by Annie Skidmore
Over the years I have been very lucky to have visited many places which has tested my ability to plan, manage, and adapt the diet. I have been all over the world including to America several times, around Europe, Caribbean cruises, skiing with school in Italy, volunteering in Malta with college and I have even been away with my friends! Therefore, I have a range of experience with different countries, hotels, companies, and situations which have challenged my PKU in many ways.
CHALLENGES I’VE FACED
PKU has been a challenge when travelling although my parents have always been super prepared and never let it stop me from going anywhere. This positive attitude meant I have been away on my own several times. During high school I went skiing for a week in Italy with the school. This challenged my diet from the limited hotel food choice and language barrier but by taking a lot of my own foods e.g., pasta, rice, breads, and plenty of snacks etc it reduced the strain on the chefs and meant I was fuelled up for a day on the slopes. During college I was lucky enough to be funded by the EU to volunteer for 3 weeks teaching sports in schools in Malta. This was a HUGE challenge, but it was the best experience of my life and worth ALL the time and effort to make it happen. It required taking many low protein foods, homemade foods, snacks etc and contributed to around 5 bags/cases of things! This was a perfect example of being prepared and even though we had contacted staff previously there were a few teething problems initially (being served a hot dog wasn’t quite what I asked for!) However, by the end of the first few day’s things settled down and we all got into a routine. It sure was a test but it shows that the best things in life do not come easy. I have since been away with my friends which required me to become even more independent with my PKU and manage it around social events. I will continue to go away with friends, family, and I still hope to volunteer in America when I next can – PKU will not stop me!
MY TOP TIPS:
1. PLAN AHEAD: this is key to the PKU diet. If you know you have an upcoming holiday make sure you have planned for it. This will require contacting the airline, hotel/accommodation, airport security and informing them on PKU, your requirements, and how they can help. Having a letter from your hospital/dietician will help this process to allow extra food and supplements on the plane and is useful for other scenarios e.g., concerts and events where food is not normally allowed inside the venue and there is limited choice once in.
2. BE PREPARED: this is again another essential part of the PKU diet. Throughout my experiences I have learned that preparation is key. You never know what is going to happen e.g., food spoiling from travelling, lack of food options initially, delays when travelling etc. Therefore, ensuring you have plenty of PKU foods, snacks or foods which will travel well and be there in case you have limited options when you first arrive will be a life saver! Trust me there is nothing worse than arriving tired and hungry and then having no food available!
3. CONTACT COMPANIES/STAFF: communication is vital in terms of educating others about PKU. Prior to going away getting in contact via email/telephone with hotel chefs, airport security and the airline will help you to have a much smoother journey and be comfortable when you get there. It will help your arrival if staff understand your requirements (this is not always the case, especially with language barriers, but it definitely helps!).
4. BE ADAPTABLE: initially things may not work out or it may take a few days for the hotel for example to understand when, how, and what food you would like – don’t worry the first few days are always challenging finding your feet.
5. GO EXPLORE: the PKU diet is a challenge but if it’s managed, you can definitely go abroad – so go have fun and keep these top tips in mind!