“If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be, it would be so nice”
From Madonna’s debut album song “Holiday”
When I heard that song in the 80s, I was still a little grasshopper with not a care in the world except for when the next exam would be looming around the corner. Holidays were the highlight of the year to look forward to. No wonder I loved that song and would listen to it any time I could on my Walkman.
Being in the working world things have of course changed significantly. Most people worry about how to finance their next holidays, where to go, or whether their travel provider might fold just before their flight is supposed to take off. People with Histamine Intolerance and a combination of different other additional food intolerances or allergies have one more thing to worry about – food!
Only occasionally do I manage to go on a long holiday because being a freelance in the television world does not really allow you to make long term plans – just in case another project comes up that you may not want to lose out on. The other reason that has stopped me from going anywhere away from Europe has also been my food intolerance. But I have just managed to go on a little mini-break to Amsterdam – close to home and my family nearby…just in case something goes wrong.
The first thing to do after arriving in Amsterdam was to go on a recce for places that offer breakfast, and it was not long before I found a nice little place that offers what I judge that I am able to actually digest. It consisted of a hard-boiled egg, a piece of toast with butter, a pancake and some strawberry jam and …. orange juice. Now, considering that I have an additional hurdle of fructose malabsorption to take, I must admit that this was a bit risqué. I was able to re-introduce bread pretty soon after the elimination diet. One or two strawberries after a meal or a small amount of strawberry jam have not been a problem in the past year, so that was less of a worry on my mind. The new item in my ‘not yet tried and tested’ foods was the orange juice, damned by many with histamine intolerance as well as those with fructose malabsorption.
But there are ways that I have been able to figure out in order to overcome those hurdles. I’d start by eating the more firm foods, the toast and the egg, then move on to the pancake, eating slowly and without stress. Only afterwards did I have a little orange juice, just a sip, then decided to leave it. 5 minutes later I had another sip. By the end of my breakfast session I had actually had a whole small glass, thinking “oh my goodness, what have I done…”. But all that happened were two full-powered sneezes half an hour later, and that was the end of the matter.
On the third day I caught myself thinking about the now and then of my condition and how things have developed. Sitting outside a little quaint cafe alongside one of the canals in the historic centre of Amsterdam, with a cat curled up on a seat and having a nap beside me, I contemplated on what had changed in the last two years. There are three main changes I could come up with.
The first is that I dare to go into restaurants again, although this is not always an easy task. I have learned to source for clean places with a good name and quality, and find at least one item on the menu I believe I can consume, before going off to talk to the chef if I am unsure.
I have learned what to do in the worst case scenario, if I do make a mistake and it all goes pear-shaped, which it lately has done much less frequently. I have learned to manage my diet and also my threshold has risen slightly.
And most of all I have managed to stop panicking. I think things through logically instead, which is much more helpful in making an educated guess.
Two years ago I would never have been able to do this without spending the next day in bed with a range of symptoms, on antihistamines and with some serious sessions on the toilet. It has taken a long time and loads of effort, but at last I can confidently say that I have learned to manage my condition, while taking the occasional calculated risk.
7 tips for when you go on a holiday:
- Plan your first trip somewhere where you know that many people speak English.
- Find holiday accommodation where you have access to a kitchen (self-catering). Many people rent out their homes for summer.
- If you feel you are up to staying in a hotel, find out when booking what is on their menu and check out what restaurants there are in the surrounding area.
- Once on the ground, go on a recce and ask hotel reception and bored-looking locals on the street which restaurants they think provide the best quality food.
- Find out where the nearest supermarket is, so you can get snacks you feel are safe to eat.
- When travelling in the EU get yourself a European Health Insurance Card (via NHS Choices). This gives you the right to the same range of treatment as you would get under the NHS at home, either free or at a reduced cost – just in case something nasty happens.
- Always take your medication, be it anti-histamines, epi-pens or whatever else you have to keep with you. Some people also take enzyme supplements, with varying success.
If you have any more practical tips to add, please do not hesitate to leave them here.