Going Gluten-FreeJuly 30, 2014

Gluten Free Travel & Packing Mistakes

I’m off again soon to yet another conference. Some months I travel every weekend – and it does take its toll on my battered-but-thriving celiac body. However, there are certain tips and tricks that I’ve learned over my years that will help with your travel plans. Please, learn from my travel and packing mistakes!

1) Not Packing Enough Food

Gone are the days where you can rely on Hudson News or gift shops for last-minute nourishment. With celiac and/or food allergies, you have to be incredibly careful about what you eat on the road. Make sure that you pack enough food for your entire trip for those “just in case” moments where you’re not around anything that is safe.

2) Packing Food Improperly

One of my most humorous moments in packing fails included my latest trip to San Diego for the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest. I opened up my checked baggage in the hotel room and a plume of dust arose from the bag. It actually wasn’t dust though – it was oat flour. One of my handy-dandy oat cups had broken during the rough-and-tumble baggage handling. Everything I owned was coated in a film of oat – from my paper, my books, to my underwear. Without a washer and dyer, I panicked tried to shake out all the oatmeal from all of my contents. If I would have been smart, I would have double packaged items that might suffer during the trip – or at least put it in a different compartment of the suitcase that wouldn’t have been so abused during the handling process.

3) Right Stuff. Wrong Bag.

Sometimes I’m awesome at preparing a whole bunch of snacks, but then after I check my first bag, and leave to my gate with my carry-on, I realize that I forgot to transfer some of the snack items I packed into my carry-on. Always keep important things with you at all times – especially on the plane. This includes medication, digestive enzymes or ginger chews (great for nausea), or an EpiPen (of course – always carry your EpiPen with you at all times).

4) Peanut Butter vs. The TSA

I will never forget the day that TSA took my new jar of peanut butter away from me. Anything that is liquid-esque (even though I’m not sure I’ve ever considered PB a liquid) can be confiscated by TSA if it’s over 3 oz. and does not fit in your quart-sized sealed baggie. If you must take food that is gel or liquid-like, make sure you take it on your packed luggage (although you’ll most likely get your bag inspected by TSA if you do this regardless). However, if you have medications that are liquid and more than 3 oz., you can take them with you on your carry-on – as they are prescribed medication. While I told them that I had a food allergy and had to have food to eat, they didn’t really care. I’ve heard that you can take a doctor’s note with you stating that you have a food allergy and you must bring your own food, but fighting with the TSA is the last thing on my list to do at the airport.

5) All Carbs = Sugar Crash

I used to just take carb-heavy snacks with me on the road – breads, crackers, oatmeal bars, etc. But even when you’re traveling and stressed on the road, your body demands a balanced diet. Pack fruits and vegetables in baggies to take with you on the plane, and then some easy-protein like jerky or powdered peanut butter (see above) for sustained energy.

6) Not Doing Research Ahead of Time

It amazes me that I see grown adults that still don’t go to conferences, expos, or vacations properly prepared. My dad always taught me that prior planning prevented poor performance – and that’s how I feel about traveling (especially when traveling with a specialty diet).  Use websites like FindMeGlutenFree.com or CanIEatHere.com to find restaurants in your area that can cater to your dietary needs. Check out the airport websites and see if there are restaurants or stores in your terminal/gate that have food that you can eat – just in case you are severely delayed. Check hotel restaurant menus, and use Google maps to locate the nearest grocery store in case you need to find safe food. Doing your research ahead of time will prevent panic during your travels.

7) Why Can’t I Find Gluten-Free Cookies?

Last but not least, let’s not forget about the sweets. I never forget to pack some sugary goodies for my very-sweet sweet tooth. Sometimes you can have the best, safe meal on the road, but when you find out that they don’t have safe dessert – the whole experience is ruined! My trip to Hawaii was awesome, and the meals were high-class and made by the best chefs on the island. However, when it came to dessert, their gluten-free cookies were subpar. When I bit into that cookie, the beauty of the entire night sunk away and I was left with a sandpaper taste in my mouth. If you’re like me, and like to end your day with a sweet, make sure you pack extra cookies or chocolate chips to end the night on a happy (and sweet) note instead of disappointment.

What tips and tricks have you learned while traveling with a specialty diet? What were the biggest mistakes you made at first?

Comments (4)

When I traveled to the Allergy conference this past June. I pre froze those small containers of organic applesauce and put in my small cooler with my cold premade foods. That I put in my carry on. My premade food stayed cold until I was able to get them into the refrigerator at the hotel. Got though security check without any problems. Have to bring as much prepared foods, as I have 40 food allergies. Esp. while I am in the airports and on the planes. Thank goodness at this point non life threatening. traveler78

Posted by: traveler78 | August 1, 2014 5:10 PM    Report this comment

Does your international flight offer gluten-free meals? They need to be ordered at least 24 hours in advance, and if for some reason your itinerary is changed, the request may not transfer with it.

Also be sure to carry some of those restaurant cards available online in many languages to help explain to your waiter and chef. I got through ten days in Germany and Poland using them. I also ate a lot of yogurt and had some of those gopicnic packs along.

Posted by: gfinsd | August 1, 2014 10:07 AM    Report this comment

Great tips for travel. My husband and I (both celiacs) are traveling to Scotland for a week in Sept. and then home through Paris for a couple days. Any advice about what stores or products to look in these places? Thanks!

Posted by: Suzanne Ludlam | July 31, 2014 12:13 PM    Report this comment

If you find a restaurant of particular interest in your research, please be sure to check its hours. Some "healthy-type" places only serve breakfast and lunch. We just returned from a trip to DC where I had wanted to try Mitsitam in the Museum of the American Indian, only to find that the museum closed earlier than the others on the mall, and the restaurant closed earlier than the museum.

Posted by: gfinsd | July 31, 2014 11:41 AM    Report this comment

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