Traveling for most people is work: the planning, the packing, the delays, the security, etc. Traveling for the allergy parent is down right hard work. Now that I've done it a few times, I've got a pretty good system in place. Some of these tips might even be helpful for the picky eater traveling!
The best way to prepare for a trip is plan. You should plan two things: first, the food for the travel days, and second, the food for the other trip days. I normally try to contact who I'm going to see to discuss menus about two weeks prior to my trip. This gives each household plenty of time to figure out what everyone is willing to eat.
The Menu: The longer the trip, the more people involved, the more planning. I've planned allergy friendly menus for ages 3 to 86 for family gatherings, holidays, and low-key trips. To do this, I like to make a document with five columns: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and ingredients. I fill in the meals for each time of day based on the activities of each day (eg, if I know we'll be out all day, then the meals are picnic in style). Then, I start listing ingredients for each meal/snack. Once the ingredient list is solid, I go through the ingredient list and make another list of what I need to buy when I reach my destination and what I need to bring with me. The foods I need to bring with me get packed in a suitcase with my clothes. I bring the list of foods I need to buy with me to take to the store after landing.
I've found that most major chains carry similar non-perishable goods. For example, I can buy most of the same canned goods across the country. What I can't buy is breads. Even Whole Foods sources different bakeries across the country so they don't have the same breads from state to state. I have found that Great Harvest Bread Company usually is near a place I'm traveling, and I can get allergy friendly bread there.
When you're making your list of foods you need to buy at your destination, make sure you've checked to see what grocery stores you have available to you. The major ones are: Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Usually, the city you're going to has a grocery store with a natural foods selection. If not, there's probably a specialty grocery nearby an airport. I've used: Natural Grocer, Central Market, Henry's, Sprouts, and Sunflower Market. If none of these options work, check out Local Harvest for a smaller, locally owned option and a list of many farmers' markets.
Once you have your lists, you're ready to pack!
1. You can take unlimited amounts of food with you so long as nothing is liquid. TSA actually has a page dedicated to listing acceptable food you can bring through security. I usually have an entire carry-on suitcase full of food. I bring countless snacks: bunnies, frosted mini-wheats, graham crackers, apple sauce, fruit leathers, corn flakes, cookies, chips and crackers. I also bring one insulated lunch bag full of cold stuff. The trick with this is to freeze as much as you can in the bag the day before you leave. I leave the house with everything in the insulated bag frozen. Normally, I have in it: cubed cheeses, a bread roll, blueberry muffins, apple bars, and refried beans. The frozen stuff will chill itself throughout the day so you don't need a freezer bag; once you're in the airport, you can always add ice (bring a ziploc with you to catch the water). On the day I'm leaving, I usually make a sandwich for her to take with us that's not frozen but is cold (she likes cheese and jelly sandwiches). Also, I throw in fruit: apples, oranges, and bananas. Yes. this is a lot of food to take, but there are enough stranded passenger stories that I carry enough food for a few days. When you're planning your food for the travel day, try not to feed your child these foods right before the trip; you don't want her to be sick of sandwiches on travel day because she's already eaten two sandwiches the day before.
2. Most airports do have some drinks that the allergy child can drink: juices, water, or milk. Starbucks are pretty widespread and always have different fat content milks. The airlines we fly (often Southwest) have Minute Maid apple juice which is safe for us. Remember that the airlines do have lids and straws for the kids. If you like to stick with water, you can often ask a nicer airport restaurant for lemon slices to mix things up a little bit.
3. Eat what they eat. If your kid has to be eating out of your suitcase, you should, too. There are lots of benefits to this: you eat better quality food, you eat less fattening food, and you eat a more balanced meal. A bonus to all this healthiness is that you save tons of money! Airports are expensive, and your whole family saves money by bringing your own food. We always seek out a food court, find a window to watch the planes, and let everyone choose what they want to eat.
1. Grab a cooler and fill it up! Have the stuff you're going to need along the drive on the top of the cooler so it's easily accessible during the day. Keep the cooler itself accessible, too. If it's a long car ride, make sure you're checking your ice throughout the day so none of your food spoils! Pack your cooler with stuff that you need based on your menu planning from above! When traveling by car, I try to bring everything with me and pre-made so that I don't have to be running to grocery stores once I get there.
2. Pack two different bags of groceries. The first bag should be easily accessible and should have the food you're going to need during the drive. Plan out your snacks and meals for the drive so that you know what you need to have accessible. The second bag should be what you'll need during your trip. Pack that away and forget about it until you get to your destination. If you can, use reusable grocery bags so that you can throw them on your shoulders to help reduce the number of trips to the car to unload all you food and suitcases.
If you're not tired after reading this, I'm impressed! It's lots of prep-work to travel, but it really reduces the stress of traveling.
Some other tips:
1. If you are going to a special event, be prepared to have a similar food: cookies, cake, etc.
2. If you know you're going to be eating out with others, have a good idea of where you're going to be going so that you can have a matching food option in your menu plan (eg, pasta for an Italian restaurant).
3. If you're going to be around other kids, ask the parents what treats they give their kids so you can have the same or offer to provide for everyone.
4. If you're going to be with other kids, ask what kinds of snacks and drinks they use. Offer to provide for everyone or bring similar ones. Also, ask the parent to request their kids to stay in a defined eating area so that you don't have to worry about finding random foods throughout the house while you're there. If the parent can talk about the allergies before you get there, it's helpful.
5. Find a hotel that has some sort of kitchenette. At the most basic, you probably need a refrigerator. I have brought along my George Foreman when I haven't had a cooking appliance in the room.
6. Plan for a night out when you get home so you can relax from all this planning!