Traveling with food allergies or sensitives can be challenging. But when you have Celiac Disease, traveling becomes MUCH more complicated. Our friend Michelle Palin from My Gluten Free Kitchen has Celiac Disease and she writes about it often on her site. May is Celiac Awareness Month and I have asked her to share a few tips for those traveling with Celiac Disease.
A little background: I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2010 after a real decline in my health. By the time I was diagnosed, I was very underweight, unable to eat anything other than a liquid diet, and was so fatigued that I parented my kids from the couch. While I’d never heard of celiac and doctors weren’t suspecting it, it ended up being the accidental discovery that saved my life. I’ve written on my blog about my celiac diagnosis and my top 3 tips for the newly diagnosed celiac. To this day, traveling is the hardest part about having celiac disease. If I ingest even a crumb of gluten, I will be down and out completely ill for the following 72 hours. That pretty much ruins a trip!
I think it’s awesome that Nicky is using her blog as a way to spread celiac awareness by taking part in celiac awareness month this May! Nicky and I met last summer on a trip in Vermont, where we were touring organic dairy farms.
She noticed how I wasn’t able to eat at some of the meals and saw traveling was a bit difficult for me as a celiac. Today she’s asked me to share some of my tips for traveling as a person with celiac disease.
Tips for Traveling with Celiac Disease
Avoiding getting glutened on a trip boils down to the research and planning you do before you leave! As soon as you know your destination, start looking into the gluten-free options there. First I check the Find Me Gluten Free website or app and search by area for the city I’ll be going to. You can filter the results, and I filter by category to show only dedicated gluten-free facilities. I prefer my meals served without a side of anxiety, so I eat at dedicated gluten-free restaurants and bakeries whenever possible. If the city doesn’t have any or many dedicated gluten-free options then I’ll look at the highest rated options for that city and read the reviews, noting those I’m interested in. Also, doing a google search for gluten-free and the city name can bring up some options too.
Just because a restaurant has a gluten-free menu, doesn’t mean it is safe! Whether you heard about a restaurant from the app, google, a friend, or it was chosen by a conference, I recommend inquiring if you can eat there safely before you go. Call the restaurant during a non-busy time (I recommend 3-4:30 pm) and ask to speak to the manager or kitchen manager. I say, “Hi. I have celiac disease which means I can’t have any gluten, even a crumb, without becoming ill, and I’m wondering if you think they could feed me safely there on Friday night”. Feel free to use any wording you are comfortable with, this is just what’s worked well for me! I’ve found the restaurants to be very honest. Yes, sometimes the answer is that no, they don’t think they can feed me safely, which is great to know! A no answer lets me know I need to either pick somewhere else, or if I’m not in control of the choices, then I know to eat before or after and just enjoy the social aspect of the dinner with a drink.
Plan Before You Leave
I actually make a custom google map of all of my safe options in each city I travel to. For me, it’s fun to see where all my safe options are anywhere around and is especially handy if you aren’t the one that’ll be planning the itinerary. I also make a plan for where I’ll eat each meal on each day of our trip. Since I’ve already researched and identified where I can eat safely, this is pretty easy to do! When I compare food options and locations with the locations of our activities, it’s easy to see where we can safely stop for lunch or dinner or when I need to pick up food to go from a nearby location in the morning to bring with me to eat for dinner later where there isn’t anywhere safe! When we went to Gettysburg, PA for instance, there weren’t any dedicated gluten-free places to eat there, so we bought a cooler and some safe meals in another town and brought them with us on our trip to Gettysburg.
Become a Master Packer
Packing well will be your lifesaver! I have been unexpectedly stranded overnight several times since my celiac diagnosis, stuck at airports and hotels with little to no safe options for food. Packing an adequate gluten-free carry-on bag is essential! Not only is my carry-on packed with safe food options, I also have about a 10” x 10” spot in my suitcase reserved for gluten-free food that I bring along on my trips. There I’ll keep portable single serve gluten-free oatmeal, more protein or nut bars, more peanut butter or nut butter and crackers, etc. Then I can keep refilling my carry-on bag or purse while I’m on my trip and am guaranteed to always have something safe to eat. Sometimes you’ll get to a restaurant that you thought was safe, only to find it isn’t or it has closed, and you’ll need that protein bar from your purse!
Ask for What You Need
Ask for a refrigerator and a microwave in your hotel room. Even if the hotel room you are in doesn’t normally have a refrigerator and microwave, when you tell them you have a medically necessary diet and need them, they will provide them for your room. I’ve never had a hotel charge me for this either. When I arrive in a town, my first stops are usually a dedicated gluten-free bakery and a grocery store for some fresh fruit and salad makings that I can put in my room fridge. If you are a business traveler, this is a great tip too because you can’t control conference food and business dinners out, but if you’ve bought some safe food and have it in your hotel room refrigerator, you can sneak up to your room to eat on a break and still attend the conference meals for socializing. I do this all the time!
Happy travels! I’ve found such amazing and delicious food on my trips! Don’t let celiac keep you from traveling alone or with your family!
Michelle Palin is the gluten-free food blogger behind My Gluten-free Kitchen. She shares easy meals and sweet treats for gluten-free families as well as travel tips and tips for living with celiac.