One of our Doctors suggested I write about the measures I have taken to travel with my severely gluten sensitive son, so Dr. L. this one is for you! It is my hope that this information will make your future travels a little easier. Many of these tips are common sense, but many more are borne from necessity. Please, if you think of something that has helped you in the past I hope that you will share it here.
We’re almost ready to leave for our first ever family vacation! I am running around like the proverbial chicken and trying to tie up loose ends this week. I admit planning this vacation has been a logistical nightmare. I also admit I am nervous about the possibility of the D-Man getting sick so far from home, away from the Doctors we know, trust, and love. We have done the best we can to prepare for this vacation; feeding the D-Man nutrient dense foods to boost his immune system, keeping him on immune building supplements, and slowly increasing his exposure to environmental gluten. While he still reacts to environmental gluten, the recovery time has decreased dramatically, and the symptoms are far less severe. The measures I have taken to plan this vacation may seem over the top to many of you, but I assure you when you have a child that reacts to less than 5ppm of gluten, or even a child that goes into anaphylactic shock when exposed to peanuts, these are necessary steps for the child’s well being.
Travel Sized Personal Care Products: Make sure you take travel sized bottles of personal care products you use on a regular basis (this is no time to try something new). I carry the basics in my purse; gluten free hand soap, triclosan-free hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and hand lotion (virgin coconut oil). Remember, you may only carry 3 ounces or less, those are the rules of the Transportation Security Administration. You can purchase compliant travel bottles on-line although they are typically available at drug stores. Speaking of lotion, those who have read my blog may remember that we use Organic Virgin Coconut Oil as our moisturizer and sunscreen. The morning of our flight I will be using a little extra coconut oil on both the D-Man and myself. Coconut oil has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, so this will act as a natural (and unscented) barrier against allergens.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA): I began contacting TSA 6 months ago in hopes that the D-Man and I would not be the top story on your local 6 o’clock news. I had a bad experience with TSA in April, and I wanted to ensure I didn’t have a replay traveling with the D-Man. I told them of my concerns and was provided with TSA contacts assigned to each airport we would be traveling through. I contacted each TSA liaison, explained the situation, and discussed the medications and supplements we would be carrying on the plane. We also discussed special procedures that would need to be followed during the screening process, i.e., fresh gloves, etc. Last month I called my TSA points of contact and after we spoke I e-mailed our itineraries to ensure that they are prepared for our airport arrival. I will of course be speaking with them again this week. Interesting note: Our TSA contact for our departure airport suggested that I call when I am 20 minutes from the airport so that they can meet us at check-in. This will save time as I won’t need to wait for my representative once we reach the airport. Contact information for TSA can be found in my previous blog: http://livingglutenandgrainfree.com/2011/06/21/traveling-with-celiac-disease-or-severe-allergies/
Airlines: I contacted several airlines and all I can tell you is that they are less than accommodating! We will be flying United, and I was excited when I learned that they have a “Medical Desk”. I called the Medical Desk and while the representative was pleasant, she was certainly befuddled as to what she could do to help make our flight safer. I will warn you, these agents typically only deal with issues pertaining to In-Flight Oxygen, not severe or life threatening allergies. I took the less is more tact, and the following ideas that I am sharing with you seemed logical. Book non-stop flights (if possible) this will limit exposure to your allergen in airports and on the plane itself. Book a flight at non-peak hours, in other words don’t book a 7:30am flight on a weekday or you will need to wait in line with all the business people traveling to their meetings. Avoid the planes restroom if at all possible. For shorter flights use the restroom in the Airport prior to boarding the plane. Don’t forget your travel sized allergen free soap since most public restroom soaps contain gluten. When I spoke with an Airline Representative I requested a Pre-pre-boarding so that I could clean the area where we would be sitting (don’t forget the seat belts). This will also give me time to place a travel cover on the D-Man’s seat without disrupting the other passengers as they try to board the plane. A child sized antimicrobial face mask (www.breathehealthy.com) was purchased to prevent my son from inhaling gluten and other airborne particles during our flight. This mask will be in place before we enter the airport. Child sized masks come in adorable prints and bright colors, but my son wanted “white”. He is at the age where he doesn’t want to attract attention to himself. To make him feel better I also ordered one and will wear it on the plane. I thought it would also be beneficial to speak to a frequent flyer, so I called my cousin who is a commercial airline pilot. He made a suggestion that I had not thought of, “sit as close to the front of the plane as possible”. He explained the air on the plane is less than clean, but it is especially nasty the farther back you go. Of special note: Our Airport allows curbside check-in, so that will be a timesaver. I don’t have to wait in line for a Kiosk with an immune-compromised child, large suitcase and boxed up booster seat.
Car Rental: When I began to research car rental companies I started with Expedia. This helped me determine what car rental companies would be available in the areas we would be traveling. Instead of booking through Expedia I called the rental companies toll free number so that I could speak to a customer service representative directly. I explained that I would be traveling with my son who had severe allergies and a compromised immune system. The customer service agent was very helpful and put a special note to have the car “Extra Clean” including steam cleaning the vehicle with organic, unscented cleaning agents. Remember, rental car companies typically do not provide car/booster seats, so don’t forget to bring one from home. This is actually safer since you know your car/booster seat is free of your child’s allergens.
Hotels: Many hotels have “Clean Rooms” or “Allergen Free Rooms”, when you call to make a reservation ask if these are available. These rooms are cleaned with unscented products, and the air is typically filtered. The rooms have special allergen friendly bedding, and some of these rooms also diffuse Tea Tree Oil which is known for its antimicrobial effects. Allergen Free Rooms were not available for the hotels I had booked, but I spoke with the Hotel Manager(s) who were very accommodating. The Manager added special notes in our reservation and has spoken with the Housekeeping Manager and Staff. The carpets and upholstery will be cleaned in our room before we arrive, and one hotel will place a portable air filtration system in our room for several days prior to our arrival. I have also sent a bottle of gluten/grain free cleaner that we use at home to be used by housekeeping when they clean our room. The cleaner is scented, so I will be able to tell if it has been used.
Food: While we are in Texas we will be staying at an extended stay hotel with a kitchen. Gluten Free Dining options were limited in the area where we will be staying, but I did call several restaurants. I spoke with the managers of these establishments and they could not guarantee that the food would not be cross contaminated, so I’ll cook our meals….better safe than sorry! I am mailing a box this week to our extended stay hotel with many of the items we will need, and we can fill in at Whole Foods or Central Market which are located a few miles from the hotel. I contacted each store to ask about the availability of pastured grass fed beef, and was told they carry it, but there is no guarantee it will be in the store when we arrive. Neither store was willing to take an order and have it set aside for our arrival. I am therefore ordering safe meat and poultry from a reliable source: U.S. Wellness (http://www.grasslandbeef.com/StoreFront.bok), they sell and ship quality products and I have always been satisfied with their food. The order will arrive at our hotel the day we check in. Special Note: For those of who don’t drink fluoridated water, ask the hotel to order it for you. Grocery shopping is a free service at the Residence Inn and I requested that 5 gallons of Spring Water be delivered to our room prior to our arrival. This water will be used for cooking, drinking, etc.
The Box: This will contain all the items I do not want to pack in our suitcase, or purchase when I get to Texas. I am taking our favorite organic virgin coconut oil, organic coconut and almond flour, small containers of spices, powdered coconut milk, homemade crispy nuts and dehydrated fruit for snacking. The box will also contain toiletries (grain free/fluoride free toothpaste, coconut oil soap, grain free shampoo, thieves cleaner, gluten free laundry detergent, and a sheet set for my son’s bed. The list of sundries packed in this box goes on and on, but you get the idea.
I will follow up upon our return and let you know of our experiences. In the meantime please post a comment if you have suggestions, or have other tips to share. This information will not only help me, it will help other readers prepare for their future vacations.