Friday, June 24, 2011

Quick Gluten-Free Travel Tips

(Part of an ongoing series)

We don't get out much anymore.  Has anyone else's travel been curtailed by being gluten free?

Back in the day, we used to travel a lot.  Friends joked that I started planning my next trip the day I got back from my last one.  They were wrong, by the way...I started planning the next trip during the last trip.

Not any more.  It's been years since I've been on an airplane, and I can't remember the last time I needed a passport.  There's also nothing big in the works right now.

Admittedly, some travel would have been curtailed just because of the economy.  When your fiscal circumstances are less than certain, you just don't go booking as many (or any!) trips around the world.  But I can't entirely blame the recession for my lack of wandering.  A lot of my staying home is due to celiac disease.

Those of us who are gluten free know that sometimes it's hard enough to get a safe meal in your own house.  When it comes to letting someone else cook for you, especially someone you've never met...and who doesn't have to live with you for the next three days if you get glutened...well, it can be downright terrifying.  Add in some other food intolerances (soy, nightshades, citrus, poultry, etc., etc.) and the thought of eating out can make you want to curl up in a fetal position in the hotel and whimper.

So does that mean those of us on restricted diets just have to stay home forever?

Of course not!  (You knew that was the answer, right?)

Over the last 5 years, even with my limited excursions, I have managed to put together some tried and true tips to get me through everything from an overnighter with relatives to a 7 day road trip.  I have also received quite a few pieces of advice from others, some of which I've been able to try out, and some that are yet untested by me.  My goal is to consolidate everything I know here, and solicit some advice from others.  After all, you may know something cool that I've never even thought of.  So please feel free to leave any suggestions, tips, or tricks in the comments section below.

Quick Gluten-Free Travel Tip:  Pack your own food.

Thank you, Captain Obvious!  I know, this one seems like a no-brainer, but seriously... How many times have you heard of someone getting glutened because they were starving and had to go to a restaurant that didn't understand gluten free?  I mean, I've had people tell me this happened to them because they got hungry while they were out running errands.  Really?  You don't carry food with you?  I always have something to munch on in my purse...

Okay, maybe it's different for me because I have multiple food intolerances and therefore fewer dining options to begin with, but I must implore you - always carry your own food!  Even if you don't need it, wouldn't you rather have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you won't starve?

It's pretty easy to do this.  If you are traveling by car, it's a snap.  Pack a cooler, toss in ice or some freezer packs, and stock it with your favorite goodies.  My cooler is usually loaded with bananas, grapes, yogurt, cheese sticks, rice cakes, and homemade cookies (in an airtight container).  If I'm going someplace with a microwave, I'll even pack leftovers in individual serving containers, just in case.  Don't forget utensils if you do this.  I also have a bag with non-perishables, like Larabars, Jam Frakas bars, Fritos, and some reusable water bottles.  'Cause, you know, I get thirsty...

Once you get to your destination, you either stow everything in the fridge in your room, or if you don't have one, just use the cooler with more ice from the ice machine.  Easy peasy.

Take more than you think you'll need.  Most places do have grocery stores (which you probably have researched already) so you can probably stock up if you run low on anything.  But their selection may be iffy.  It takes a lot of pressure off when you know that no matter what, you'll have something safe to eat.  And if you keep everything well iced, you'll just haul home everything you don't end up using.

So that's easy enough on a car trip.  But how about air travel?

Okay, I haven't flown much since going gluten free.  But I have flown a lot in the past, and most of those trips were after the airlines stopped feeding their passengers real food.  (Sorry, honey-roasted peanuts do not count as lunch!)  So I do feel somewhat qualified to speak about this. 

You can take all sorts of food on the plane with you, as long as it fits in your carry-on and it's not liquid.  I load up my carry-on with the above mentioned Larabars and Jam Frakas bars, and some well-packaged baked goods.  Biscotti hold up really well.  Plus cheese sticks, because they travel well and I love them.  Under no circumstances would I ever eat anything given to me on an airplane!  (This was my policy even in my gluten-eating days.)  And I would never count on an airplane having my special "gluten-free meal option" if/when they did feed the passengers.  I've heard many horror stories about people ordering their special meal, confirming it, and finding out 5 hours into an 11 hour flight that somehow, it either didn't make it onto the plane, or that it was given to someone else 12 rows back.  The longer the flight, the more food you should haul with you.

When I get to my destination, there is the obligatory trip to the grocery store.  If there's no fridge in your room, most larger grocery stores sell styrofoam coolers pretty cheap, so grab one, and stock up to your heart's content. 

One thing I've heard of, but never personally tried, is stowing well-frozen food in your checked luggage.  I've also heard that blue ice packs work well to keep things cold in your suitcase during a flight.  The last I heard, this was okay to do.  But you may want to check with the airline before you try this one, and like everything else when it comes to travel, your mileage may vary.

Okay, I think that covers the basics of bringing your own food on a trip.  Let me know if you have any comments, suggestions, or questions.  In future articles, I'll be talking about other tips, like picking safe restaurants in a strange city.  I'm also hoping to field-test a few things this fall, so I'll be reporting on how that goes.

Happy trails!


Monty Germaine said...

Good article! Another great way to travel that goes along with road trips is renting an RV or motorhome. For one family trip we rented a motorhome and it made everything much easier. One big shopping trip before we left and we had a full kitchen worth of food.

Li loves David said...

Great idea, Monty! I've thought about renting an RV for that very reason...just haven't done it yet. That would definitely make the whole food thing a lot easier. Thanks for your input!