Traveling with food allergies can be very challenging - whether it is for those fun summer vacations or busy holiday times. Either way, being prepared and having a good time is completely manageable! Here are are a few tips I've posted before on how we make things work!
The holidays are a time for travel-whether you have guests coming in, you are going out, etc. If you are living with food allergies/sensitivities, etc, it can be very hard not to mention detrimental to your health. This is especially true for children with problems as it can be hard for them to illustrate how traveling affects them. After the little bit of traveling I've done recently, I thought I'd give you all some ideas on how to travel safely this holiday season or any time of the year. In addition, these tips are also good for those of you trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle or save money!
Traveling to relative's homes
When you are traveling to a loved one's home for a gathering, it can still be just as difficult - maybe even harder - to find ways to accommodate your needs. Whether you are driving, flying, walking, whatever, it is likely a guarantee that there will be food or drinks of some sort. I have learned that there is RARELY any gathering where people do not eat. In addition, symptoms can vary depending on what your sensitivity is to and how it affects you. Here's a few tips to get through the traveling happily:
1. Be upfront about your issues.
This is probably the most important thing I've learned. More than likely your family will understand your situation. If they don't, is it worth being miserable by not speaking up? Sure, Grannie might be upset you don't eat her quiche or bread pudding but at least you'll be able to spend time with her later, rather than the bathroom. It may be worth vaguely (if necessary) discussing your symptoms just in case you do have a problem arise while you are visiting. That way Mother-in-law or Auntie knows what to expect if you suddenly need to rest or have to miss out on something they've planned.
2. Come prepared for food.
If you have severe food allergies, bring your own food. It may sound crazy but trust me, it's worth it. Again, if you have previously discussed your situation with your loved ones, they won't be surprised. For example, on Thanksgiving this year, I literally brought a lunch box to our dinners so that I could still eat with family, yet avoid any cross contamination. What most people don't understand is that it only takes a small crumb to create an immune response in someone with a gluten allergy/sensitivity. Another thing that is hard to understand is how frustrating it is to stick with a restricted diet and have something cause a flare up in symptoms. If you know that you are highly sensitive, avoid the possibility of cross contamination. If that isn't as much of a problem for you, just make sure there is something available for you to eat. My families try to be more than accommodating to my needs. They try to prepare foods I can eat, cook separate foods for me or just buy foods they think I will eat. If your loved ones want to provide you with foods, let them or politely tell them you'll bring your own. It's much less stressful if you know you have something. Otherwise, look for a grocery store close and buy your own. Again, just make sure your hosts know you will be bringing food so they can have space in the fridge/pantry for you. Obviously, this is easier if it is a come and go dinner. If you are staying overnight, there will be a little bit more work needed to prepare.
3. Come prepared for staying.
If you are staying overnight, make sure you have your comfort items with you and any medications you may need. Your hosts might have some items available but to be safe, have some yourself. In my overnight bags, I make sure I have all of my medications, plenty of clothes, my own food (as mentioned above), and my comfort items. For me, I always bring my favorite essential oils that I find comforting, my own clean/gluten free body products/makeup, herbal teas and my heating pad just in case I have a bad day. It will be less nerve-wracking if you have items you know will help you feel better and less stressed. These items can also help while traveling to your destination.
4. Remember to relax
This is the hardest one for me to remember. I am always anxious about going anywhere. I think that is because I'm still in that healing process that is full of uncertainties. The control freak in me doesn't like uncertainty! Regardless, if you can take your mind off your conditions and situations, chances are you will feel better also. Again, by having your own comfort items, this will help. Give yourself time to rest. The holidays are very busy with places to go, gifts to open, shopping, etc. Being out of your comfort zone and doing all that other stuff is exhausting. Rest is key to your health and making sure you don't have any setbacks. As I mentioned in my #1 tip - communication will help prevent awkward situations with your hosts.
More than likely, it is much easier on you to stay home and have family come to you. Obviously, it may not be practical depending on loved ones locations, your house size, your patience, etc. Here's a few tips to make your guests comfortable while maintaining your health.
1. Be upfront (same as #1 for Traveling)
Again, communication is any circumstance is key. If you maintain a gluten or dairy free home, tell your guests. You don't need to compromise all of your hard work of keeping it free of allergens just to have it ruined because your father-in-law had to have toast for breakfast (crumbs = bad). With that being said, don't make their trip unenjoyable because you are a gluten eliminating super hero. They will want comfort items instead. In this case, just discuss what they like, want or need and see if you can come up with an alternative.
2. Be prepared with food
On the flip side to traveling, you should have foods you know you can eat. However, your guests will either have to bring it or you'll have to provide it for them. To avoid this being very costly for you, let them bring foods they offer to if you are okay with it. For me, I don't allow gluten in our home. There's been a few instances where someone brings it over anyway. That results in a situation where I have to either bite my tongue and put on some gloves to avoid touching it, or opening my mouth and causing a rather uncomfortable situation. Kind of a lose-lose deal. One thing I find that is beneficial to both parties is to share in the food prep/buying. Help show your guests what it is like living a certain food lifestyle. For one, they may learn more about your situation and diet. Two, they may become more understanding of your health needs. When we moved into our new home, we had to live at my in-laws for a few days until our house closed. It really wasn't until those few days that they understood my condition. My father-in-law even bought some gluten free bread from a local restaurant for me. It was very sweet, but I couldn't eat it because it was made with eggs. They got to see the care and work that goes into keeping my diet on track. From food buying to food prep and avoiding contamination - it was a long week! I unfortunately did get into contact with gluten and they also got to see some of the drawbacks associated with that. It was nice though to make gluten free foods for them to try and showing them new recipes to try.
3. Make your guests comfortable
They may not have issues with food but they may have other issues that need accommodation. Just as you would, make sure you can provide them with comfort items they may need if they aren't bringing their own. I love hosting parties, especially around the holidays. We typically have a Christmas brunch. I like to offer different kinds of coffee for our guests. I don't drink coffee at all and my husband likes a certain kind. However, some people NEED coffee and I am not one to interfere with that, especially after being woken up by noisy children at 5 am to open presents.
Traveling to hotels
We are lucky, the majority of our family lives close, but on occasion we do travel places that require a hotel stay. Honestly, for me this is easier than traveling to family. The reasons are in the tips below:
1. Book a suite
Not kidding. I'm not talking like a 4 bedroom, 2 bath, house type suite; just a simple suite with a kitchenette. Most rooms come with a mini fridge and microwave in a standard room but depending on how many meals you will need to eat, that may not be enough. I'm pretty picky on my hotels so I don't typically skimp on this cost. It is a comfort thing for me. I want clean, comfortable and convenient - all within a reasonable price range. If we travel overnight, we get a room that comes with a stovetop, kitchen sink/dishwasher, microwave and fridge. No exceptions for us on this. Some of you may be just fine with a mini fridge and microwave - but we don't eat out (see below). It depends on your funds, your needs and your preferences but a suite is great for comfort. After all, you will be making a home away from home.
2. Bring your own food
This is great if you book a suite. If you are concerned with the extra price of booking a suite, consider this breakdown.
Suite = $150 per night (with kitchenette) x 3 nights = $450
Groceries for suite = $125 for 3 nights/4 days (12 meals) = $125
Total Costs for Suite = $575
Hotel = $80 per night (standard room) x 3 nights = $240
Food = $10 per meal/per person (eating out 3 nights/4days) x 12 meals x 4 people= $480
Total costs eating out = $720
Total Saving with suite = $145
I'm all about saving money, so I like that calculation. However, this is also dependent on your likes, needs and desire to make your own food on your vacation or while traveling. There are so many restaurants that are becoming more allergy friendly. This is awesome, but again, cross contamination can be a problem. This all depends on your dietary needs. I really miss the convenience of eating out but it is more important for my health and our trip to avoid problematic situations. Trust me, I've ruined traveling, dates, etc by picking convenience over health. If you bring your own food, it can easily save money by avoiding restaurant costs. It is also healthier. We all know how bad fast food can be - just avoid it.
You can even pack lunches. What we do is each kid gets a little baby wipe container for the car. It has healthy, non-messy foods, toys they can have in the car. I also bring lunchboxes so we can prepare a meal at the hotel for our busy days out and about.
Also, pack your own spices, oils, etc. Those little wipe boxes are GREAT for holding small items in place. I keep a few little containers of our go-to spices (ginger, turmeric, salt and pepper, garlic, Italian seasonings). I also pack some coconut oil in a small mason jar since we usually buy it in bulk.
3. Know your travel route
Whether you are traveling by air or car, know where you are going and where stops are available. If digestive issues arise while traveling, you will at least be a little prepared. I like to know where the best stops are for walking around, gas, restrooms, etc. This is also crucial for traveling with children. If possible, try to plan your travel time during your "good" times. For example, if you typically feel terrible in the mornings - leave later in the day. If you can manage, sleep during the travel. My husband is amazing (and hates my driving) so he ALWAYS drives. That leaves me to being the navigator (thank God for GPS) and to rest/relax. Also, be prepared for a symptom flare up during travel. Bring necessary medication, comfort items, etc. I have a "emergency bag" in every car we have. It includes items that I would need in case I have a flare up. That way if we are going long distance or if I'm going to the mall - it's there. Plus these items tend to be a peace of mind more than anything.
1. Enjoy your time and have fun
If I have learned anything from my food allergies, it is that you can't let it ruin your time or run your life. I have spent a good amount of time (and still do) avoiding social situations. However, that doesn't make your problems go away and it doesn't make you feel better about them. That being said - accept your situation (whatever it is) and enjoy your life. Make the most of your time away from home or time with family. Enjoy the blessings in your life and be happy. Keep these little tips in mind hopefully they will help you accomplish this! Enjoy your holiday season and have safe travels!