You want to go WHERE? WHEN?
This was my first response to my then 6th grade son when he said he wanted to go to Spain on the 8th grade spring break trip.
I figured he might change his mind in two years.
Since he was serious about going, I had to get serious about preparing.
I wasn’t worried about him self-advocating, asking about safe food or using his auto injector, but I was worried about the labeling and food he would eat at restaurants.
- Were the chefs going to know how to avoid his allergens?
- Would they make separate safe meals for him?
- Would the chefs avoid cross contact?
- Where were the hospitals?
- What was the procedure if he did have an allergic reaction?
All of these questions and more flooded my mind.
I had several lengthy discussions with members of the organization and found them to be quite knowledgeable.
They had conducted trips with many students who had multiple life-threatening food allergies and successfully made accommodations.
The members were in contact with the chefs in the restaurants and hotels in Spain weeks before the trip and planned safe meals for my son and the other students with food allergies.
They had emergency plans in place and hospitals were in close proximity to their hotels.
After speaking with representatives in the organization, I would feel a little more comfortable for several weeks but then start worrying again.
I’d call the office, review the plan (again!) and ask more questions.
I spoke with the teacher chaperones on several occasion during which they addressed my concerns satisfactorily and helped me to feel more at ease.
Finally, the week of departure!
My son was excited and ready to leave.
I, on the other hand, was not as excited.
I knew we had done everything we could to prepare for a safe trip and I had to trust in the diligence of my son, the organization, his chaperones and most importantly God to watch over him.
Thankfully, everyone was wonderful during the trip and he did not have an allergic reaction.
He felt very confident and supported and he appreciated the many checks and balances.
Here’s an interview with my son, giving his perspective of the trip and preparation.
Where did you visit while in Spain?
We flew into Lisbon, Portugal and then into Malaga Spain. We visited many other places such as La Herradura, Seville, Granada, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
What were you most looking forward to seeing in Spain?
I was looking forward to visiting La Alhambra which is a beautiful Moorish palace with many gardens and many great architectural feats.
What did you first notice about Spain & why?
I first noticed the Sierra Nevada Mountains because they are so big and the peaks were covered in snow which I wasn’t expecting.
What was the best part of the experience?
Hanging out with my friend and having a good time playing cards with my friends and enjoying the cool sites like the Sierra Nevada Mountains, towns and shops.
What was the most difficult part of the trip?
The most difficult thing about the trip was getting a stomach bug which effected everyone who was sick and even those who weren’t sick due to restricting activities.
How did you handle flying on an airplane?
It was really easy because I mostly slept since we had an overnight flight. I didn’t eat the airplane food and only ate snacks that I packed. We also researched the restaurants at the airport terminals to look for familiar restaurants but I ended up taking food from home.
How many auto-injectors did you take? Did you carry them? Did teachers also carry them?
I carried two auto-injectors in my bag and my chaperone carried two in her bag.
What was the most adventurous activity?
The most adventurous activity was the cliff side hike. Our group hiked across the face of a cliff while very high in the air which was in Pampaneira. Although we had harnesses, half way through, it started to rain, which did not help. We all made it down safely.
Were you worried about to eating food in a different country where the language was NOT your first language?
At first I was a kind of nervous but after a while I got confident and I trusted our guide.
How did you make sure that your food didn’t contain your allergen?
The guide spoke with the chefs weeks before I got there and planned safe meals for me. Just to be safe, when I arrived at the restaurant, the guide and I would talk to the restaurant chef and the chef would tell my guide what was in the food. Then the guide would translate the ingredients to me. I also took safe snacks to eat in between meals.
What kinds of food did you eat? What was your favorite meal?
Breakfast included lots of meats including salami, ham and bacon as well as provolone cheese. We also had melons, strawberries, pineapple and other fruit. Our meals always included some type of seafood, cold tomato soup (not gazpacho), and melon. My favorite meal was salmon covered in avocado with a green spinach sauce inside. Our first meal was paella.
Did you speak with people in Spanish?
A couple of the times I would say “Hi” to the locals and ask about the culture of the town we were visiting. We spoke with the local shop owners about their crafts and food.
What advice would you give friends who would like to visit a foreign country?
Make sure you have someone who is bilingual with you and make sure to have your auto-injectors with you at all times.
What would you do differently for your next travel abroad experience?
I would check the weather and make sure I go during a time when it was not raining.
What did your parents do which was helpful to you in preparing to go?
Checking over my shoulder when I was packing. Although it was sometimes annoying, it helped so that I didn’t forget anything.
What do you wish your parents hadn’t done in preparing you for going?
Worry about all of my snacks and trust that I know my own appetite and that I know if I will be hungry.
What were some of your favorite sites?
My favorite site was an ancient Roman Colosseum where real gladiators fought. An episode of Game of Thrones was also shot at the colosseum.
What advice would you give parents who are afraid to let their food allergic kids go on a trip like this?
Eventually you are going to have to trust your kids and trust their chaperones. It’s good if they can go away which will show them that they are not trapped because they have food allergies. You just have to trust them and it will turn out great and be a great experience.
Would you ever travel abroad again?
Do you have a favorite travel tip or two?
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Donna DeCosta, Founder FoodASC.com
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