For most, vacationing is a short respite from everyday life. It provides the opportunity to get away from the daily grind and refocus. But, for those traveling with kids who can’t eat gluten, travel doesn’t always provide the same sense of calm. There is no break from the reality of an allergy or intolerance when you’re sitting on a beach or taking in one of the Seven Wonders of the World. In fact, it can be even more stressful during international travel because language barriers or unfamiliar local customs may raise additional challenges for you advocating for the safety and well being of your child.
Admittedly, thorough pre-planning does go slightly against the underlying spirit of relaxation. But, it is a necessary evil when embarking on gluten-free travel with kids. The good news: you are a parent raising a gluten-free kid in the Age of Information. And, access to technology and all of its advances makes gluten-free travel with kids more accessible. Use these 4 guiding principles to tackle the process successfully. In the end, you’ll walk away with the precious gift of being able to spend more time with your family where and when it counts.
Investigate different aspects of your destination. Make sure to research these three important areas before embarking on your journey:
Make direct contact via email or phone with the airline to determine what gluten-free dining options are available. Even if you indicated a special gluten-free meal when booking electronically, there is no guarantee it will actually occur. This goes for departures and returns, but also applies to transfers and mid-trip excursions as well.
A refrigerator is your friend. When you travel with kids that eat gluten-free, seek out lodging that has either a personal-sized fridge in your hotel room or a full-scale refrigerator/freezer combo in a self-catering resort stay, vacation home, or apartment. This will give your family the flexibility to always have healthy gluten-free food options on hand at any moment throughout the journey.
Do your homework to seek out restaurants that can accommodate those traveling with gluten-free kids and then make reservations there. Read gluten-free dining reviews online through websites like Find Me Gluten Free, Nima City Guides, and gluten-free specialized travel agencies like Travel Leaders and Ellen Morse Travel. Check your downloaded Nima App to gather information about options directly from the Nima gluten-free community. Investigate local and national gluten-free/allergy awareness organizations for tips and tricks on dining in your upcoming locale. Contact the concierge if you are staying in a hotel or ask the owner handling your reservation at a self-catering homestay. Then, make dining reservations with establishments that have a good track record of catering to those that live gluten-free. Although being committed to preset dining times can sometimes interfere with the easygoing nature of a vacation, it is still important to have a plan in place. Safe dining is a necessity and often times the availability of restaurants that can provide gluten-free options for kids is limited.
Packing requires a bit more focus when traveling with gluten-free kids but it can be tackled in two distinct ways:
Always pack and carry non-perishable packaged snacks. I mean a lot of them. Plan it out for each stage of travel including the outbound journey, in route transit, and coming home. Plus, think beyond the journey itself. Make sure you have gluten-free snacks on-hand for lazy days at the pool, while on excursions, and even when going out to meals just in case. Divide gluten-free food throughout your carry on and checked baggage being mindful of security size requirements and other allergens like peanuts that may negatively impact other travelers. Pack a small soft-sided cooler with a reusable ice pack that can be refrozen in your fridge/freezer and ensure it fits in your carry on. Color-code your food storage containers per family member if you have varying eating requirements and always use the same color to avoid mistakes when handing out food amongst the chaos that goes along with family travel. For longer trips, where you may be doing a lot of your own cooking, you may want to consider bringing portable utensils and dishes. This is especially important if you or your child are particularly sensitive to cross contamination.
- Carry Medicines.
Make sure that all medical necessities are on hand and within easy reach at all times when traveling with a gluten-free kid. Ensure they are placed in one designated spot every time to ensure that in a pinch you can find them. Do you have your EpiPen, kid-sized prescription proton pump inhibitors, probiotics, Nima Gluten Sensor, and sufficient Nima capsules readily available? While you are at it, make sure other items like a thermometer, children’s fever medication, antibiotic ointment and bandages are with you as well.
Be Able to Communicate.
You must be able to effectively communicate your child’s ailment no matter where you are. Seek out physical laminated translation cards through Select Wisely, digital translation card images with Allergy Translation, or turn to a translation app. Remember, if you choose to go the electronic route, make sure your translator doesn’t need to rely on a solid Internet connection and that you carry enough portable charging devices to ensure it has the power when you need it most.
Have a Talk.
Make sure to have a heart-to-heart with your kids before embarking on your family adventure. Travel brings with it the opportunity for your kids to experience new cultures and communities. But, it also brings with it a lot of uncertainty. It is important to be honest with your children about the amount of flexibility they will need to have while gallivanting around the world. There will be times when nothing encountered on the road will be safe for them to eat. And, they have to know that walking away will need to be something they can emotionally get on board with. Overly tired kids can be short on patience. Don’t wait until you are actually in a situation to negotiate.
Brandy Morgan is a former software engineer turned mom who is a culture seeker, food lover, thrill finder, and travel buff. When her oldest son was diagnosed with a chronic allergic/immune condition called eosinophilic esophagitis, her well-traveled family had to learn to adapt their escapades to be gluten-free for his safety. Through travel, Brandy strives to show her children that “different” can be beautiful, and aims to inspire others living gluten-free to take that leap to explore. Brandy writes from Texas, when not accompanying the family on one of their worldwide adventures. You can read more on her blog Kid Allergy Travel.