When we think of experiencing new cultures, one of the first things we think of is enjoying the local cuisine. Food is our universal language - we convey emotion, tradition, history, and stories with food. We can learn so much from a country, region, and people through their food, and a food barrier can feel so much more limiting than a language barrier ever would.
Rob Dalton, Co-Founder of 88 Acres, has managed severe food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts for his entire life. During his childhood, Rob’s mom made sure his schools and teachers were aware of his food allergies and were prepared to keep him safe during a time when many schools had no restrictions on bringing nuts to school. Like many kids with food allergies, he spent many lunches at the nut-free table.
Despite his allergies, Rob’s parents wanted him to have memorable travel experiences - they didn’t want him to miss out on any opportunities because of his food allergies. Growing up, Rob traveled to Puerto Rico, London, and Aruba with his family, “but never anything crazy adventurous,” he says. “All my experiences traveling abroad when I was growing up, the eating experiences weren’t really major hurdles, or hurdles at all”, because there was no language barrier preventing his family from determining if the food was prepared safely. But Rob craved more adventure and wasn’t afraid to step out of his comfort zone.
Tanzania, Selous Reserve
At the end of his sophomore year of college at Northeastern University, Rob heard of an exciting travel experience called Semester at Sea from one of his friends. This unique program offered students from universities across the country the opportunity to take part in a quite literal, semester at sea. Rob had gone on a surfing trip in Barbados the winter before, but other than his family trips growing up, he hadn’t been outside of the country much. As soon as he heard about the program, Rob knew he wanted to go. He would never have a travel opportunity this special again and he was not going to pass it up.
Rob boarded the boat in Vancouver, Canada, and circumnavigated the globe in 100 days, visiting Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Tanzania, South Africa, El Salvador, Brazil, Venezuela, and sailing through the Caribbean before landing in Florida. Every week or two they docked in a new country. While on board, they took courses from the team of professors accompanying them on the trip.
Erode, India, playing badminton at a school
After the initial excitement of embarking on an international adventure, reality quickly set in. Whether food is someone’s first, second, or last thought when planning a trip abroad, it is never far from mind for someone living with food allergies.
On paper, this trip appeared nearly impossible for a college student with severe food allergies. In practice, Rob knew that with a good plan and a determined mindset, he could have the experience of a lifetime. “I love to eat. And it sucks to have a food allergy,” he says. “You’re able to experience so many cultures through food, and food is such an amazing vehicle to find similarities with lots of different people. What I didn’t ever want to have was a situation where I couldn’t experience something because of fear associated with my nut allergy.”
Chennai, India at a farmers’ market
For Rob, traveling safely meant having a Plan A and a Plan B. Upon docking in each country, he asked any English-speaking locals boarding the ship for currency exchange to translate this statement and write it on a piece of paper: “I’m deathly allergic to peanuts and treenuts. Are there any nuts in this dish?” He carried this piece of paper around everywhere he went and would show it to people before eating at a restaurant. But sometimes the locals couldn’t read, or spoke a different dialect. When this happened, Rob played it safe by eating a lot of rice or grabbing food from an American restaurant chain. Throughout his trip, he balanced food safety with “awesome, unbelievable experiences” that he will forever remember.
He has continued to use his unique solution to navigating the world with a food allergy. When Rob and his wife and co-founder Nicole traveled to Peru before launching 88 Acres, they learned how to say “I’m deathly allergic to peanuts and treenuts. Are there any nuts in this dish?” in Spanish and other indigenous languages. He says that even if he questioned whether or not food would be potentially risky for him to eat because of a language barrier, at least he “would still be able to be in the restaurant, enjoying the company of strangers who are local.”
Inca Trail, Peru
With several trips under his belt, Rob now follows this simple checklist to make sure he can have fun but stay safe.
1) Make sure you have a good support group. One of the first and most important things Rob’s mom made sure he knew growing up was never to go anywhere alone if he thought he might be having an allergic reaction. People won’t be able to help if they don’t know something is wrong, so always make sure you have someone with you.
2) Communication is key. If you’re going somewhere where the predominant language is not your native one, have a way to communicate with locals. Whether that’s by writing down your allergies in the local language on a piece of paper, or finding a local who can translate for you, make sure you have a way to communicate.
3) Have a back-up medical plan. When Rob and Nicole went to Peru, they packed 6 epipens, 4 boxes of benadryl, and bought traveler’s insurance through Global Rescue. If anything happened while abroad, Global could provide medical evacuation to a hospital. They prepare for the worst, so they can enjoy their trip knowing that they have a solid plan in place.
These days when Rob travels, he packs a bunch of 88 Acres Seed Bars and Seed Butter pouches to make sure he has plenty of snacks, so even when he can't eat the local fare, he can at least have a seat at the same table.