I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with the adage, "perfect practice prevents poor performance." This past week, I’ve been traveling around Thailand with my coworkers and learned that the secret to traveling in a country where your allergen is extremely prevalent is proper planning and preparation.
For the past six months or so, I’ve been living and working abroad in Taiwan. It’s been challenging, but ultimately, has been an amazing adventure that inspired the creation our team’s first mobile app to help people translate their allergies.
Depending on how familiar you are with Thailand, you’ll know that peanuts and tree nuts (my two allergens) are a bigger part of the food culture than in Taiwan, making this trip a daunting task. Thanks to proper planning and help from a new friend, my trip to Thailand was an awesome experience that I can’t wait to share!
My allergy-friendly experience in Thailand can be almost entirely attributed to the pre-trip planning. There were two major steps I took that helped me:
1.) Working with Organizations Ahead of Time
For the trip to Thailand, the planning process started early. My coworkers spoke with the airline, the travel agency, and many of the restaurants we planned on attending to make sure that peanuts and tree nuts would not be present, or at the very least, identify them ahead of time so I would know what dishes to avoid going in.
2.) Getting Effective Translations
I planned on using my team's allergy translation app to help me navigate Thailand. I work with native speakers whenever I’m adding a new language to the app, and I had the fortune of meeting Kavee Sudjit in the Allergy Travels Group on Facebook. He’s a resident of Bangkok (where we were staying) and also lives with food allergies. He manages the Feedy Bird page that shares his food allergy journey (English blogss on the way!) and has a goal of creating a business that helps people with allergies travel to Thailand.
This was someone I had to meet! Kavee was very helpful by not only providing effective translations that I used whenever I went out, but by also sharing detailed explanations and advice for me to help keep me safe.
Thanks to the combined planning efforts of my coworkers and Kavee, I was ready to travel to Thailand!
The food in Thailand was amazing! Since we traveled as a group, almost every restaurant was family-style, meaning we ordered huge entrees and shared between the people sitting at our table.
My favorite dishes were probably the ones with squid or cuddle fish. These two foods were prepared a number of different ways and always served with a delicious sauce/seasoning bursting with flavor. Oftentimes, the flavoring was spicy or sweet with a little kick, but always just the right amount!
We also attended night markets and floating markets (yes you read that right--there were markets floating on the water that you visit via boat!) that had great food available.
I think my favorite part however was the fresh fruits and vegetables. Thailand was full of delicious and healthy options! At every single meal, there were steamed and/or sauteed fruits and vegetables. I also tried a number of different kinds of fruit juices for the first time like guava juice.
Lessons Learned for Next Time
I started this blog by stressing the importance of planning for your allergen and how it made the trip so much fun. This lesson was driven home for me whenever we didn't have a plan. Like I mentioned, Thailand has a lot of foods that contain peanuts and/or tree nuts. Whenever I was eating somewhere that we did not speak with ahead of time, it could be difficult to find safe food.
The hardest part was when I was in the airport preparing to leave. All of the restaurants in our gate said that they used nuts and it wouldn't be safe for me to eat. This included two fast food chains from the U.S. that I wouldn't even think twice about going to at home. The lesson: call ahead when possible; always bring translations; and pack pre-packaged food just in case there aren't safe options available.
Despite some restaurants not being safe to eat at, I think that if proper preparations are made, traveling to Thailand is a safe and extremely fun option for people with food allergies!