Traveling with food restrictions can be very difficult especially when the food you’re avoiding can make you very sick. We recently went on a trip to Fort Lauderdale shortly after my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease and I wanted to share our experiences with you. I have learned over the last 9 years how to travel safely with my son who has anaphylaxis to tree nuts and fish. Now that we have two children with food restrictions we have to be even extra careful. I hope that this information is helpful for you. Please note that this is what works for us. Every family is different and so is the severity of everyones allergies so please do what is good for you.
Choosing a Destination
When we travel we always make sure to pick a destination that has a grocery store and a reputable hospital CLOSE BY. We tend to choose locations that aren’t too exotic. I know this seems a little over the top but we have had to visit the hospital because of an allergic reaction when traveling in the past. One year while visiting Miami we ordered our son a basket of chicken fingers by the pool at our hotel. We alerted the wait staff of his allergies. Hiding inside the basket amongst the chicken fingers was a fish stick. He took one bite of what he thought was a chicken finger and wound up in the emergency room for the afternoon. While our kids are still young we make sure to plan our trips knowing a hospital is close by. We also make sure that we can easily get to a grocery store and that the grocery store has products we are familiar with and have eaten before.
Booking Your Flight
Because everything is done online it is difficult to get in touch with someone but we always make sure to do so. After booking our flight we call the airline and speak to an agent to alert them of our situation. We also ask about their allergy policy and what type of food will be served on the plane. If we can’t get seats in the first row, we usually ask to have the rows surrounding us be “nut free” but we have been pretty relaxed about that lately. We have learned that asking others to make modifications to their travel isn’t always a positive experience. We’re trying to learn to take care of ourselves without asking for others to accommodate us. That goes for school too but thats a topic for another day. We also arrive early at the gate to speak with the flight attendants.
We always travel with our medications and Allergy Action Plan on us not packed in our suitcase. We have our EpiPens, Benadryl, inhalers and steroids in our carry-on luggage. We usually bring 2 “kits” of medication onto the plane. We have never had an issue taking medication through security. If you also suffer from eczema you will want to pack your prescription steroid cream. That medication goes in our suitcase.
We travel with lysol wipes and we used to bring disposable seat covers when the kids were younger. After wiping down the seat, tray and seat belts we would cover our chairs with a disposable seat cover. After the flight we’d just toss them! Our son has reacted multiple times to residue on the arm rests and seats. I’m not quite sure how often they clean the seats in between flights. If someone had enjoyed a bag of cashews before us there is a high chance that there will be cross contamination. You can find fabric and disposable plane sheets here: http://www.germfreebee.com. You can also use an old sheet from home and wash it at your destination. We haven’t used the seat covers lately as we are getting more comfortable flying and feel that wiping down the seats is enough for us.
We always pack lots of food for the flight for all of us to eat even though my husband and I don’t have food allergies. Sandwiches, fruit, veggies, granola bars etc. The airport kiosks will usually have some gluten and nut free options such as potato and tortilla chips, fruit and gummies but we don’t want to risk not being able to find something that’s labeled gluten and nut free. If there are options we’ll let the kids get themselves a treat. We make sure to bring cash because they sell food on some flights and we have been able to buy nut and gluten free treats while flying!
Make sure to be very nice! I can’t stress that enough. Don’t act entitled. Many people see us as an inconvenience or annoyance. Just stay calm and be nice. If people accommodate you be grateful and thankful. Appreciate the kindness. Sometimes I will bring extra allergy safe snacks and offer them to someone who wants to open a bag of nuts beside us. Usually passengers will understand. Pack extra paper towel, disposable placemats and extra Ziploc bags (you will use them at the hotel for your day trips or by the pool or beach), especially if you buy bags of goodies at the airport kiosks. You can divide up the snacks amongst the kids. We let our kids bring their own carry-on luggage now and they pack their own food, games, books and activities. We always bring Dum Dum lollipops. They’re good for sucking on while taking off and landing and relieve ear soreness. I also like how they keep them occupied so they don’t choose to snack a lot! The less eating on board the better.
When we book our hotel room we ask for a small fridge and a table or desk to eat on. If they provide microwaves ask for one! Wipe down all of the eating surfaces. On the first day we will go grocery shopping and buy non perishable items such as gluten and nut free bread, crackers, granola bars, cereals, flatbread, cookies, Gatorade and Vitaminwater (for the electrolytes) and bottled water. We also buy milk, cheese, yogurt, deli meat and mustard, soy nut butter, applesauce, fruit and veggies for the fridge. And don’t forget about paper plates, bowls and cutlery. If you didn’t bring Ziploc bags now is a good time to stock up.
Check with the hotel restaurants and room service. We sometimes call before we leave for our trips to see what kind of food they serve. Most menus are online. Besides the fish stick debacle we have had positive experiences with hotel restaurants. They’re usually pretty accommodating. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak to the manager or head chef. I have had friends ask to see the preparation area in the kitchen. It’s all ok! There is a new device that tests your food for gluten. If you feel that it will help with your travels check it out. We don’t have one but many of our friends do. http://nimasensor.com.
If you decide to venture out to a restaurant Mexican is always a great choice for nut and gluten free diets. Most dishes are corn based and nut free. Guacamole, salsa and tortillas are our favorite. Make sure to call the restaurant ahead of time to see what is on their menu. Sometimes they don’t update their online menu and might have options for you that aren’t shown or they might have gotten rid of the allergy safe foods so be sure to call and talk to a manager. I can’t stress that enough. Speak to a manager! When we were away I spoke to the maitre d’ of a local restaurant who assured me that they had gluten free pasta. When we ordered it, that was all they had. Literally just gluten free pasta. No sauce and they weren’t able to assure us any of the other dishes were safe. It wasn’t a great experience. I wish I had asked more questions when I called. The manager will know best and if you don’t get a good feeling from them find somewhere else. You won’t teach them or convince them of anything and it will just cause you grief.
We have had great experiences at self serve frozen yogurt shops. The machines are almost always labeled and we have always found safe options.
If you manage to find a restaurant that will accommodate you BE PATIENT. They are not taking longer on purpose they are making sure that your meal is prepared safely. Make extra time in your schedule and maybe arrive a little earlier. Desserts for us are usually a no go. Our go to dessert at restaurants for both of my kids is ice cream. Plain chocolate or vanilla. We ask that they open a new container and use a fresh and clean scooper. Be aware of milkshakes as they use blenders that have contained many different toppings and are most likely contaminated.
Surprisingly most larger chain restaurants are very accommodating. They have allergy procedures in place and special fryers and preparation areas. We found the Cheesecake Factory to be great.
If you are traveling somewhere very warm or cold be sure to get an insulated carrier as your medication needs to stay at a neutral temperature. We have yet to find one that we like. If you have one that you use, email me!
Be sure to bring with a sturdy and comfortable daypack/backpack (insulated) to put all of your food in when you travel. You’ll be taking it with you everywhere. Your daypack will be your new best friend.
I hope you found all of this information to be helpful. We are constantly learning how to travel safely and comfortably. I will update this section often with new information. I would love to hear from you so please email me with any travel tips you might have! Us allergy families have to stick together. xoxo
Stocking up on non perishable food makes our trips so much easier and stress free. Most breakfasts and lunches can be enjoyed in our room.
Our friend the refrigerator!
Happy travelers 🙂