Allergy/Asthma Information Association

A Lifetime of Experiences

By Erika Ladouceur

Erika, 19, is a Quebec college student and AAIA volunteer. She is currently studying in the USA on an exchange program.

Erika travels

Well, I have answered yes to all of the above except for the last one. I have done a lot of traveling and hope to travel even more throughout the rest of my life. If there’s one thing I believe in it is the idea that you learn a lot from experiences and traveling as you discover new cultures, learn new things, meet new people and above all you develop more confidence and awareness with respect to yourself and your surroundings. I am not saying that it is a MUST to travel but I believe there are solutions to most situations and/or circumstances and it may simply mean that there is a little more research, caution and planning required. My philosophy is that anything is possible. It is amazing the amount of self confidence you acquire when you manage to eat feasibly, without starving and/or getting sick when you travel.

Many people are surprised when I tell them about my allergies but the truth is there are others who have many more allergies to deal with than I do. I may be allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, soy, beans, peas and lentils. However I have come to realize that this list is short. I now realize that there are some children who have a trickier situation but if there is a way to break down the walls that are set before them they should be taken down. In reality, no one should be held back from doing what they want to do.

I recently traveled to Germany for a school related trip and my number one concern was my food allergies. My number two concern was the language issue as I did not speak any German. I decided to get a friend of mine who was a German exchange student, to translate some words and phrases for me. I had her write on a piece of paper; “I have a fatal (anaphylactic) allergy to: Peanuts,...”, “I can die from eating these foods”, “Are there peanuts,... in this food?”. She also wrote out other phrases, like; “The symptoms that I have when I am having a reaction are: itchy mouth, shortness of breath,...” as well as; “Where is the nearest hospital?” and “Take me to the hospital”. Having done this and having it down on paper made me feel a lot more comfortable with the situation, not to mention my parents didn’t feel as worried sending me out of the country. Near the hostel we were staying at, I found a small Italian restaurant and resorted to eating most of my meals there because I felt like the cook understood my situation and paid attention. It is important to try and find food that is not completely foreign to what you eat back at home. That is why I stuck to Italian food and vegetables!

Most people tend to treat themselves more when they are on vacation and eat more than they would normally. I can’t say that my diet is very good when I travel unless I go on a trip when I bring my own food. But when I travel, especially in foreign countries, I tend to worry less about my diet and instead, I make sure I don’t get sick. It is possible to get sick, even when you are paying close attention, because sometimes you don’t think of the smallest things and those are the things that cause a reaction. On my trip, the only reaction I had over the two and a half weeks I was in Germany was at a coffee shop. I had a German friend of mine inquire about the hot chocolate as well as other drinks and finally settled on a latte. Everything seemed fine. I had already been there and had the same thing before and so I felt confident that everything would be fine. Little did I know, the lady who had ordered a latte before I did, had ordered a SOY latte and BINGO the unanticipated reaction! And I thought I had thought it all through. I definitely learned to avoid lattes and mixed drinks.

The most unforgettable experience I had was in Germany. I had to use a bathroom that was right next to an Asian food restaurant (with enough food allergens floating in the air to affect me). I don’t think I have ever had to plan out any “trip to the bathroom” to the extent I did there. Well, I felt proud thinking back at the precautions I took. It’s funny to say that you can gain confidence in yourself from a trip to the bathroom, but it’s true.

So now I leave it to you and your parents or vice versa. Is traveling a possibility for you or your family? Are you ready to take the necessary steps that will make this trip a reality? It’s now in your hands!

Editor's Note: See travel tips from Dr. Antony Ham Pong.

from Allergy & Asthma News, Issue 1 2008

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