March 2, 2011

On the Go: Traveling a bit farther than your backyard

You've booked your tickets and marked your calendars.  Now the real planning begins!  Here are some steps I take to make sure my food-allergic kids have a safe and fun time away from our home turf:

A bonus of condos is having a fun washer/dryer!
  1. When booking accommodations, I look for condos or suites with kitchens. Yes, it would be great to call room service and have hot food magically appear at my door and dirty dishes leave the same way. But, like so many other simple pleasures of yesteryear, this is not a luxury we food-allergic families can easily enjoy. Having your own refrigerator and range will give you far more control over what your kids eat, even if it means you haven’t gotten both feet completely planted in vacation mode. (With kids, will they ever be??)
  2. If we're staying with friends or family, I explain ahead of time about our kids' food allergies and check if I can use their kitchen for preparing safe food.  I give them a heads up that I'll be a kitchen fixture :) by having to read ingredient labels and asking questions about every food that's served.
  3. I bring two sets of medication along plus the kids' doctor information in case I need to refill a prescription.
  4. Food shopping right off the bat might not be an exciting start to your vacation but it is a necessity.  To make it as short as possible, I plan out meals and figure out which stores to shop ahead of time.  Bring along recipes, shopping lists, and small, dry foods.  (My faves are spices, oatmeal packs, semisweet chocolate chips, whole wheat pasta, and fruit leather.) I like to keep an old receipt to remember what staples we use and how much our family typically eats.
  5. Anytime we are buying food for the kids, I check the ingredients or ask for food servers to check.  I always ALWAYS inform servers about our food allergies. Even if it's something that we've eaten dozens of times before, it doesn't hurt to check.  All chefs follow different recipes or may decorate your food with an unsafe garnish.
  6. I like to check out safe restaurant options ahead of time using sites like Yelp.  If you have your heart set on a particular restaurant, give them the lowdown on your food allergies when you call to make a reservation.  You'll have a better chance of them accommodating your needs if you give them advanced notice.
  7. I check out policies on outside food for any paid-admission places we'll be visiting. I also keep valid doctor's notes with the medications at all times because, ultimately, my first choice is to bring along my kids' meals wherever we go.  I don't want to be forced to leave safe snacks in the car.  
  8. Our kids wear allergy alert wristbands such as these made by STATkids.  We also bring along allergen lists to check the safety of ingredients in unfamiliar market items and restaurant foods. 
  9. Ryken's allergy bling-bling go wherever he goes.
  10. If traveling to a foreign country where you don’t know the language, find out how to say and write about your child’s food allergies. I recently discovered Allergy Translation and Select Wisely, companies that sell printed health and allergy alerts in various languages. Brilliant! If you can’t find translations online, ask a bilingual local for help when you're at your destination. 
  11. As a precaution, I check out the location of the nearest hospital wherever we go and make sure we have doctor and health insurance information.

Hopefully these tips will make you feel more confident and less nervous about traveling.  Share with us your helpful planning tips, too!

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