In this occasional series, writer Allie Bahn, who has multiple food allergies yet loves to travel, offers advice to would-be food allergy travelers. If you’ve got a question for Allie, send it to: [email protected].
Travel Dilemma: Food allergy mom Monica approached me for travel-related advice since her daughter Alycia, was given an opportunity to travel to Moscow for an intensive summer ballet program with her Russian dance instructor.
This is the second summer that Alycia, a talented 14-year-old ballerina, has been selected to take part in the prestigious program. Monica’s concern centers around her daughter safely self-managing her allergies to eggs, peanuts and tree nuts while so far from home in California.
Last year, the family ruled it out. But Alycia is a year older, has a strong understanding of her food allergies, and takes on personal responsibilities such as asking about ingredients, carrying her epinephrine auto-injector, and not eating if she feels unsure about ingredients. Alycia wants to train with some of the best ballet instructors in the world and feels excited by the opportunity. She is confident that she can do it.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Monica expressed concerns about holding her daughter back from an opportunity that she is clearly excited about. Monica’s main worry was determining the issue of food safety, especially given the language barrier. Monica decided that if Alycia was to undertake the trip, she would go as well as a chaperone.
I suggested to Monica that they check into the accommodations, to see if it was possible for Alycia and her to stay at an apartment with a kitchen. That would make it easy to pack safe food staples that are easy to prepare, in addition to buying fresh food at the local grocery store. If other students would be rooming with Alycia in an apartment, it would be important to discuss her comfort with allowing allergens in the common areas versus the possibility of keeping them out entirely.
Packing a suitcase full of safe snacks would also be important with the uncertainty of unfamiliar brands in a foreign country. Chef cards in Russian that are used for ingredient reading in the grocery store and for restaurant meals would be essential to bring along. Since Alycia’s ballet instructor is Russian, I suggested she could possibly help with the food translations.
It was also important to hear Alycia’s perspective. She explained that she wouldn’t eat anything she was unsure of and would use allergy cards to communicate. Alycia sounded like she understood the challenges and felt like others have done it, so why couldn’t she? Her parents have always taught her how to be safe and manage her food allergies responsibly.
With some mom-daughter teamwork, it sounded like they could safely navigate the trip. But most importantly, I recommended that Monica trust her gut instinct as an experienced food allergy mom about this decision.
Will They Go to Russia?
The informed decision is that the ballet trip to Moscow will not happen this summer. Monica found out that accommodations for the students were hotel rooms that are not equipped with a kitchen or refrigerator. That was a deal breaker for her, as she felt these would be essential to Alycia for safe food preparation.
However, the family decided instead to travel to Germany and Italy to visit family over the summer. That will give them the opportunity to practice some allergy travel strategies, like such as using a chef card to communicate about food allergies in a country where they don’t speak the language, and to build some confidence and experience.
Given her talent for ballet, Alycia is sure to have future opportunities. By then, she’ll have added both a few years of experience – and a few stamps in her passport!
If you’ve got a question for Allie, send it to: [email protected]