Vacation planning should be a fun and relaxing time as you prepare to de-stress with your family, but for those folks that deal with food allergies often just the opposite happens. Whether you are heading to a local amusement park for the day or taking a cross country trip on an airplane, traveling with children that have food allergies requires extra planning, diligence and to a certain degree, confidence in your abilities to take care of your child. The first time I planned a vacation for my family, I nearly cancelled it three times. The reason? My young son was dealing with allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts at the time. I was terrified to take him outside of the safe haven of home.
I soon learned that I could take good care of my family when we went away, as long as I took the extra planning part seriously. At home I was prepared for grocery shopping, play-dates and even restaurant visits because I thought ahead and made lists, so why not apply the same thought process to traveling? While no vacation is ever perfect, I believe that by following these suggestions, traveling with your food allergy child can be enjoyed to the fullest.
1) Find out the policies of the place you are visiting.
Presumably you know something about the place you are traveling to because you chose it for your family, but just like knowing where the safety exits are on an airplane, you will want to know of any issues your family might face due to food allergies. For example, can you bring your own food into an amusement park? Where are the public bathrooms for washing up? Is there a first aid station near by? Are parents allowed into certain areas with their children? We once had to leave an indoor gym because my son was not allowed to wear his EpiPen belt. That taught me a valuable lesson to check things out before we leave home.
2) Research the best places to eat.
Whether you are going away for a day or two weeks, your family is going to eat at some point, right? You will need to know what your options for dining are and what the menus have in store for you when you get there. As the number of children affected by food allergies has increased, so to has the number of establishments that are prepared to serve them. Calling ahead to get the lay of the land is definitely recommended, but once you arrive at the restaurant ask for a manager. Many vacation destinations will happily share their ingredient list with you and will prepare items fresh for your child.
3) Call your resort or hotel before you leave home.
No matter where you travel, a hotel room that looks clean may not be as clean as you would like it to be. I was pleasantly surprised on our last family vacation to learn that our resort would provide an “allergy cleaning” to our room for free! Food can leave a residue on surfaces that an ordinary clean up may not completely get and even dust can hide from the most diligent housekeeper. With an allergy cleaning, special attention is paid to sterilizing counter tops, changing all the linens including comforters and truly putting a room through the “white glove” test.
4) Flying to your destination? Call that airline!
Flying can be a tense time for anyone, but add in those food allergies and it is a pot ready to boil over! I suggest researching your airline and making a list of the questions you have. Most airlines have a medical assistance desk that will answer your concerns, but be aware there are often time guidelines that must be followed. When we flew the last time, I had to call 48 hours before our scheduled flight to ask for an allergy buffer zone on our plane. The airline advised that once we got on the plane we needed to let the fight crew know of our allergies and they would set up a buffer zone around us, essentially asking the other passengers to refrain from eating any nut products they had brought on the plane. I appreciated that they made this extra effort to keep my son safe.
5) Prepare for snack time
Just like any other time you have left the house with your kids in tow, you will want to remember to have your safe snacks with you. Airlines will let you bring your own food on nowadays, but check their guidelines for container sizing etc. Make sure you label your items for safety. Whether you are passing treats around during a road trip or trying to get something out of the overhead bin on a plane, bags can get mixed up and you would not want to give your child’s safe snacks to someone else in error.
Snack time can also refer to when your vacation is in full swing. While having candy and other treats is not a right for any child, it does make certain times on your vacation a little more special. Like ice cream after hanging around a hot amusement park or making s’mores during a campfire, these yummy treats can be dangerous for a child with certain food allergies. Plan ahead by bringing your own special substitutions or ask your hotel concierge, before you arrive, for alternate suggestions.
6) Arm yourself with knowledge and the essentials.
It would surprise no one that we stress over forgetting things when we leave for a trip, making lists a great idea during prep time. But even though you are convinced you would never forget your child’s allergy medicine, make a list for that anyway. Put down how many EpiPens or Auvi-Q’s you have and who is holding them (make sure that each parent and the child with food allergies is covered). Include things like baby wipes and whatever allergy medicine you carry, like Benadryl (but only if this is a part of your normal allergy plan). Make sure that your child’s EpiPen belt or carrier has your up-to-date emergency contact information in it, including the hotel you are staying at. Perhaps most importantly, remind your child that even though you are away from home, they are safe, but still need to practice the same diligence they practice at home.
Traveling with food allergies can be just as wonderful and satisfying as traveling without them, but the key is to be prepared. Show your child that you have the situation under control and you take it very seriously, but try not to stress yourself out (more than normal). Understand that not everyone is as food allergy aware as you are, but don’t let that stop you from having a good time. Go on and make some beautiful memories together!
Suzanne Rudge, owner of the blog MapleMouseMama, is a Canadian mama of two, happily married to her supportive husband. Suzanne blogs about life in general, the trials and tribulations of raising a family, as well as reviews and giveaways. Suzanne tackles issues like Food Allergy Awareness as she does planning a Disney vacation – with passion! You can follow Suzanne living her dream at www.MapleMouseMama.com.