Tips on traveling with kids and food allergies

Traveling with kids can be challenging, but when your child has special needs or in my case severe food allergies, it adds a whole layer of complications.  My now teenage son has several life threatening food allergies which makes traveling and eating out very stressful.

To alleviate the stress on you, your child and family, I have learned the best thing to do is spread awareness and plan.  Prior to taking a trip, I suggest the following:

1. Contact the hotel management. Regardless of what type of hotel you are staying, call the concierge, hotel manager and if necessary the Chefs office prior to arrival and follow-up with an email.  Yes, its time consuming but the worth the extra effort.  On several occasions hotels have made my son special desserts and even prepared a list of "safe" menu items.  It was a very nice touch.

2.  Prepare for Airline travel.  There is so much debate over serving peanuts on the plane.  Until the airlines completely remove them and if your son is allergic to nuts you have to plan accordingly.  When boarding, tell the stewards your child is allergic and ask them to not serve nuts or at the very least not to serve them to the rows near your child.  Pack wipes to clean the seats.  Bring food.  Do not eat the airline food, unless you are positive it is safe.  Long international plane flights are tough.  Pre-purchase meals or prepare food at home for dinner, breakfast and snacks. 

3.  Carry all medications on you - not in your luggage.  This is an obvious one, but mistakes happen and its easy to forget them.  Carry a see through bag to make it easy to double check that you have what you need. 

4. Carry International Food Allergy Cards.  When traveling abroad, carry business sized cards with your childs food allergies in the language of the country you are visiting.  Don't expect everyone to understand English and better yet don't expect them to grasp the severity of food allergies.  You can design them yourself and translate using Google Translate or go to website to purchase.

5. Speak to the Chef.  When ordering in a restaurant, ask to speak to the Chef. Waiters do an excellent job relaying the information, but sometimes you need the extra reassurance.  The Chefs I have spoken with have been very helpful as they want to prepare a safe meal so everyone can enjoy their restaurant.

6.  Avoid buffets on a cruise.  When cruising, the abundant buffets pose a huge cross contamination risk, avoid if possible. Rather, make a personal connection with the food manager or dining room Chef, in my experience the Chefs have personally made all my sons meals.  If you book through a travel agent have them add the allergies to the booking.  Many cruise lines have a pre-boarding special needs form on their website where you can ask for specific foods to be onboard.  This form should be completed 10-14 days prior to sailing. 

7.  Pack non-perishable foods in your suitcase or if you can ship them prior to your arrival at your destination. International food processing varies from the United States.  What might be safe to eat at home wont be abroad.  Don't rely on the local markets to carry what your child likes to eat.

With food allergies there is no such thing as "smooth sailing" but with extra planning your child will be able to travel and dine safely, allowing you and your family to get more from your vacation. 

What do you do to prepare for a trip with a child who has food allergies?

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