Anne King is a Toronto mom whose 6-year-old son has multiple food allergies. Her family is on the road 6-8 weeks of the year. We talked to her recently about traveling with multiple food allergies.
What is your son allergic to?
Anne: He carries an EpiPen for eggs, nuts, peanuts, sesame and wheat. He has had anaphylaxis to each of these allergens. The wheat allergy is the most difficult in terms of travel and eating out.
When your son was diagnosed, did you think you would have to stop traveling?
Anne: Well, it’s different for every family in terms of what’s possible. In our case, it’s about location: I want to be closer to civilization than I used to. Luckily there has still been plenty [of destinations] to choose from.
My husband has a peanut allergy and traveled a lot: he even hiked in Thailand 10 years ago. His planning in advance definitely helped and he has a “we can do it” attitude. I think his experience helps give me confidence, too.
How do you plan for a trip to a place you have never been?
Anne: I start out like a lot of allergy moms — by going to the worst possible case scenario and tracing it all the way through. What if he has a reaction? How will we get help? I choose destinations that have 911 service and good cellphone coverage. Then I GoogleMap how to get to the hospital in case we would need to drive. …This is kind of a solitary step in the planning. We’re not all sitting around as a family doing this part!
The second step is meal planning. My husband and I look for restaurants that may be allergy-aware and we phone them. We make our own meals in the room a lot, so we book a place that has a kitchenette or we bring a plug-in burner to cook in our room. We try to think ahead: like recently we spent a week in New York and picked the hotel based on it being close to a large grocery store. We want it to feel simple, to be simple whenever it can.
So, what about flying?
Anne: In our case, we eat at home before we fly and we only eat our own extra-safe snacks in flight. Some airlines are more accommodating than others in terms of making a nut announcement. But the reality is, no flight is going to ban all of his allergens; they are always around us. So we wash hands before eating and my husband and I don’t eat his allergens in flight.
Has your son ever suffered a reaction when you were traveling?
Anne: Yes, once he ordered fresh squeezed orange juice at a cafe. We thought: juice, safe. But they had used the same knife to cut the orange that they had used on hummus [which contains sesame].
Did you have to Epi that day?
Anne: We did. It was a moment of realizing that anything can happen. That’s why we carry.
What mistakes have you made?
Anne: One time, we stayed in a remote place with spotty cell phone coverage and no landline. Like, we might have had to go bang on doors if there was an emergency. The trip was planned by our friends who had been there before, and for them the phone thing was no big deal. I had a lot of complicated feelings on that trip!
Big lesson: be the alpha dog when planning.
What’s your advice for parents who want to travel with multiple food allergies?
Anne: Vacation is for relaxing. For everyone, including you. So for example, an all-inclusive with big buffets may be great for your in-laws, but is it the right fit for your child? Both you and your child should be happy and relaxed, that’s what makes it a vacation. And we all deserve a good vacation.