The smell of the ocean air and tantalising food mix with the sounds of waves crashing. The warmth of the moist air and gentle morning breeze caresses our skin. The sound of kids laughing and playing in the shimmering aqua pool. The view of a sunrise from the top of a volcano that is unique and can't be seen anywhere else in the world. The thrill of careening far above the tropical trees on a zip line. These are more than observations, they are experiences that shape my family and our memories. They create the fabric of our family “community”. They are the reasons we choose to travel with food allergies.
But travelling with food allergies can be challenging and this list of idyllic perks doesn't come easily. Each trip is different, but on this trip, there were a few notable moments of uncertainty caused by food allergies. After the high of booking the trip, reality sank in. While researching our destination, I found that the hospital was an hour from where we were staying. This one bit of info almost carried me over the edge. My stomach turned and doubts flooded my mind. What were we going to do if there was a reaction?
Doubts also threatened the morning after we arrived at our destination. We weren't able to grocery shop because we got in later than expected and the on-site restaurant was not safe. My thoughts tormented me: would all of our fun-time be spent searching for safe food?
Uncertainty also struck when our flight home was cancelled due to a mechanical issue with the plane. We were now forced to fly with a carrier we were unsure of and fly through the night and take 3 planes, instead of one direct flight. What would my daughter eat on this long, drawn out trek? How would this airline treat her food allergies?
Yes, travelling with food allergies can be daunting and can definitely cause uncertainty. And uncertainty has the possibility to turn into outright fear and steal our joy if we let it. But handled correctly, uncertainty can also be an opportunity. Opportunity to turn things around by thinking positively and learning more. By doing this we're able to experience life, create community in our family, and show our kids the joy of overcoming obstacles. In our family, we call this "rolling with the punches".
I couldn't have known exactly what challenges we would face before we left. But using the uncertainty I felt before the trip, I was able to plan for the unknown. There are many things that will increase safety on holidays, but here are a few things we did to allow us to safely roll with the punches.
1. Brought antibacterial wipes and asked to pre-board each flight early to wipe down the seat & surrounding area where my daughter would sit (*extra benefit-cleans the germs so prevalent on airplanes and none of us got sick). Yes, we did this 3 times on the way home due to transferring planes 3 times!
2. Packed a full carry-on (and more) of safe food which included easy, dried meals (All meals were customs approved). While at our destination, we saved 2-3 meals and several snacks which really helped on the long, delayed trek home.
3. Cooked most of our own food using cross contact tools brought from home and safe cooking methods on shared equipment.
4. Researched several safe restaurants at the destination before we left. Once we got there, we confirmed by talking with the restaurant before eating.
5. Read labels when grocery shopping at the destination. We avoided anything we were not sure of, even if we would use it at home.
6. Took time to clean the kitchen, dishes and surrounding area upon arrival at our accommodations prior to using.
All while carrying 2 EpiPens with us at all times and keeping them as cool as possible in the heat.
I’m proud to say that we didn’t let our uncertainty turn to fear. Instead, we looked at each situation and using our pre-planned solutions, we were able to “roll with the punches” and turn the uncertainty into opportunities for growth and move on to what was really important for us: a fun, relaxing holiday experience. More importantly, each situation gave us a chance to teach our allergic daughter how to take care of herself in the real world. We were able to create strong family bonds, and stretch our comfort zones to experience things we couldn't at home. Now safely back from our vacation, we can say we're glad we went and happy we “rolled with the punches” and turned uncertainty into opportunity instead of fear.
How about you? Do you travel with food allergies? What do you like or find challenging about it?
If you're going on a trip soon, get your kid's packing checklist here: