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I’m writing this post having just finished our second week-long summer vacation. Ever since Ollie was born, most of our vacations include doctor appointments in Boston (or weddings). This year, we traveled for two full weeks of the summer! We were at Boston Children’s Hospital during the Cape Cod trip, but it’s only skin testing, I’ll take it. This post is aimed at helping you navigate a summer vacation with food allergies, specifically one where your destination is driving distance.
For us, when going somewhere for a week, I know we need a place with a kitchen. We’ve done plenty of hotel nights with a mini fridge and microwave (sometimes), but for a full week, a kitchen is a must. Figure out your “must haves” and then start searching. We lucked out with finding one house on HomeAway and the other via a friend. I like to make sure things are walking/biking distance. For some reason, not having to take the car all the time is amazingly relaxing for me. It also forces some exercise, which is really lacking in our lives these days.
I always communicate with the house owner ahead of time. Most of the vacation rental sites make it easy to send messages. I ask about food being left in the house and cleaning, always politely explaining my son’s allergies. People are usually surprisingly receptive to this! And always have a contingency plan. We usually look to see if there is a park or something nearby just in case we arrive and there is clearly a lot of food crumbs around. One of us can take Ollie out of the house while the other does some quick cleaning.
Take your house, empty out every last thing, clear the shelves of five grocery stores, balance all of that in the trunk and you’re good to go! That’s sometimes what it feels like, right? I always have multiple packing lists going. Someday, I’m going to type up a master packing list I can use as a starting point (and share with you) but that day isn’t today. The plus side of preparing for a summer vacation with food allergies is that it makes preparing for shorter trips after seem so easy.
The biggest thing for me is the food. We can always find a way to wash clothes if we run out (we do bring our own laundry detergent), but I’ve found it can be really hard to find all the brands we use. The last thing I want to do on vacation is spend an hour reading labels and trying to call companies so we can feed Ollie. In general, we bring anything that is packaged with us. I always make a list and go through everything we need by time of day/meal. For us, it is really important to have all the breakfast options we need. Same with things like wraps, pasta, some chips, and other packaged snacks. I also have our own dressings, spices, condiments, and cooking oils/spreads. Also, I never travel without Ollie’s milk, as I’ve never found it anywhere but Healthy Living. A lot of houses do have some of these things available, but you don’t know what they’ve been in contact with.
beyond the food
We didn’t make a night to night meal plan for either trip, but I had a list of four to six meal options and what we needed for those. Mason jars are your best friend for trips like this! We premixed things like taco seasoning, waffle mix, and granola for our trip. After you use those ingredients, the mason jars are great for storing leftovers or transporting extra food home. I generally grab produce and meat to bring with, especially whatever is on sale, but I’m not as worried about running out of that. It’s a great excuse to find a Farmer’s Market and grocery stores all usually have a few safe protein options for us.
We always bring a few dishes and cleaning supplies. I like to make sure we have some dish soap, hand soap, a sponge, and wipes, in addition to our own personal toiletries of course. Allergens hide in so many household and beauty products. It is kind of crazy! Ollie has slept on hotel sheets before without any issues, but for both of these summer trips, we did bring his own sheets and pillow. They were handy to have in the car and it’s just one less stress.
I’ve read about people traveling with their own microwave, toaster, or other small kitchen appliance. This isn’t something that we do. As we have our own cleaning supplies with us, we just make sure everything gets a scrub before it’s first use. The one thing that may travel with us on future trips is a waffle maker. For Maine, Amazon prime and a relative who needed one rescued us!
Food allergies or not, preparing for a drive with small children feels like preparing for battle. We have the trip to Boston down. If we time it around a nap, we sometimes don’t even make a single stop. Both of our summer trips were almost six hours, much longer. These trips are the one time where screen time limits kind of go out the window. Usually, we watch one show or movie all together on the weekend and that’s it. On long car trips, Ollie gets a movie and sometimes the iPad comes back out for another show if needed.
I also get creative with toys and entertainment. The biggest hits by far were a cookie sheet with magnets and magna-tiles and a little notebook and dot stickers. I drew a few letters in the notebook for him to cover with dots and once that was done he made a few letters of his own. We were quite impressed! Games and puzzles are great to have at the vacation house, and are the perfect way to boost up a basket of toys so they can be reached from the car seat. As the resident passenger and backseat hander backer, anything that lessens the number of times you’re cranking yourself around to help retrieve something is great.
but really, there’s so much food…
This goes without saying but summer vacations with food allergies involve a lot of your own food. Ollie doesn’t really eat food from restaurants, so it’s pretty normal for us to bring his meal with. For these trips, we packed our own safe lunch too. The PlanetBox Rover makes the perfect car tray for meals and snacks. I am still slightly paranoid about choking so I avoid foods like grapes, and cut some things extra well.
Get creative with your stops along the way. Rest areas can be really stressful for me. Ollie wants (and needs) to run around and let out some pent-up energy. I panic and can quickly get angry when he’s running around little rooms wrought with people snacking on unsafe food from the vending machine. On a recent trip, we spotted a John Deere dealership and pulled into there. We wandered around the lot looking at tractors and talking about our favorites. The employees there were AMAZING! We asked Ollie not to touch anything, but they came out and offered him a ride. We clearly were not in the market for a new tractor, but they treated us like we were their favorite customers. It was so refreshing. Another favorite stop for us is Target. Being from a state that still doesn’t have a Target, it’s a treat for all of us! Ollie is allowed to walk around and usually gets to pick out one new toy. We find lots of safe and affordable snacks there too!
When you reach your destination, assess the cleanliness. I am always prepared for some amount of cleaning and then it’s a pleasant surprise when it doesn’t happen. With both summer trips, Ollie also experienced at least a few contact hives. They were definitely worse in Maine (we couldn’t get the vacuum to work, even after a relative bought new vacuum bags) but he still had one pesky spot after rolling around on the carpet the first morning in Cape Cod. This is an exercise in my own self-control. He’s three. I have to remind myself of that. He’s going to play on the carpet. Instead of panicking and banning all floor play after the hive (like some of me definitely wanted to), we wiped him up, vacuumed, and carried on. Thankfully, that totally took care of things.
Don’t overdo it on your summer vacation with food allergies. It can be really tempting to look at a Trip Advisor list and make plans to visit every last attraction. For me, that’s a recipe for disaster. No small child is going to hold it together through jam-packed days and when you add food allergies to the mix, it’s sure to be overwhelming for the adults too. If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a big time planner. It took a lot for me to let go on these trips.
I look up the area to have a general idea of things to do, but I refrained from any day-to-day lists in advance. We play it by ear based on the weather and mood and it’s worked really well. We’re also totally fine sitting at the house sometimes. Yes, we might not make it through a guided nature walk, but I can guarantee you we are going to remember the impromptu water/ice fight that had us all rolling on the floor laughing far more than a whine filled walk with an over-stimulated child and stressed out parents. Enjoy yourself and find what works for you and your family! Even if it is sitting in a different house doing some of the same things you do at home… Happy summer vacation with food allergies! What did I miss?