Whether you are planning a mini weekend getaway or an extended vacation, being on a gluten-free diet shouldn’t hold you back. Once you learn some tips, gluten-free traveling can be fun and stress-free. Travel not only opens the door to new experiences and cultures, it also invites new gluten-free culinary explorations.
First, take the time to research, plan, and prepare. Once your destination is set and your method of transportation determined, do some research on restaurants that offer gluten-free options along the way and/or at your destination. While other restaurants may still be able to accommodate your needs, those which indicate they offer gluten-free items are more likely to be a good bet. Finding new gems along your travel path can be both exciting and rewarding. But most importantly, doing the extra leg work beforehand will help ease the stress when hunger strikes. Taking some gluten-free foods along with you, whether in a car or on a plane, should also be part of your game plan.
On the Road:
Having healthy, handy snack and meal items on hand can be a lifesaver whether you’re camping or staying in hotels. Below are some suggestions for filling your cooler and dry goods tote as you head off on your adventure.
Packing your Cooler:
Easy items to pack include: Individually packaged plain yogurt, aged cheese, hard-boiled eggs, gluten-free deli meats, pre-cut hardy veggies (broccoli, sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, cauliflower), hummus, sprouts, gluten-free salad dressing, fresh salsa, and gluten-free wraps.
Always make sure to have a fresh ice pack in your cooler to keep perishables fresh and safe.
Packing Your Dry Goods Tote
Whether you are preparing your own meals on a camp stove, using a hotel microwave, or having a beach picnic, it’s easy to bring along canned food items as well as other dry goods for quick meal options.
Good options include: Canned whole or refried beans, canned gluten-free soup, canned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines), whole fresh fruit, avocados, nuts/seeds, dried fruit, gluten-free granola, quinoa, quick cook brown rice, corn chips, popcorn, rice cakes, nut butter, jam, squeezable honey, and whole-grain gluten-free bread. (Remember to include a can opener, as well as salt & pepper.)
In the Air:
Flying can be more challenging because flexibility is reduced. Many airlines do not offer gluten-free meals, and many airport restaurants do not offer gluten-free menu options. In addition, there are multiple security regulations in place that may inhibit travelers from bringing their own gluten-free food items. However, once again, a little research and planning can make your trip less stressful and more likely to keep you well-nourished and healthy.
First, research your airline. Some airlines offer special meals for individuals following certain diets including gluten-free. Only a few indicate that their meals are approved and monitored by a registered dietitian. Therefore, it is up to you to contact the airline regarding their gluten-free standards. Most airlines require customers to pre-order special meals 24-72 hours in advance.
Second, come prepared. Packing some gluten-free snacks and even meals from home can save you time, money, and stress when the unexpected occurs.
Follow the steps below to pack a TSA approved snack or meal.
- For ultimate ease pack dry snacks. However if you do want to take liquids or “gels” such as yogurt, hummus, salad dressing, or dips be aware that you must comply with TSA regulations. Any liquid or gel must be in a sealed container with no more than 100 ml (3.4oz) per container. Place all liquids and gels (this includes any carry-on toiletries) into a single quart-sized Ziploc bag.
- Each traveler is allowed only one Ziploc bag.
- Only pack whole fruit through security. Half eaten bananas or apples will be confiscated unless placed into a bag or properly wrapped.
- Dry snacks or sandwiches can be packed as long as they are wrapped or are in a sealed container. Do not wrap with aluminum foil as it will interfere with the x-ray machines.
Note: If you are traveling internationally, depending on your destination, you may need to toss out any uneaten perishable food items, including fruits and vegetables.
Packing your Carry On:
Bringing gluten-free snacks and meals from home can make flying both easier and healthier. Airline meals are often high in sodium and rich in calories. Furthermore, the amount of water served on long flights is not enough to stay properly hydrated. This combination can easily promote dehydration and fatigue. Choosing to bring fresh whole fruits and vegetables and other low sodium snack options can help you stay fit and fueled a mile high.
Choosing to pack naturally gluten-free foods such as whole fruits and chopped veggies, as well as cheese, nuts, and seeds, can help keep you full and satisfied when on the go. Minimally processed snack foods such as plain corn chips, popcorn, or rice cakes can be great additions as well.
Smart Mini Meal Ideas
- Make an antipasti plate: bring sliced apples, cut carrots, aged cheese, 1/4 cup hummus*, and gluten-free crackers.
- Snack on low sodium popcorn, trail mix, and/or dried fruit.
- Pack a homemade marinated bean salad.
- Bring a wrapped sandwich.
- Pack 1/3 cup yogurt*, trail mix, and banana.
- Bring a small avocado and spread on gluten-free bread or crackers.
- Always bring an empty water bottle to fill up after you pass security. This way you can stay hydrated on longer flights.
*Follow the TSA regulations above for liquids and gels.
Whether you are on the road or flying to a foreign country, eating out is part of the fun of travel. Researching beforehand can alleviate stress and make for a more enjoyable as well as safe dining experience.
- Find out if there is a GIG support group in or near your destination. If so, get in touch. https://www.gluten.org/community/local-branches/. Reach out in advance to the listed contacts for local information regarding gluten-free restaurants and other resources.
- Look for GFFS certified restaurants. http://www.gffoodservice.org/certified-directory/certified-food-services/. These locations have been certified by GIG’s Gluten-Free Food Services program (GFFS) and are equipped to provide safe gluten-free menu options.
Since not all things can be planned, following are a few tips for successful gluten-free dining, wherever you are.
Review the menu and identify if there are items which appear to be gluten-free. Then, speak directly with the staff to confirm gluten-free status of all ingredients and to find out whether practices are in place to avoid cross-contamination. Evaluate whether or not you feel adequate precautionary measures are in place.
Speaking to staff about food preparation can help identify any possible cross-contamination issues and also help highlight potential ways to bypass them.
- Are separate cutting boards, utensils, fryers, and toasters used in order to avoid cross-contamination?
- Can substitutions be made? Corn tortillas in place of flour tortillas or gluten-free tamari in place of soy sauce.
- Does the salad have croutons? And does the salad dressing contain gluten?
If your dining experience is a success always thank the staff for accommodating your needs.
Finally, traveling can be a wonderful opportunity to explore and gather culinary inspiration to bring back home, especially if you are traveling abroad. Look for local markets, street vendors, and specialty grocers to find interesting new ingredients and recipes that highlight the local cuisine. However, be careful, as sometimes seemingly gluten-free items may in fact contain gluten.
Home Sweet Home
Returning back home is often just as magical as traveling away from home. Sharing all the newly acquired ideas, tools, or skills you have learned with family and friends is a wonderful opportunity to educate others around you. Plus, traveling gluten-free in the future will be a walk in the park!
Revised, 2017. Original article by Selva Wohlgemuth, Bastyr University Dietetic Intern, 2015