Have Kitchen, Will Travel – to Europe

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

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Spain – Spain is my favorite European country for beach villas. The sea is warm, the people friendly and there is a large selection of villas with pools. We’re fortunate that one of our friends who often travels with us is fluent in Spanish, and therefore a great help on allergy questions. We have rented two villas in Spain, and the better area was the southeast corner around the town of Mojacar, which is hotter, drier and less touristy than the Costa del Sol. But it is still close enough to do a day trip to Granada, which should not be missed.

Italy – What’s not to love about fabulous architecture and great food everywhere you go? Near the Tuscany and Umbria border, a group of 16 of us rented a 400-year-old farmhouse with a pool. The villa was at the end of a long narrow road in the middle of nowhere with gorgeous views of the rolling hills in the surrounding countryside.

One of our friends spoke Italian, which was a big help when we took day trips to the small towns around the villa, and allowed us to ask questions about the few packaged foods we bought. There was a hospital less than 30 minutes away which we had to use when our older daughter spiked a fever on the first night. Now we always check where the nearest hospital is, but this was the only time we have ever had to use one.

Portugal – Our first-ever villa trip was with four other couples to Portugal before we had kids. The villa looked OK in the photos the owner sent us, and my research suggested this area of the Algarve was not too built up. Still, we were a bit apprehensive when we first got there. But the pictures had not even done the place justice: it was six bedrooms with gorgeous marble floors, huge bathrooms, a beautiful pool and an ocean view (http://www.homeaway.co.uk/Portugal/Algarve/holiday-house-Burgau/p392.htm). We had such a great time with our friends on that trip that we have done a villa trip almost every year since.

Go Small, but Try It!

If you’re intrigued by travel but still nervous about the food allergies, make your first trip for one week only, and stay in a single place that has a direct flight connection. Take some time to find the villa that’s right for you and ensure you bring your allergy-free foods with you.

Your children will get a sense of history and see things that they can’t see at home. When your children are asleep and you are enjoying a glass of sulphite-free wine while gazing at the sunset over the European countryside, it will have all been worth it.

Tips on Sharing a Villa

Here are some tips to make sharing a villa with family and friends go smoothly. It’s best if everyone starts with the same expectations.

1. Agree up front on how to divide up costs. We usually charge one share per adult, a half share per child and free for infants sleeping in their parents’ room.
2. Agree on how the bedrooms will be chosen before you get there since some bedrooms will be larger. Our rule is that the person who found the villa gets first choice.
3. Set up a “kitty” at the outset for daily expenses such as food and gas and have everyone contribute an equal share. That way, you don’t have to try to sort out who spent what at the end of the vacation.
4. Agree on what the rules are for allergens in the kitchen. We like to make sure there are no peanuts, nuts or sesame in the villa at all, but you need to plan such rules ahead of the trip.
5. Agree on a plan for the cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping. Take turns so that each family gets some “nights off”.

Be Prepared

We took our first trip to Europe with a child when our oldest, Kieryn, was six months old. We were supposed to fly from Ottawa through Montreal to Paris, overnight at a hotel in Paris and catch a train to the town where we had booked a car to drive to our villa. Unfortunately, our first flight to Montreal was delayed and we instead ended up rerouted to Toronto where we were to catch a morning flight to London. From London, we were to fly on to Bordeaux.

We got to London, only to find that all flights the next day were cancelled because of a computer malfunction. We had to spend another day and night in London.

Thank goodness for my sister-in-law Kendel’s positive attitude: “we’re on vacation and I get to do more shopping in London, woo-hoo”.

Despite the stuttered start, it turned out to be our nicest European vacation to date, but I did learn that, especially when traveling with allergies, you need to both prepare for the trip and prepare food contingencies in case plans go wrong.

We highly recommend reading: Scott’s Rules for Traveling with Food Allergies

See Also:

For Scott’s European Villas on the Web, get Allergic Living’s Summer 2008 issue. It’s available here.

To read the first article in the “Have Kitchen, Will Travel” series, click here.

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