Top Ten Food Allergy Travel Tips
This article originally appeared as a guest post on the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) blog.
This summer, my family and I went on an epic adventure exploring the west (Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado) for two months. Clearly, the world is a crazy place right now. Traveling with food allergies, for an extended period of time, during a pandemic, is interesting. We chose to go to states with very low COVID rates, stayed in standalone housing at each stop except one, social distanced way out in the woods, wore masks way more than required, traveled as safely as possible from each place to the next, and participated in only outdoor activities. We were very thoughtful about our decisions and actions to ensure safety first and foremost.
But this is not an article about traveling during COVID -- this is about traveling with food allergies. Maybe you are thinking about a last-minute quick trip this month before school starts (whatever that will look like for your family this fall), or maybe you just want to have some information in your back pocket for next year. My intention is to offer ideas for how your family CAN travel safely (AND HAVE A BLAST!) with food allergies, and my hope is to motivate you to do so when you are ready!
Honestly, when my boys were diagnosed with food allergies seven years ago, I thought this type of travel would simply not be possible for us. We have done some much smaller undertakings including weekends a drive away in Vermont or Rhode Island, and we have spent a ton of time in Florida, all of which we were helpful trips to inform and tweak my travel tips. We have waited all these years to really go for it like we did this summer – and I am so glad we did.
TRUTH! Traveling is exhausting. Traveling with kids is no joke. Traveling with kids and food allergies deserve a medal. This comprehensive guide will help make it easier so you can have
MORE FUN and LESS STRESS. I am so happy to share my Top Ten Food Allergy Travel Tips with you!
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
Travel Tip #1: Book hotels/residences with a kitchen.
Travel with food allergies is simply impossible without a kitchen. If you are doing only a night or two away, you might travel with a mini-fridge and a microwave, which most hotels can provide if you request it in advance. However, if you are going to be staying longer, a full kitchen is a necessity. So many hotels have suites or residences with kitchens and renting an apartment, condo, or a house is also a great option. Having your own kitchen allows you to make all your food allergy-friendly meals with no worries. We do a combo of eating in together, or I will make the kids their safe food, and my husband and I will grab take out, or we will venture out to a restaurant for a meal with my boys’ safe foods packed in a lunch box for them to enjoy.
Don’t forget to list your allergies when you book your lodging, as well. If you tell a hotel or house rental about your allergies in advance, you can also request that those foods are not there when you arrive. We have had to remove welcome fruit baskets with bananas (an anaphylactic allergy for my youngest son) and entire mini bar snack selections that contained nuts on trips in the past. It is so much easier, and less stressful, to just let people know in advance about the foods you avoid.
Travel Tip #2: Research nearby hospitals.
When we are thinking about a trip, one of the first things I research is local hospitals, emergency units, and other medical care. I simply will not travel somewhere that does not have a legitimate emergency room fairly close by. The good news about traveling out west is that ski towns usually have a local emergency center due to the high rate of ski accidents, so everywhere we wanted to go this summer had adequate medical care nearby.
Travel Tip #3: Search for grocery stores in advance.
If you are going to be away for longer than a few days, it is so important to have access to a good grocery store. I was truly pleased with what we were able to find while we were out west, especially in Wyoming and Colorado, where we found a mix of big chain stores and local organic markets. Traveling with food allergies is even more difficult when you rely on only specific brands, so having access to different stores is important. I also always want to make sure my kids are eating “real meals” while we are away – so finding quality meats and produce is a priority.
Travel Tip #4: Create a family master grocery list.
Before we headed west on our journey this summer, I created a master family grocery list. It has been a HUGE time saver this summer, and I do not know why I did not think of this before! When you are traveling, tired, and looking for your safe brands, it is easy to forget some basics. Having this list helped keep me focused when I was in random stores and helped me remember all that I needed along the way. Make sure to include household items on your list – such as Ziploc bags, aluminum foil, chip clips, etc., to make your life easier – in addition to food! My master family grocery list will be helpful in moving forward, too. Now I will be able to share this with grandparents or babysitters in the future to help them understand our boys’ safe foods and brands and to help them shop for them if necessary.
Travel Tip #5: Bring ALL the food allergy-friendly foods you love!
In addition to making sure you will be able to find a good grocery store near where you are staying, it is SO important to bring a TON of your favorite food allergy-friendly foods. I literally brought an entire suitcase of non-perishable foods, including MadeGood bars, Gerbs oats, Enjoy Life cookies, breakfast ovals and muffin mix, Hungry Harry’s muffin and pancake mix, HomeFree cookies, gluten-free pasta, safe cereal, chips, rice cakes, and more. We ate through all of it, and then I re-ordered more from Amazon to arrive at the house we were renting later in our trip.
Side note -- I’ve been thrilled to find Oatly, Violife, Applegate, Enjoy Life, Tinkyada, and Sunbutter at various grocery stores along the way this summer. I’m excited about the expansion of safe brands and especially food allergy brands across our country, even in small mountain towns. YES!
Travel Tip #6: Bring pre-cooked meals for the first day or two of your trip.
Do yourself a favor and bring meals that are ready to re-heat for the first day or two of your trip. There is NO NEED to have to cook after a big travel day! I always make gluten-free pasta, roast some chicken and veggies, and brown some ground turkey or beef the day before we leave. I have a huge insulated FARE bag, and I pack all the prepped food in plastic Tupperware containers and throw in re-useable ice packs. Then, once we arrive, I can make the boys healthy meals for a few days while I get settled in and set up at our location. It is so useful to have the Tupperware, ice packs, and the insulated bag for activities for the rest of our trip, as well.
Travel Tip #7: Bring extra meds, and make sure your emergency action plan is updated.
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Bring LOTS of meds! We travel with four epinephrine auto-injectors per child (I love Auvi-Q!), plenty of Zyrtec and Benadryl, two sets of inhalers per boy, and of course Advil and Tylenol. I also always travel with a thermometer. If your child deals with eczema like mine, also make sure you have plenty of steroid cream, safe lotion, and whatever you use for sunscreen. And, before you go out of town, make sure your emergency action plan is updated with your kids’ age, height, weight, and correct dosing instructions. If you are able, it’s also a great idea to leave a message with your allergist if you are going to be traveling for a longer term. If you need to reach out in an emergency, they will know to respond to you more quickly.
ONCE YOU ARRIVE
Travel Tip #8: Check everywhere in your room/residence for food allergens.
I know this sounds crazy but literally check everywhere for food residue. The obvious places to check are the kitchen and the couch (including under the cushions!), but even check bedrooms. We found NUTS UNDER THE MATTRESS in the first cabin we stayed in on this trip. And that is not the first time! I once found sunflower seed shells under the mattress in a house we rented with friends years ago. At the time, I did not know if my boys were allergic to sunflower or not. They are not, but it is still gross! We have a family friend whose son had a full-blown anaphylactic reaction from peanut shells behind a couch – you just never know! It’s always good to just do a quick search upon arrival.
Travel Tip #9: Wash all dishes, glasses, cutlery, and cooking utensils before use.
This is really an extra step that provides a lot of calm for me. When I arrive at any destination, I immediately run the plates, bowls, glasses, entire cutlery drawer, and any pots/pans and
cooking utensils I plan to use through the dishwasher or wash them by hand. I then keep everything I’ve personally cleaned on a counter in the kitchen, so I know for sure what my “safe” stack is. This is a slight pain after a travel day but helps me be certain there will be no leftover food residue on any of my boys’ kitchen items.
With that note, I always travel with my own Seventh Generation dish liquid, dishwasher detergent pods, fresh kitchen dish sponge and brush, and counter wipes. I like to know for sure everything is safe and clean!
Travel Tip #10: No new foods. But if you must branch out, do your research first!
I generally have a strong “no new foods on vacation” rule. However, this summer we were on the road for two months, and there were a few times where I really needed to try a new option for a food I could not find for my boys.
One example was we could not find our favorite Applegate Organics sliced turkey at all in Montana, so I picked some Organic Valley turkey up at the store. I knew they make a lot of dairy products, and my youngest has a dairy allergy, so I emailed the company to double-check their manufacturing procedures before giving it to my boys. I was amazed when they wrote back within a few hours with detailed information on their manufacturing process for that product. It was safe for us, and I was so happy to have a new addition to our safe food list.
I also found a new safe rice and pasta sauce brand by going through the same process. I was glad I was able to find some new safe products for us, even if it meant a little extra work on my part. I just never want to deal with an allergic reaction on vacation (or ever, of course!) so would highly recommend taking that extra step to ensure a new food is safe for you!
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
ENJOY IT! Don’t get me wrong -- traveling with food allergies is not easy. It requires a lot of extra thought and work. But it is ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE!
I have been so happy this summer with how well we have been able to navigate travel, staying in different locations, doing a million different activities SAFELY – all while keeping the whole family well-fed and happy. I feel like a whole new world has opened for us, and I’m so excited to plan our next adventure. We have made precious family memories that will last a lifetime. But more importantly, we are taking the next step in teaching our boys how to navigate their lives with food allergies -- bravely and safely exploring this world -- THRIVING along the way.
YOU CAN DO IT! And you will be so glad you did! I hope my Top Ten Food Allergy Travel Tips help you on your journey.