Make Your Own Food Allergy Cards For Any Destination
You know what stresses me out when I travel?
Finding food I can eat.
I don’t actually know if I have celiac disease (long story) Turns out I don’t have celiac disease (!!!), but I haven’t eaten gluten in almost ten years because it makes me feel turrible.
Anyone with a food intolerance or allergy knows it’s not always easy getting safe food. It’s especially hard when you don’t speak the local language. In the past I’ve stressed out for months before trips wondering how I would eat. Not fun.
I’ve used food allergy* cards from other sites but I wasn’t 100% happy with them, so I decided to make my own for Thailand and Japan. So far they’ve been great! I’m confidant that I’m communicating my food issues clearly, and everyone I’ve shown them to has understood my needs.
A hotel manager in Thailand even asked for a copy of my card so their staff would know how to handle other guest’s gluten issues.
They worked out so well I thought I would share the love. You can download my gluten allergy cards for Japan and Thailand (including English versions) for free at the end of this post.
AND I’m going to tell you exactly how I wrote and translated them so you can make your own cards no matter where you’re going or what your food allergy is.
*I know gluten intolerance and celiac disease aren’t actually allergies, but it’s a term most people understand. I’ve found it’s not usually helpful to explain that I probably have an autoimmune reaction and not an allergic reaction so I just say it’s a gluten allergy.
Anatomy Of My Food Allergy Card
Some food allergy cards say the same thing no matter what language they’re printed in. But I use different cards for different countries. I don’t want to waste a server’s time talking about food that’s not common in that country.
To keep your card relevant do a quick search to find out what you can and can’t eat in that country. If you have a food allergy, you’re probably doing that anyway.
Food Allergy Card Front
On the front of my card I have an explanation of my allergy. That’s followed by a table of unexpected but common ingredients that contain gluten in that country.
People are always surprised when I tell them soy sauce is made with wheat. It’s a really common ingredient in Japan so that’s exactly the kind of thing I need to let my server know on my card.
When you’re looking into foods you can’t eat, make note of anything that’s not obvious for this section.
Food Allergy Card Back
On the back of the card I have a lists of foods in that country that I can and can’t eat.
These don’t have to be exhaustive lists. The examples just help your server know what you mean. When I say I can’t eat foods that contain wheat, the server can flip the card over and see, yep, that means cake, cookies, and bread.
The list of foods you can eat gives your server a starting point for coming up with safe options for you. It can also help address common questions like “can you eat milk?” or “can you eat potatoes?”.
Writing Your Allergy Elevator Pitch
The explanation of your food allergy needs to be easy to read, fit on a small card that can go in your bag or pocket, and be short enough that the server can take it all in while he’s busy.
It really is like an elevator pitch, except instead of asking for money or a job, you’re asking for food that won’t make you sick.
Here’s my food allergy elevator pitch for Japan:
My husband and I are allergic to gluten. We cannot eat wheat, barley, or oats, or any sauces, foods, or seasonings made with wheat, barley, or oats.
Boom. Two sentences. Don’t know what gluten is? That’s OK, I explain what I can’t eat in the next sentence. Don’t know what foods contain wheat, barley, or oats? That’s OK too. I came prepared with example lists.
The eagle eyed among you might notice I don’t mention rye. That’s because it’s not a common ingredient in Japan. I do mention sauces and seasonings because that’s where a lot of gluten comes from in Japanese food.
If you have a severe reaction you might want to include what your symptoms are and stress the importance of eating only safe food in your elevator pitch.
If cross-contamination is a problem, you could incorporate that into your elevator pitch too. Something like “We can’t eat wheat, barley, or oats, even in small amounts. Separate preparation and cooking equipment must be used, or equipment must be thoroughly cleaned to prevent contamination with wheat, barley, or oats.”
Whatever you write, try to get the main point across in a couple of clear sentences.
Compose Your Native Language Food Allergy Card
Putting all of the pieces together should be a breeze now. Use any document composition tool you’re comfortable with (Word, Pages, Powerpoint, etc.). Just make sure you can save the file as a Word document. That’s probably the format your translator will want.
If you want your card to be structured like mine, lead off with your food allergy elevator pitch. Then segue into your list of unexpected sources of your allergen if there were any.
I talk about cross contamination from shared oil and cooking water in my unexpected sources section, but you could also mention cross contamination in your elevator pitch.
Show your gratitude, and politely ask if there is anything you can eat that’s safe.
On the opposite side of the card, include your list of common foods in that country that you can’t eat, and the list of foods you can eat. I used colors and symbols to make it easy to tell at a glance which list was safe and which was unsafe.
Save the file as a Word document, and you’re ready to send it to a translator!
Getting An Affordable Translation
You have a couple of options here.
You could ask someone on a language exchange site to translate your food allergy card for you. In that case you might be able to have it translated for free. But I kind of feel like that’s a lot of work to do for free.
The route I chose was to hire someone on Fiverr to translate my cards for me.
I chose translators who were native speakers with excellent reviews who’s listings included free revisions. I direct messaged them before purchasing a listing to make sure they would be comfortable translating food words.
My translations ended up being about ten dollars each but you can see there are plenty of translators who charge five bucks. I got the first drafts back within a day or two.
Once I got the translations back, they were ready for review.
Get Native Speakers to Review Your Translated Allergy Card For Free
I posted my translated card for free on the language exchange sites iTalki and HiNative. I just asked native speakers to read it and tell me if it made sense.
I was already a contributing member of these sites (I’m trying to learn Japanese) so I felt comfortable asking for help. You could ask for help without contributing, but you might have better luck if you answer a few questions about your native language first. Plus it’s just good juju to give when you take, you know?
A couple of sentences could have been more clear on my cards, and the helpful people on these forums offered better translations.
Pssst… if you sign up for iTalki through my link (where you can use the community for free) and purchase a lesson, you and I will both get $10 in iTalki credits.
I also ran my translated card through Google translate back to English just to make sure the meaning didn’t change much. In some instances it changed enough that my original meaning was lost, and I had to ask the translator to revise the card.
I never had to do more than one or two rounds of revisions before I was happy with the translation. But I was glad I found translators who did free revisions because they always needed at least one.
Print The English and Translated Versions
Here’s how my Japanese gluten allergy card turned out
The size you print will kind of depend on how you’re carrying it. Small purse? Back pocket? Day pack? Depending on how you set up the document for printing, I think both sides of my cards can fit on half of an 8.5×11 sheet of paper. It’s been a while since I printed them so please don’t hate me if that’s wrong!
After I printed my cards I laminated them for durability. I also thought it made them seem like something I would want back and not like something the kitchen or server could keep or throw away.
Download My Gluten Allergy Cards For Japan And Thailand!
My food allergy cards worked really well when we traveled to both Japan and Thailand. I never felt afraid that I wouldn’t be able to explain my needs, and everyone who read the cards understood them.
Below are links to my gluten allergy cards for traveling to Japan and Thailand. You can download both the English and Translated versions. If you’re gluten free and need cards for Thailand or Japan please feel free to use mine and change them however you need.
Gluten Free Cards for Thailand
Gluten Free Cards for Japan
You’ll probably want to change some of the words like “my husband and I” if you’re using the card just for yourself. But I think that’s a change even Google translate could handle 🙂
Good Luck!! Please let me know if you plan to use these cards or make your own. I’d love to hear your travel food stories!
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