Ah, the open road. How it calls in the summer. Pack a suitcase, grab a friend, or your family, and get away from it all! Set out in your car with the windows down, the radio on, and a map to someplace you’ve never been before in your pocket. See the sights: rolling hills, cows, impressive sculptures of cows, and giant balls of twine!
Eat at random roadside cafes and truck stop diners!
Wait. Actually, if you have a food allergy, you should probably not do that last thing.
Use these actually road-tested tips for taking a safe road trip with a food allergy instead.
Before you go, plan your route.
When I say plan your route, I do not mean, put your destination into the map app on your phone on your way out the door.
I mean, a few days or weeks before your trip, sit down and do some real research. Try to figure out which roads you are likely to take, and which towns you are likely to make stops in, and map out essential allergy resources along your path. You can use Google Maps to find allergy-friendly restaurants you trust, and grocery stores where you can buy extra food in a pinch. Try to find at least two or three safe sources of food in each town you plan to stop for a meal in, in case it turns out that a restaurant or store on your route has changed policies or is closed.
You can also use Google Maps to locate hospitals along your route or at your destination, just in case.
You may want to print this information out and put it in a folder, in case you run into areas with poor cell phone service coverage and no WiFi.
While drawing up your road trip game plan, make sure to leave a little wiggle room in your stop and meal schedule for spontaneous side-trips or unscheduled detours along the way. (If the kids decide they really DO want to see that giant ball of twine, you won’t want to disappoint them, right?)
It’s extra work, but a bit of allergy-related planning before you leave can save you from big headaches later on the road.
Call ahead to hotels or motels you plan to stay at, to ask allergy-related questions and request accommodations in advance.
When you make your reservation, ask to have a note put into your reservation file that a person with a life-threatening food allergy will be staying in the room. Why is this important? Well, some hotels offer complementary snacks or meals to guests– and if you have a peanut allergy, you probably do not want someone handing you an unwrapped fresh-baked peanut butter cookie at the front desk, or leaving the “gift” of a bag of chocolate covered peanuts on your pillow. Also, some hotels offer special deep cleaning services for guests with allergies– to make extra sure that the previous guests’ cookie crumbs don’t wind up in your bed. Some hotels even offer special allergy-friendly rooms, with features like carpet-free floors, allergy-blocking mattress covers, and built-in air filters. But you won’t know if these services are available unless you ask!
And don’t forget to ask hotel staff whether a fridge or a microwave will be available for you to use. Even when hotels advertise that fridges and microwaves are available, it is sometimes the case that they are located not in the guest rooms but in shared common areas, or only available in certain rooms. So if keeping and cooking safe food in your room is part of your plan (and if you are traveling with a food allergy, it probably should be), make sure you discuss the details on exactly which kitchen appliances will be available, and where.
If you will be staying with friends or family along the way, make sure you speak with them well ahead of time about what your needs will be while traveling.
Remember that even very well-meaning and sympathetic people who do not manage food allergies in their own households on a daily basis may forget things that seem obvious to you. Talk to your hosts early enough in your planning phase that, if it turns out you do not feel comfortable staying with them after all, you will be able to make alternate arrangements.
Read more in this series:
Road Tripping with Food Allergies, Part Two: How to Pack.
Road Tripping with Food Allergies, Part Three: Find Safe Food on the Road.