Expert Food Allergy Travel Advice
Shawna Huffman Owen has helped food allergic families navigate travel to destinations around the globe. Although she doesn't personally manage food allergies in her home, almost 50% of her family clients do.
As an owner of Huffman Travel, Shawna is an expert travel advisor that specializes in international family travel. Shawna shares with Spokin how she designs safe travel for food allergic families and lets us all in on some of her best travel tips.
How Can Using A Travel Advisor Help To Plan Travel With Food Allergies?
People with food allergies deserve to go on fantastic trips just as much as everyone else and I believe having a food allergy is not a reason for paralysis. I feel strongly that you can travel anywhere in the world as long as you travel intelligently and I am happy to guide people through that process.
Working with a travel advisor can be helpful if they have local connections. At Huffman Travel, we have local partners around the world and have developed these relationships for over 20 years. These local ambassadors have allowed us to recommend allergy friendly markets, connect travelers directly to restaurants, and pre-stock rental properties with safe food.
What Can families with food allergies do in preparation for their trip?
Do your homework. Work with your travel advisor and compile research on your destination. Be vocal about your concerns in order to get the answers you need and feel prepared before you get there.
Stay in a villa or apartment. Having a kitchen makes controlling your meals easier. We had food allergic clients who traveled to Umbria and they arranged for breakfast and dinner in their villa — this helped reduce the number of service providers and restaurants they needed to work with to ensure safe meals.
Bring food with you. International destinations are not snacking cultures like the U.S. When you are traveling through Asia, stopping off for a quick snack can be hard to plan for and research. (This goes for non food allergic families too!)
do you find most hotels are educated and well trained on food allergies?
Hotels known for excellent service tend to do the best when it comes to accommodating special requests. Although, I do think we have a long way to go regarding awareness and education. Still, as a parent myself—I recommend asking questions multiple times to eliminate any chance of a communication breakdown.
Which U.S. hotels do you recommend for food allergies?
which Global Hotels do you recommend for food allergies?
How Best To Approach Accommodations Whether Hotels Or Home Rentals?
Think about where you are going, what your options are, and do your research. Don't only rely on the property and what they tell you but try and use a network (like Spokin!), or your travel advisor. Nothing replaces connecting with someone who has had first-hand experience.
Part Of The Joy In Travel Is Experiencing The Food Of A New City Or Culture - How Have Your food allergic Clients Managed That?
Research, pre-arranged meals or private chefs (if it is in your budget), and plugging in locally are great ways to successfully navigate restricted diets. I try and triangulate everything using the rule: If something pops up more than three times in my research then I feel good about it.
How do you ensure that your clients feel like locals when they are traveling?
When we curate tours and activities, we always leave free time. Make sure you leave time for spontaneity because that is when you feel most like a local. My job is to curate a trip and to build the skeleton, but I am always very conscious to leave pockets of time for independence. Some clients want to be programmed and scheduled the entire time because they believe that will keep everyone happy, but it is often those unplanned moments that are the most memorable.
you specialize in experiences like cooking classes in tuscany. Can food allergic families still enjoy?
Cooking classes are a great activity to engage in a local culture. If you have food allergies, a cooking class can often be personally tailored to you and your needs.
When A Client Has Food Allergies, What location do you recommend for their first trip?
If it is your first time traveling with food allergies, I recommend keeping it domestic. Parents have to be comfortable for the trip to be successful. If you are looking for an international trip, I recommend starting with English-speaking countries.
Tips On How To Navigate A Language Barrier?
In most countries, especially in Europe, the majority of people will speak English. Google translate is an incredible tool and is right on your phone. If you are traveling somewhere where the local language is very different from yours or most people don't speak English, I recommend having a guided host with you at all times. A guide can make trips to places like Morocco (where they speak mostly Arabic) doable.
On average I would say 80% of the places you can travel to in the world you can communicate on your own and 20% you will need assistance.
What are your secrets to designing a kid-friendly itinerary?
When I design trips for families I don't talk about touring, I talk about experiences. Instead of going to the museum, I set up a scavenger hunt. Instead of walking with a historical guide, bike with your guide through the old town of Barcelona and stop at the market to experience life as a local. If the experience involves some mode of transportation such as a boat, train, bike or hike, it will be a sure hit with kids.
How not to need a vacation from your vacation
Create a reward: I always create a "reward" at the end of a trip. I personally prefer my trips to include experiences rather than staying at a resort the whole time. But at the end, go to a non-urban destination, sit on a beach and relax. Save your most high-end hotel for the end.
Don't over schedule: Don't try to do too much in too little time. Americans are often guilty of this. Listen to your travel advisor when they warn you that you are over booking.
Best Jet-Lag Cure For Adults And Kids?
Adults: Don't over-program your first day, just give in to the fact that the first day is going to be a slow day. Try to stay up and DO NOT NAP once you have landed - it's better to go to bed early. Water, water, and more water!
Kids: Set your watch to the time in your final destination as soon as you get on the plane; it helps to shift your mindset to the local time. If your flight is 6 hours or less, feed your kids before the flight. Eating on the plane makes it difficult for them to nap, they need to nap!
Favorite place you have ever visited?
Red Eye or Day flight?
Island, Mountain, or City?
Must pack travel essentials?
I always bring my travel power-strip, so I only have to bring one converter. In my purse, I travel with an oxygen hydrating face mask, hand sanitizers, mints, magazines, and eyedrops. Lately, I can't get enough of Recreo wraps, they are perfect for flying!
Favorite Travel Resources?
Where to Find Shawna:
Shawna has been recognized by Travel + Leisure as an A-List Advisor for Family Travel and holds a seat on the elite Travel Advisory board for Travel + Leisure Magazine as well as on the Advisory Board for Abercrombie + Kent.