My two oldest kids have been begging — BEGGING — to go on a plane trip for, well, pretty much their entire lives. I knew we would eventually go somewhere someday, but in the past, being a single parent, I just couldn’t commit to spending the money and actually flying somewhere. Not to mention deal with the stress of traveling with a child with severe food allergies. We live two hours from Walt Disney World and we go there all the time, mostly because we’re die-hard Disney peeps, but also because Disney is amazing with food allergies. But as far as a real, honest to goodness, far away vacation, I hadn’t been brave enough to bite that bullet. Until this summer.
Now that I’m happily married (yay!) and therefore had some help, I was finally ready to
end my children’s incessant whining about never flying try plane travel. It should be pretty easy, right? I’ve got an 11-year-old with multiple severe food allergies, and 8-year-old who was recently diagnosed with ADHD along with sensory, anxiety and muscle tone issues, and an 8-month-old baby. I mean, how hard could it be?
Look at me up there… all confident and ready to embark upon our journey! Well, I may have the facade of calm, but behind those glasses is a full on stress-fest that lasted that first entire day. I was nervous. So very nervous. How on earth were we going to pull this trip off without…
A) having a medical emergency
B) me losing my mind over what/when/where we would eat every day
C) freaking the baby’s schedule completely out
D) breaking the bank???
But we did it! We actually had a fantastic, wonderful and most importantly, SAFE trip to Washington D.C. with all five of us staying safe, healthy and more or less sane. Here’s how we did it.
Plane Travel with Food Allergies
I was really nervous about this part in the weeks leading up to our trip. Over the years, I have read and read about flying with food allergies, but since we had never actually planned on flying anywhere, I didn’t pay too much attention to the details. And when you Google, “flying with allergies,” the amount of info you come up with can be overwhelming. Each airline has different accommodations; some serve peanuts and some don’t. And I really didn’t know if airborne peanut particles would be a problem or not, to be honest. My daughter has never been in an enclosed space with a couple hundred people opening peanut baggies at the same time. How the heck am I supposed to know what would happen? Luckily for me, United Airlines does not serve peanuts anymore, so I didn’t have to worry about that.
The next question was, do I tell them to announce that a passenger has allergies or not? I chose not to. Jillian is not just allergic to peanuts, but also to milk, eggs and tree nuts as well. There was no way to ask that everyone else please avoid eating anything containing any of those items (ha, as if!), so I just didn’t even worry about that part. She has eaten in a school cafeteria for years with people eating her allergens right in front of her, and she’s never had an issue there, so I figured she was pretty darn safe. Plus, the thought of hearing the groans and whispers that might happen right in front of her if that announcement was made really made me sick to my stomach. We all know how others can be about food allergies. I get eyerolls (more on that later) and side looks from time to time, and I can handle them fine. But she might not.
My next concern was bringing her medication on the plane. I had heard that a prescription was needed to take an epinephrine auto-injector (or any kind of medical needle) on an airplane. Our allergist confirmed that in a quick phone call, and I was able to run by his office and pick one up that same day. Easy peasy.
I also found out that because there is liquid in those auto-injectors, they need to be placed in a one-quart plastic baggy for security screening at the airport. So into the baggy they went, along with her prescription AND the label from the Auvi-Q box with her name on it. But what about her inhaler and Zyrtec? Where do those go? Right in the same baggy. We actually found Zyrtec tablets, rather than liquid, but we kept all her meds together, so they could easily be transferred from one bag to another if need be, and that worked really well.
I also made sure she wore her medical bracelet at all times during our trip! If she got away from us and anything happened, she would at least have that.
Airprort security actually went very smoothly, all things considered. And if we didn’t have an infant, a car seat, a stroller and two other children to deal with, it would have been a friggin’ breeze!
Our flight was at 9am, and on United Airlines, if a flight leaves before 9:45am, the snack they serve you are these delicious caramel wafer cookies… that contain milk. So, a no-go for Jillian. No worries! I had packed several safe snacks in my carry-on bag, of course. She chose a baggy of pretzels and a travel pack of Sunbutter, which quickly has become her new favorite grab & go snack!
Coke at 9am? Really?? Yes. It’s a vacation!
Keep in mind that you’re not allowed to bring drinks from outside the airport in. So if you bring a water bottle, it’s got to be an empty one, and you can fill it up at a water fountain once you get inside. There are a few exceptions to this rule, like baby’s milk and formula, but we just chose to drink the on-flight offerings.
The flight went really, really well. I was super relieved. No reactions. No issues whatsoever.
We landed at the Dulles airport shortly before noon, and since we had about an hour Uber drive to where we were staying, we thought we’d better scope out some lunch at the airport. Easier said than done. This was an instance where I had thought, “Oh, we’ll just grab some fast food there,” but it was actually more difficult than I had anticipated.
There was nothing safe for her to eat in our entire terminal. Nada. There were some fancy-ish sit-down restaurants, which we wanted nothing to do with (“fast” was the key word we were looking for here). We found one deli-type place that had pre-packaged sandwiches and wraps… with no ingredients on them. Awesome. I explained our situation and asked the woman working there if she could point us in the direction of crappy (yet safe for J) fast food joints. Wendy’s was in the international terminal… but it was a good ways away. Oh, well! I guess we weren’t in that much of a hurry after all. Off to Wendy’s we went.
Keep in mind that just because there is a familiar restaurant in the airport doesn’t mean they have the same menu as the free-standing ones you’re used to. In fact, most of them have a very condensed menu, with only some of their items for sale. Luckily, they had Jillian’s usual burger, Dave’s single — no cheese. And fries. Oh, how that girl loves her fries!!!
First flight DONE! Lunch inhaled, grabbed an Uber and headed to D.C. Which brings me to my next topic…
Where to stay
We’ve stayed in a handful of hotels in Jillian’s lifetime. Many of them on Disney property, and most of the times were when she was very little and easy to pack food for. A couple packs of baby/toddler food, and we were good to go. Now that she’s older, staying in a place without a full kitchen to cook in is a challenge.
Our plan for this whole trip was to cook/make as much food as possible and to avoid eating out for the most part. Not only is it wildly stressful to try and find her safe food in a strange city, but it’s just darn expensive, too!
This is where I sing the praises of finding a place to stay through AirBnb or VRBO. My parents own a condo near Disney World, and I help them manage it and rent it out through both of these sites. So I’m familiar with how it works — and what you can get for your money! For roughly the same price as one hotel room (usually, depending on the city), you can get So. Much. More when you stay in someone’s home. Not IN someone’s home that they’re currently living in, where you have to share a bathroom with strangers — although you CAN find that on there — but in someone’s empty vacation home, or basement apartment, as the case was for us in D.C.
My top 3 reasons to stay in an actual home when you’re traveling with food allergies:
- You have a full kitchen, stocked with pots, pans and all you’ll need to prepare food for your loved one and/or your family. Sometimes hotel microwaves and mini-fridges just won’t cut it.
- You get a lot more space to chill out. Traveling with kids is stressful. Throw in food allergies on top of that, and you’re going to need a break at the end of a long, hard day! My big kids had their own room, with their own beds, which kept whining to a minimum, and gave hubs and me a chance to relax and do our favorite thing — watch Project Runway reruns on the Roku they had. Yay!!!
- You have access to things like a washer & dryer or a dishwasher. You never know what will get messy, and when you’re packing lunches everyday in your reusable sandwich & snack bags, like we did, it’s nice to just come home and toss a load in the washer.
Just look how comfy (and pooped!) they are!
It’s a good idea to research ahead of time exactly where the closest grocery stores are to where you are staying. We had found that there was an Aldi just over a mile away. And even though it was a pretty tiring walk with all the kiddos, after our 2+ hour flight and 1-hour Uber ride, it was necessary to go ahead and get our grocery shopping out of the way. We got sandwich stuff for lunches, the basics to make the kids’ favorite spaghetti dinner, and cereal and almond milk for breakfast. Plus some fruit and snacky things, too. The only thing we couldn’t find at Aldi was safe, egg-free mayo for Jillian. I hadn’t planned on finding it there, and I had actually located a Whole Foods nearby… but after walking and walking (and the entire traveling day we had just endured), I wanted SO BADLY to not have to walk another half-mile out of the way to go get one item. There was a Safeway grocery store right next to Aldi. I know nothing about Safeways — we don’t have them near us at home — but I figured I’d rather check there than go way out of our way unnecessarily. And guess what?! They had egg-free mayo!!! HALLELUJAH and praise the Lord! Let’s go home, make spaghetti and watch PR!
Tomorrow, I’ll be posting about what and where we ate while in D.C.! For now, enjoy some candids from our trip!
Check back tomorrow for what & where we ate while in Washington D.C. And don’t forget to comment and let me know if you have a safe milk-, egg- and nut-free breakfast spot!