Have Kitchen, Will Travel – to Europe

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining
Published: June 30, 2010

The McKenzie-Davison family continues their travels with life-threatening allergies, this time crossing the Atlantic. It’s bonjour South of France, hello England and Italy. Here they come, toting that suitcase of safe foods.

We took our first summer vacation in Europe with two children back when Kieryn was not yet 3 years old and Taya had just turned one. We flew into Toulouse in the south of France and rented a car for what should have been a simple two-hour drive on the motorway to our villa near Perpignan.

We were barely onto the motorway when Kieryn called out: “I have to go pee!” Fortunately the French have a lot of rest stops, and we pulled over briefly. Back on the motorway, we’d only driven 15 minutes more when Kieryn again had to go.

She was toilet training, and we were trying to encourage that, so I pulled over at the next rest stop. Back under way and, you guessed it, 15 minutes later, Kieryn “had to pee”. I was a bit frustrated, but once more pulled over.

While my wife Keely and Kieryn were in the bathroom, Taya, our younger daughter, woke up crying; she’d soiled her diaper and it had leaked right up her back. I got her out and began cleaning up the mess. Keely returned to help, first giving Kieryn some bread with cream cheese to keep her occupied. We had Taya cleaned up and dressed when I noticed Kieryn had just spread the cream cheese all over the front seat.

At this point I lost it, asking Keely, whose bright idea was it to go on vacation to Europe with two small children. She calmly pointed out that it was all mine, to which I replied, “That’s why I married you, so you’d talk me out of these crazy ideas.”

Traveling with children, even without food allergies can be challenging, but it is also highly rewarding. Despite that rough start, we had a great first trip with two kids, and we find that enjoying new experiences as a family can be uplifting.

It does, however, take careful planning to travel with children with life-threatening food allergies. The good news is that our food requirements are complicated – so if we can do it, you can, too. Taya has multiple allergies, including peanuts, nuts, sesame and kiwi. Keely and I are vegetarians, and Keely is allergic to eggs. As well, I have allergies to dust and cats.

Our fundamental approach explains the “Have Kitchen” title of this series: we always stay in places with a kitchen, and prepare as many of our own meals as humanly possible. Not only does this keep us safe, it also saves money, especially in Europe where eating out can be expensive.

City or Countryside?

Europe has a wonderful selection of self-catered villas and apartments for rent, usually for a minimum of one week. While many people think villa vacations are for the wealthy, in fact, there are villas in every price range. Sharing these accommodations with family or friends makes them even more affordable.

If you want to spend your time sightseeing at museums, churches and landmarks, then look for an apartment in a city. If you want to spend it relaxing in the country or at the seaside, then there are lots of villas to choose from as well. For the best of both worlds, consider one week in a city and one in the country. (Remember that if you are renting outside a city, you will need to rent a car to get around for sightseeing day trips and for groceries.)

The internet is a great source for finding villas. If you can travel outside of high season, you’ll find the best selection and prices. It’s possible to rent directly from an owner, but I recommend that first-time renters book through an agent. Check that the agent has seen the properties recently, and have a list of questions ready to ensure you get a villa that suits your family.

Our European Trips

England/Ireland – England is the most accessible of the European countries for English speakers, and what better way to experience it than to stay in an historic building. The Landmark Trust is a charity that rescues heritage buildings and gives them new life as places to stay. There are 185 “Landmarks,” including forts, manor houses, mills, cottages, castles, follies, gatehouses and towers (www.landmarktrust.org.uk).

We stayed in a 17th century house called Shelwick Court near Hereford, with beautiful countryside. The Irish Landmark Trust is a similar organization with properties throughout Ireland (www.irishlandmark.com). You can also rent apartments in London and other major cities in the U.K.

France – I love Paris for its great museums, cathedrals and food, but France also has many villas in its outstanding countryside. We’ve taken three villa trips to France and my favorite area is the less touristy southwest region. In the countryside, you will see a more relaxed France than you experience in Paris.

On our first vacation to France, we took a short trip to a small town nearby to see a 300-year-old fort. We stopped to ask some locals, who were playing pétanque (a popular form of lawn bowling), where the fort was. They invited us to join their game instead, suggesting it was much more interesting. We spent a lovely afternoon, and it’s hard to imagine getting the same invitation in Paris.

Next: Spain, Italy, Portugal