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How to travel with severe food restrictions

Diane Ashoff has a background in mathematics and a keen eye for baby name trends. She lives with her husband and three children in Florida.

Don't let food sensitivities get in the way of your summer plans

If you've recently been diagnosed with a food allergy or condition requiring dietary restrictions, you might be feeling like your travel days are over. With a little prep and planning, this doesn't have to be the case.

Allergies are just one reason for dietary restriction, but people deal with a limited diet for more reasons than you can imagine. Diabetes, gluten intolerance, sulfite sensitivities... the list goes on and on. If you're living with any of these, you know your safe foods, and you know the foods to avoid. Keep that in mind as you plan.

My youngest son deals with intolerance to multiple foods. Though not true allergic reactions, many foods leave him covered in a rash or sick to his stomach for the rest of the day — not exactly how anyone wants to spend his or her vacation. To make travel possible, we've learned to adapt to the situation with a few simple steps.

1. Stock up on necessary medications

Whether you are living with life-threatening food allergies that require an epinephrine auto-injector, take daily insulin or need digestive enzymes with larger meals, make sure you have enough medication to last throughout your trip. Speak to your doctor ahead of time to let him or her know you will be traveling and find out if he or she recommends prescribing additional medication in case of emergency. You can read more about traveling with severe food allergies requiring medication on the Food Allergy Research & Education website.

2. Scope out the locale

Whether you're traveling to a resort, hotel or a family member's house, get a good idea of what will be offered. Look up restaurants in the area and call ahead to see if they make ingredients lists known, either publicly or upon request, or if they are willing and able to prepare meals you can safely eat. Clue in family at the other end about your dietary needs and find out if they will be able to accommodate you. Know where the nearest doctors and hospitals are in case of emergency.

3. Be prepared to make your own food

Some food restrictions can be avoided simply, while others involve ingredients that are more insidious, meaning dining out isn't an option. If this applies to you, start with a road trip a few hours from home. It will help you get used to being away, but you won't be so far that you are trapped without options. Car travel allows you additional cargo space to pack pans, utensils or whatever else you might need to feel comfortable cooking away from home. After enough practice, you'll develop a strategy for packing lightly, putting air travel back on the table.

While preparing your own food on vacation might make it feel like less of a getaway, you can save yourself a lot of worry. Look for destinations with nearby grocery stores, and always book a hotel room with a refrigerator and a microwave oven or range. A rental house with a full kitchen might be an even better option, if your budget allows.

4. Pack as much safe food as you can carry

My son's particular food sensitivities mean we can't fall back on fast food or a quick bite somewhere, so we always have a meal or snack for him in our bag. We have a cooler that plugs into the car's lighter to keep perishables cold for a long drive without having to rely on ice.

When going away for just a few days, you can cook food ahead of time and reheat it as needed. Most places that say outside food isn't allowed will make an exception for food allergy sufferers — including popular theme parks. Call ahead to be certain, but a note from your doctor will go a long way.

The most important thing to remember when traveling with severe dietary restrictions is a vacation doesn't have to be all about the food. Structure your trip around exciting experiences where the meals will be secondary to the fun. Don't let this be the thing that stops you from enjoying the hell out of your summer.

More on living with allergies

Should airlines ban peanuts to protect people with food allergies?
Do I have to part with my pet if I have pet allergies?
School lunch: Pack it or buy it?

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