Having celiac disease and living a gluten-free lifestyle can feel overwhelming at times, even in your own home. Imagine managing the demands of eating gluten free with the logistics and complexities of traveling away from your comfort zone, whether for business or pleasure. How can you safely avoid gluten in an unfamiliar place—especially if you don’t speak the language? Some people think that traveling while gluten free is nearly impossible. Thankfully, solutions do exist that make it not only possible but enjoyable to go wherever you want without constantly worrying about cross-contamination.
Planning a safely gluten-free trip goes beyond scoping out the best hotel and other attractions. Perform a quick internet search for supermarkets in the area you will be visiting. Even if you won’t have gluten-free eateries close by, having access to safe groceries enables you to plan your meals and snacks. When booking your hotel, choose a room with a refrigerator where you can store vegetables, fruits and other safe but perishable items. Of course, it’s always a good idea to have nonperishable foods such as granola, protein bars and crackers on hand in case you get stuck somewhere on a day trip with no gluten-free options.
Snacking on the plane
If you’re taking a long flight to your destination, you’re bound to get hungry. Ask your doctor ahead of time for a doctor’s note to give to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the airport. The note will allow you to pack “medical food” snacks such as soups, shakes, yogurt, hummus and peanut butter.
Before booking your flight, call the airline to ask whether they provide a gluten-free menu. Many airlines are catching on and adding safe options. If this is the case, check in with them a week or so before your flight to ensure that they will have it ready for you. If your airline does not provide gluten-free options, pack some vegetables, fruit, cheese, dry cereal or protein bars in your carry-on bag.
Driving to your destination
If traveling by car, you have the benefit of stopping to eat at restaurants along the way. Even so, it’s best to map out your route and meals ahead of time. Call ahead to any restaurants you are considering to inquire about their gluten-free menu items so that you already know the gluten-free status and don’t have to worry about it in the moment, already starving after spending hours in the car.
Eating at a restaurant
Enjoying a top-notch meal at a restaurant should be one of the treats of traveling away from home. Whether you have crossed state lines or an entire ocean, you can still enjoy this luxury. As with every other aspect of your trip, planning and calling ahead will help save time and stress. If you are lucky enough to find a dedicated gluten-free restaurant (or more!), then check out the menu and decide on the meal that you are going to sit down and take stress-free delight in, knowing it’s absolutely safe for you.
If you are not this lucky, but rather find eateries with separate gluten-free menus or specific gluten-free items, still inquire about the precautions the staff takes to keep the meal safe from kitchen to table. As you well know, but the staff may or may not, just because a dish contains all gluten-free items does not mean it is safe from possible cross-contamination. Even the smallest amount of gluten can send a person with celiac disease or gluten intolerance into a whirlwind of pain. Asking these types of questions before even setting foot into an establishment can help you determine which restaurants understand what it means to keep food safely gluten free for their patrons.
Although you are doing your homework ahead of time, you should still befriend your server and ask questions. Never feel embarrassed by asking how the food is prepared or whether the same utensils or fryers are used for both gluten-containing and gluten-free items.
Traveling with a gluten sensitivity or full-blown wheat allergy doesn’t have to make your vacation stressful. Planning ahead and knowing what to expect can allow you to enjoy your vacation to the fullest and make lasting memories.
Heather Burdo is a health content writer from New York. Visit her at heatherburdo.com.