Travelling with kids takes a lot of preparation, but what about those families dealing with life-threatening food allergies?
We spoke to Inner West Mum Kristie Venets, who, after many years of staying within Australia, decided to embark on some international travel with her family. Two members of the family have anaphylactic allergies, including Kristie’s eight-year-old daughter Emily, who has severe tree nut and fruit allergies. In addition, three members of the family suffer from asthma. Kristie recently returned from a successful family holiday to Fiji.
‘It’s taken us eight years to feel comfortable enough to take the risk of travelling outside of Australia,’ says Kristie. ‘We knew that we needed to take precautions and we were about as prepared as we could be. We’ve actually been to quite a few places this year, but by far the best experience, from an allergy perspective, was our recent trip to Fiji.
‘Before booking our Fiji trip, we were aware of the medical facilities that are available. We decided to stay on the mainland of Fiji due to its proximity to hospitals and in case medical evacuation was needed. We chose two resorts for our stay. We emailed each hotel ahead of time to determine their processes dealing with allergies. We also called our airline in advance and made them aware of our allergies.
‘We gave antihistamine and Ventolin before boarding each of our flights. Our tickets came with priority boarding, which allowed us the chance to minimise the risk of exposure to any allergens within our seating area. Although it’s not a proven method, we wiped down all the surfaces on and around our seats using a lot of pressure to remove any traces of allergens. We also brought our own snacks and drinks with us.
‘When we got off the plane in Nadi, we could see and smell the smoke from sugar cane being burnt. Thankfully it wasn’t bad enough to exacerbate asthma. Our use of preventative medicine prior to leaving and throughout our stay probably helped with this.
‘We were so relieved to find that both hotels were amazing in dealing with allergies. At the first hotel, all of the staff are trained in first aid. A number of the staff have anaphylaxis and asthma training too. Each day at the restaurants, we were able to speak with the morning and evening chefs, who gave us a run-down of the safe foods available on the buffet or that could be prepared from scratch. They also took a photocopy of the ASCIA anaphylaxis plans and distributed these to each of the head chefs.
‘The second hotel, which was located further from a major hospital, had similar processes for ensuring our food was prepared safely. They gave our daughter a white wristband to wear when dining at the restaurants so staff would be aware of her allergies. Whenever we went to a restaurant or called for room service the staff would indicate they knew of my daughter’s allergies and we would discuss the food options with the chefs.
‘We were comfortable leaving our two children with nannies and at the kids’ club at both resorts. Both the nannies and the kids’ club staff took responsibility for my daughter’s “anaphylaxis kit”, which has all the medications she requires in case of a reaction or asthmatic episode. It was the second hotel’s policy that children with anaphylaxis need to be accompanied by a nanny during peak times (at our expense), which of course we arranged. On each occasion, we were sure to provide our mobile numbers and stay within the resort in case there was an issue. We chose not to send our children to the kids’ club during the evenings as they visit a restaurant for dinner.
‘We were fortunate that no episodes were experienced during our holiday. There was just one scare, however. At one point we allowed our daughter to have her hair braided. I didn’t think to check if they would use any hair products. As I was watching the braiding, I saw them putting something foreign into her hair. I raced over: it was coconut oil. Luckily for her it was not one of her allergens, but it does go to show that when travelling you should always assume the unexpected.’
Photo courtesy of Kristie Venets
Some tips for travelling as a family with allergies:
- Email the hotel/s in advance to determine any processes dealing with allergies.
- Call the airline to advise of any allergies. This is sometimes a condition of the ticket. Beware that some airlines do provide or sell nuts on board.
- Take out travel insurance, and be sure to disclose asthma, allergies and/or anaphylaxis.
- Discuss with your doctor or allergist any risk-minimisation strategies for high-risk areas, e.g., administering antihistamine or asthma preventers prior to departure and during your trip.
- If you carry an Epi-pen, be sure to take additional ones in case any are used or lost during your travels. For asthma management, take additional Ventolin, asthma preventers, etc. according to your family’s needs.
- Get a letter from your doctor to cover your family’s various medications.
- Bring copies of each family member’s allergy, anaphylaxis and/or asthma plans.
- Carry your Epi-pen, antihistamine and/or Ventolin with you at all times. Split the additional medications amongst your luggage in case any bags go missing.
- If you’re leaving your children with a nanny or at a kids’ club, consider staying close by. Always carry your mobile phone – two preferably, in case you can’t get reception with one.
- Bring your own snacks. Even though you can buy the same brands, they may be manufactured in different countries.
- If you send your child to the kids’ club, be aware that meals and/or snacks may be provided.
- Determine the address of the nearest major hospital and the phone number for emergency before you get to the country.
- Take language cards explaining any allergies and medical conditions.
Want to know more? You’ll find some excellent information on travelling with food allergies here.
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