There are a few definite truths about living gluten-free: You miss bagels every day. Curious friends regularly badger you with questions like “is coffee/vodka/sushi gluten free?” And you may eventually find yourself in an airport starving with nothing available to quell your screaming stomach. There isn’t much to be done about missing certain carb staples or fielding friends’ incessant questions, but fortunately, traveling while gluten-free only gets easier. When you couple restaurants coming up-to-speed with dietary trends with the fact that the longer you live gluten-free the more resourceful you become, suddenly travel becomes significantly less daunting.
You can take my word for it. As a person living with celiac disease, I learned the hard way that no, you can’t just push through hunger on an hours-long road trip or layover in an airport full of nothing but questionable fast food options. I learned pretty quickly to never travel anywhere outside of my home city unprepared again. So, whether you’re living with celiac disease or simply avoiding gluten for one reason or another, here are my three main things to consider before embarking on your next adventure.
The absolute No. 1 thing gluten-free travelers must do is schedule some pre-departure time to do the necessary research. Fortunately, many major cities are up with the dietary times and it’s relatively easy to find great dining options. Map out an itinerary for your trip and plan food and hotel accommodations accordingly. Request a hotel room outfitted with a refrigerator so you can keep fruits and vegetables on hand to avoid eating protein bars at every pang of hunger. Call ahead to restaurants in the area to find out the extent, if any, of their gluten-free options. Otherwise you may end up—like I have on many an occasion—at a last-minute find eating a burger sans bun and sauce with an undressed salad on the side. Which brings me to my next point…
Befriend Your Server
Depending on your level of sensitivity, even trace amounts of gluten can stir up irritation. Even in “celiac friendly” establishments, cross-contamination can cause digestive disturbances. For example, someone with a high intolerance might experience a flare up from eating fries made in the same fryer as breaded onion rings. Don’t be afraid to ask your server how the chef prepares even the “gluten free” options. Sauces, especially, serve as major gluten hiding spots in many restaurants, as it’s a stabilizer and thickener. “Is there bechamel in this hollandaise?” might sound like a ridiculous question, but, trust me, you’ll wish you asked when you experience an unexpected reaction and spend your weekend getaway sick in the bathroom.
Probably the most foolproof way to ward off airport or backseat starvation is to simply bring your own food. Invest in a chic lunch pail (they exist, I swear!) and stuff it to the gills with your favorite snacks. Vegetables and hummus travel well. So do nuts and protein bars. I'm especially partial to Larabars, which are usually made of five ingredients or less and always gluten-free regardless of variety. Traveling via motor vehicle allows for a little more flexibility in the snack department as you can pack a cooler and carry salads with a protein and other more filling chilled options.