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By: Melissa Enos | AFAA Editorial Contributor
"When you feel like keeping your child safe and well-nourished at home is a full time job already, how can you possibly even think of leaving the city, the state, or even the country to take a family vacation?" 
It's vacation season!

The kids will be out of school for the summer before we know it. If a road or airplane trip is in your plans, you know that it is never too early to start preparing.  

When you feel like keeping your child safe and well-nourished at home is a full time job already, how can you possibly even think of leaving the city, the state, or even the country to take a family vacation? As a parent of a child allergic to multiple foods, I have been there and done that a few times already and have lived to tell the tale. Even better, my child has lived to tell the tale, and my family has some wonderful memories to share. This is what family vacations and family time is all about, after all, so the extra hassle is worth it. In the end, you will be glad that you did it. Some extra planning is always necessary, and once you do that, you will end up with a much happier and less stressful vacation. Here are a few steps to consider as a good starting point for that awesome trip:

Check with Your Airline Carrier

Every airline has their own policies for managing children and adults who have food allergies. The problem can be that they often pass out bags of peanuts or trail mix during the flight and this can obviously cause a danger to people who have allergies to these foods. Some airlines are more helpful than others, so it's good to check around and see the experiences that different people have had on different airlines. This could have a major effect on who you book besides just the cost of seats on the plane. JetBlue, for example, has a policy of not serving peanuts or tree nuts at all, however this does not mean that passengers boarding the plane will not have peanuts or tree nuts on them. United has begun a new policy of asking passengers who sit near the food allergic person to not eat foods with nuts in them. However, they have no way of actually enforcing this if the person chooses not to comply. Again, always read reviews, check experiences online, and call the airlines for specific policies before booking your flight. Once you have done that, make sure to talk with the staff on board the plane to make sure they are aware of your child's needs and to see how you can work with them and make sure that everybody has a safe and enjoyable flight. In these cases it works best to "kill them with kindness" instead of making demands. This is less stressful for the flight crew, less stressful for you, and also a good way to get your vacation started on a good note.

Plan Your Pit-Stops

So a road trip is more your style? It is for us! A well-planned road trip doesn't mean simply knowing what highways are clear at what time. Having kids in the car demands always having a toilet stop in mind anyway, so it helps to pair your planning with snack stops in places that have safe foods to eat. Call ahead, research websites, and know what's safe to order. That way, you're not left scrambling or wondering what your child can eat while driving an unfamiliar highway with the "I'm hungry!" and "I need to go potty!" chorus echoing from the back seat. If you reach a planned stop and the chorus has not yet begun, stop anyway. Trust me, they will end up needing to go, and they will want a snack. Your blood pressure will thank you in the end.

Book Your Hotel Wisely

So you've figured out how to get to your destination! Great! Now, what about your hotel? Many hotels have free continental breakfasts, and this is a great thing for many of us. Unfortunately, this is not such a great thing for children allergic to the majority of what most hotels offer. One thing my family has learned is to simply book a hotel that has a kitchen already included in the room. No, this doesn't mean an expensive suite. In fact, in my family we are firmly of the belief that the hotel is just where you crash, and the money should be spent on all the fun that goes on outside the hotel. At least a couple hotel chains offer rooms with kitchenettes at reasonable rates, Days Inn being the one that we tend to frequent. Besides offering a more safe and convenient way of feeding your child hot and nutritious food, a kitchen can actually save you money by having breakfast "at home" instead of going out. The practical mother in me also loves kitchenettes because they save me time. This means I don't have to wake up early to make sure everyone is ready on time to leave early to get to the restaurant (a great way to start the day frazzled when no one has eaten yet). We can simply have breakfast while other members of the family are showering, doing their hair, or getting dressed. It's a great way to sleep in and start the day with a more normal and familiar routine, and as hard as my family plays, this is a very good thing!

Communicate With Your Destination

Most popular vacation spots, especially amusement parks, have very strict policies as to what foods you can and cannot bring into the park. Most times, simply letting the attendant know at the gate is all you need to do. However, other parks, like Sea World, are much stricter. Sea world boasts their food allergy friendly menus and their ability to cater to persons with food allergies. Therefore, they are likely to suggest you talk to the person serving your food for food allergy friendly options. In our case, having a child with so many food allergies as well as food aversions, a complete meal that he could eat safely is simply not realistic to expect any park to prepare. I emailed the park weeks ahead of time to let them know of my situation, and after a few back-and-forth emails (where the staff was sure they'd be able to offer suggestions that could work), they finally wrote a letter for me to present at the gate allowing me to bring in my own food for my son. Although this is the most work I've ever had to do in communicating with an amusement park, I was very impressed with the way that Sea World handled my situation. They are truly making an effort to cater to persons with food allergies, and frankly if they had been able to offer something that would work, I would've been thrilled! It would've meant that I wouldn't have to carry food for my son, and that would've meant one less bag on my shoulder. The main thing to remember when working with any vacation attraction is to communicate with them in writing ahead of time to see what their specific policies are and how they can work with you. It is always best to take care of this before you reach the location in order to avoid any unnecessary stress (yes, lessening stress is very much a theme in everything I do!). The last thing anyone wants is to be stuck at a gate waiting to explain your situation to a manager when all you and the kids want to do is go play.

Make a List - And Check it Multiple Times!

There are many things that tend to get forgotten when we go on vacation - Epi pens should not be one of them! This, I'm ashamed to admit, is one mistake that I have made, and it was an expensive one. Sure, I checked my list before we left the house. I had the Epis with me when we got in the car. But after switching to a rental car at a family member's house before heading out on our road trip, the purse with the Epis was left in our family car. We ended up calling our pediatrician to have her call in a prescription for us to pick up at our destination. That was $300 we didn't want to spend right off the bat, but a lesson definitely learned. Make sure you know where your emergency materials are at all times, and check for them before you leave any car, restaurant, museum, park, etc.

Identify your Child

Take extra steps to make sure your child is safe in the event that he or she gets separated from you. If your child is too young to provide park staff with your contact information - and just as important, allergy information - make sure they are wearing that information on med alert IDs of any type that is convenient for them to wear. It's one thing for a well-meaning staff member to have your cell phone number to call with your child's location, but the same well-meaning staff member might also be tempted to try soothing your frightened child with a chocolate chip cookie while they wait. It's best to avoid this situation if at all possible.

Take a Deep Breath, and Know the Hassle is worth it.

Yes, this can be a lot of work. If, like in my case, your child's list of allergies includes most of the "top 8," the work can be even more daunting. All I can say in response is that it's worth it. If the thought of managing allergies is the only thing keeping you from making the decision to book that trip, I say go for it. There is enough that our children have to say "no" to when food and socializing is involved, the last thing I want is to tell my son that vacations and trips are on the "no" list as well. I can say from first-hand experience that all the trouble was worth it 5 minutes after walking into Disneyland when I got to see my little boy run into Pluto's arms. That first trip was scary to plan, but the more we do it, the more it becomes part of our normal planning, and the more grateful I am that I decided not to listen to my "crazy over-protective mom" inner voice.