Traveling with a food allergy is not easy. Meet my youngest. Although she suffered from birth with some pretty annoying tummy issues, it wasn’t until this sweet age of 7 months that we discovered, through a terrifying trip to the emergency room that she has a life-threatening allergy to all dairy products and tree nuts, with sensitivities to tomatoes, synthetic fabrics, and more.
While the momma bear in me wants to hunker down, build a Seinfeld-esce Bubble Boy suit and call it a day, I know that her life needs to be as “normal” as possible; she still needs to play at parks, go to birthday parties, and travel the world.
Prepping for travel, security checkpoints, and language barriers while managing hungry kids in need of healthy food and drinks can be difficult, stressful and overwhelming even for the non-allergic family. Startling facts are surfacing that severe food allergies are on the rise. According to the CDC, 4 out of every 100 children suffer with food allergies and between 1997-2007 food allergy incidences increased 18%! If you or a family you know is dealing with this serious condition, here’s a few handy tips I have put together for family travel with food allergies.
Prepare for the worst
- Make a list of all of your child’s regular and emergency medications; check it twice.
- Ask your doctor to place extra refills on your file in case you need more medication while away from home.
- Properly store auto-injectors for the weather you will be encountering. (Some very cute insulated epi-pen cases are available in the guide below; no matter how you carry them, always use caution to ensure they are stored between 59° and 86°F)
- If traveling by air, get a doctor’s note for all required medication and keep original labeling and boxes.
- Keep medication with you in a carry on. Do not check medication in luggage– you don’t want to risk it being lost or not connected on a flight.
- If you require more than 3.4 ounces of liquid medication, keep it separate and declare your medication to TSA security upon entering the security line. (Taking all of your allergy medications out of your bag and in a separate bin will help TSA to quickly identify and approve your medications.)
Do your homework
- Pack more than enough safe snacks and meals for the traveling portion of your trip.
- Research your destination for natural food grocers so you don’t have to pack an entire week worth of food. I typically look for a nearby Whole Foods, Sprouts, or Trader Joe’s to ensure I can get the essential dairy-free products I need once I arrive at my destination.
- Dining Out:
- My favorite new resource is AllergyEats. The site functions similar to Trekaroo, but in this case, users rate restaurants based on how helpful the staff and restaurant are towards your specific food allergy! Best of all, it’s free!
- If we can’t find our restaurant on AllergyEats, we use our smart phone to look up current allergy information. I almost always ask fast food employees to double check the box and show me the ingredients. Restaurants are NOT required to state if they have had a change in ingredients on the menu; your ingredient chart might not be up to date.
- Still have a question, just ask. A quick talk with the manager can usually get you detailed food ingredients on almost anything in many restaurants.
- International restaurants: For about $10, Select Wisely offers explanatory cards to show foreign language speakers the severity of your child’s condition in their own language!!
- Traveling to a theme park can be an especially tricky business. Typically, guests with food allergies are allowed to bring in their own food even if there is a policy against outside food. Bring a doctor’s note just in case it is needed. Disney parks offer amazing amounts of information to guests with dietary concerns. Every. Single. Ingredient. is available for every food item in the park- and the cast members go to great lengths to verify that your food is cooked and prepared without cross-contamination. Go Disney!
Check out my full guide to food allergies at Disney parks.
Communicate, Be Safe, Communicate
- Note dietary restrictions while booking your ticket, by calling the airline directly AND at check in.
- If your child suffers from a peanut allergy, take extreme caution in choosing airlines. Some will guarantee a peanut-free flight or buffer zone, but the recirculated air can pose a threat. Call guest relations to get details from the airlines on how to keep your child safe.
- Request to pre-board the plane to thoroughly clean surfaces.
- Don’t take a chance; only eat food you are 100% certain is allergy-free. You are literally thousands of miles up from medical care!! (My own daughter has gone into anaphylactic shock while on an airplane above the Pacific Ocean due to an oversight on my part– don’t let this scary situation happen to you!)
Upgrades worth the extra cost
- Many hotels are now offering upgrades to hypoallergenic rooms; although these rooms don’t pertain specifically to food allergies, this upgrade will get you a more thoroughly cleaned area before you arrive.
- Request a room with a refrigerator to store essential snacks, beverages and meals. Better yet, upgrade to a suite with a full kitchen to prepare a safe “at-home” meal.
- Numerous luxury chains offer grocery shopping services; you can arrive at your destination with a fully stocked kitchen of all of your favorite allergy-free brands.
- If you plan on using a resort kids club, use caution. Many well intending employees don’t understand the severity and risk of severe food-allergies. This is especially dangerous for little ones not fully able to communicate or understand their condition. For safety, my daughter wears a medic-alert bracelet and sports some adorable tee shirts reminding caregivers of her condition. A quick discussion with the manager on duty can usually leave you feeling relaxed enough to walk away and enjoy your evening.
AllergyEats is your go-to source for community based reviews on restaurants, all filtered through the lens of food allergy accommodation.
Select Wisely offers food allergy cards translated into the language of your destination. Custom cards available upon request.
Allergy Apparel has some adorable clothing and medic alert bracelets (see accommodations photo above) for the hippest allergy kids on the block. Kozi Epi offers a great selection of auto-injector cases, ID tags & accessories.