Travelling With a Nut Allergy: Top Tips For Staying Safe

by Jeremy Jones

Traveling with a life-threatening food allergy can be incredibly tricky and downright frightful at times. With my wife, who has a severe tree nut allergy, we have seen the full spectrum of mishaps in our travels around the world.

From food coming out with bright green sauces (indicative of pine nut based pesto sauces), waiters not understanding a word of English, and even hidden nuts in food getting all the way to my wife’s lips before she realized it, there have been a few scary moments. Not to mention the fact that she can hardly eat famous desserts that almost always contain the forbidden product.

Although there is good reason to fear these chance experiences when in a foreign land, it has not stopped our desire to see the world. We’ve never had to use her Epi-Pen or go to a hospital due to a reaction, thankfully, and we attribute it to our proactive approach of warning waiters and waitresses of the issue using our smart phone and tablet.

If you suffer from a life-threatening (or trip ruining) food allergy, try out some of the following apps and smart phone practices to ensure a healthy and enjoyable trip!

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Dedicated Apps for Allergies

Many apps have been released in recent years for travelers with food allergies that take a certain phrase, such as “I am allergic to tree nuts, does this contain nuts?” and translate it into nearly every language in the world (as is the case for the “Does It Contain Nuts?” app).

All you have to do is pull up the language of the country you’re in, show your device to the person you are speaking with, and go from there.

Although these are a basic digitalization of the allergy flash cards of the past, these apps are the perfect way to start a conversation at a store or restaurant where you are unsure of the ingredients in an item.

The unfortunate drawback to these apps is that the dialogue can be one sided. If the person you are speaking with does not understand the slide, and speaks limited English, you have no additional recourse and additional techniques may be necessary.

Additional apps for basic translations include Biomed Allergy Translator and Food Allergy Translate, both of which offer translation packages for multiple food allergies.

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Text-to-Speech Translation Software

Numerous text-to-speech translation apps exist that will allow you to type or speak a phrase into your device and have the translation be played for everyone to hear.

In what is often considered one of the best translation tools out there, Google Translate is readily available for smart phones and tablets and allows you to type, write, or speak a phrase into your device and have it translated into numerous languages.

The downside to many of these apps is that the translation and text-to-speech services require a wifi connection or data plan, so you may not always be able to rely on them without purchasing the comprehensive offline databases that some apps offer.

Additional text-to-speech apps include Talking Translator and iTranslate for libraries of many languages, and many other unique apps exist for individual languages for offline use if you are only traveling to one country at a time.

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Screenshots to Convey Simple Topics

Even with all of the above tools, it is incredibly common to find yourself speaking to someone who just doesn’t get it. If he or she does not read, speaks a less common dialect of a major language, or is too fussy to bother helping, sometimes you may run out of alternatives.

In these cases, it is time to use your smart phone or tablet to go on the basic end of the spectrum to show an image to try and convey your message.

For a nut allergy, this could be as simple as an image of an assortment of nuts with an “X” through it. For other more complicated allergies, like a gluten intolerance, finding a universal picture to convey the message may be trickier and require several trial and error test runs before finding the best image to use.

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Be Prepared With Emergency Information

No matter what, the most important thing you can have on your smart phone is a copy of emergency information ready to go in both English and the local language of the country you are in.

For time sensitive allergies, like severe nut reactions that cause anaphylaxis, you will need to convey a message of “I am having an allergic reaction and need to be taken to a hospital immediately.” For this message, it is best to have it recorded in both text and a pre-recorded audio format for quick playback in a crisis.

In these cases being prepared for the worst may cut off critical time in getting you to the treatment that could save your life (or the life of those you are with). But while being prepared for the worst is the best case, the proactive approach with your smart phone and tablet can go a long way to prevent a possible disaster during your next trip abroad.


About the author: Jeremy Jones founded his blog Living The Dream in 2008 and now travels the world with his wife Angie.  They write helpful articles to aid anyone who wants to travel round the world, as well as great features about where they’ve been.  Follow them on Twitter or Facebook.