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October 10, 2017

How to Travel Gluten Free

I was diagnosed with celiac disease when I was in the tenth grade. After two long years of getting sick after every meal, I was finally given an answer: don’t eat gluten. It sucks for the people I hang out with most, including Nate, who often has to eat gluten free with me. Traveling is an entirely different story when you’re gluten free. It makes finding foods very challenging, and it means there’s always a chance you could get sick.
As someone who’s experienced a fair share of trips to the bathroom while out sightseeing, I’m hoping if I share some of my tips for eating gluten free while I’m on vacation, you won’t find yourself in the same situations I have! Here’s how to travel gluten free.

Plan Ahead

I guess this is the biggest tip I can give you. This is the one that has saved my butt on countless occasions. Once a trip’s exact dates are decided, I begin my planning. I basically plan out every meal. People who like to just find random places to eat don’t really like this technique. I traveled with an ex one time, and he hated that I planned out all our meals. But it was either that, or we spent half the vacation with me leaning over a toilet seat at the hotel.

I google gluten free in whatever city I’m visiting, and I go from there. I plan out what we’ll be doing in each city, and then find gluten free places around the various locations we’re visiting. Finding places near what we’ll be sightseeing that day is a great tip, since you don’t want to be traveling 18 blocks every time you want a meal.

Reading restaurant reviews on gluten free websites like findmeglutenfree.com can be helpful. These websites usually contain reviews, including whether or not someone got sick. Boise, my hometown, doesn’t have any fully gluten free restaurants, but many bigger cities do, so I scope those out first. They know what’s gluten free and what’s not. Then, I check places people recommend for gluten free, find their gluten free menu and ensure there’s something I can eat that I will enjoy, or something I can try. But, if you can’t plan ahead, here are some other tips.

Talk to the Waiter

And if they don’t quite understand what gluten free is, ask to speak to a chef, or someone with more knowledge of the menu and it’s foods. I once ate at an Italian restaurant in New York, where our waiter was full Italian. He understood English, but I’m not sure he knew what gluten free meant. Even though I asked for gluten free pasta, I don’t think the waiter understood that the Alfredo sauce could not contain gluten either.

When the meal came, both my celiac aunt and I took bites, and she looked at me worriedly and said, “That tastes way too good for gluten free.” A half hour later, I needed to head back to the hotel. Talking to someone with more knowledge about the menu and it’s foods will do you much better than just telling the waiter you need to be gluten free and hoping it works.

Ask for a Dedicated Gluten Free Menu

If you aren’t eating at a fully gluten free place, see if they have a gluten free menu. Many chain restaurants do nowadays, as well as smaller local places. Again, this is where it helps to plan ahead; you’ll know if places have gluten free menus or not. I tend not to stress if a place doesn’t have a gluten free menu locally, and I kind of just know what things are and are not gluten free. But if I’m traveling, I always make sure they have a dedicated gluten free menu, just to be safe.

Know Your Safe Foods

When traveling, it’s helpful to know foods that most restaurants serve that are typically safe for you. For me, this is salads. So, a house salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing is almost always gluten free. It gets sketchy with Caesar or ranch dressing, as those sometimes contain gluten, but I’m usually safe with balsamic vinaigrette. Even though a house salad may not fill me up, it’s better to have something in my stomach until the next time we can stop to get food. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of being worried about getting sick and letting yourself go hungry.

Bring Snacks

This can be harder in other countries, or if you’re going on a long trip and can’t bring food, but at least for me when traveling domestic, I make sure to either pack snacks in my bag, or make sure I know where I can buy some. I always get hungry when we get back to the hotel anyway, so I love stopping at a walgreens, grocery store or gas station to grab some snacks I know are gluten free. This includes snickers, other candies, chips, cheese and vegetables. These are all things that don’t require any prep work and will stay in a hotel just fine.

Rent a Place with a Kitchen

If you’re staying somewhere for an extended period of time, it can be helpful to rent somewhere with a kitchen, that way you can run out to the local grocery store and buy stuff you can cook. When I traveled to Calgary last spring, we walked to a grocery store right down the street and picked up some stuff to cook back at our hotel. You save money this way too! And, since we were in Canada, even though it’s not that much different from the US, it was fun to see all the different things grocery stores in Canada do differently from the United States. Especially overseas, it can really help you immerse yourself in the culture to have to cook what the locals cook.

Be Prepared to Get Sick

Unfortunately, being gluten free means I just have to live with the possibility that I could get sick at any given moment. It’s unfortunate and it’s a bother, but knowing it may happen helps me and the people I’m traveling with. I make sure everyone knows they may have to head out without me if I’m not feeling well, or take me back to the hotel if I’m getting sick. It’s easier when it’s just Nate and I, but traveling with a large group can be difficult.

How do you ensure you don’t get sick when traveling?

Thanks for reading!

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