The question: My family and I would like to go on a Caribbean vacation, either at an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise. My three-year-old son, however, has a severe peanut allergy. Any advice?
TRAVEL CONCIERGE: First off, skip the all-inclusive. Instead, find a villa with a kitchen so you can cook, says Scott McKenzie, a travel columnist with Allergic Living magazine.
"You can even get villas with your own cook and pool, which is better than an all-inclusive in my mind. You only have to explain the allergies to one person and I go with them to buy groceries."
McKenzie's nine-year-old daughter is allergic to peanuts, sesame and soy, among other things, but that hasn't stopped the family of four from exploring France, Jamaica and Morocco.
The key, he says, is sticking to countries where you speak the language, packing a suitcase full of safe food and booking direct flights, so there will be no hassle with on-board snacks. He says he chooses accommodation within an hour's drive from a hospital and packs five EpiPens, just in case.
Doing your homework is key, says Laurie Harada, executive director of Anaphylaxis Canada. Talk to friends, suss out tips at support groups and research resorts online. Harada has been to Florida and Ireland and on two Caribbean cruises with her son, now 16, who has multiple allergies.
A cruise can be a good way to see new places in a fairly controlled environment, she says. Before setting off, her husband investigated the cruise line's policies and, when on board, the family met with the head of food services.
"You could tell people had been there before us asking because … the head guy said, 'Just wait a minute.' And he … came back with this Tupperware full of labels. He'd kept the labels from everything. … That ups your level of assurance."
What about the fear factor of travelling with allergies?
"You always have fear when you live with allergies, but we conquer it by trying to be as prepared as possible," says Allergic Living's McKenzie.
And then that leaves room to laze on a quiet beach in Jamaica, or discover a chocolate company in Grenada that makes peanut-free, fair-trade chocolate. "I brought home 50 bars," McKenzie says.
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Karan Smith is a former Globe Travel editor.
Special to The Globe and Mail