Gluten-free living can be a challenge, but gluten-free traveling can send you running for the hills… unless you are prepared. With March Break around the corner, and Summer travel not far behind, there are a few things to keep in mind before, during, and after traveling:
- Do your research. Look into gluten-free dining and grocery options before you go, which will help alleviate some anxiety/stress when you arrive at your destination. When I visited Las Vegas years ago, I ended up eating a bag of potato chips for dinner the first night, and then ate lunch and dinner at the Outback Steakhouse every day following. While I do love their ‘Chicken on-the-barbie,’ I could have done with some variation had I researched some options in advance. I have since learned my lesson. Check out our GF City Guidesfor extensive lists of GF dining options in your favourite cities.
- Call your hotel or resort in advance of your stay. Inform them of your allergy/intolerance/sensitivity so that accommodations may be made to have a mini fridge placed in your room, for example, allowing you to keep a ‘stash’ of some perishable foods. If possible, look for a room with a kitchenette so that you don’t have to eat out every day. If you let the hotel or resort staff know when you will be arriving, they may be willing to purchase GF products to accommodate your diet. Last Spring, I was lucky enough to enjoy a gluten-free stay at Breezes Bahamas, but the kitchen staff told me that, had they known I was coming, they would have had enough time to order in more GF options.
- Be prepared. From home, pack enough GF goodies for your vacation; for the ride there and back, plus at least some meals/snacks throughout the day. Once you arrive, find a grocery or specialty store to pick up some more options, including some fresh items (fruit for breakfast = one less meal to worry about while vacationing). Even if you did your ‘research’ (see above), anything could happen. Once while in Buffalo, I drove all the way out to one restaurant that had a gluten-free menu, and there was a unfortunate power failure in the entire area for hours. By the time I gave up waiting and tried to go to another GF restaurant outside the area, it had closed. Trust me, if you pack some GF items with you, you will not regret it. Worst case scenario, you will simply end up bringing them back home with you.
- If your resort is all-inclusive, ask to speak to the Head Chef when you arrive at the buffet and tell him/her about your special dietary needs. They should at least be willing to walk you through the line to let your know what is ‘safe’ for you to consume. Warning: cross-contamination is bound to occur at a buffet, so try to arrive first before each meal time, if the kitchen staff is not willing/able to make you a separate dish each time… that way you are hopefully the first person to ‘dig in’.
- Be assertive of your dietary needs when speaking to kitchen and/or wait staff. This is not the time to feel shy or embarrassed about your GF diet. If they are not aware of safe gluten-free handling procedures, remember to stress the importance of taking precautions to avoid any possible cross-contamination. Even at restaurants with gluten-free menus, I still mention to the waiter/waitress my needs when ordering. If you are not comfortable with your waiter/waitress, ask to speak to a manager or someone in the kitchen who will be handling your order.
- If you are vacationing in a place where they speak a language you are not familiar with, some sites offer translated dining cards that outline your gluten-free diet needs (coming soon to glutrition.com).
- Bring back-up. When I travel, I am very anxious at even the slightest possibility of having a “gluten attack” (the thought itself is enough to make me sick sometimes). I always make sure to leave enough time to digest so I don’t have to eat-and-run. There are also some products on the market that provide digestive enzymes that help defend against hidden gluten (Gluten Defense), or calm a stressful moment (Rescue Remedy). These products should be taken preventatively, and are not meant to replace the safe practices of gluten-free living. Ask your health care provider if there is a product out there that is right for your needs.
- If you are traveling by air, Allergic Living published a piece on “Food Allergy Flying Tips”, with essential steps you can take to minimize your risk (or your child’s) aboard an airplane.
- Don’t forget to show your appreciation to all those who made your vacation positive, whether an accommodating cousin who accompanied you to every GF restaurant, a stewardess on a plane who made sure your GF snack was safely delivered to you, or an all-inclusive chef who went out of their way to make you customized meal every breakfast, lunch and dinner (it can happen!). If you do not have a positive experience, still let the hotel/resort/airline/restaurant know what happened and how your experience could have improved; that way they can hopefully minimize the possibility of the same thing happening to a future gluten-free traveler.
Happy (and safe) traveling!