Managing Severe Food Allergies and Family Travel (Guest Post)

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While I am always happy to share my own traveling stories with my family, there are tons of other great traveling families out there with kids of different ages, different numbers of kids, and who have had different experiences than us.  As part of my “Little C’s Traveling Friends” series, I am sharing different family’s stories so we can all learn from their experiences.  If you would like to be a part of this series just shoot us an email at info@mommypoints.com.

Carolina and her family love to travel but have had to adjust their traveling lifestyle since they had a child born with severe food allergies.  Carolina has great advice (and gives everyone hope it DOES get better!) for families trying to travel with a food allergy.  They also have a website, A Place You’ve Never Been, dedicated to telling their travel stories.

Tell us a little bit about your family:

I am Carolina and I travel with my husband, Jay (who I call “The Scientist” on my blog), and my two daughters, Willow (age 8), and Indi (age 6).  I have always had a huge case of wanderlust!  The minute I graduated from high school, I grabbed a backpack and traveled solo through Europe.  That really fed my thirst for adventure.  In the next ten years I traveled through New Zealand and Fiji, camped the Canadian Rockies, drove from one side of the US to the other 6 times, hiked through Alaska, worked on a crab processor in the middle of the Bering Sea in the dead of winter (yep, it was cold and dark!), worked in Yellowstone National Park and Mt. Rainier National Park, and was a park ranger in Crater Lake National Park.

whitemountain,nh

When Indi was a month old, we moved to Boston.  She screamed the whole way there, but I couldn’t even hardly even sympathy for our fellow passengers anymore because I was so spent myself.  We managed to explore the amazing city that was our new home, but we could never travel more than 20 minutes from our home in case Indi began screaming again.  I thought our travel days were over.

Luckily, we found an amazing pediatrician who was finally willing to consider that our daughter had something other than colic.  She tested Indi for the top five allergens—milk, eggs, nuts, wheat and soy.  She tested positive for every one.  We finally knew why she was in pain, and now we could help her.  We removed all of those allergens from our diet (I was breastfeeding and needed to avoid passing the allergens to her).  Magically she became the sweet, funny, happy child that she is today!NY

How has your traveling pattern changed since you have had kids? 

I thought I would always travel—solo and then with my future family.  But, when that family finally came, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  My first daughter was a great traveler.  She happily flew back and forth across the country in my arms as we made the move from New York City to Portland, Oregon.  When my second daughter came along, though, life as we knew it screeched to a halt.  Indi was born with severe food allergies, something we didn’t realize until she was a year old.  While we struggled to figure out what was wrong with our baby, she screamed almost 23 hours of the day.  Yes, she really slept less than an hour every day for nearly the whole first year of her life.  It was traumatic for her and for us, and we were all completely exhausted all the time.  Our entire world was reduced to the walls of our little duplex.

girls

Where all have you traveled with your children, and what have been some memorable experiences on some of those trips?

Indi has outgrown some of her allergies, but others, such as peanut and milk, have become more severe.  We have learned how to keep her safe, though.    After becoming fast experts on food allergies, we began to venture out, a little farther each time.  We traveled through the Berkshires and down to New York City.  Next, we took the leap and flew to Orlando, Florida.  We brought along a suitcase full of Indi’s safe foods and chose hotels with mini kitchens so that we could cook her special rice noodles.   We found that travel was not only something we could do, but that it was also something that was really good for the girls.  They had been so constricted because of Indi’s allergies and they completely blossomed as they explored palm trees and sinkholes…and a glimpse at a world outside their home.

fingerlake,ny

It isn’t always easy.  One time, as I was flying to Oregon alone with the girls, we left Indi’s carry-on, full of her safe foods, on the shuttle.  We had to quickly race through the airport, 10 minutes before boarding, to find something—anything—that would be safe for Indi to eat on the plane. We succeeded, but now I always stash “Indi safe” power bars in every piece of luggage, just in case.

How do points and miles figure into your family travels?

It also isn’t easy to pay for travel times four!  I first learned about miles and points about a year and a half ago after stumbling on a Mommy Points post.  As a result of carefully choosing our credit cards, we have stayed in Washington DC on Marriott points and free nights, stayed at Hyatts and Marriotts in Costa Rica on points, as well as free nights on road trips through Maine, New York, and Connecticut.   We stayed in New York City over Thanksgiving for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Carlson and Hyatt points.  In February, we flew to Key West on Alaska Airlines points and then stayed a week, using the two nights free nights from the Hyatt card sign-up bonus, as well as Club Carlson and Marriott points.

DC

What future trips are on your horizon?

We are going on a huge, multi-country trip through Greece and beyond—free on a mix of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Club Carlson points.  We never could have afforded trips like these without points!

What are some tips for traveling with kids that you have learned along the way?

First, now that we have kids, I make a real effort to choose destinations that have some educational value.  In Orlando we skipped Disney and explored the natural wonders of Florida.  We studied the rainforest for weeks before going to Costa Rica.  We have been studying Greek mythology and world history in preparation for a trip to Greece this spring.  The Story of the World book series is an amazing way to introduce kids to world history!  On the flip side, we try to choose places that the kids will find interesting and/or fun.  I could spend weeks in Europe shopping, going to museums, and looking at architecture every day but that doesn’t work for small children (or at least, not mine!).  Instead, we will go to a museum one day and then find a trail to hike.  Beaches are always winners, too!

paradeny

Second, our travel is pretty restricted to school vacations which is of course the most expensive and difficult time for tickets.  We do take the kids out for a few days before and/or after a trip in order to buy a cheaper ticket or stay a little longer, but our big trips are usually scheduled during breaks. We have considered taking the kids out of school and homeschooling if we are able to travel for longer periods of time (here is a post from a family that does just that).  I would love to do something like that in the coming years!

Costarica

My tips for budget traveling with kids are:

  1. Learn something about the country or city you are visiting before you go.  It is a great way to get kids excited about the trip and they get so much more out of it when they are there.
  2. Choose a suite if you can.  It is much less expensive to feed a family if you can cook some of your own meals.  It also forces you to get out to the local grocery stores (one of my favorite things to do when I am in a new place!), where you are more likely to mingle with the locals.
  3. Get out on the hiking trails!  Kids love to be out in the woods (or desert or jungle) and it is a great way to learn about the local ecosystem.  Plus, it is much cheaper than that amusement park.
  4. Kindles (or whatever your device of choice is).  They make long car and plane rides SO much easier.  We used to be “old school”, making the kids play games and sing songs during the whole trip.  We still do that for part of the ride, but we also allow them to watch movies.  We all have a more relaxed vacation that way!

costaricabalcony

What would you say to other families that are nervous about the logistics of hitting the sky (or road) with the little ones?

Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with the logistics of travel with kids, even kids with food allergies.  It is so worth it when you see your child being amazed by the world.  I’ll never forget the wonder on Willow’s face when she spotted a sloth in the tree above us, or when Indi touched a saguaro cactus for the first (and last!) time when we traveled to Arizona.  They understand the desert and the rainforest so much more fully than if they had just read about them in a book.  I can’t wait to watch them grow as they meet new people and take on new challenges (we’ll be climbing a mountain in the coming year!) thanks to travel.

arizona

This coming year we have big travel plans!  We will be traveling around the world (we are in the middle of reserving very complicated tickets for four on points), visiting more of our country’s National Parks (we have a goal of visiting them all before our children graduate from high school), and exploring New England and the East Coast.  I have started to blog about our travels here: http://www.aplaceyouveneverbeen.com  Follow along with us!

Thank you for letting us tell our story!  I’d hate to see food allergies prevent anyone from following their dreams.  Travel is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children and it is also a great way to bond as a family.   Don’t be afraid to get out there and see the world!

Thank you so much to this awesome family for sharing their story and we look forward to hearing about more about their traveling adventures!

Comments

  1. I was hoping for a little more information pertaining to the management of food allergies while traveling. This post felt a little light on that information, especially considering the title. It’s too bad more specific information about how you food preparation, eating out, medications, and cross contamination concerns wasn’t included.

    I also have a child with severe food allergies (eggs, tree nuts, and mustard) and we travel pretty extensively. Hope you don’t mind, but I’ll add my two cents about traveling with a child with severe food allergies.

    Eating out is, obviously, a major concern when traveling. I try to figure out ahead of time where we are going to eat beforehand. I’ll look at menus online and call the restaurants ahead of time. You can tell pretty quickly if a restaurant “gets” food allergies or not. If all else fails, we try to find a Chipolte! It’s a favorite chain of many in the food allergy community (not good for those with dairy allergies, but it is a favorite of many with peanut, tree nut, egg allergies). We try to not focus on food (beyond finding something safe) when traveling and focus more on what the destination has to offer, for better or for worse.

    We bring lots of safe food that isn’t always the most healthy or balanced, but it gets the job done when we are in a pinch. 🙂 Cereal for breakfast, fruit, dry snacks, things to make sandwiches with, and for a treat, Oreos. I have found that many hotels will provide a microwave and refrigerator (if there isn’t one already) for those with food allergies.

    Flying can also be scary for families with food allergies. It’s scary enough to think about an anaphylactic reaction when you are on the ground, but the idea of that happening when you are in the air and unable to get to hospital quickly completely freaks me out. We recently flew first class to Maui (with our points!) and it was pretty tough to think about flying over the ocean in a cabin that serves too many tree nuts for my comfort. I always wipe down my daughter’s seat, trays, arm rests, window, seat belt…basically anything she might touch. Some airlines will allow preboarding for this, but some don’t. For the flight in the first class cabin, our allergist recommended that we bring a towel or sheet to put on her seat. She ate and drank nothing from the flight attendants in that cabin. We brought a bag full of safe food for her and I froze a bunch of grapes to use as our ice cubes since ice packs are an issue with the TSA.

    Medication- We always bring a ridiculous amount of epipens for multiple reasons. One reason is because of being on an airplane and inaccessible to medical help for an undetermined amount of time. I think it is also important to have extras in case a bag gets lost or stolen, or a set of epis gets compromised due to the heat.

    I noticed that guest contributor mentioned that she skipped Disney while on her trip to Orlando. I get it that Disney isn’t for everyone, but Disney has pretty much set the gold standard for food allergy families. Restaurant kitchens are stocked with allergy friendly products. The chefs come out to talk to you about what is safe and take steps to minimize cross contamination. If you are at a character meal buffet, they will bring you food from the back (cross contamination issues with serving utensils at buffets). I was even able to get an allergy friendly birthday cake there. We weren’t Disney people before our daughter was born, but the level of service with accommodating food allergies converted us to the Mouse cult. There is a great group on Facebook called Disney Chefs Rock Food Allergies that is a wealth of information both about Disney and food allergy management in general.

    In addition to Disney, we have personally had very good experiences at Hyatts with food allergy management. They will typically bring the chef out to speak with us and seem to understand cross contamination issues. When we have had access to the Regency Club, the staff at multiple properties were very kind to my daughter and would keep a stockpile of her favorite snacks in the back and put aside a separate plate of fruit for her in the morning.

    We recently stayed at a Fairmont hotel (Kea Lani in Maui) and they were incredible. They have a “food allergy program” were they take down all of your allergy info, severity, etc. and put in their system. At the property that we were staying at, they would prepare allergy meals in the central kitchen to help minimize cross contamination issues. To tie in the points and miles theme, my husband and I had each opened Chase Fairmont credit cards and received two free nights each that we used to stay at the Kea Lani for a total of four nights. Between the two of us, we also had $300 in various dining credits that we had been given thanks to the credit card sign up. It is not an inexpensive property (both the room and the food), but I would highly recommend that hotel to families with food allergies.

    Sorry to write a book about this topic, but obviously, food allergies and travel are both passions of mine. I’ve spent 10+ years balancing the two and hope that someone will find the info helpful.

    • Thank you AMJ.
      Your post is what I was expecting when I clicked on this blog post. I’m sure others are thankful for your two cents as well.

    • Thank you, AMJ! I have the very same flying protocol with pre-boarding, wiping the surfaces and carrying multiple epipens. I also bought disposable airplane seat cover on amazon by “Bug Off”. Sounds like we are in some of the same FB groups! I agree with you about Disney, we were also not big Disney people before kids but the way Disney(land/world) manage allergies is unmatched by any other destinations.

      I am also passionate about travel but has not ventured outside the country due to fear of long flights while managing child’s food allergies. I was hoping to find this information here but unfortunately this article while great in other aspects did not provide much on food allergies.

      Here is my 0.2 cents for other readers managing food allergies, wherever you choose to go Its important to stay within short driving distance (20 minutes or less) to a good hospital in case of a severe allergic reaction. Epipen only buys 20 minutes, the reaction can come back 20 minutes later thats why its important to carry multiple epipens and to call an ambulance immediately after using one.

    • Ha ha. We should be glad everyone has different travel styles so we don’t all end up at the same place. That said, Disney is actually very food allergy conscious.

  2. Two of my three kids have peanut allergies. I know of families who have gone to all inclusive resorts with kids with allergies but I have not been able to do that! We have travelled extensively throughout North America which my kids have really loved and hope to go to England and France in the next few years.

  3. AMJ, tons of great info there! I would love to turn those tips into a post for sure!

    Also thanks again to Carolina and Jay for sharing the story of how their family of four manages to keep their kids safe from their food allergies and still continue exploring on a budget!

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