What it Feels Like to Travel with a Food Allergic Kid

(Starts with S and ends with T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L)

by: Alex Thom

We just got back from a road trip from the GTA to Newfoundland with my two kids. They're veterans of epic road trips. On Sunday, we left my parents' home on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, drove 10 hours across the island to the Port aux Basques ferry, slept on the ferry till we disembarked in North Syndey, Nova Scotia, at 2:30 AM, then drove and drove and drove (and drove) 1900 kilometres home, stopping only for bathroom and food breaks. Two parents, two kids, and a puppy in a Mazda 5. In 48 hours, we spent 32 on the road.

I bet your blood pressure is rising just thinking about that, isn't it? Mine's totally fine, because the kids are total champs in the car. It's the times spent outside the car that crank up my anxiety levels. You see, since my son is allergic to nuts, every single snack and meal on the road is potentially life-threatening, and turns every vacation into something far more stressful than it really should be. There's never a time I'm not thinking about his allergies, or where they may be hiding, or how he might react. We're constantly scouring food for evidence, always on guard, always asking questions to help protect him from an anaphylactic reaction.

There are still so many people out there who really don't understand food allergies. Even my own mother was wandering around her house eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich while we were visiting. How can she not understand that her snack could kill her grandson? How come she doesn't understand that she'll have to scrub her hands and brush her teeth before picking him up for a cuddle after eating that? How come?

Because she doesn't live with his allergies, that's how come.

Let me tell you a little about what it's like to travel with an allergic kid.

• Before going anywhere, you stock up on EpiPens and allergy meds. You're a walking pharmacy of allergy-related medications.

• Your body is always on Red Alert, always ready to act if your child has a reaction to something.

• When you order ice cream, you not only have to ask if it's nut-free, you also have to know that it's made in a nut-free facility, and explain to the teenager scooping where to find this information. Oh, and when you figure all that out, then you can deny your kid the ice cream anyhow because they use the same damn scoop in all the buckets.

• When you eat in a restaurant, you have to explain that walnuts are, in fact, also nuts, so no, that salad isn't a safe option.

• You learn exactly which oils are used to deep fry foods that nobody should be eating anyhow. And you get to explain that yes, peanut oil is the same as peanuts, so no, it's not safe. Same goes for that peanut butter-based salad dressing.

• You get to meet the chefs in all the restaurants you dine in, because they're the only ones who (maybe, hopefully) know what goes into the meals they prepare.

• You become "That Parent," wiping down surfaces with Lysol wipes and pulling out your hand sanitizer at lightning speeds.

• Your purse contains more safe treats for your kid than anything else, because you know missing out on a road trip treat is akin to having one's fingernails torn out.

• Your vacation choices are made by determining how well you can speak the local language and how prevalent allergens may be.

• The idea of airplane travel makes your heart pound because they still serve nuts on airplanes.

• You ask if all the foods are made in the restaurant, then you ask again. And you ask a third time, only to discover that yes, they're cooked there, but they're prepared elsewhere.

• Your nerves are constantly shot from being eternally on-edge, waiting to see if every red mark is the start of hives, if every cough is the start of breathing restrictions, if every reaction could be the one that kills your child.

Though it sometimes feels easier to keep them in a bubble, there really is nothing like the experiences of fun travel and vacations, and it's never been anything but totally worth our while to make these things work.





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