traveling with allergiesI am a list-maker. And I double check it, twice. This is both a curse and a blessing when traveling with someone who has a severe allergy. On one hand, my list morphs into many smaller, specific lists—food, toiletries, medicines. On the other hand, having a number-one, top-priority item like epi-pens to pack makes the rest of the items on the list seem unimportant. If we forget something else, it is much easier, and less worrisome, to replace than the epi-pens.

To manage Henry’s nut allergy and the added stress in planning a safe vacation, I have found some helpful strategies for taking—and enjoying—time away from home.

  • Food, and lots of it. My family lives in Pennsylvania, so we try to make as few stops as possible along the way from the Lowcountry. I pack “snack bags” with a variety of fruits, granola bars, vegetables, cookies, and gum. This is one of the more time-consuming parts of packing for us, but finding a restaurant that is safe or that can accommodate us on the road is not always guaranteed. So, I pack a lot of food. There is nothing worse than a hungry child (although it is likely that he has just eaten). Henry can grab one of his snack bags and eat a relatively balanced and safe meal. He usually asks for the gum before the vegetable, which can buy me a good hour or two without being asked for another snack! 
  • Apps. I have found the Allergy Eats! app to be useful in finding allergy-friendly restaurants. Users rate restaurants on their ability to accommodate allergies, and we enter in the allergens we are avoiding. We still call ahead to inquire about Henry’s allergens and the possibility of cross-contamination, but making choices about whether to stop or not becomes easier if we know that others have had positive experiences with the restaurant. And, don’t be afraid to try a restaurant that is not on the list. We have been pleasantly surprised by various restaurants who go above and beyond to read food labels and call manufacturers about food items for us.  Stopping during a non-peak time of the day to eat also gives restaurants more time to answer questions and accommodate guests with allergies.
  • Wipes. I may look like a regular germaphobe wiping down a table in a restaurant or a seat on an airplane, but, really, I am wiping away any traces of nuts that may have been at the table or chair before Henry sits down. A general misconception is that hand sanitizers will do the trick, but these have not been found to remove traces of an allergen reliably (FARE—Food Allergy Research & Education). I buy a bulk supply of wipes and keep them in my purse and the car when we don’t have access to good ol’ soap and water. Sometimes I feel like Mary Poppins with the seemingly never-ending supply of items that I pack into my purse, but I have found that having more than what you need is better than not having it when needed.
  • Toiletries. Shampoos, soaps, lotions—some people covet these freebies from hotels, but they are on our caution list because they can contain allergens. Growing up in the age of all things flavored and scented, I was a Bath and Body Works regular. However, nut oils are becoming a more common ingredient in these products. I have had to sacrifice some of those fragrances and read microscopic ingredient labels to know what is safe and what is not.  Hotel brands may not have labels, so we have our own toiletry bags that are pre-packed and stored in the closet. This makes packing essentials a bit easier and less worrisome. The “no label-no eat” rule also translates into “no label-no shower” rule, but that seems to be less tolerable when we are packed into smaller spaces on vacations!
  • Epi-pens and other medicines. Vacations with excursions can be tricky. Epi-pens have to be kept at a certain temperature or the potency of the epinephrine can be compromised.  The ability to carry the epi-pens can also be a challenge depending on the type of activity. Various insulated bags are on the market and can keep epi-pens at the right temperature.  They usually have room for other medicines and first aid items, too. Luckily, fanny packs are making a comeback!
  • Call ahead and do your research. Look online or call for policies regarding coolers and/or personal food items. Some venues state that coolers are not permitted, but they may, and usually do allow people with allergies to bring food. We recently traveled to Legoland, and the park’s web site includes a guide to all of its restaurants and allergens that are present at those restaurants. Many ballparks offer allergy-friendly nights or special seating areas for people with allergies. Taking time to inquire about your needs prior to visiting or planning an activity can create a less stressful and more enjoyable time.

Part of managing a severe allergy is living life as normally as possible. Yes, there is added stress when planning a vacation, but it does get easier with time. Even though I have long since given up hope that one day my purse will be my own (and not filled with hand wipes and snacks), it is an arsenal of goods that help to keep Henry safe. And, if all else fails, I have plenty of gum.



Deirdre Johns is Mom to Henry, an eight and a half-year-old lover of animals and nature. She has been teaching English for thirteen years and has lived in the Lowcountry with her family since 2012.