Food factors into everything. How we socialize, celebrate, train, relax, connect, vacation. It’s the vacation part that scared me most when my daughter, Abigail, was diagnosed in 2016, with Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and allergies to soy, nuts and eggs. We can’t fly by the seat of our pants and eat anywhere. Every move requires a plan of attack. While I still approach vacation with a bit of trepidation, I have a better handle on how, who and what to ask when it comes to eating on the road. The key to ensuring that fun is had by all lies in your ability to take the focus off food and make vacation about the experience. Which is exactly how we rolled this summer in Asheville, NC.
Hotels don’t work for us. Without a place to store and prepare food, we’re forced to eat out. It takes some time but it’s worth searching out a reputable condo or home for rent in the area you wish to vacation. We got lucky and booked five days at The Residences at Biltmore. The condo came equipped with a full kitchen, washer/dryer and balcony with a view of the mountains. We also had full access to the outdoor pool where I was stung by a wasp as I was minding my own business. The package included towel exchange, trash pickup, hospitable staff and concierge service.
What mom doesn’t like a break from cooking? It doesn’t exactly happen when you’re on vacation with my family, but the trade off is we have a healthy daughter who’s able to enjoy the entire vacation. We benefit, too. No one returns home constipated from a week’s worth of take-out and bad food choices. It’s a win-win.
Make Gas Stations Fun (Avoid Those With Hell’s Angels Parked Outside)
Gas station stops are inevitable. Unfortunately they’re packed with crap. It’s a highlight of vacation for my husband who skips in and surveys his options. While he’s grabbing jerky, Pringles and pizza-flavored anything, Ab tends to wander around wishing she could have a little fun too. So we make it about the other “crap.” The crazy little trinkets and signs. We make guesses about how long the wrinkled hot dogs have been spinning under the heat lamp and debate whether or not we should have a gas station Christmas where every gift we give comes from a quikie mart and who would get what. Then we head to the trunk where I’ve packed the clean food for her. It’s not the same as a bag of M&Ms but an egg-free chocolate chip cookie is pretty damn good.
About those Hell’s Angels. Driving along the highway, about 20 bikes roared passed us. We crossed paths with them miles later at a small gas station. They were parked and hanging out around the building and we decided to continue on to the next station just up the road. My husband wondered why I was staring at the group and the truth is I couldn’t help wondering what they do for Christmas and childrens’ birthdays. He thinks I’m nuts. But it’s no different from how I stare at the Amish, as they clip clop along in their buggies, pondering plain dresses and life without electricity.
Farmers Markets Are Your Friend
We love farmers markets. I know I said “take the focus off food” but we have to eat. So why not explore a local farmers market and pick up some fresh, locally grown produce, and whatever else strikes your fancy? My kids had a blast exploring the WNC Farmers Market the morning after our arrival in Asheville. We made that our first stop while on vacation so I could meal plan for the rest of the week based on items I found at the market. Our haul included peaches, heirloom tomatoes, honey, cucumbers, jam, wine and cheese.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made it easy to locate a farmers market anywhere in the country with the National Farmers Market Directory. Simply enter the zip code for your destination and the site compiles a list of markets. You can tailor it to your needs by ticking the boxes next to items like eggs, honey or wine that rank high on your must-have list.
Talk To The Locals
By the time we left the farmers market, I had become friends with Susie of Susie Q Gourds. Her gourd art drew me in but her warm personality made me feel like chatting her up. So I did. She was kind enough to make a map of all the waterfalls we should see while visiting the Asheville area as well as their proximity to other points of interest. It was obvious she’d done it before but I was grateful for her inside take and left feeling like I’d just consulted the friendliest travel guide a girl could ever ask for.
A great grandmother and big rig driver, Susie will retire from her gourd booth at the end of the year to return to her rig full-time. Godspeed Susie Q!
Take Advantage of Natural Freebies
Prior to hitting the road, I spent some time looking into budget friendly things to do in Asheville. I found some pretty awesome places that cost nothing to enjoy. Regarded as the birthplace of modern forestry in North America, the Pisgah National Forest is home to Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock natural water slide. For $3/person, we spent the afternoon sliding down a 60-foot slide with water so chilly it takes your breath away when you finally drop into the pool.
Natural attractions like this exist everywhere. You just have to do a bit of searching to find them. It’s so worth it, especially when you’re not the theme park type! I packed the cooler for the day and we were free to explore.
You’ll be glad you did. Again, it takes a little time but get used to it. This is life with a child with dietary issues! Before we hit the road, I Googled allergy friendly food establishments in the Asheville area and discovered Vortex doughnuts. After reading the favorable reviews, I gave them a call and became convinced I found a winner after speaking with seemingly knowledgeable employees. But the proof is in the pudding. What I thought I detected by phone was spot on. They knew their stuff and Abigail savored every bit of two doughnuts for the first time in three years!
If your plans include staying at a resort, call their public relations department and learn your options while on the property. One simple phone call to the PR department at the Biltmore Estate and I knew which places could accommodate her diet. Interested in a restaurant? Give them a call. Usually you’ll be able to determine how knowledgeable they are after just a few minutes of chatting. Tell them what you’re looking for. Ask if they’re willing to prepare something off menu. And if they are, BINGO! You just might have yourself a winner.
Pack a cooler, just in case.