injector safe in a waterproof sack.

Try Camping with Allergies!

Never backcountry camped before? I highly recommend it! Be sure to do your research beforehand and plan a trip that is an easy first step into the wilderness. Parks usually have helpful people that are willing to recommend beginner friendly routes and trips that appeal to families. Biggest tip is to triple check all of your food you pack out before you go.

It’s great to get out into the bush, but after all of the mosquito bites and sore joints, it’s nice to get back and dream of my next trip!

And this is what makes it all worth while. What a view.

And this is what makes it all worth while. What a view.

My dashboard cam...

My dashboard cam…

Travelling to Rome with Food Allergies

 

No Italian? No Problem! My Allergy Translation Cards  were key during my trip to Rome.

No Italian? No Problem! My Allergy Translation Cards were key during my trip to Rome.

I love vacation. I always have such a hard time checking out of “work-mode”, but once I’m officially on vacation, I embrace it and never look back! Such was my one week “Roman Holiday” to kick-start my summer.

As I noted in my top ten travel tips blog, food is really not a big deal to me and I don’t travel for the sake of trying local cuisine. But…I was a bit curious on this trip as Italy is so well known for food.

Determined to eat more than McDonalds on this trip, I really planned ahead with my usual preparations including buying travel insurance and packing nearly a quarter of my suitcase with non-perishable snacks.

Stands selling nuts in open markets were around, but I stayed clear of "street food" altogether.

Stands selling nuts in open markets were around, but I stayed clear of “street food” altogether.

The Whole Language Bit

The most important thing that I purchased in advance was an Italian Allergy Translation Card that listed all of my allergies in Italian (peanut, tree nut, egg, fish, shellfish and mustard). This is a service that I created a few years ago, but recently relaunched the website with newly designed cards. I created it after my first trip to Europe and did not feel comfortable dining out with the language barriers.

Although I found the language barrier to be minimal (Rome is a pretty touristy city!), my very first meal was in a back alley spot off the beaten path. The translation card was really essential at this restaurant and gave my wife and I peace of mind when the waiter confirmed the risotto was safe for both of us (she has a celiac disease card).

Mmmmm Allergy Safe Risotto!

Mmmmm Allergy Safe Risotto!

A great first restaurant experience in Italy

A great first restaurant experience in Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian Pizza Was My Main Meal

Restaurant after restaurant, we had very positive experiences. I generally stuck to pizza and was able to speak to the wait staff in English using my translation card to reinforce the severity.

My pizza of choice with tomatoes and arugula.

My pizza of choice with tomatoes and arugula.

Gluten-Free Options a-Plenty

My wife was in gluten-free heaven and managed to find a restaurant with a full gluten-free menu and indulged in gluten-free pizza. Another night we bumped into a restaurant serving gluten-free pasta. There were also gluten-free snacks widely available in vending machines which was pretty cool!

If you look closely, you'll see yellow bags of our fave gluten-free flour, plus the chef pressing the g/f pizza dough with waxed paper.

If you look closely, you’ll see yellow bags of our fave gluten-free flour, plus the chef pressing the g/f pizza dough with waxed paper.

Catered Buffet Meals…Thank Goodness for Fruit

The only times where I found it difficult to find safe food were at catered events that were part of my wife’s work obligations. I’m used to sticking to plain salad and didn’t mind not being to eat anything off the different platters. However, when the fresh fruit platter came out, I was a vulture! Score one point for the hungry guy who loves fruit!

Catered events were a bit more of a challenge, but still was happy with the amazing fruit platter for dessert.

Catered events were a bit more of a challenge, but still was happy with the amazing fruit platter for dessert.

Lunch Money went to Museums

I saved my money on lunch everyday (and spent in on museums instead) by making sandwiches and stuffing them in my backpack. I brought the bread from home, but bought fresh meat from the supermarket. Out of anything, finding a supermarket seemed to be the most difficult thing of all. I might consider looking up nearby shops close to my hotel/flat before I go again.

Always had my epinephrine with me. Kept checking to make sure it was staying cool on such hot days.

Always had my epinephrine with me. Kept checking to make sure they were staying cool on such hot days.

Accommodation

It’s funny that I accidentally left this until last, however I was so busy sight-seeing everyday that I didn’t spend too much time in my flat! We booked a private apartment through www.airbnb.com which came with its own kitchen. This is my preferred way to travel. I loved being in a non-touristy university area where I could get a taste of local life in Rome.

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Visiting the Vatican was a real highlight for me.

All in all, it was an amazing vacation that left me feeling refreshed and energized after many months of touring and work. I’m not sure if I’ll go back anytime soon, but am glad to cross another country off my list of places where I feel confident in managing my allergies while abroad.

Grazie!

In front of the Colosseum in Rome

In front of the Colosseum in Rome

My Top 10 International Food Allergy Travel Tips

Food Allergy Passport

I never really set out to get bit by the travel bug. After all, I applied to only English speaking countries when I applied for exchange in university. As a last option, I put down Sweden as my Dad went there a few times and spoke really highly of it. Guess where I ended up….Sweden! After spending six months there in an international residence with students from around the world, I was hooked.

I ended up meeting my future wife while on exchange and we continued to travel around the world together ever since. We’ve travelled on every mode of transportation with both multiple allergies and celiac disease, and have now been to 4 continents.

I get asked quite frequently “how do you manage travelling with food allergies”, so I thought I would write one comprehensive article that I can link to in the future versus short FB messages etc.

Disclaimer – These tips are coming from an allergic adult male. I don’t have children and my strategies work for me. If you are looking for more tips on how to travel with children with food allergies, I highly recommend looking at FARE’s resources as travelling with kids is an area I am not remotely familiar with. Thanks for understanding!

Tip # 1 – Plan Ahead

My trips literally just “pop up” and it’s rare that I am ever aware of a trip more than 6 months in advance. I don’t go overboard with advanced planning, but it is very important for me to get a sense of comfort for where I’m going.

What does this involve? Google. I Google allergy-friendly restaurants, places that serve gluten-free pizza for instance. I Google the local emergency number (911 is not worldwide). I Google what the local traditional recipes and dishes are so I’m already prepared when I encounter a menu with confusing items. Buy a travel book, ask on an online forum – just get a good overall feeling for the food and allergy scene in that country.

Tip # 2 – Purchase Insurance

This is a given, but still important on anyone’s list who is travelling with food allergies. I have heard horror stories about the costs incurred after seeking medical attention for a reaction. Personally, I would never want the thought to cross my mind that I simply can’t afford to get a serious anaphylactic reaction treated properly. Get insured! I use American Express travel insurance for every trip.

Tip # 3 – Accommodations – Home on the Road

I am flexible with this as I believe most places should be okay. I do prefer however having my own kitchen that I can cook my own food in. Not only does this help with budget (restaurants get pricey on vacation!), but I’m also a really hard person to feed for breakfast because of my serious egg allergy. I love breakfast at home. I really enjoy using www.airbnb.com to find accommodation in a more house/apartment style.

Tip # 4 – Allergy Translation Cards

If travelling to a foreign country with a foreign language, I strongly recommend getting an Allergy Translation Card made in advance. Do NOT get your translations through some free app or online tool. They are riddled with errors and I want to be taken seriously when I try to communicate my life-threatening allergies in a restaurant halfway across the world. I print a couple copies for my wallet as well as save the image on my smartphone. I then study these new words and become familiar with them and check for them on ingredient lists.

Tip # 5 – Bring Your Own Food

Does that mean bring a whole suitcase full of food? Well…sometimes yes! I travelled to China last summer and did exactly that. I had little confidence that I would find much to eat through my initial research (see tip 1!) so played it safe and brought a full suitcase full of food for a 3-week trip. When I arrived I was so glad that I did. The first day I bough a hot plate and cooked nearly all of my meals on the floor of my hotel room (a lot of rice and pasta). Doesn’t seem glamorous does it? That’s fine by me – travelling is not about food for me – it’s about culture, museums, landscapes, people and the local wines and beers 🙂 I also always have a lot of small portable snacks like granola bars that keep me going on day trips.

Tip # 6 – Be Adventurous, but Not with Food

I stick with what I know when travelling and usually take a step back to get back to basics. I visit the local supermarkets and purchase meats, fruits, veggies – things that you find on the outer ring of the grocery store. I speak with the people who make the bread on site and cut the meat. It’s comforting. For fast food, I’m a sucker for McDonald’s. I’ll admit it. It’s consistent and safe. I know there are healthier options, however I love their salads and treat myself now and then with some fries or a burger.

Tip # 7 – Airlines – Do What Your Comfortable With

This is different for everyone so it’s hard to give too much advice here. I will focus on the absolute musts – ALWAYS bring extra epinephrine and NEVER eat the airline food. I pack an amazing lunch/dinner for myself and don’t feel like I’m missing out at all. Don’t take the risk! There are many other things you can do in terms of requesting a buffer zone with some airlines, wiping down your tray table, sitting on a sheet and more. Check with your airline in advance to see if they have a specific policy. As an adult male who has flown dozens and dozens of times, I am okay with a more minimal approach. I have had passengers beside me bring out bags of peanuts, and I simply asked them to refrain and offered to buy them a drink. This happened on a couple occasions and they were more than happy to help, and didn’t even take me up on the drink offer! We ended up having great conversations about allergies afterwards during the flight.

Tip # 8 – Wear MedicAlert I.D.

I wear my allergies on my sleeve, literally. My MedicAlert bracelet is a staple on me when I travel. I like that it lets others know that I have a medical condition, but I especially love that paramedics are trained to look for this, and it has an international toll-free number where they can access my medical records. Isn’t that cool? And I love the different styles offered – I personally rotate through a dog tag necklace and a leather cuff. Check out www.medicalert.org or www.medicalert.ca.

Tip # 9 – Know the Food Labelling Laws/Guidelines

I would recommend this if you are planning on staying somewhere for an extended stay. Here is a really handy study that compares labelling guidelines around the world. I find it handy to know which countries call out all of my allergens on labels such as mustard (Canada & EU) and which ones aren’t mandated to (U.S., Asia). It’s also important to know the regulations (if any) regarding precautionary labelling (i.e. “may contain” statements). It can get very tricky, which is why I prefer fresh food when travelling compared to local pre-packaged food (see tip #6)

Tip # 10 – Have an Amazing Time!

The best part about really planning ahead and having all of your details figured out before you leave, is that you can really enjoy your trip once you’re there versus worrying all the time! Don’t let allergies slow you down! Don’t let food rule your trip. Eat unhealthy for a week if that’s what it takes – just don’t let allergies ruin your trip of a lifetime. Enjoy all of the amazing things that other countries and cultures have to offer – and remember to share how you did it to the food allergy community afterwards. The more we share, the smaller and more allergy-friendly this world becomes.

Do you have any additional allergy travel tips? Please feel free to leave as a comment below. I would love to hear from you!

Kyle in Shanghai not letting allergies limit his adventure

Kyle in Shanghai, China

 

My Close Call – Nut Allergy in China

Milk Tea with raisins and almonds

Milk Tea with raisins and almonds

 

Ever heard of “Milk Tea” before? I never had before my trip to China. It seemed like a really big thing there. Every cooler case filled with cold drinks would have at least one shelf devoted to different milk tea varieties. My wife loved them and drank them throughout the trip. I am typically slow to warm up to new things because of my allergies, and just stuck to water and Coca Cola the whole time. Well, until our second last night in China…

It was a really hot day and we wanted to chill out in an air conditioned cafe. The big speciality of the cafe was milk tea as they brewed their own special mixture. From what I had heard, milk tea was no more than tea…with milk. Seems simple enough. I decided that I would go for my first glass of the stuff to say that I at least tried something other than Coke while in China.

We ordered the drinks and received take-away cups with lids. With all of my allergies, I am the type of guy who always checks within a hamburger bun, a sandwich, or any food that has hidden layers. Being allergic to nuts, mustard and eggs has made me paranoid about condiments – especially mayonaise.

But for drinks, there is usually nothing to be worried about right? Well I decided to be extra safe and open the lid off of my drink and stir it around with my spoon. I noticed a thick layer of stuff at the bottom of the cup. I scooped them up and found spoonfuls of almonds and raisins.

My heart stopped!

I showed my wife and her immediate reaction was “DID YOU DRINK ANY??” which I replied “NO! Everything is okay!”

She had both milk teas that day and I had a powerful reminder that there is nothing wrong with being overly cautious about what’s in your food and drink.

I calmed my nerves afterwards with a nice cold Coke 🙂