Top 5 Gluten-Free Travel Tips
My first gluten-free trip didn’t go well from a food standpoint. I was hungry a lot because I couldn’t find food that I both liked and that fit my diet. My next trip went much better. These are my road warrior tips for traveling gluten-free.
1. Plan ahead. Research restaurants at your destination when you have time – before you leave home. If a restaurant doesn’t have a gluten-free menu, I find it’s best to call them to get a feel for their ability (and desire) to make something gluten-free. Ask questions both before you arrive and when you’re there. A restaurant is there to serve you, so you aren’t being a bother if you ask questions. If they act like you are, it’s time to move on.
2. Take whatever food you can with you. This is easier when driving than when flying so an option is to go shopping right after you arrive. The drawback is that you may have to hunt down the right store. But, it’s doable.
My mistake on my first gluten-free trip was not taking food because I assumed that attending a gluten-free event meant easy access to gluten-free foods. Yes and no. During the Expo (I went to Chicago’s in April), you had seemingly infinite choices of snack foods but that didn’t help when it came to breakfast, lunch and dinner. On my second trip, I took Carrot Walnut Muffins, Banana Muffins (recipe not yet posted), Super Simple Date Cashew Butter Balls, coconut cashew butter balls, cashew butter (both a jar and single serving packets) and dates. My husband likes to snack on nuts so we took a pound of roasted cashews. These foods gave us part of breakfast, if needed, and snacks.
3. Stay in a place with a kitchen, if possible. On our last trip, we chose to stay in Marriott Residence Inns in both Charleston and Atlanta. I’ve personally found that breakfast is the most difficult meal to eat out so we ate breakfast – eggs, etc. – at home. We also had a couple of easy dinners in our room – a salad topped with turkey breast from the local Whole Foods. I put everything we might use – plates, glasses, pans, utencils – in the dishwasher when we arrived so I knew it would be safe to use. Remember that non-stick pans can hold onto gluten so don’t use any of those. Oh, and the two nights of the trip were in a Hampton with a mini-fridge and a microwave. I cooked eggs in the microwave and they weren’t amazing but they were acceptable. If you stay in someone’s home and the home isn’t gluten-free, you’ll need to be very, very careful because they aren’t used to being careful with flour and crumbs. Only you will know if it will be possible to cook and eat there.
4. Don’t ignore restaurant chains. While it’s true that some chain restaurants have failed to deliver safe food (a couple that I’ve heard repeat stories about immediately come to mind), my husband and I have found that some are good and they’re often less expensive which is a bonus in a pricey place like Charleston, South Carolina. Both O’Charley’s and Ruby Tuesday have allergen menus. We always speak to a manager before ordering to make sure they understand what we need and we’ve never had a gluten problem with our food. The cedar plank salmon and steaks are good at O’Charley’s. I like the idea that the salmon cooks on the cedar so never even touches the grill. We’ve had several different meals from Ruby Tuesday including chicken salads, steaks and ribs.
5. Most Important – Be willing to change your mind! For one lunch in Charleston, we walked to a restaurant I’d researched before leaving home. After reading about them online, I thought they’d be a winner. When we arrived and looked inside, the lunch that included a lot of sandwiches was made in what appeared to be a tiny kitchen and left me cautious about possible cross contamination with the gluten-free bread they were supposed to have. When I asked the waitress about gluten-free and emphasised that this was for medical reasons (what I often say so that it’s understood as important), she said that for severe celiacs they would change their gloves. So they were reaching into the bag of gluten-free bread without changing them before? How many people didn’t emphasize their need and got gluten? We went to another restaurant.
Two trips. Zero gluten. You do have to be careful but it’s totally possible to travel, eat well and enjoy yourself on a gluten-free diet.