Families and Food Allergies :: Summer Travel Tips {Series}

Every 3 minutes, someone in the U.S. is admitted to the Emergency Department for an allergic reaction to food. Increased numbers of children are diagnosed every year, which means that you probably know at least one family with allergies – it may even be your own! Here at WMB, we have contributors in various stages of learning how to cope with what Allergy Life looks like in their homes. In this series, we hope to give support, insight, and helpful tips for those who are struggling to find what “normal” means after receiving a food allergy/intolerance/sensitivity diagnosis.


familiesandfoodallergies

By the time my daughter was 5 months old, she had terrible eczema covering 100% of her body. The skeptical looks I got from strangers in the grocery store only made worse the fact that she couldn’t keep much milk down and was constantly battling reflux, hunger, and itchiness that would leave her body scratched and bleeding. To make a VERY long {and somewhat traumatic} story short, we discovered she had such severe food allergies that she was reacting to 15 different foods in my diet. After many creams, steroids, anti-fungals, antihistamines and an ER visit, we realized that identifying those foods and avoiding them was all we needed to keep her happy and healthy – and it was hard. Learning to cook without wheat, eggs, and dairy seemed impossible. Throw in things like bananas, oranges, tomatoes, and potatoes and it really felt like there was nothing we could feed her! After about a year, she began to outgrow many of her allergies, and we finally found our groove, our New Normal.

And then it was time for our first family vacation.
One whole week in the beautiful Colorado mountains!

To most, this probably seems like a welcome break – but to families with food allergies, it can be the beginning of a whole lot of anxiety. Far from the comfort of your home, your trusted grocery store, your trusted restaurants, your doctor – putting your family’s well-being in the hands of new strangers at every meal? Yikes! So, for those of you just beginning to navigate the shark infested waters of Kids with Food Allergies, I’ve put together a list of things that help me when we’re traveling with our little Egg/Wheat/Dairy/Seafood-Free posse. Depending on the number and severity of allergies in your family, you may find them helpful!

summer travel food allergies

Accommodations:

When staying in a hotel, we choose one that has a kitchenette or, at the very least, a refrigerator. That way we can buy perishable items and keep them nearby for snacks or to take with us to a not-so-allergy-friendly restaurant. Otherwise, we choose a vacation house/cabin/condo that has a full kitchen, pots & pans, and refrigerator. Buying groceries and eating more meals “at home” helps to offset the cost of a house – and multiple bedrooms and bathrooms are awesome!

Meals:

I save money by purchasing our favorite snacks (fruit/veggie pouches, cereal bars, pretzels) in bulk ahead of time from Amazon or Sam’s Club. Since we have room in the trunk for a cooler, we fill it up! This takes a lot of guesswork and finger-crossing out of traveling – we don’t have to hope that the gas station has almond milk or gluten-free crackers (spoiler alert :: they won’t), and we can put our energy into more important things, like finding a syphilis-free potty facility.

My husband and I are major foodies – we love an expensive, elegant dinner as much as we love finding amazing hole-in-the-wall takeout. We use Urban Spoon and Trip Advisor to narrow down which restaurants we want to try, and then we take a peek at their menu to see if they can fit our dietary needs. This takes some extra planning, but it is a huge relief to arrive at our destination with a list of fun, new, SAFE restaurants to try.

Medications:

I bring a bag with each child’s medications in it – Motrin, Neosporin, Epi-Pen, Benadryl, rash cream, Band-Aids, etc. I keep it in my purse at all times, so that we are never more than 60 seconds away from what we need. Benadryl makes great little “single serving” spoons that are excellent for traveling. If you have epinephrine, be sure to keep it between 59-86 degrees Fahrenheit so it doesn’t lose its effectiveness – speaking of which – check those expiration dates before you head out! Get new meds if they’re past due.

Know the Area:

Just in case, find out where the nearest hospital is located and have the fastest route mapped out. Locate the minor emergency center, a drug store, and a grocery store. Being a bit more familiar with your vacation spot will let you relax a little more!

Allergy Bracelet

My daughter with her AllerMates customizeable allergy bracelet.

Accessorize:

If your kids will be doing their own activities (camps, classes, etc.) give them allergy cards or an allergy bracelet that lets the adults in charge easily see which foods they need to avoid. Of course, be sure to TELL the adults in charge, as well (I list out food & drug allergies, give my phone number, and leave the meds). The bracelet is nice for kids with multiple allergies (who may have trouble remembering them all) or for youngsters who don’t yet know how to identify their allergen. My kids know what an egg looks like – but you can’t see eggs in chicken nuggets, cookies, salad dressing, etc. They eat these things at home where I prepare them myself but don’t yet realize that most of the time they are served these foods DO contain eggs. A bracelet, special name tag, or card will help ensure your kids’ safety if you’re not there to keep an eye on them.

HAVE FUN!

Put in a little extra effort during the planning stage so you can ENJOY your family. Do your best, but don’t obsess. Let them be kids. Let them make memories. And be sure to bring some wine for mama!

 

This post is part of our Families and Food Allergies Series. Read more posts from this series…

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3 Responses to Families and Food Allergies :: Summer Travel Tips {Series}

  1. Erin April 24, 2015 at 7:34 am #

    My daughter had egg and dairy allergies (which she has outgrown!!) and I remember the anxiety when it came to eating anywhere but home. I always packed her food when we went to a restaurant. It helped that she was a toddler so I didn’t get too much hassle about it. If anyone ever said anything I always asked if they were willing to assume liability for any contimination that occurred and reminded them (politely) that getting money for 2 meals (husband and mine) was better than no meals.

    Also, every hotel we ever stayed at provided a refrigerator free of charge because it was for a medical reason.

  2. Erica April 26, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    I work in a research group at Massachusetts General Hospital. To follow up with your advice to know the area, our group developed the most accurate database of emergency departments. This free app will locate the closest emergency room to where the user is anywhere in the U.S. It also gives you the ability to search and plan ahead. The app is called EMNet findER. We’ve gotten some wonderful feedback from parents of children with food allergies.

    • Erin Bartel April 27, 2015 at 9:26 am #

      Erica, thank you so much for that info! I will definitely download the app!

      And, Erin, that’s great to know that hotels will provide a fridge for medical purposes. I hope we’re as fortunate as your family to outgrow a few more of these allergies!

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