WW: Introducing Whatever Wednesdays with Travel Tips for the Allergic

Now that Denise and I have established what we think is a nice rhythm, and we have a few readers (HI READERS!  WE ARE SO HAPPY YOU ARE HERE.  PLEASE KEEP COMING BACK!), we’d like to introduce a new feature, our catch-all for things we want to talk about or share but that aren’t recipes or links.

Welcome to Whatever Wednesdays!  Anything goes here, so when we have a product review, cookbook commentary, personal essay, tips, tricks, or anything else to share, we’ll throw a post up on Wednesdays.  This feature will happen when we have things, not every Wednesday, so consider subscribing so you don’t miss a post.  We don’t want you to miss a post.

First up, as we gear up for the holidays, we thought we’d put together some thoughts and tips and tricks for traveling with allergies.

Denise’s Tips and General Opinions:

Having a food allergy is a pain. And some of your family and friends won’t understand. They think that you’re making it up, that you can just have a little. They get angry, they get passive aggressive, they want what they’ve always had and don’t want your new weird health issues interfering with their food. Well, some of us with food allergies risk dying if it’s even in the air around us, or if we have just have a little. And for some of us, while we won’t die, we’ll suffer huge amounts of intestinal and stomach pain, we’ll vomit or have diarrhea, our faces and parts of our body may swell up, we may get rashes and we may feel like we have the flu for days after. I don’t know what your particular food allergy is and what your reaction is, but we all have a responsibility to a) not eat something that’s going to make us sick, regardless of what anyone else has to say about it; b) make sure that we understand what is in all food that’s being offered to us (i.e. some people don’t understand that milk means butter, cheese and sour cream too); and c) to provide for ourselves to make sure we’re never put in that situation.

For holiday dinners, if you have anaphylaxis reactions where you could die if you are around a particular food, and your family refuses to catch a clue, then you no longer have holiday dinners with the family members who can’t be trusted. It’s that freaking simple as far as I’m concerned. I absolve you of all guilt and give you permission to cut them off. If someone doesn’t care that you might die, just so they can have what they’re used to having, they aren’t family. Family takes care of one another, and you are within your rights to ask that yours do this.  

If your allergy is such that you can be around a food, but you can’t eat it, make sure you know how things are prepared. If you don’t know, DON’T EAT IT. One example in my life is turkey. My family bastes their turkey with a concoction made with margarine/butter (milk), bouillon (often containing milk), celery, onions and giblets. So that means I can’t eat their turkey. Most people wouldn’t expect that turkey would have milk in it. I’m going to be blunt here, but unless you have anaphylaxis, it is not your family’s problem to accommodate you. There’s no way I’m going to get my 96 year old grandmother to change her ways at this point, and she shouldn’t have to do so. So I bring my own turkey that I’ve made cooked safely. I’m not saying cook yourself a whole turkey, I’m just saying get some turkey, a piece of breast or a leg quarter and cook it yourself. I might even bring a potato I can nuke and a salad, and I bring my own dessert. Especially if it’s potluck. Because otherwise, you might only be able to eat the thing you brought. And don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it. Another strategy that I sometimes use for going to friends or families’ houses where I’m not sure what will be served is to just eat something before I go, so that if there’s nothing I can eat there, it won’t matter. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but after being at a few dinners where I couldn’t eat a single thing there, you start to catch a clue.

When traveling out of your local area on a car trip, pack accordingly. If I’m staying at a hotel, I buy things that I can eat without cooking for breakfast. Breakfast is really hard for me to eat out these days, since I’m allergic to milk and eggs. I buy fruit that I can eat without peeling, apples, pears or nectarines, and allergy-free-for-me non-perishable snacks I can eat if I can’t find anything else to eat. It’s also a good idea to research before you go. For me, I know that Chinese and Japanese restaurants are the easiest places for me to eat now. I don’t have an issue with soy, and they don’t use as much milk, cheese, or egg as other restaurants. So I go to Yelp.com and do a search for those restaurants within so many miles of my destination. When I find one that looks good, I then go to their website if they have one and check out the menu. If it looks like there may be things I can have on the menu, I then go to Allergyeats.com to see if others with food allergies have rated it. There are other websites and apps you can use also, just do a search. You can call ahead to see if a restaurant will be accommodating, but honestly, most of the time I just go. You do have to be prepared to be very assertive and ask questions about what you’re ordering. Be nice, but ask. If you are not comfortable that the waitstaff knows what they are talking about, be prepared to pick something safer on the menu.

When you are doing more extensive travel, again prepare. If you’re taking a cruise, flying or going to an all-inclusive resort, notify them ahead of time so they can make accommodations. If you’re traveling to a foreign country, check out these food allergy chef translation cards you might want to use. Also be prepared to educate those serving you. I took a cruise where they tried very hard, but didn’t really get it, and tried to pick off feta from a salad and tried to serve me sherbet, when I have a milk allergy. The waiter didn’t understand that sherbet has milk in it. Breakfast on the cruise was a challenge because I didn’t want to be served but went to the buffet. I ate so much melon on the cruise that I didn’t want to look at a melon again for six months after I got home. I probably should have sucked it up and gone to the formal dining breakfast where I could find out what was in stuff.

Mary Kate’s Tips:

First caveat: I do not have anaphylactic food allergies at this time, with the possible exception (which I’ve not tested, of hazelnut).  Even so, my allergies can ruin an entire weekend, trip, or week, so generally, if I don’t know what is in it, I do not eat it.

Personally, beyond just food, I have about a gazillion environmental allergies, including dust and pets. (I know.  I should live in a bubble, but that’s just cumbersome).  Beyond taking my medications, there are a few things I can do while traveling to help me out.  I bring along my own pillow, if driving, encased in its own dust mite covering.  If I’m flying, I can take the dust mite pillow cover with me.  Sometimes I also bring along an allergen neutralizer — I use Allersearch ADS Anti-Allergen spray, which neutralizes pet dander and dust mites in fabric surfaces.  Depending on the severity of your allergies, you might consider a traveling air purifier, too.

For most of my environmental allergy needs, I use National Allergy to find products.  My allergist recommended them, and I’ve found their customer service to be great.

For breakfasts when staying in hotels, I know there is nothing on a continental breakfast bar that I can eat anymore.  I try to make sure there is a coffee maker in the room, and I make instant oatmeal, mixed with a travel cup of applesauce and a packet of sugar.  If you can’t tolerate oats, consider cream of rice or instant grits.

If you can eat nuts, most of which I can eat, Larabars are a great travel food.  They’re compact, protein-dense, and keep reasonably well at the bottom of your purse or backpack.  They do not, however, taste good a year beyond their expiration date, so clean out your bags occasionally.  I also take dried fruit, plain nuts, or other snack-sized things when I can find them.

For road trips?  Bake ahead.  Bring brownies or cookies with you, especially if you can make a breakfast-like cookie.  Roasted vegetables travel well and are somewhat neat to eat on the go.

I used to be primarily a baker, and for years I’ve been making baked goods for other people’s birthdays — at first just because I enjoyed it, and later that, plus a selfish desire to be able to eat the baked goods.  But for potlucks, I never bake anymore, as I want more than dessert — always bring a main dish or a side dish that can be your main dish (check our small plates category — it’s our biggest so far — for stuff Denise and I both like).

Most of all, try to find ways of enjoying holidays and spending time with people that do not revolve around food, as eating is the one area you’re most likely to feel odd or left out.  Game nights are kind of awesome, and I really love playing cards with my neighbors.  Movie night is also good.  Or invite everyone you know over and cook safe tasty foods for them — we’re working on giving you all the recipes you might ever need for entertaining.

What tips would you share?

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