Monday, March 10, 2014

Class Trip to Spain with Food Allergies

By Kelley Lindberg

It’s finally here. My son’s class trip to Spain begins tomorrow.

I know, right? Ninth graders didn’t get class trips to Spain when I was in school! But here we are in the 21st century, with 41 ninth grade students (about half of his grade at his school) leaving for an amazing 11-day adventure. How I envy those kids. And how I DON’T envy those teachers who are going as chaperones! (Ha. Just kidding, honey.)

As you can imagine, I’m a little nervous. Not only do I get all the worries of a typical mom of a typical teen, but I also get to worry about his food allergies. With his allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and lupin flour, he will be at risk from more than sunburn, blisters, or pickpockets. But I’ve prepared him, the teachers, and myself as much as I can, and I have to trust them all to play their roles well. I’m actually pretty confident in them.

While planning for this trip, we discovered that two additional students on the trip also have food allergies, and both will also be carrying EpiPens. That makes 3 kids out of 41 with severe food allergies. So our teacher/chaperones will have to stay on their toes to keep everyone safe.

Here’s how we’ve prepared:
  1. At our last Spain Trip Planning Meeting, I gave all the teacher/chaperones and many of the kids a lesson on how to recognize food allergies and how to use an EpiPen. For many, it was just a refresher course, because I do this almost every year at school. For others, it was a new experience and several thanked me and said they had no idea how serious food allergies were. Even some parents stuck around to learn about it, even though they’re not going on the trip!
  2. I got 3 pairs of EpiPens for him to take – 2 pair for him to keep with him, and 1 pair for his chaperone to keep with her. I put the pens in a case with antihistamine and his inhaler, along with copies of his insurance card, instructions on how to administer the medicine, and his photo and contact info.
  3. I got a letter from his doctor saying he needs the EpiPens for peanut allergy, just in case any airlines question them as he carries them through the security line. They never have yet, because medicines are allowed and are exempt from the 3-oz rule, but I like to be prepared anyway.
  4. For part of the trip, the kids will be staying with host families. The trip planners found a host family with food allergies of their own, so the Spanish family my son will be staying with is already familiar with allergies.
  5. I ordered Spanish translation cards from that say things like “I have a severe allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, and lupin flour. Has this food been prepared with any of these ingredients? If I eat these foods, I will have to be taken to the hospital immediately.” I have used SelectWisely cards on many trips in the past, and they are gems! The waiter can take the card back to the cook, they can discuss options, and there is no misunderstanding! I highly recommend
  6. The administration has also preordered food for all the kids at some restaurants, and they’ve let the restaurants know about my son’s food allergies. So hopefully they will be prepared and safe when they get there.
  7. Lately, whenever we’ve gone to restaurants here at home, I’ve made my son do the interrogation of the waiters about the food ingredients, so that he has become comfortable asking about the food. I think he’ll be comfortable asking the waiters in Spain the same questions now. Practice makes perfect!
  8. I’ve packed a ridiculous amount of safe granola bars, jerky, fruit leather, crackers, and other snacks for him to take on the plane, and more for him to carry in his backpack throughout his trip, so that if there are no safe food options for lunch someday, he’ll at least have something to snack on until he can find something safe.
  9. I know from my travels in other parts of Europe and from research that the labeling laws in Europe are very similar to labeling laws here, and the common allergens are required to be listed. My son is armed with those SelectWisely cards that show the Spanish word for many different tree nuts, so he should be able to read labels effectively.
  10. Finally, and most importantly, I purchased an international texting plan for his phone (and insurance on his phone), so that he can text me every day and tell me he’s okay!

By the way, in case you’re wondering what lupin flour is, it’s a flour made from a lupin bean (sometimes called lupini) commonly used in Europe in breads and pastas. It is not yet approved for use in America, so it’s rare to find it here at all and then only in things like imported pastas at specialty stores (at least so far). If you are allergic to peanuts, you have a 50% chance of also being allergic to lupin flour. So if you are planning to travel to Europe with a peanut allergy, it’s worth testing to see if you’ll also react to lupin flour. (You can read about our last trip to Italy and our experiences with food here: "Who Eats Pasta or Bread in Italy, Anyway?")

Anyway, I think we’re about as ready for this trip as we can be. My son is a little nervous, but mostly excited. After all, he’s been traveling since he was a baby, and he’s on his 4th passport now. He’s got enough of a cautious streak to keep me happy, but enough of a sense of adventure to ensure this trip will be awesome. The next twelve days might be a little hard on me, but they’re going to make a world of a difference to him, and that’s worth all the extra planning (and worry).

So, to my son and all his good friends who are traveling with him:

¡Buen viaje!


Anonymous said...

Good luck to your son (and to you)! when we went to Spain we purchased additional medical insurance through Medic-Alert in the event we had to get our child back to the US quickly.

Marie-Helene Haeck said...

Sounds like your son is off on a great (and as safe as possible) trip! I have similar allergies including to lupin and soy and I stay clear of industrial bread and pastries, as they have the most chances to contain it. I had a good experience while traveling to Spain and found most of the waiters to be understanding about allergies. Long plane rides are the most challenging for me. Fresh snacks like grapes or homemade muffins have helped me tough them out.¡Suerte to son and mom!

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

Thank you for the reassurances. The school purchased travel insurance for the kids, so that should be covered -- great suggestion! And plane rides are always the biggest challenge, so I always pack him a ton of safe meals and snacks. I hope he remembers to bring safe food with him on the way home!