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 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.
Travel Tips from Living Without
Very thorough post by Gluten Free Travel Site
Gluten-Free Travel by Celiac.com