I don’t know about you, but since allergies have become part of our life, holidays make me nervous. Or perhaps I should say, I’m very good at dreaming about and planning holidays but the practicalities of allergies have totally changed our viewpoint.
On the whole we’re pretty cautious about holiday destinations. Allergies have added a whole new consideration to holiday planning. We’ve never braved a catered holiday, or one where we’d be eating every meal out, so it’s always a self-catered option for us so we can cook ourselves. Probably sounds crazy to anyone who doesn’t have to think about it. We frequently stay in the UK or go to France as D is fluent in French and we know we can get our requirements across with none lost in translation. And yet we used to travel far and wide, perfectly happy in other cultures and countries where we couldn’t speak the language at all. We used to be so much bolder in our choices, but these days feeling comfortable, safe in our surroundings is as important as excitement and adventure.
But this time we strayed a little from our comfort zone. We needed to show the girls that they can travel as long as they’re careful and plan well. So we planned a short city break to Amsterdam to experience (or revisit for D and I) another culture and see some beautiful sights and awe inspiring art. I have to confess that I was really keen on the idea and happily booked the flights and then I started to fret! Why did we choose a country which eats so much cheese? What if we couldn’t find the ingredients we needed, what if people didn’t get our concerns? Looking in our guide book at the traditional dishes the Dutch like to eat, it was mainly a large selection of items that would be off our menu in any case – cheese, waffles, pancakes, chips with mayonnaise. It was starting to look rather a poor choice, although as is widely known, the Dutch speak English incredibly well.
Well I needn’t have worried. Yes, we can’t eat the traditional items but we managed and had a fabulous, if rather tiring few days. Ok we only ate out once at a tried and tested Wagamama. I know not at all traditional or adventurous, but we all felt happy with that. In fact the waiter was more than capable of dealing with our concerns in the most amazingly fluent English that he even learnt that the chicken in European Wagamama branches has a pre-marinade that contains sesame oil, so the chefs put their heads together and came up with a suitable safe alternative for Little S. It really was impressive service.
Otherwise we cooked in our own apartment or came out with pre-packed picnics on the go. I do think that we have some real advantages by self-catering, we not only save lots of money but also get the opportunity to have a good browse in the local supermarkets. It’s actually become a bit of a holiday treat for us. The local cavernous shop was a Dirk van den Broek and had a fantastic range of Alpro products, even the – sadly missed and discontinued in the UK – pouring yogurt and an Alpro brand margarine which I’d never seen before.
In fact there was so much dairy it was kept in its own closed refrigerated room, ideal for dairy avoiders! We also came across Oatly which is always a bit of a relief. European standard food labelling certainly helped when making our choices and trying new products. Luckily it was a short trip and I’d packed loads of food, as we did struggle to find suitable nut, sesame and milk free bread and I didn’t come across any safe biscuits or easy snacks we could buy.
I think the hardest part was probably the travel – not only the worries of flying with allergies, but being unable to find any suitable snack or meal at an airport or on the flight. I know others brave long haul flights but we’re not there quite yet.
Sorry, I know this post doesn’t give reams of useful information about travel to Holland with allergies, and may seem ridiculous to those who don’t have any concerns, but we found it a hugely positive experience to step outside our comfort zone, to be that little bit braver and show the girls that their horizons can extend to new and different places. For me, the crucial aspect is planning and taking the right stuff to make sure we can get by without surviving on bags of crisps alone!
It was so lovely to read this. My daughter is allergic to milk and egg. Like you, panic settles in when packing for a holiday. A recent cruise trip had me in knots. We all experience this but don’t often get chance to feel vindicated in our concerns. Family around me just say ‘it’ll be ok’ making me feel isolated in my worry and not at all supported in the packing process! Thank you for your blog and for making me feel that it is ok and normal to have these worries!
Hi Claire, thank you for reading and your lovely comments. We sound quite similar! It’s nice to feel that others also feel nervous and scared when it comes to holidays or just going out of our comfort zones. I know that for me, even a new cafe or product can make me feel on edge and worried! I think we carry around a lot of worries that others don’t quite comprehend, but in worrying and taking so much care we make sure everything is safe but then others just see that there was no problem and not the stress that was involved. x
I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, thanks so much for your recipes! It sounds like you had a really positive travel experience, so good to hear. I hear you about going to new places, and the unknown risks with food and language. We had one trip all planned out to Cambodia and ended up not booking it up because of the (significantly) less efficient medical system and the fact that all serious illnesses there are flown to Bangkok…. clearly there is no time for that kind of journey with an anaphylactic reaction!
We have managed some fabulous trips though. My son has severe dairy, nut and sesame allergies (used to also include egg, coconut and tomato but he has grown out of these). We’ve been really helped by these little plastic credit-card sized cards from dietarycard.com. You can list up to 7 risk foods in a wide range of languages – the wording states that its a life-threatening allergy and includes derivatives of the allergen (e.g. whey) and also whether something might have been contaminated (e.g. spoon/chopping board transfer) We’ve travelled through France, Italy, Greece and Thailand with them and not had any problems (so far!). When the waiter/staff reads the card in their language their facial expressions changes to concern and they take the card to the kitchen. Usually someone comes out from the kitchen (often the chef) to discuss possible meals alternatives, to clarify what may or may not be ok for him. We have found people to be incredibly helpful trying to find a solution! For me, I’ve had real peace of mind knowing the language was correct, no room for mis-interpretation with anaphylaxis. I hope this doesn’t come across as me trying to promote the card – I’ve got no vested interest. But I think they are brilliant and make travelling with anaphylaxis much less frightening. I wish you many more happy travel adventures! Jo x
Hi Jo, thanks so much for reading my blog and your lovely comments. Those cards sound a great idea and I’m inspired by your far more adventurous travels. How have you managed on your trips? Do you self-cater or stay in hotels? With the cards, how do you manage when the chef comes out to speak to you if you’d don’t have a common language? I’d love to hear more about your positive travel experiences – in particular how was Thailand with a peanut and sesame allergy? x
Sorry for the long delay Lucy – its been a bit crazy here!
We’ve done a bit of self-catering and hotels, and gone out to eat in local restaurants. The night markets in Thailand have also been ok – we’ve been able to communicate “cook this meat on this (clean, un-peanutty) part of the grill please”. So far so good, and we’ve had no problems with language/communicating with the people preparing the food. The street traders have to have licences these days and you can ask what’s in it (and if you have an idea of how the thai ingredients are used it helps too). As the card is in their local language they know the seriousness of it which is the starting point. The waiting staff and the kitchen staff all have a clear explanation of the problem in their own language. I can’t recall exactly but I think it says something like “will die if he eats anything that contains or comes into contact with…”.
Weirdly, the most difficult place we have travelled has been the States! In most places I just never quite got the feeling they really understood. And the standard default of chips became a problem there because they often coat the chips (fries) in a flavoured powder which contains milk.
Before we went I had wondered about the nut and sesame bit of Thai food. We had been before we had the children and so had a pretty good idea how things worked (and of course the ultimate backup, the emergency medical care, we knew was really good (hence not Cambodia till he’s older) and when we went there he still had severe egg allergy too, but they speak pretty good english in Thailand and I think perhaps as tourism is their major economy they have a vested interest in understanding peoples’ needs.
Airlines are a different matter and vary wildly in their ability to cater. We can’t order vegan meals because of the nuts and sesame, so we always take food on with us. If they have it as an option, we order him a fruit platter and then take a tub of cooked pasta. Never had any trouble getting the food through security, we declare it alongside the epi-pens.
My feeling is if you really want to go somewhere it IS possible. The cards are a game-changer for me, meaning much less time engaged in dramatic charades (!). A decent phrasebook and some good research on places to eat around where you want to stay before you go helps you get an idea of what’s available. And at the end of the day, I take the view that rice alone feeds millions of people, and so long as I can find him rice and fresh veg/fruit (local shop or market) then he’ll cope fine for the duration of a trip. I think if we can break through the language barrier then the risks are the same as going out and eating here. My experience has been really positive, people have bent over backwards to cater for him safely. He was once offered fois gras (I know!! the ethics!!) because a chef completely outdid himself making my son things he could eat!! Sorry this is so long again…!
How great that you had a such a fab short visit to Amsterdam. Looks like we could probably feed G there without too many problems, so just need to work out if we can cater for M too and that’s another possible destination found! Thanks for sharing xxx
Have you had any positive trips to other places? I’d love to come up with a list of possible future destinations! x
I’ve been following your blog for years now and using lots of your recipes – thank you for the constant moral support. I’ll be looking for help with an imminent birthday cake soon!
Well done on the Amsterdam trip! I do appreciate it as my younger daughter has very similar allergies to your child(ren?). I thought I was the only one to rule out travelling somewhere we don’t speak the language! Mine was more to do with possible hospitalisations (it happened in France once – anaphylaxis – and I was eternally grateful I could speak the language), but restaurants are a big issue. A recent trip to Paris (AirBnB apartment / supermarkets for food!) was a big success. We have managed to fly long haul – this is because my husband is South African with family over there, and so we felt we didn’t really have much choice but to get on with it. It’s always worked out well (with a huge amount of planning and carry-on food – and stress on my part I must admit).
I think it’s good for us all to step out of our comfort zones sometimes, even if it feels much better when we’re all safe home again afterwards 🙂
Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for your comments, I’m so pleased you like my recipes! That is inspiring to know that you have managed to fly longhaul – what sort of things have you taken to cover the food for such a lengthy flight? You are right about stepping outside our comfort zones – hopefully one day i’ll feel braver about being more adventurous! x
We have gone to South Africa and back four times now in my daughter’s lifetime. I don’t even consider asking the airline to cater – once they came up with a meal, saying ‘Here’s your egg-free meal!’, when I could see with my own eyes that the meal contained several other items in her long list of allergens! So I carry on 36 hours’ worth of food for her. The journey is only about 24 hours door to door but I like to have a back-up in case of delays/missed flights. Yoghurts are not possible due to airline restrictions, and I carry on soya milk in little transparent 100ml pots for the same reason. Variety pack cereal boxes are good (soya milk can be poured into the plastic inner bag). I take her a main hot meal, usually yesterday’s leftovers, in a food flask, and a cold packed lunch also – sandwiches, crackers and fruit – grapes and apples are good. The return journey is more difficult but previously I have just made up meal packs of yesterday’s BBQ (sorry, I know you are veggie!), and a packet of ginger nuts does go a long way in a pinch… Written down like that it all sounds like madness! If it wasn’t for the grandparents and cousins over there, I probably wouldn’t be doing it!! I would just add, I don’t trust airlines with not serving nuts. Once I was informed, as we boarded the plane, that they would be serving nuts after all. Fortunately it turned out to be pine nuts, but they ought not to have put us in that position. (It was BA.) I could have ended up refusing to fly our family, at great personal expense. I do feel, though, that our daughter has her best people with her (us), and that she has two epipens which we have plenty of experience in using, and that we will not take any risks at all with what she eats. She has never had a severe reaction to an airborne allergen before though (she has had skin reactions and wheezing, which is of course not nothing). It’s a difficult and personal decision. Let’s just say that this year we’ve opted for my husband to go on his own…! Hope you have a great time on your road trip across Europe! Recently on a ferry back from France my daughter enjoyed an absolute feast of fruit salad and crackers from the canteen 🙂 x
Thank God for Alpro! It’s a safe go to brand (mostly as some products in some countries contain mais/corn as thickner or as maltidextrin which are no go for me!) . I’m from Melbourne Australia (we finally have alpro here but super expensive at $8 for 4 pack if custards) and last year planned an 11 week honeymoon through Europe which was mostly food successful due to long amounts if research on supermarket and eating out options. No go foods for me are nuts, cow dairy, wheat, corn/mais, fructose, red meat, mushrooms, and im sure ive forgotten something… 3 places to highly avoid if you were ever interested In eating out (all the ones my husband ‘researched’) Palermo Sicily, Amalfi coast and Prague. Everything is cooked in a highly refined peanut oil! Even marinated with it! We went from restaurant to restaurant. 2 hrs later absolutely starving and livid at my husband who said they’ve got plenty of options for me I had to settle for salad or something that was not nice and are back at the room emergency snacks I brought with me …. fortunately I often made do with salad ingredients I bought at the grocery stores and picnics just like you or grilled veggies with olive oil. Best places to go were Rome, Milan (all the major cities in Italy have naturasi organic stores) plus supermarkets have so many suitable products too. And there’s a pizza and steak restaurant in Milan called grani e braci which was great for disclosing allergens and catering to allergies. You can look up their menu or contact them in advance. I also found lots of gelato I could eat lots of creamy strawberry and raspberry gelato! Some had egg othets were totally vegan. Also Madrid, Majorca and Barcelona were all amazing. So many veggie dishes to choose from! What the Greeks can do with olive oil and an eggplant! Santorini so easy and so many chooses! France as you know is pretty good too… major Australian cities are also great. We have dedicated cafes and restaurants for alternative foods! I just find sometimes especially when run by a health enthusiast and non allergy person, they over try to make food interesting and mix too many things together that are prepared and cant be unmixed but still theres places such as pizza farro and pomona cafe in melbournes northern suburbs (7-10km from the city) that would easily cater to any allergy needs plus many more . I hope I’ve inspired you to venture a little further! And thankyou for the lovely recipes
Hi Giulia, Thanks so much for your message – I will certainly take note about Palermo, Prague and the Amalfi Coast! I’m sure you must have loads of great advice of how and where to eat in Europe with allergies after an 11 week trip. We are going to Italy this summer (driving via France so we can take lots of food with us!) so it’s fantastic to know that we might be able to eat some gelato – that would be an amazing treat!
You are right that so called health food cafes, or worse vegan cafes are rarely good for us as they use too many allergens. So strangely we often have to overlook the veggie cafe and head to the standard cafe which has you know, i think that we should get the wallpaper for sasha’s room illusions over the health giving qualities of it’s ingredients! x
This is so encouraging to read; thank you for sharing! I too dream of vacations, but falter at the monumental task of actually planning and going for it!
it’s true, the planning and preparations )and nerves!) are a big issue!
Thanks for your post. I’ve been thinking of going on a similar short break to Amaterdom, so it’s fantastic to hear that there shouldn’t be too many issues for my d/f daughter 🙂
That should have said Amsterdam!!
This was very interesting to read, as a Dutchie with food allergies (albeit different ones).
It used to be very hard to find allergy-free food in the Netherlands, but lately they have started to
incorporate more and more foods that are safe for people with allergies (most are found in organic
supermarkets, but now they have started to appear in the normal supermarkets as well).
You gave me a future blog-idea, so thanks for the inspiration 😀
Thank goodness things are getting better all the time 🙂
We’ve been getting braver in traveling in the US but any sort of international travel has me worried. We’ve not flown yet either. I traveled recently alone and the airport didn’t have a lot of great options for allergy-friendly items. I didn’t, however, do much research. So maybe if I did better researching the airports, I would find something. I’m so glad you had a good experience!