When you have food allergies, traveling can be daunting, but it’s totally doable. The trick is really to plan ahead and make sure you carry your epinephrine auto-injectors with you at all times.
Last year, we went on our first week-long vacation to the Outer Banks. I was excited, but also a little nervous to be visiting the Outer Banks with food allergies. We had never spent that much time away from home and all things familiar.
Would we have to stick to fast food and making our own meals? What would it be like to stay in a house where the family before likely enjoyed peanut butter? What would it be like staying with my family who definitely does enjoy peanuts?
Thankfully, visiting the Outer Banks with food allergies was easier than I thought it would be. A lot of that was because I planned ahead a best as I could. I also have fellow Food Allergy Mamas to thank for sharing their general travel tips:
Research the Area
The Outer Banks looks small on a map, but it’s actually pretty long. 200 miles of islands, to be exact. We were looking at beach houses from Duck all the way down to Cape Hatteras. My comfort level was to stay in the more populated area of Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, or Kitty Hawk. Here, there are chain restaurants and the (one) hospital is close by.
Get a Kitchen
This will be a must for us if we stay further away from the hospital. There are a lot of independently-owned restaurants in the Outer Banks, especially in the lesser-populated areas. This can make dining out tricky. Most visitors rent beach houses, but if you’re looking for a hotel try and find one with a small kitchen.
Most beach houses are equipped with common kitchen utensils, but exactly what and how much tends to be a gamble. Our house in Kill Devil Hills had four coffee makers! The house we rented in Buxton last month that didn’t have sheet pans. If there is something you know you’ll need to consider bringing it.
Another tip I’ve seen in the food allergy groups I’m in is to bring anything that is hard to clean, such as your own toaster or slow cooker.
Bring Your Own Food
Relating to the above, there are grocery stores up and down the Outer Banks where you can buy food to make your own meals and snacks. This was key when we stayed further south in the lesser populated Buxton.
Before heading down to the Outer Banks, we created a rough meal plan and stocked up on some of our favorite non-perishables. This way we could buy what was on sale and save money and not get caught off-guard if we couldn’t find it in the store. I ordered Made Good granola bars and bought some of our favorite peanut-free candy (it’s a vacation after all!).
I have also prepared our own trail mixes and cookies to take with us so I know L will have something fun that is safe to eat. Don’t forget to bring a few storage containers or bags for leftovers!
RELATED: Our Go-To Peanut-Free Snacks
Make all parties aware of the allergy
The Outer Banks has a LOT of really beautiful beach houses that can host several families or groups of friends. Communication and setting expectations are key. We spent our week with my parents, siblings, and their spouses. They’re all aware of L’s allergy, but they don’t live with it. The last thing I wanted was for L to have a reaction so far from home, so I emailed them to remind them of the labeling guidelines we follow and respectfully asked that no peanut products be used in the house.
Allergy Friendly Outer Banks
I asked one of the Facebook Groups I’m in for peanut-free restaurant suggestions in the Outer Banks and someone told me to join the group Allergy Friendly Outer Banks. I requested and got accepted as we were driving over the bridge into the Outer Banks. This group was a huge help in learning more about restaurants that were allergy aware. Using the search feature was quicker than waiting for an answer to a question, and I used it often during our stay.
If you or anyone in your party has a food allergy, I wouldn’t visit the Outer Banks without checking this group out!
Reach Out to Restaurant Owners
As I mentioned, the more populated Outer Bank beaches have chain restaurants. Having this option was important to me on our first visit. They were familiar and it’s easy to look up allergy info online.
But there are a lot of really neat independently-owned restaurants up and down the Outer Banks. For a lot of these, a basic website with a menu and an About page are all they have. If you want to learn more about how they handle your allergy, you’ll need to contact them. I’m okay with emailing (I love me a paper trail!) and was thrilled at how quickly I received responses from the few restaurants I reached out to. One Bar-B-Q restaurant sounded good on paper, but when they emailed me back they let me know they have bowls of peanuts on all their tables.
Rental units and hotel rooms will be cleaned between uses, but they aren’t always cleaned thoroughly. In beach houses, the cleaning of cups, plates, kitchen utensils are the responsibility of the prior renter.
One suggestion I came across regarding beach vacations was running the existing dishes and utensils through the dishwasher as soon as you arrive. My family thought I was crazy scrubbing and running a dishwasher full of clean plates, but as I took things out of drawers and cabinets, I noticed some of them had food residue stuck on them. I took out what I thought we’d use (plates, utensils, glasses, ice cream scoop, pizza cutter) and washed those. I kept them on a towel on the counter so I knew they were safe to use.
Yep, this means bringing along your antibacterial wipes, sponges, dish soap, and dishwasher detergent. And yep, it sucks to do some light cleaning before your vacation gets underway. But making sure the items my son would eat off of were clean put my mind at ease.
When we visited Buxton, we ended up using disposable plates, cups, and utensils because our say was going to be so short, so that’s another option to think about.
Bring Your Auto-Injectors
I brought along Benadryl, Zyrtec, and ALL of L’s Epi-Pens (three sets at the time). Remember to bring your set of auto-injectors with you wherever you go. I bought a special case for a set to go in to keep them safe while we were on the beach and rocked it all in a fanny pack when we went on excursions.
In the end, we had a blast on our first week-long vacation. We went on a dolphin tour, rode in an airplane, played mini-golf, and swam in the ocean. We didn’t let food allergies stop us from having a great week in the Outer Banks.