Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Travel Tips for Food Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

Summer is a great time for family vacations. Whether it’s a road trip to see natural wonders in our scenic national and state parks, a weekend fishing at the lake, camping, or a flight to see grandparents, vacations are luring many of us away from home for summer fun.

Travel can mean extra complications for those of us with food allergies, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay home! All it takes is a little extra planning and smart packing to make your trip as safe as it is fun.

Here are a few tips that might help if you’re hitting the road this summer.

1. Embrace picnics. If it’s a road trip, pack a cooler with safe food for lunches and breakfasts, and stop at parks or rest areas for picnics. Bread, sandwich fixings, snacks, fruit, veggies (carrots, celery, etc.) all travel well in a cooler and make for a great picnic. It’s safer, healthier, and cheaper than all those fast-food places, too. And picnics are fun – even if the weather isn’t great and you have to hunker under a pavilion in the rain, it still can be an adventure and a fun story to tell later. Those are the memories your kids will still have years later.

2. A UFAN member on the UFAN email forum suggesting taking a crockpot and plugging it into an adapter that runs off the car’s power. Put dinner in the crockpot in the morning, and by the time you reach your destination, dinner’s ready! Sounds good – but it could be dangerous in a crash (boiling grease flying through the car = bad). But taking a crockpot and letting dinner cook in the hotel room while you’re sightseeing sounds like a VERY good idea. Who needs room service?

3. If you’re flying somewhere and can’t carry a big cooler, invest in a collapsible cooler that fits in your suitcase, or buy a super-cheap Styrofoam cooler at a discount store at your destination. I have a small lunch-sized insulated bag that fits in a day-pack, so I can carry my son’s sandwich whenever we go on day-trips. I also have one of those larger collapsible coolers that fits in my suitcase, for carrying picnics and drinks to the beach. Then I pack (or buy) a bunch of Ziploc bags to hold ice as well as food. Here’s a tip: fill a Ziploc bag with water, lay it flat in the freezer, and let it freeze. Presto—an icepack for slipping into that lunch sack.

4. Plan your route and scout out hotels or condos that have microwaves or kitchenettes in them. You can fix easy meals in the room that way. Not only is it safer allergy-wise, it saves money, too.

5. When you arrive at your destination, plan to grocery shop on the first day. The internet is great for finding health-food or gluten-free stores, so do a little research before you leave to find a likely grocery store. If there is a product you love that you don’t know if you’ll find where you’re going, pack it. I always take a jar or two of Sunbutter in my checked luggage, just in case.

6. On an airplane, carry plenty of safe food in your carry-on luggage. I pack granola bars (even if you don’t much like them, they can be a life-saver if you’re stranded in an airport because of a missed connection or mechanical trouble). Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain bars are nut-free and egg-free. Cascadian Farm Harvest Berry granola bars are nut-, milk-, and egg-free, and Enjoy Life Foods bars are free from the Top 8 allergens. I also pack fruit snacks (don’t carry fresh fruit if you’re going internationally, however), safe cookies, or other treats, too. We have been stuck in airports for up to 13 hours before – it may not be the most nutritious day of eating, but at least we don’t starve if I’ve got a box of granola bars in my bag.

7. If you’re traveling with other people, let them know before-hand about your family’s allergies and the best way to handle them on the road. Ask them for help in keeping your child safe.

8. Pack your own soap, shampoo, and lotion. Those cute little bottles and soaps in the hotel are appealing, but if they don’t have an ingredients label on them (and most don’t), don’t use them. Too often, they contain nut oils, soy products, milk, or other botanical products that you may be allergic to. It wouldn’t be much fun to slather on that nice-smelling lotion, only to discover that you’re breaking out in hives and have to be rushed to the hospital.

9. Carry a pack of hand-wipes at all times. Great for cleaning all the surfaces in an airplane (armrest, tray-table, seatbelt buckle, and window shade), as well as for cleaning any other surfaces in fast-food places, restaurants, etc.

10. Order a medical ID bracelet or tag for the allergic person. My son wears a cool nylon sports-band ID bracelet from American Medical ID that lists his allergies and my cell phone number. For my own diabetes, I have medical alert tags from Sticky J on my key ring and on my purse (I’m allergic to metal, so I can’t wear them on my body).

11. Traveling internationally? Visit to order translation cards – they say things like “I have a life-threatening allergy to…” and you can list all the foods you’re allergic to, and choose from a staggering array of languages. They also offer cards for other illnesses and conditions, in addition to allergies.

These are just a few tips to get you going. If you have more tips to share, be sure to post them in the comments section.

Happy travels!


Anonymous said...

Great tips. I love the one about embracing picnics. Another one I would throw out there is to get a prepaid cell phone for road trips. You never know how your roaming charges are going to be. I got a TracFone camera phone before going on my road trip across the US. I paid $45 for an unlimited monthly plan which included unlimited talk text and web. There is no activation, overage, or cancellation fees which means I could buy it one day and cancel it the next without any consequences. Definitely recommended for trips!

Sofia Britts said...

True, summer is the best time for having a road trip with your family, due to the kids being done with their schooling at that time, which is why I prepare in advance on where we will go to that everyone will surely love. Also, I always save a bit of cash every payday to make sure that I have enough cash for the whole duration of us being on the road. But when we're going on an out-of-country trip, getting a loan is best for that situation.