This mom’s tips will help take some of the worry out of traveling with food allergies.
Almost two and a half years has passed since my now 4-year-old son was diagnosed with food allergies—milk, egg, peanuts and tree nuts. I remember vividly how anxious I had been about traveling, and early on we even avoided weekend trips out of town because sometimes finding allergy-friendly places to eat can be hard. With several road trips under our belt, and even a few airplane rides to visit family, I feel like I have a better handle on what to expect and how to plan.
We often visit places within driving distance or rent a car if we fly so we can easily get places that meet our needs. With fall break and the holidays around the corner, I find myself once again going through my checklist of handy travel tips, although many are now commonplace in our travel routine.
Traveling with a child who has food allergies has been a learning experience, and while I’m still always navigating and learning about how to better protect my child, I’ve collected several good tips that any family living and traveling with food allergies might find useful.
- If possible, choose a hotel that has amenities such as a kitchenette, microwave and refrigerator so you can store and cook your own allergy-friendly foods. If you don’t have a refrigerator, pack a small cooler that can be filled with ice from a hotel ice machine. Call ahead to see if the hotel will give you access to a microwave if needed.
- Bring lots of your own food or find a hotel near a grocery store so you have access to allergy-friendly fare in a pinch. For road trips, I pack multiple grocery bags full of oatmeal, single-serve soy milks, bananas, apples, soy yogurt and a bunch of other allergy-friendly goodies.
- Research allergy-friendly restaurants ahead of time. Several smartphone Apps now exist, such as Allergy Eats, which allow users to share restaurant experiences related to their allergies and if/how the restaurant accommodated their needs. Also, call ahead to see if the restaurant can meet your needs. I also look up menus online to plan or see if the food is appropriate for our situation. Sometimes I reach out to get advice from fellow parents on several food allergy groups on Facebook. Remember, menus and staffing can change.
- Carry a “chef card” like this one to give to restaurant staff so they know what food allergens need to be avoided not only in the food, but for utensils, surfaces, cookware, etc. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
- Pack and carry your epinephrine autoinjector with you at all times in case of anaphylactic shock/reactions. And if you plan to be outside in hot weather, get a medicine cooling pack to keep your autoinjector the correct temperature, usually between 68 degree and 77 degrees. Too hot or too cold can render the autoinjector ineffective. Never leave the autoinjector inside a car.
- Travel with a copy of your food allergy and anaphylactic emergency care plan in the event a reaction occurs. I keep a copy in the glove compartment of our car. You can get a copy to print and fill out from the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization.
- I always like to locate the nearest emergency room, preferably a children’s hospital emergency room, in the event of an anaphylactic reaction so I know where I might want an ambulance to bring my son.
- Check the policies at local attractions you plan to visit. Do they sell the foods containing the allergen and is it possible to avoid them? Do they allow you to bring your own food into the facility or location?
- Bring sanitizing wipes to clean off objects, like tables or chairs that could be contaminated with the food allergen.
Flying with food allergies, or going international? Foodallergy.org also has some terrific food allergies tips for air travel.
Happy, safe travels!
Christina Echegaray is editor of Hope, a publication of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, and a mom to two boys. When away from work, she’s often watching baseball — either a Major League game on TV or her son’s travel baseball team.
For more information about the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Allergy and Immunology Clinics, click here or call 615-936-5697.