Tips for Traveling with Children Who Have Allergies

As a busy mother of four kids, an avid traveler and a self-proclaimed foodie, I was panicked when the doctor told me that in addition to my 7-year-olds’ nut and shellfish allergy, he also needed to go off all gluten, soy and dairy.

For those of you with children who have allergies, I certainly understand that traveling can be very difficult. That said, even though my son has many allergies, we’re lucky enough that he has never had an anaphylactic reaction. Although I carry EpiPens, we do not have the same level of vigilance as someone who say, has a child with airborne or super sensitive nut allergies might have.

At home it is easy enough to control your exposure to allergens, however, I have found that if you take a few precautions you can still travel in a way that will work for your situation.

Top tips for traveling with children that have allergies:

Call the hotel before booking to determine if they are allergy-friendly

High quality hotels that cater to families address allergy concerns. I have found that if I call the hotel ahead of time and ask about their gluten-free or nut-free options, I get a very quick understanding of their level of commitment. If they embrace allergy safe policies, they can speak in a very helpful and educated manner about what the hotel offers. If they don’t have an idea about what they can do, then I understand that it won’t be an easy place for us.

This past summer we stayed at Basin Harbor Club with my kids and they went above and beyond to make sure my son had safe food. You may want to skip booking the hospitality suites where they offer food that your child won’t be able to have. Not only do you miss on the value, but it can be difficult if your child can’t eat any of the offerings.

Ask for special room preparation

Another big concern is the cleaning of the room, especially since nuts are a very common snack with travelers. Ask the front desk to speak with cleaning staff ahead of time and ask them to take special care with the room. Some hotels even offer special cleaning services like the Boston Seaport Hotel (will be on CB soon), who offers specially cleaned rooms for allergy sensitive clients.

Research meal options ahead of time

This last weekend we stayed in Boston and although the hotel didn’t have a huge allergy-friendly restaurant offering, we were able to find restaurants in the area that identified themselves as allergy friendly. Now, this was still hit and miss. One place was listed for their gluten-free options, and but we found they accomplished that by just turning everything into a salad — not exactly what a 7-year-old wants to eat each meal.

We had better luck with the Fireplace, who had gluten-free pasta, bread and pizza — wow! Blogs for certain areas can be very helpful. Before we went to New York, we had a list of Gluten-Free New York City options, and there was even an iPhone app for that. Chowhound and Yelp have lists for certain areas. Also, Urban Spoon has gluten-free options.

Shop ahead of time and bring food along with you

Letting my son get hungry and not having food that he can eat is a recipe for disaster. I pack food that I’ve cooked and also bring frozen food. The hotels have been great about storing it for us. Having something I know that he can eat, especially for breakfast, has really been helpful. Before we go to meals, I also give him a snack. That way, if he has to end up having a salad, it’s easier if he’s not totally famished.

When we arrive in a destination, I try to find the nearest health food or grocery store. Then by having our room packed with fresh produce, he doesn’t feel deprived. Sometimes, it’s easier to stay somewhere where there is a kitchen so I can prepare some of his meals.

Understand the regional cuisine

If traveling to a foreign or exotic location, it’s helpful to know the ingredients to the most popular dishes, Pesto, for example, has both pine nuts and cheese, but somehow my husband always thinks it “looks” fine. We are thinking about traveling to Turkey where nuts are a common ingredient. I’ll have to do my homework, to know what I’m getting into.

Also, we’ll bring cards in many languages that list allergy information from Select Wisely.

Carry supplies

Carry wipes, your emergency plan, EpiPens, anti-hystamines and local hospital information. Wiping your area might make you look a little OCD, but it might avoid some problems. Have your emergency plan in the language of your destination. Having your own EpiPens and antihistamines avoid any issues that you may have if you have to get them abroad. Also, know which hospital is recommended. There are huge differences in the quality of hospitals. The CDC has great information on this.

Choose airlines with nut-free snacks

Airlines that do not serve nuts (although, they will not guarantee a nut-free flight for obvious reasons that they cannot control what others bring on board) are: American Airlines, Air Canada, Continental, United Airlines. (*Referenced: About.com).

You also can notify your carrier ahead of time and some will try to create a buffer zone. Additionally,  it’s recommended to fly on earlier flights because the planes are cleaned more thoroughly after the last flight of the night. Some airlines, like Southwest and Jet Blue, will load only nut-free snacks for your specific flight if you call ahead.

Some steps to take are clearly described by MedicineNet.com. Also, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network outlines helpful tips on their site.

Additional articles:

Travel Tips from Living Without

Very thorough post by Gluten Free Travel Site

Gluten-Free Travel by Celiac.com

Relevant links:

Holiday travel tips

Holiday travel tips, multigenerational travel

6 Comments

  1. We stayed at Claridges in London this past summer, and they were amazing. My son can’t have gluten, casein or soy. The hotel had the most amazing gluten free bread, and although I actually went to Whole Foods and bought Almond milk, I didn’t need to bother because they had that too!

    They were all aware of his allergy issues and very sensitive to them, even making sure to check that his welcome smoothie didn’t have any milk in it.

    I cannot recommend the hotel highly enough, the 24 hour room service had tons of great choices and they bent over backwards to work with me on making sure our choices didn’t have any butter, flour, etc.

    They also have gluten free Afternoon tea – which was very yummy and allowed him to participate in that, which was great.

  2. Thank you for this site! Will be checking it often in the future. Ds has allergies to dairy, eggs, and all nuts, so eating out is a challenge, not to mention traveling. He’s only eaten out 3 times in his 11 years, due to being highly sensitive to these foods.

  3. My friend’s daughter has allergies and I will definitely share this site to her for future use. Such an excellent material and I am excited to show it to her. It is hard to travel with kids especially so is they have allergies. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  4. 3 cheers for allergy-free options at Goofy’s Kitchen in the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim! We made reservations for dinner here hoping my shy son would enjoy the casual, low pressure Disney character encounter. When we inquired about gluten-free, dairy-free meal options in the all-you-can-eat buffet our server promptly sent one of the chefs to our table. Our chef was excited to help us and asked if he could make a special plate of safe options not in the regular buffet line. Well, of course! He brought us a bountiful plate of freshly prepared food (grilled chicken, dairy-free mashed potatoes, a perfectly ripe avocado, gluten-free pizza, strawberries, and more). Then he brought us 2 dessert options: gluten-free, dairy-free brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Both were delicious. My son had a blast, ate more there than anywhere else on our trip, and said as we left, “I had so much fun!”

  5. I manage a soy free Google+ page and map of soy free (or allergy aware) restaurants in the US (which you can find on the Google+ page. I thought it might be helpful.

  6. Hi Nancy & Katherine,

    I am planning to travel to New York with my two year old daughter who has dairy and soy allergy. Can you please send me any link/list etc, of restaurants that will serve soy-free food for kids?

    Much much obliged.

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