Vacations With Allergies
Vacations are spent as a time for relaxation, healing, and a break from the tensions of our everyday lives. However, living with several anaphylactic allergies, it is difficult to say that there was ever a time of complete relief from my food related worries. Especially in environments away from home, I found myself in a constant cycle thinking about my next meal or the environment I placed myself in.
Our family was a huge fan of the Norwegian one-week cruises to the Bahamas, with our cumulative cruise count amounting to a whopping seven cruises! It became our family tradition to leave behind the bitter, cold winters in New Jersey and travel by boat to a tropical island under a scorching sun. It was as luxurious a vacation as any. Not only were we able to enjoy the cruise boat activities, great weather, and island excursions, but the cruise staff was also able to fully accommodate my dietary needs. Our family was provided with a sense of ease seeing how I could enjoy the vacation without worrying about my food. My father printed out multiple copies of these food allergy cards (I have included a printable copy below) and gave them to the head chef as well as the servers who would be taking our order for the day. In a majority of the cruises I have been on, I would be able to meet the head chef personally and talk to him about my allergies! I was so grateful that the kitchen staff was experienced in caring for those with allergies, and were always so willing to help in any way they could. They made sure that every meal I ate would be free from cross contamination and any of my allergens. In fact, we were informed that they had a whole different set of kitchenware and cooking utensils to utilize for those with allergies. Despite having restrictions on my diet, I never felt excluded, as the staff offered me a variety of menu options for each meal. I will never forget the special creamy, strawberry soup that I have yet to attempt to recreate.
Although the cruises were a safe vacation choice, not all of our family vacations were as smooth sailing. Let's take a look back to the winter of 2019. For the very first time, we decided to stray from our conventional cruise vacations, and try traveling to a resort by plane. Unlike the cruise staff and resources, this resort was a bit lacking in their experiences with taking care of people with allergies. The main dining hall was set up as a buffet style with multiple cooks stationed at each station. The manager of the buffet whom we talked to let us know that each of the foods were labeled with the allergens they contained, and that it would be safe to eat as long as we double checked. Initially, I let out a sigh of relief thinking that I could still enjoy my vacation without worrying about my next meal. However, it wasn't long before I remembered about the danger of cross contamination. Each food had its own bin and serving tongs, but I soon realized the risks that came with this type of organization. If the tongs were simply switched once, or a miniscule grain of a food I was allergic to was dropped into a food that I could eat, there was the possibility of having to deal with a life-threatening allergic reaction while on vacation.
Fueled by my excitement to try out the cooking from a top-notch hotel, I let my concerns loose and piled my plate with anything that seemed safe for me to eat. I would later find out that this was a mistake. One of the items on my plate, crispy sour-cream and onion potato wedges, looked to surpass my list of restrictions. The food was labeled to be free of gluten and eggs, which were the top concerns for me in a fried potato meal. However, I overlooked the other potential warning signs. The wedges were coated with a substance that looked too crispy to be free of gluten, the food was placed next to a bin of scrambled eggs, and the tongs for the wedges looked to be cross-contaminated. Despite these warning signs, I was tempted to try out the wedges, putting my full trust into the allergy label that deemed it safe for me to eat.
That day, I learned a very important lesson. I should pay more attention to what my body and brain is telling me. As I slowly began to eat these wedges, I found my stomach feeling very full and oddly bloated, even though I had barely consumed any food. I continued to ignore these signs, and finished off my plate of food and my potato wedges. It was only until we got back to our hotel room that I started to experience some symptoms. I found that it was getting harder and harder to breath, and my back and arms were starting to break out in red, itchy hives. My heart was beating at an abnormally high pace, but I felt locked up inside. What was happening to me? Was it something I ate? What about my vacation? Am I okay? What if I die?
I immediately let my parents know, and the emergency medical team for the hotel resort made their way up to our room. After the doctor had checked me out, I took a few Benadryl pills and slowly began to feel back to normal after a couple of hours. It was a relief that my reaction wasn't an anaphylactic one, as I would have ended up in the hospital, and potentially have had to go home before I got to have fun and enjoy my vacation. It seems that the potato wedges that I had consumed contained some allergen of mine, but not in a large enough quantity to completely debilitate me. By the next day, I was feeling like myself again, and was still able to go on our planned excursions and explore the country.
From that day on, I began paying more attention to the food I ate, and made sure to speak with managers or chefs to confirm that the food was safe from my allergens as well as cross contamination. Although it was a frightening experience, it was one that helped me to develop a better intuition about my allergies and myself.
Although many people with food allergies, including myself, fear traveling away from from home, it should not be a reason to refrain from taking vacations. As long as you exercise good caution and diligence, you should be good to go!
This was a picture that I had taken of my meal before I consumed it. The potato wedges in this image were the ones that caused my allergic reaction.
Use this file to customize your own chef allergy cards to bring to a restaurant!