Planning international travel with food allergies

Traveling internationally with food allergies, especially traveling with kids with food allergies, can be extremely stressful. However, it can be done. And what I have found is that the more prepared I am, the less stressful I find it – it can even still be fun!

My oldest “helping” Gramps and Nana read a menu in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A little preparation with language means you can ask waiters about allergens.

If this is your first trip after you’ve been diagnosed, or your first trip abroad with children who have allergies, things are probably going to have to look a little different than you’re used to. Food is a big part of any culture, and feeling like you can’t experience that is hard. But I can promise you that you will experience even less of the culture if you spend your trip in the local emergency department, or holed up in your hotel feeling miserable. The single thing that will make the biggest difference in traveling with food allergies is to accept your or your family’s limitations. Once you accept those, you can get to work and plan a vacation everyone can enjoy!

A little backstory to let you know where I am coming from: My family is dealing with a type of food allergy called FPIES (Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome), which means that reactions happen within the digestive tract. So even though reactions are excruciatingly painful and debilitating, we have never dealt with life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. We also are dealing with multiple allergies and restrictions for those of us with FPIES (2 out of 4 of us, now that my oldest outgrew his allergies!) – I cannot eat dairy or eggs, and there is another handful of foods that I can only eat in extremely limited qualities. My youngest, at 18 months, can only eat wheat, rice, chicken, beef, olive oil, and apples. Every other food in the world he has either had reactions to, or we haven’t trialled yet. So if your family is dealing with different types of allergies, or allergies to only one or two foods, your strategies will probably look different. But for us, without further ado, here are my top tips for planning an international trip with food allergies:

  • Research cultural preferences and diet: It’s not that you couldn’t visit say, Japan with a rice allergy, or northern Europe with a dairy allergy, but visiting cultures who tend to avoid your allergens will make life easier and give you more options, both in the grocery store and when eating out.
  • Language facility: Especially if this is your first trip abroad with allergies, I would recommend sticking to countries where you speak the language. Even a little bit of familiarity can make a huge difference. I have a tiny bit of Spanish and an even smaller bit of French rattling around in my brain, and I was surprised at how much it helped with reading Portuguese food labels while in Brazil. Recognizing the base word (leite) as being similar to the Spanish (leche) and the French (lait) helped me a lot in grocery stores. We were staying with my parents, who were able to double check my off the cuff translation guesses. If you don’t speak the language, there are websites where you can get your allergens translated. Speaking of grocery stores, as with in your home country, the less processed food you get, the less likely you are to deal with cross contamination or hidden ingredients issues. For example: packaged cookies could have touched anything or have anything in them. But a banana is just a banana.
My oldest, eating a banana in Brazil. Begrudgingly.
  • Accommodation: Because both my youngest and myself are on limited diets, I always look for accommodations that have a kitchenette/kitchen. Not eating out, or even restricting your eating out, will save you time, stress, and money. And maybe I’m strange, but to me, wandering foreign grocery stores is one of the great joys in life. Especially if I can find some allergen-free sweets! Both grocery stores and farmers’ markets are wonderful cultural experiences not to be missed.
  • Flying: If you’re flying, find out if there are any airlines who are able to accommodate your allergies during meals, or just plan on packing your own food. Research what exactly security will consider allowable (for Americans: ) and plan accordingly. For example, I believe that ice packs for coolers are allowed if the ice is frozen, but if it melts before you get through security, it’s a liquid and will be trashed. (You can also bring ziptop baggies and fill them up with ice from drinks machines once past security.) There are exceptions for medical foods and formula, so be sure to look into these and if you need an exception – say, a child who is no longer a baby but needs medical formula – make sure to have a letter from your doctor explaining the condition, the severity, and the medical need. When we took our oldest to Brazil at 8 months old, I packed a cooler full of his medical formula and had no problems. My trick for my very food-restricted toddler is to pack several applesauce pouches in a quart-sized ziplock with my other liquids.
  • Medication: Whatever medication you use at home for allergy reactions, bring with you. But make sure to look up the rules for bringing that medication into your destination country, and for flying with it. If the prescription is not on the bottle, print out a copy to bring with you.
  • Hospitals: If a reaction is going to land you in the emergency department, make sure you know what hospitals to go to, and whether or not they will take your insurance. Again, if you don’t speak the language, have a piece of paper or app that will explain what your allergies are, and what you need to have done. Doing a web search for allergy translations will bring up many options.

Those are my top tips for how to make your international trip a success before you even set foot out your door. Check back later for tips about flying and packing with food allergies (also known as Half My Suitcase is Food). What are your top tips for planning an international trip with food allergies? 



Number Recognition Game for Preschoolers

My three-year-old is smart, curious, and interested in exploring new things – though I might be a tiny bit biased, I know. The one thing he is NOT interested in is working with letters or numbers. If we’re coloring and I start to draw a letter or number, he says, “No numbers, Momma!” Playing with alphabet or number magnets, foam shapes in the bath, etc. gets a similar response.

But he loves games.


So I started making up little games to build a foundation for number recognition. Maybe this summer I’ll figure out some way to make learning letters exciting for him, though he does love the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom book, which I strongly recommend.

The games I made were cobbled together in a few minutes with what I had on hand – construction paper and sharpie markers made the game boards – and completely focused on my three-year-old’s interests. I made the squares big enough for hot wheels cars, and the goal was to get the hot wheels cars into the “garage” at the end of the game. You could do something similar with My Little Ponies, or small plastic animals, or Paw Patrol figurines, or whatever your child is interested in.

I thought it would be really fun to do a Mr. Elephant game that was the same idea – teaching beginning number concepts (with an add-on addition option). And because I can’t draw at all, I got help from illustrator Dow Phumiruk, who designed the game pieces. I have to say, Mr. Elephant might have to go somewhere cold for his next tour, because he  looks really adorable snuggled up in a sweater and scarf! The goal is simple – Mr. Elephant’s umbrella was blown away in the wind and he’s chasing it.

Decorated by Janie, age 31. Mixed media- markers and stickers on card stock.

So here it is! Click to download the printable Mr. Elephant Game. I hope you and your kids enjoy!



First-Ever Author Visit!

Yesterday I had the chance to go present at my neighborhood elementary school. I spoke to a group of kindergarteners and a group of third graders. It was so much fun! I was really impressed by the kids, both behavior-wise and smarts-wise.


As it turns out, my background in teaching was very helpful, though I never made Amazon Rainforest animal noises with my college statistics students. Oh well, their loss! The kindergarteners were really funny. I mentioned that I lived just down the street from this school, and one student called out excitedly, “I live in Castle Rock, too!!” So the above picture is us figuring out how many of us lived in the same town (all of us!).

I talked about how an idea becomes a book, and shared some of the things I learned about Brazil during this process. The favorite slide by far, though, was the one with pictures of my dog!


One thing that really impressed me with the kindergarteners was how good they were at mimicking the pronunciation of the few Brazilian words we discussed. I will definitely keep those parts in my next author visit!

The questions were pretty hilarious. I had heard that it wasn’t a good idea to give them time to ask questions, but I thought I’d try it since it was the end of the school year and they are therefore very grown up kindergartners. I kind of loved the questions that really were random stories about their own pets (we talked a lot about animals), but I want to make sure I’m making the most of everyone’s time, so I don’t think I’ll do that again in my next kindie presentation.

Speaking of questions, the questions the third graders asked were awesome, and really did contribute to the learning experience. I got asked about how long it took to write, when I published it, how the statue was made, how high Corcovado Mountain is, what Brazilians eat and drink, and all kind of great things.


I think one of the things that made me the happiest is that I had several students ask where Mr. Elephant was going to go next! I also got lots of suggestions on where they wanted him to go, but the fact that Mr. Elephant has fans who want to see more of him makes me very happy.

All in all, it was just a really fantastic experience, and I hope the students enjoyed it as much as I did!

Mr. Elephant’s Rio Tour, Week One

Well, it’s now been one week since Mr. Elephant’s Rio Tour was launched into the world. What a week! It’s been really exciting to see something that so much work has gone into – both mine and my illustrator’s – actually out in the wilds, or better yet, into the hands of readers!

I am so grateful for the support from friends and family, who bought copies, or liked and shared my Facebook updates, and am now starting to hear some feedback from folks who have received their copies. I can’t even begin to describe how euphoric it makes me feel when I hear that someone’s read the book, either by themselves or to their kids, and enjoyed it! Pure happiness!

There were some technical hitches (Amazon, I’m looking at you!), which seem to be resolved now, and since my launch giveaway ended last night at midnight, I’m officially considering this book launched!

Thank you to everyone who helped make Mr. Elephant’s Rio Tour‘s launch a success!



Welcome to the Yellow Umbrella Tour Company! We are a few weeks away from launching Mr. Elephant’s Rio Tour, and we couldn’t be more excited about it!

A little backstory…

When I was growing up, my family moved all over the world. We lived in the US (a few different times), England, Pakistan, Tunisia, Colombia, and Scotland. I loved moving frequently and getting to explore new places and cultures, and knew that when I had a family of my own, I wanted to be able to continue exploring the world with them.

Fast-forward to 2013…

I was now a happily married, stay-at-home mom to one little boy. Though my husband loves to travel (almost) as much as I do, our budget was such that international travel was more of a pipe dream than reality. Then my parents, living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the time, invited us to come visit. Needless to say, we jumped at the chance to go abroad!

An idea…

Even before we left on our trip, I started researching books I could buy for my then-eight-month-old son, both as a souvenir, and as a way to talk to him in later years about this part of the world that he would in no way remember. I was looking for a picture book where we could look at the pictures while he was younger, but that also had informative text we could explore as he grew older. I couldn’t find one. I was (and still am) involved in the self-publishing industry as a freelance editor, and had frequently thought about writing a book myself (peer pressure?). These two thoughts converged, and I decided to create the picture book I wanted for myself!


The fruition…

Now, here it is 2016. I wrote the book, which became Mr. Elephant’s Rio Tour, and eventually found Dow Phumiruk, an extremely talented illustrator who happens to live about twenty minutes up the road from us. She did a fantastic job of capturing the tone and feel I wanted, and added so much to the final book with her ideas and art.

Looking forward…

My hope for Mr. Elephant is that he will give children a way to explore the world and gain a global perspective. Just as I’d hoped before I had written even one word, younger kids will find plenty to enjoy in the illustrations (every time I go through it, I find something new to enjoy!), and the text gives more information for older kids. For educators and parents, there is plenty to use as jumping off points for lessons: a few Portuguese words, Samba music, geography, animals native to Brazil, a Brazil fact sheet.

In short, I have loved researching, writing, and watching the illustrations take shape for Mr. Elephant’s Rio Tour, and hope that you not only enjoy it, but feel like you were able to come along for the adventure with us.