Masks, everywhere I look. People with white masks, people with colourful masks and faces on them, pink masks, black masks. There are even masks on sale in every convenience store. I am in Japan. And before I came here and took a look at the first tourist brochure I could find, I had no clue that they were not only for preventing to spread your own bacteria when sick but also to avoid inhaling all the annoying pollen in the air come spring time. I came during cherry blossom season and the crowds went wild. I was confronted with an army of masks.
Why do I tell you this? Because I am a majorly allergic person. Thank god that only involves pollen, dust (technically mite poop) and some animal hair and not food. Can you imagine, life without certain kinds of food? Some of you actually can – or have to. I have many friends struggling with intolerances and allergies and since this becomes an even bigger problem during travelling, I thought I would make your life a little bit easier.
The Good News
I discovered that ever since I started travelling my allergies have lessened dramatically. I still have them but they do not hinder me in my daily life as much. I no longer break out in tears, get swollen eyes and a runny nose as soon as I go out into the ‘fresh air’. Sometimes I even wonder if there are pollen around, it has become that great. And this from the person who never knew if she was sick or just under the pollen influence during summer time and when visiting certain places.
For one thing, travel has exposed me to many more pollen than I was used to. Which is in particular not surprising since I was a major computer nerd (still am), sitting mainly a home, dedusting my room every month (hated it), changing my bedding to special (and expensive) anti-allergy ones banning most plushies and dust collectors into boxes and getting hypersensibilisation drops and injections from a young age onwards. I suddenly was confronted with the big wide world. It helped that I usually travelled during autumn and winter. Coincidentally.
But the big realisation hit in Sweden. One of my new friends had a serious case of neuro-dermatitis and when she left Sweden during spring, she seemed completely healed. Her skin was normal and my allergic reactions zero. Was it the constant breeze from the sea which is supposed to have healing abilities? Maybe? But it could also be the new-found freedom and happiness of being abroad, challenging yourself, meeting lovely people and just having a blast. After all, allergies can also (partially) be a mental thing.
Allergies can trigger mental and emotional reactions but at the same time, could the opposite be true? Granted, this insight will certainly not help you out but it gives you hope, no? Meanwhile, here are my insights on how to cope with allergies on the road.
The first thing is always to come ready with your necessary medicine. Do you need certain nose spray, inhalators, tablets? Take them, even if it is just in case. And check if they are enough. Better be safe than sorry. You don’t want to hunt down the only open pharmacy in a foreign city just to get your hands on anti-allergy tablets while overcoming the language barrier and hoping you are really taking the right medicine. Trust me, been there done that.
Do your research. When are you travelling? What does the weather and pollen report say? More and more international weather sites integrate this nowadays. Fun fact: Japan’s subway screens not only show tomorrow’s weather but also pollen intensity. And the animated presenter wears a mask. Kawaii! Unless you’ve booked you can choose lesser strong months or areas with less distribution. Always think sea. Or colder climates.
A good thing to have is also an allergy card that is at least translated in English. Especially if you have life-threatening allergies, such as for food, insect bites or medicine, this one might safe your life! Carry it next to your insurance card. Sometimes you can also get rubber wrist bands. Make sure your insurance company knows about your allergies. Mine didn’t even bother storing the information and instead told me to carry the card. Know these things in advance. Also, tell your co-travellers about it.
Never assume it will be fine or there won’t be that special ingredient in what you are consuming. If you are lactose intolerant and you opt for a salad, they still might put yoghurt or cheese on there and you might not even detect it straightaway. Ask! Learn certain words that you might want to ask for in the local language or let your host translate it for you. Don’t ever be too shy to ask. They can’t read minds and it is their job to take care of the customer. They don’t want you dying on their tables either. It’s a win win situation.
Again, do your research in advance. I once travelled with a friend who had a seriously big amount of intolerances and we checked all the national dishes in advance so we knew what to avoid in the first place. It was a lot of work but armed with that list, we could enjoy the trip so much more! Plus, she had a sheet of certain translated words with her as well. It helped a lot since I could speak the language a little but lacked the vocab. Your dictionary might fail you for extra special words and you won’t always have internet to look them up. Also, if you have a friend who can translate on speed dial that also helps.
Don’t Worry too Much
Your holiday should be a time for you to relax and let your soul breathe. Constant worry will be to your disadvantage and will probably worsen your condition. If you prepare well, stick to what you know and communicate, you will be fine. You are insured, your travel party has been informed and you have some common sense. You have planned this, you deserve to enjoy it and therefore, please do.
The memories you will take from this shall not be shrouded by negative feelings and blanks of places you visited because you were being paranoid and over-anxious. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. Don’t even mention the word horse or I’ll take a 1km detour. You don’t want to see what they do to me. I like horses but the allergens like me more.