The adventure-loving McKenzie-Davison family proves that you can travel the globe with life-threatening allergies. It simply requires research, lots of precautions – and a suitcase jam-packed with food.
BEFORE having children, my wife Keely and I went trekking in Nepal. We felt so adventurous, traveling with just a guidebook. We walked from village to village, staying in huts without electricity or running water, and eating at local restaurants.
Keely and I knew when we had children that our days of backpacking through Asia, Africa and South America were over, but we still wanted to travel and to instill the love of travel in our children.
When Taya, our second child, was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, including peanuts, nuts, dairy, eggs, barley and kiwi, it seemed like travel was going to be impossible.
Our food requirements were already complicated since Keely and I are vegetarians and she is allergic to egg yolks. As well, I have environmental allergies to dust and cats to consider.
However, we have discovered that you can travel safely with anaphylaxis and allergies. With careful planning, by always staying in places that have a kitchen, and by bringing our special foods with us, we have been able to continue to travel, albeit in a different style.
So far Taya (who’s now 6) has been to Jamaica, Grenada, England, France, Spain, and even Morocco.
Villa Vacations: Sun, Surf and Allergy-Safe
Are you tantalized by the thought of a vacation in the sun next winter? If you speak to a travel agent about such a holiday, you will be presented mostly with brochures for ‘all-inclusive’ resorts. This is outside our comfort zone since answers about ingredients to mass-prepared meals can be spotty at best.
Our preference is for villas with kitchens. Now most people think villa vacations are for the rich and famous. Yet many are no more expensive than an ‘all-inclusive’ holiday and, if you share a villa with another family, some are even cheaper.
Villas come in every size and price range. Some are part of large resorts, with access to a resort’s activities and facilities, while others are stand-alone. Catered villas with a cook are common in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia and Mexico. Self-catering villas are more common on other Caribbean islands and in Europe.
If you want full control over the food, then self-catering is best. We also love having a catered villa when traveling with a group, but it does mean you have to explain the allergies clearly to the cook as well as the concept of cross-contamination. The good news is the same person cooks for you all week.
We always e-mail the allergy information, then call to speak directly to the cook before we arrive. We ask the cook to remove all traces of the major allergens from the kitchen. We go with the cook for the first grocery shopping trip to check ingredients and explain what to buy.
We always try to rent villas with their own private pool because our kids can have fun just playing and swimming in the pool all day. But if you are looking for lots of activities for yourself or your kids, consider renting a villa or condo that is part of a larger resort.
The Internet has made finding villas very easy. You can either rent a villa directly from an owner or go through a villa agent. For the first rental, I recommend an agent, and make sure the person has been to the properties and can make recommendations about which ones are suitable for your family.
An additional point on cost: in the off-season, prices are as low as half what they are in high season. If you can get away outside of school holidays, it’s definitely worth it.
Our Allergy-Friendly Sun Escapes
Jamaica – Our first Caribbean villa trip with allergies was to Silver Sands resort about an hour east of Montego Bay. Silver Sands (www.mysilversands.com) is a small community of about 40 villas and cottages built around a beautiful beach on Jamaica’s north coast. There are one- to seven-bedroom villas that are clean and comfortable.
Most have private pools and all are within a few minutes walk of the beach. All villas include a cook and maid who work six days a week to prepare meals, clean and do your laundry.
We think the villas here are the best value in Jamaica and, possibly, the Caribbean. The beach is amazing. However, the facilities are limited to a tennis court, a playground and a small beach bar.
On our next trip, we decided to try a luxury villa at Tryall Club, also in Jamaica. Tryall Club (www.tryallclub.com) is a high-end resort of 76 villas built on a championship golf course and beach, 30 minutes east of Montego Bay. They have two- to eight-bedroom deluxe villas, all with private pools and all are within a few minutes walk or golf cart ride of the beach.
All villas include a cook and maid who work seven days a week to prepare and serve meals as well as clean and do your laundry. Tryall also has a range of facilities including a restaurant, beach bar, kids’ club, fitness club and golf course, although the beach is nothing special. The villas here are more affordable in the low season.
Grenada – Our most recent trip was with 17 people (friends and family) to our nicest villa yet. Grenada is a small island with far fewer people and tourists than Jamaica and weekly direct flights from Toronto (we are based in Ontario, Canada). We rented two villas next door to each other through Nick Hughes at Spice Isle Villas (www.spiceislevillas.com).
Hughes knows the island and the villas well, and can also organize tours and a car rental for you. He has a range of villas from one to five bedrooms, most with private pools, and all with maid service.
Most villas do not include a cook, but excellent catering services are available. The villas are reasonably priced and the beaches are beautiful, but we did have to drive to the beach.
If you go: A must-see is the Grenada Chocolate Co. factory (www.grenadachocolate.com). They make delicious peanut-free, nut-free, dairy-free, organic, fair-trade chocolate using solar power. I brought home 50 bars!
Morocco – Our most exotic villa trip so far was to Morocco with a group of 13 people, including another family with a daughter allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. There are daily direct flights from Montreal to Casablanca.
We rented the six-bedroom, six-bathroom villa in Baoussala near Essaouira (www.hotel-baoussala-essaouira.com) with a small pool directly from the French owner.
The stay included breakfast and dinner near the laid-back, walled town of Essaouira. Before going, I e-mailed and spoke to the owner about the allergies and food requirements, and she said she could manage them. Each day we planned that night’s dinner menu together with the owner or manager (who spoke English), and they explained it to the cook.
The food was excellent, with homemade nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free bread, freshly squeezed orange juice and great dinners to accommodate vegetarians, meat eaters and allergies. We were just a 10-minute drive from several beautiful, white sand beaches, which were miles long and practically deserted.
Our children loved the camel rides on the beach and getting henna art on their hands. One day a herd of goats jumped the wall of our villa and started eating the garden plants. The young boy herding the animals had to come in to get them out.
Our children thought it was very funny to see the boy chasing goats through the garden. Another day, we went for a walk and found someone had “parked” their camels in front of the villa for the day by tying them to a tree. These are the kinds of things you just never see in Canada.
Top 10 Allergy Rental Questions
Decide which factors are the most important to your family. Do you want a pool, to be on the beach or both? Do you want a cook, or do you prefer to cook? To get you started, here’s my Top 10.
- How much is the villa, are there any taxes, what deposit is required?
- How many bedrooms, and what type of beds are in each?
- How many bathrooms and do they have bathtubs or showers?
- Does it have a pool and are there steps into the pool?
- Is the villa suitable for children?
- How far to the nearest hospital and airport?
- How far to the beach and is it suitable for children?
- How many staff are there, what days/hours do they work, what tip is expected for the staff?
- Does the villa have any pets?
- Is a car and/or driver required for groceries and getting around?
Villas on the Web
Some Internet resources, which I have used, to help you find a villa:
- www.villascaribe.com – selection of villas throughout the Caribbean.
- www.jamaicavillas.com – a beautiful collection of luxury villas all over Jamaica.www.sunvillas.com – moderate and high-end villas around Jamaica.
- www.tcvillas.com – a selection of villas in Turks and Caicos.
Additional resources, which I have not used, but which look promising:
- www.mexicovillarentals.com – for people comfortable in Spanish, a selection of villas in Mexico including Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Los Cabos.
- www.tropicalvillavacations.com – for those on the West Coast: villas in Hawaii and Los Cabos.
Vacation in Belize: 3 Sublime Resorts Welcomed This Food Allergy Traveler
Food Allergy Mom on: Visiting LEGOLAND with Food Allergies
Staying Safe at the Summer Cabin: Tips to Reduce the Risk of an Allergic Reaction