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  • Manpreet Azad

How We Managed to Travel This Year Amongst COVID-19 and Severe Food Allergies




I live for holidays, even with Eva’s severe food allergies we’ve not let it stop us. Yes, we have to be more careful, be selective on where we go, be super organised, but when you want something enough, you find a way!

I never expected we would be enjoying some sun in the Algarve this year! Since lockdown had eased, I’d been enviously swiping through friend’s holiday snaps on social media and wishing I was away too…they looked so care-free, tanned, and happy!

Making it happen

I was actually more than happy to have a UK break, just to grab a change of scenery, but with the rest of the UK having the same idea, we just weren’t able to find anywhere with availability for the bank-holiday dates we wanted.

As we were searching for a mini-break, Portugal opened up, meaning we wouldn’t need to quarantine when we returned. We compared prices and assessed the COVID risk. The number of cases were low, and we’d be staying in our own villa, simply enjoying the sun and swimming, so we decided to go for it! The thought of the kids playing in the sea, collecting seashells, and making memories, was something I didn’t imagine we would be doing this year!

I couldn’t believe we were going, the kids were so excited!




Planning for what Eva would be able to eat

As we booked the trip so last minute, I had to plan for Eva very quickly before we left. I emailed the hotel upon booking, letting them know of Eva’s allergies, sharing her list of allergens, the severity, and asked if her food could be prepared separately.

They responded and reassured they had noted our requirements. It’s always hard making sure they fully understand this is a severe and life-threatening food allergy, not food preference, and that the food will need to be prepared separately, safe from cross-contamination. Many places don’t understand that essential difference.

Having visited Portugal before, I was caught out by a lack of options because so many products contained milk and egg! Even the chips were soaked in milk before frying, which meant a usually safe option was not safe! All the bread had milk in, and we really struggled to find safe alternatives for her.

So, for this trip, I didn’t want to be caught again. I checked-in an entire suitcase of food for the girls, it meant I knew we had the food we needed, and we saved precious holiday time by not doing a food shop! I packed several cartons of oat milk, coconut milk, porridge, cereal, bread, jam, tortilla wraps, pizza sauce, and pasta, all the basics to make their meals.



The Stunning Pine Cliffs Resort

As the plane touched down, I was just so excited, four nights of sun, sea and my gorgeous family at Pine Cliffs Resort in the Algarve.

We booked a 2-bed garden villa. I always feel safer and more at home when we have more space and our own kitchen. To my absolute delight, this villa was stunning, it was spacious and had a fantastic high spec kitchen perfect for cooking food for Eva.

At check-in I was amazed at how luxurious the hotel was, a friend had told me it was a lovely high-end resort, (and we’ve stayed at many) but this really was exclusive! The outfits people were wearing made me sure this was the most high-end resort we’ve ever stayed in with the kids.

It’s a huge resort with lots to keep the kids entertained, a lovely playground which stays in the shade throughout the day, a bungee, electric cars, children’s entertainment, seven swimming pools, a private beach, a kids club, and seven restaurants! For us grown-ups, there’s a spa and a golf course, which we didn’t get to, but it’s a gorgeous place I would happily go back for a child-free holiday there too!




On arrival, I provided the allergy information again to the reception staff, and a copy of Eva’s allergy card was emailed to all the chefs in the multiple restaurants across the resort. I would have liked to have spoken to the culinary team to double-check the arrangements, just to have felt reassured. I felt like I didn’t want to just turn up to a restaurant, and then find there were no options for her.

A hungry child with no back-up plan is not fun!


Eating out in the resort

For the first couple of days, I prepared all the kid’s meals in the villa, whilst we ordered takeaway from the resort restaurant. I have to say the food we ordered was exceptional. In most of the places I have stayed before, the food options are not exactly authentic but tailored for tourists, the usual burgers, club sandwiches, chips and pizzas, but at Pine Cliff’s, I was more than happy with all the food we ate.

The third night we plucked up the courage to try eating out at the Café. The Café is a stunning restaurant, and you don’t need to book like the others, so this is where families mainly tend to eat. Upon arrival, the waiter instantly said they were aware of us and had our allergy information! I was so impressed and felt a wave of reassurance rush over me. I gave an extra copy of Eva’s allergy card to the chef and tried to relax.

I needn’t have worried, they discussed options with us and prepared food which was off the menu (normal for us!), and Eva ate plain salmon with chips and broccoli. The chips were fried separately, and as always, we asked that our fries were the same as Eva’s so that we can all relax and share. Funny how kids prefer to eat from your plate than their own!



Allergic reactions at the resort

Unfortunately, despite being so careful on the food front, Eva did have several mild reactions on our trip and needed to take antihistamines each day to keep them in check. It seemed the environment was causing her to react.

In the allergy world, environmental triggers can be a co-factor in causing severe allergic reactions. This means that if an individual was to experience a mild allergic reaction to a particular food, the same food might trigger a severe allergic reaction if the environment is also triggering them.

This meant I needed to be even more careful to ensure we took absolutely no risks with her food!

The first evening when she got into bed, she was itchy and covered in hives, she started coughing, and I realised the duvet was duck feather. It was something I hadn’t thought about checking with the hotel as we had never had this happen before.

Each day when I applied her sun cream, she broke out in hives again, it’s the same sun cream we’ve always used, and she has never reacted to it in the past.

I felt panicked, and it caught me off guard. Allergies can be so unpredictable, and you have to be vigilant all the time. I felt terrible for her, she was upset by it, and maybe saw the worry in my face that I try not to let her see. Allergies are complicated, sometimes you can develop reactions to things you were previously OK with, and other factors like the environment can trigger an allergic reaction or make the reactions worse.

For Eva, I can only think that the external environment was causing these reactions, and maybe it was caused by the high concentration of pine trees around the resort. We managed it by giving her antihistamine each day.

Overall

The resort was incredible, the weather was gorgeous, and we all had a wonderful time.

Eva has fantastic memories of the time we had away, and her minor reactions were a factor we had to manage, but it was totally worth it in the end. Throughout the trip, I was continually reassuring her (and myself!) these were just mild reactions, and it was OK to carry on. It’s part of her journey to develop the skills to deal with her allergies, and to learn to minimise reactions in the future.

I would definitely recommend this resort for a family holiday, there is lots to do with the children, its modern, clean, the service is fantastic, and the food is delicious!



Here are my top tips for keeping safe when travelling with food allergies:

What to pack

  • Your medication – never leave home without it! (and make sure to carry everywhere you go even on to the beach you never know what others might have been eating).

  • An insulated medical bag (I use @medpac bags) they protect your EpiPen’s from the heat.

  • Food and milk: take snacks and food with you from home where possible, it saves time shopping on holiday, and avoids being caught out if you’re unable to find safe foods and snacks. Some airlines let you check in a medical bag for free up to 10kg of milk, alternative foods, and medicines so check with them when you book.

  • Printed allergy cards to show to the waiter and chef when eating out, either in English or you can buy allergy translation cards.

Being prepared for the flight

  • If you have a nut allergy, alert them at check-in, so that a note can be sent to the aircrew.

  • Take a doctor’s note with you explaining your EpiPen’s and other medication’s. Any medications over 100ml might need to be labelled with a prescription.

  • Allow extra time for everything to be checked – we are always the ones running towards our gate carrying babies, buggies, luggage because of the time it takes to get our medications checked!

  • When boarding the plane, let your flight attendant know about your allergy so that they can make an announcement and not sell nuts on the flight.

  • Prepare snacks and meals for the journey, allowing for extra milk and food in case of delays.

Keeping safe at your resort

  • Contact your hotel before booking to let them know about your allergies. Ask whether they can make safe food for you. They may need to order different foods from their wholesalers to accommodate, so early notice is always better.

  • Remind them of your food allergies when checking in and share your allergy card with staff.

  • Avoid eating from the buffets as the risk of cross-contamination is high. Ask that your food is prepared separately.

  • Be extra vigilant about signs of a reaction, bought on by a change in environment.

I found my allergy card so helpful, especially whilst being away. Eva has multiple allergies, and it prevents anything from getting missed. Having a card that I can give to the waiter and chef to take also prevents any misunderstandings in communication.

If you don’t have an allergy card already, I would highly recommend it!

I have one that you can personalise with your name and allergy details. You can download it for FREE NOW!

Click here to get your free personalised allergy card ❤️





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