Traveling With Food Allergies

Traveling With Food Allergies

Since my son’s food allergy diagnosis 6 years ago, I have learned SO much information. I have learned the most common allergies, about cross contamination, which food brands are safest, and what to do in the event of a reaction.

Our family has navigated through numerous holidays, parties, and public school. Some days, I would even consider myself a food allergy expert. So, imagine my surprise when food allergies had me dumbfounded on our holiday road trip. Please allow me to explain…

The last real vacation my family took was to Disney World back in 2014 (when my food allergy babe was about the size of a lima bean in utero). Between busy schedules, tight budgets, and medical troubles vacations just haven’t been high on the priorities list. Though I am experienced with the restaurants and activities in our area, tackling food allergies 10 hours away from home on a holiday weekend was a whole new experience.

Traveling with food allergies

Some of the challenges I managed to navigate successfully. Others left me feeling like a failure as a food allergy mom and advocate. Despite the intrusive thoughts, I decided to use my road trip experience as a lesson to myself and to others.

So without further adieu, here are the top four problems we encountered as a food allergy family and the solutions that will make the next road trip so much easier!

Problem #1 – Allergy Friendly Restaurants

Traveling with food allergies

What I Did Right…

As an experienced food allergy mom, I already know finding safe restaurants can be a huge challenge. Especially, when it comes to avoiding dairy. Chicken nugget breading, hamburger buns, and sometimes even hot dogs are all hidden areas dairy can be lurking. Because of this knowledge, the best thing that I did RIGHT was pack our own meals for the drive.

Not only does this keep my food allergy babe well, but it’s easily customizable for others in the car. It’s also more economical than drive-throughs and prevents excess stops that make travel time even longer…”Are we there yet????”

I tried to choose breakfast options that were quick to assemble as we rushed our way out the door. My kiddos mowed down pre-cooked bacon and allergy friendly donuts while my husband and I enjoyed protein packed microwavable skillets. As the driver, my husband dumped his skillet into a tortilla for a portable option while I kept the low carb bowl approach. See what I mean? Easily customizable.

For lunch, I packed a small cooler full of sandwiches, salads, non-dairy yogurt, condiments, and bottles of water. I also packed a box of non refrigerated items that I kept in the front seat. It was super convenient considering my family suddenly became ravenously hungry right about the time we were in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to worry about packing dinner because we already had plans once we reached our destination.

Traveling with food allergies
Traveling with food allergies

What I Did Wrong…

Here’s where it all started to unravel. Once we reached our destination, we were faced with the reality that all of the restaurant chains I assumed would be there, were not. We were surrounded by unknown chains, mom and pop shops, or safe bets that were “closed for the holiday.” I had made a grave mistake…

We all know what the word assume stands for, right? The word assume means “to make an a@$” out of “u” and “me.” Annnnd, that’s exactly what it did!

I was surrounded with hungry children asking “Where are we going to eat? I’m SOOO hungry! I’m starving!” A titch dramatic, but created a stressful pressure and a sense of failure nonetheless.

What I’ll Do Next Time…

Fortunately for us, we had traveled to see family. So, in our hour of food need, we were able to skip over to their house to make safe meals. But, can you imagine what would have happened if we wouldn’t have had that option? We probably would have had to live off of gas station pretzels and prayers.

That might be a slight exaggeration, but in all honesty, I’m kind of a food dictator when it come’s to food allergies. If there are no fair, safe options for my son, the rest of us aren’t going to get any either. After all, if there is one place where my son should feel normal and included, it should be around his family.

For this reason, the next family road trip will look a little different. Most restaurant chains have a nutrition and allergen menu breakdown, if you’re willing to look for it. I’ll take a few minutes to make a list ahead of time of which restaurants are in the area and which ones have safe options. This will prevent the panic induced scrolling on Google that we experienced.

Traveling with food allergies

Problem #2 – Road Trip Snacks

Traveling with food allergies

What I Did Right…

Much like packing meals, I also packed snacks. You can get so much more bang for your buck by breaking down bags of snacks from the grocery store instead of purchasing items from gas stations along the way. This option is also much healthier and everyone gets to pick what they want.

I packed a variety of options to keep my kiddos from getting bored. Some of the favorites were Skinny Pop popcorn, Made Good granola bars, Pringles, and crackers. For my grain free options, I packed Archer meat sticks, pistachios, and That’s It bars.

I also considered options for drinks. Since I had plenty of bottles of water, I just tossed a variety box of water flavoring packets into the snack box and called it a day. Yet again, a healthier option that prevent us from making unnecessary stops along the way. If you can’t tell, we are not “sight seeing” travelers, we are “rip the Band-Aid off this road trip” travelers. WINK!

There’s many other snack options that we’ve used over the years.


  • Raw Veggies
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Grain Free Pretzels
  • Lara bars

Food Allergies…

  • Apple Slices and Sunbutter
  • Siete Chips and Salsa
  • Enjoy Life Snacks
  • Yum Earth Gummies


  • Chips
  • Cracker Sandwiches
  • Cereal
  • Protein Shakes
  • Homemade Goodies

Of course there are endless more opportunities. These are just some examples of our favorites.

What I Did Wrong…

To be honest, I kind of feel like there isn’t a whole lot I would have done differently in this category other than just pack more. My family of four loves to graze and is constantly eating something.

This fact, coupled with the fact that allergy safe food was hard to find during our stay, meant our large box of snacks whittled away to almost nothing by the time it was time to head home.

What I’ll Do Next Time…

I will definitely be packing more. I will also separate the snacks meant for the drive home from the ones meant for the drive down. This ensures that there will be available options that won’t be pillaged before they are intended to be.

As another option, instead of packing ahead, I might just budget time at the end of our trip to stop at a local grocery store. Not only would it be fun to shop somewhere new, but there might be other allergy safe brands available we haven’t tried yet. Yay for new discoveries!

Traveling with food allergies

Problem #3 – Hotels

Traveling with food allergies

What I Did Right…

Unlike the snacks, there wasn’t much that I did right in the hotel category. Some of what happened was out of my control, but some of what happened could have been prevented. For now, let’s focus on what I did right.

What was a last minute impulse actually turned out to be a life saver. On our way out the door, I tossed several packets of oatmeal into the snack box just in case. I assumed (there’s that lovely word again) that our hotel would have a microwave in each room. This would allow for any issues with food allergies at breakfast.

Along with the oatmeal, I also tossed non-dairy hot chocolate and the rest of the Katz donuts we had on our drive down.

What I Did Wrong…

The first hotel dilemma we encountered was one outside of our control. As we were checking in, the front desk informed us that the pool was out of service until several weeks after our stay. They offered us a full refund and without thinking, we took it. After all, why would we spend almost $500 on a hotel missing the one feature my kids look forward to the most?

We quickly realized our mistake when we couldn’t find ANY hotels (with a pool) with rooms available. They were all booked because it was a holiday weekend. Fortunately, I was able to snag a discounted room rate at my favorite hotel in town! We’re talking gloved doormen, room service, in-house restaurants (plural), bakery, theatre, spa, and more! Again, without thinking (probably blinded by the word spa), I said YES! That was my error…

After making our way through the angelic, glistening lobby we found our room…number 9-1-1 (that should have been my clue). Our room was beautiful and had a balcony overlooking a lake view. But, something was missing. Actually, somethingS.

There was no microwave or refrigerator which meant my backup oatmeal was no longer an option. So, I called room service to see what safe options they had available for breakfast. “There’s no room service available, but we are having a beautiful breakfast buffet in honor of the holiday.” Buffet…not a word food allergy families like to hear. I inquired about the other on-site restaurant options and was told they were closed for the holiday (yeah, yeah, I get it).

After browsing the bakery, vending machines, and the $10 per person buffet for safe options without success, we decided to look elsewhere (cue the safe restaurant dilemma listed above). There were NO open, safe restaurants or grocery stores in town. So, we packed up and went to my family’s home to make breakfast. Thank God for them and the oatmeal!

What I’ll Do Next Time…

One thing is for certain, this trip taught me that I need to up my pre-trip food allergy preparation. Not only am I going to pack backup food for worst case scenario, but I need to call ahead to hotels (and even restaurants) to see if there are microwaves, refrigerators, and/or safe options available.

To take this one step further, I might even book a hotel room that has it’s own kitchenette. This would allow me freedom to make meals that I know are delicious and safe for everyone. One or two cooked meals could give us enough leftovers to use during our entire stay!

Problem #4 – Uninformed People

What I Did Right…

I loved them while I educated them (everyone from waitresses, to hotel staff, to family). Very simply put, until I had a son with food allergies, I had ZERO idea about any of it. I couldn’t tell you the top nine most common allergies and I certainly didn’t give any thought to cross contamination. So, how can I blame other people for not understanding when they’ve had no reason to?

Now, can it get frustrating when it seems like no one even considers the rising occurrence of food allergies when opening a restaurant, hotel, or hosting meals? Sure! I mean…don’t you even read my blog? WINK!

But the hard truth is, food allergy sufferers are the exception, not the rule. It’s an unrealistic expectation to think everyone should alter their lives to accommodate ours. It’s my responsibility as a food allergy mom to prepare and plan ahead of time so my son can fit in best he can. Then, I can educate others for next time.

Traveling with food allergies
Traveling with food allergies

What I Did Wrong…

Ugh…the dreaded word assume. I assumed that my family had already considered my son’s food allergies. Now, to any family who might be reading this, I don’t mean this in a condescending manner! Again, until I directly had reason to care about food allergies, they never ever crossed my mind. We understand!

However, the reason why I mention this in the “what I did wrong section” is simply to explain to other food allergy families that you can never, and should never, assume others will consider you…even if they’re family

For just a brief moment, I let the thought “shouldn’t you already know this” slip into my mind. But, harboring the expectation that your family already thinks and feels the same way you do will only lead to bitterness and resentment. Don’t let that happen! Be humble and use it as an educational moment. You might even be surprised to see how interested others become because of it.

What I’ll Do Next Time…

Educate, educate, educate. Finding my voice in the world as a food allergy advocate still feels new and intimidating. Until recently, I’ve been perfectly content to mind my own business and do what I need to do for my son.

Even with my paleo diet, I never wanted to be seen as “one of those people” who needed special dietary requirements. I never wanted our family to feel like a burden on others. It makes me cringe when we have to tell someone “I’m sorry, he can’t have that” or “I’m sorry, I’m not gluten free…I’m grain free.”

But, I accept that my current lot in life is to advocate and raise awareness on clean eating and food allergies. So, next time, instead of just minding my own business, I will take the opportunity to pass out my business cards and talk about what I do. It’s my hope that it makes the world a little bit easier for “people like us.”

Traveling with food allergies


Being a food allergy family can be EXHAUSTING! It requires a lot of preparation and forethought without any guarantees. We don’t leave the house without an EpiPen, Benadryl, and knowledge of the closest hospital yet it’s impossible to plan for everything. However, there’s no better motivator to keep going than love.

So, whether you are the one with food allergies, know someone with food allergies, or are in the food business I hope that our family’s personal experience sheds some light on the importance of food allergy awareness. Especially, when traveling in an unknown area. A few minutes spent on research could mean the difference between life and death .

This time we were lucky to have family close by. Next time, we might not be so fortunate. I feel blessed to be able to better prepare the next time we hit the road. Which after this trip…might be a while. LOL!

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