A week ago my family and I returned from a road trip across mid-western USA. With forty plus hours in the car (over eight days) you may think my husband and I plead insanity at the end of it all. Yes, we encountered the expected: The whining, the extra pit stops and being called on every second. But despite a few hiccups, there is one thing our family takes joy in - a bit of adventure. So we bonded over stories, audio books, road games, geography lessons and a whole lot of Paw Patrol (Chase is on the case!) Through long stretches of land we discovered sides to one another that brought our family to a new level of honesty and trust.
Back track to a week before our road trip and you would find a very different version of me. The thought of traveling with my food-allergic daughter was overwhelming. Past vacations were stressful - we planned trips around what she could eat which then decided where we could or could not go. We were always looking for a grocery store and the hotel we stayed in had to have a kitchenette or at least a fridge and microwave. After a few attempts at vacationing, hubby and I decided the amount of work involved wasn't worth it. We decided to take a break from traveling until my daughter's allergies improved. And if they didn't, well, we would cross that bridge when we came to it.
Thankfully, her allergies did improve. She now only reacts to two out of the six priority food allergens she was allergic to as a toddler. We can breathe a little easier these days but since she is still anaphylactic we continue to proceed with caution.
Every child is different and every family's need is different. With the help of health care professionals you can decide whether or not travelling is feasible for your family. We know that for our own family, traveling outside of North America is not possible right now. Five years from now? Maybe. We take it a year at a time. Until then, here are some ways we made our road trip a successful one:
1) Look up grocery stores for every area you will be going to.
Our family has been 'eating out' at grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Loblaws (in Canada). Hot foods are available and everyone in our family is bound to find something they can eat. This idea sparked when I was absolutely burnt out from cooking allergy friendly meals. Pretty soon Whole Foods became the new family friendly restaurant.
2) Pack snacks.
Make sure to pack enough to get you to your next pit stop or grocery store. Pack non-perishable ones until you cross the border. Pack allergy friendly bars, crackers, non-dairy milk alternatives sold in tetra packs/juice box sizes, etc.
3) Look up restaurants in the area and call ahead of time to see if they can accommodate.
We've been doing this for two years now, even in our own city. We've come across great customer service and are thankful for all the staff members who have gone out of their way to look up ingredients in their menu items. Read about our experience with Jack Astor's here.
4) Modify menu items or order "off the menu".
It's hard feeding kids, period. I am fortunate that my daughter is not a very picky eater. Even so, there are some things she will not eat. When we get to a restaurant there are two things we have in mind: 1) Find something safe for her to eat and 2) Find something she will enjoy enough so that it gets eaten.
We are usually able to achieve both needs by modifying a menu item or by ordering 'off the menu', asking the chef to make up a dish specifically for her. Case in point: Oatmeal was not a menu option at Cora's (breakfast restaurant) but I asked if they had oats*. When the answer was yes I asked if they could make oatmeal for my daughter using hot water. She happily ate her breakfast (with a side of fruit) along with the rest of the family.
*My daughter is no longer gluten free. Regular oats are not wheat free since they are processed closely with wheat or wheat products. Read my post about oats here.
5) Use the allergen charts for different fast food chains and restaurants.
We stopped at a Subway while driving to Iowa. The girls behind the counter took some time figuring out which sauce my egg-free, dairy-free daughter could have. I was having trouble receiving reception in the mid-west so I wasn't able to load Subway's food allergy chart. The lack of confidence coming from the Subway staff left me feeling uneasy. As they made our food including what was said to be an allergy friendly sandwich for my daughter, I waited impatiently for my phone to load the allergen chart. My husband paid for the food just as I was double checking the sauce they said was egg and dairy free. So glad I did because it wasn't egg free. We hopped back in the car and my daughter had an apple, banana and granola bar for dinner. Not an ideal meal but better than a trip to the ER.
Which leads me to my last point...
6) (Try to) Relax.
This is something I am terrible at and nothing highlighted this flaw of mine more so than when I began managing my children's allergies. Uptight and irritable, my mood depended on how many allergic reactions happened in that given week. It took a toll on our family and my husband and I had to work hard not to let the stress strain our marriage.
Over the past year we've gained some confidence as a family. I am making a conscious effort to relax because I know there is only so much I can do. My attitude towards my children's condition is crucial. I know it shapes the way they view themselves - their bodies and it's capabilities. I don't want my kids growing up frustrated about the ways their body limits or fails them. While we can't control the flare ups we can control our perspective and experience as much of life as we can. This was our first road trip as a family and it won't be our last. :)