Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Have Food Allergies, Will Road Travel

If you happen to follow my blog, you'll know that we like to travel here and there across the US throughout the year. None of our family lives in Georgia, so if we want to see them (and sometimes, we even want to), we often head out their direction. (Of course, they come here, too.)

Typically, we drive. It's usually cheaper, and we don't travel too far outside of a day's travel anyway. Also, I like having the flexibility to Stop Right Now! if something comes up, like a potty emergency (remember Wacko?) or a screaming baby. Also, I just love staying at hotels. There's something so, I don't know, near-exotic about sleeping in a strange place in a strange city and then not having to clean up after yourself. Also, they usually give you breakfast. Man, I really need a butler.

Going on a road trip is easy with food allergies, since we can bring our own food and trash eat in the car. We have a few old standby restaurants that we can usually find if we are in desperate need of chicken nuggets--namely, Wendy's, or in a pinch Ye Olde Mickey D's.

So the actual travel part is easy--it's the staying at our vacation destination that can get tricky. When we stay in hotels, the first thing I do is make sure to remove any food gifts that the hotel peopleguys left--mints, chocolates, cookies. It happens sometimes, and those items are probably unsafe for Ryan. The other thing I do is unplug the phones, which has nothing to do with food allergies at all. It's just that Morgan heads straight for the phones and tries to confuse the poor desk clerks by asking them questions about Hello Kitty. Once, she picked up a handset that I had not yet unplugged and was very surprised to hear a dial tone!

We usually stay in places that offer "free" breakfast. And by "free" they of course mean: built in to the price of the hotel and marked up outrageously. Still, I love to feel pampered and I'm worth it, so breakfast places it is! Usually the places that offer a full breakfast have more options for Ryan. Beware of the Continental Breakfast, which features pastry that is unsafe (for peanut allergy and diabetics). We'll usually get him eggs, bacon, and a banana or yogurt. We avoid the donut and danish spread completely. Sometimes we'll pick out a tiny box of a known safe cereal.

At our big annual summer trip to the Outer Banks, we usually end up going to the same restaurants. Each year before we go, I'll email our old favorites, just to make sure that they haven't added peanuts or peanut oil to the menu in some way. We share a house near the beach with some friends and all their kids and everyone is great about helping us be vigilant about the peanut thing. It's difficult, in a big house full of kids--toddlers especially--with all kinds of food everywhere, but we've managed to make it safe for Ryan. He's quite motivated to avoid any unfamiliar foods and all of the adults in the house are hyper-aware of the situation. What's been more challenging is keeping Morgan away from potentially unsafe foods. She has not been tested for the Big 4 (of the Big 8) that we have kept her away from since birth: peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. Since our vacation is at the beach, this means she must avoid shrimp, which Ryan loves. So far, it's been successful, even though she has been confused by it all. I hope that her testing later this spring will show she is at low-risk for a reaction and then it won't be such an issue. Until next time, that is.

We have had so much support from family and friends when we come to visit. Most people will come right out and ask which brands are safe and volunteer not to break out the PB&Js while we're there. Ryan has never experienced a major reaction while traveling--only Mystery Hives (my favorite!), which happens sometimes when we're out and about locally, too. Here's hoping we can keep it that way!


Anonymous said...

Hi, Jenn,

First, love your blog.

Second, I have a PA 2 year old and have been dreading our annual beach trip with 8 couples and their kids because it will be our first time with the food issue. I would love some specific tips on how you handle it, if you have time. Thanks!


Rational Jenn said...

Thanks for writing! I'm glad you took the time to comment.

As far as specific advice, there are a few things, which you probably thought about anyway. First--talk to your friends about PA and train them to use the Epi-pen. That gets people's attention. Ask them if they can refrain from peanut butter for the duration of your vacation. Some of this is dependent on your comfort zone. At the very least, ask them to notify you if/when they eat actual peanut products in the house, and to thoroughly clean the table surfaces. Education is the key.

Toddlers and older kids tend to wander with snacks, which is where we had an issue last summer. My son is old enough to be vigilant, but a 2 year old is not. Maybe your friends would consider having a "snack zone" or two in the house, where snacks are allowed. Then you can keep your child away from the area if you suspect peanut contamination. It will require vigilance from each adult in the house. Although everyone is usually hyper-aware of the obvious peanut foods. It's the hidden peanuts that are trickiest to avoid.

We usually have an extra refrigerator in our house, for sodas and beer. We keep some of our food there, too--jelly, for instance. Don't use the community jelly jar for Sunbutter & Jelly sandwiches, since the other jars might be contaminated with peanuts.

It's hard with a 2yo, but I'm sure you are already teaching him/her not to accept food from anyone other than Mom or Dad. I think this is a good time to reinforce that with your child, and with the other adults in the house, too. It may take some explaining to older children. We've had some of the kids offer Ryan snacks, just to be nice and share, and before he was old enough to say "no thank you" I had to step in and say "no." This was a little confusing to the other kids, who after all were only trying to be nice. It's a good opportunity to explain the allergy. Depending on the ages of the other kids, they might be able to help make sure your toddler doesn't eat any contraband.

One final thing--we always bring tons and lots of extra Epi-pens. Where we go, the Outer Banks, NC, is kind of remote in terms of nearby medical facilities. We usually bring 4-6 Epi-pens, just in case we misplace any (which has happened).

Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

Great advice. Thanks so much!!