Tips for Traveling Gluten-Free By Plane, Train and Automobile
[NFCA volunteer Annsley is back with more gluten-free holiday tips. This time, she explains how to prepare for travel when gluten-free food may be limited.]
We all know what it’s like to be in a packing frenzy less than 12 hours before your trip. My favorite holiday flick is “Home Alone,” when the family is packing up a gaggle of people and things, and then of course comes the missing headcount when Macaulay Culkin gets left behind.
In all my packing frenzy, I have yet to forget my daughter. However, I will never forget my honeymoon to New Zealand, land of beauty, tranquility, and cars that drive on the “other” side of the road. My newlywed husband and I were shutting the door to our apartment and locking it as he turned to me and said, “I don’t have my driver’s license.” What I interpreted from him, “I haven’t seen my driver’s license in 3 weeks since we took that trip to Savannah.” Did I mention that I’d already been having nightmares about driving on the other side of the road or that you cannot drive a car in another country with just your passport? So started the beginning of our marriage and my new career as a chauffer. (In these past 4 years, he hasn’t lost his driver’s license again – just his passport!)
These days, most of the packing falls to me: Did I remember my contacts, my phone charger, the baby’s wipes, diapers, and my underwear?! And of course, we’ve all made it halfway to our destination when we remember exactly what it was we could not put our finger on – my daughter’s pajamas – and we still have a good time.
But wait! Ever since being diagnosed with celiac disease, I have to remember the cooler, too! It always seemed enough to worry about my suitcase, but now traveling gluten-free has added a bit of extra packing stress to my life. To combat the frenetic packing zone I get in, I have a few helpful hints that get me traveling and still feeling good with relatively few hassles.
I almost always get stopped going through security. Once my unopened jar of peanut butter was confiscated for being a liquid. Yep, that’s right! My unopened can of tuna got the same bad rap. I have now learned a few tricks of the trade to make it through the security checkpoint without losing a thing, even if it is as liquid. I pack for both my daughter and myself the night before the trip:
1. Carry a doctor’s note with you. Make several color copies of it (so you have the real deal safe at home), and laminate them so that you have several copies to save and with which to travel. Whenever security stops you, just pull it out. If you don’t have one, write your own little card explaining your dietary issues.
2. Carry a travel-size cooler with an arm strap. To manage my load, I consider this my personal item, and then I usually take a backpack so my hands are free to grab my daughter.
3. Ice packs – I always put all my food in a cooler with an ice pack. If you’re nervous about an ice pack, you can use those plastic re-useable ice cubes and fit them in a snack size zip-lock baggy. It’s less than 2 oz., so you don’t have to worry.
4. Stash good snacks in the cooler. I pre-bag all snacks in little bags or small plastic tupperware containers. They come in handy later in the trip. This is a good way to empty your fridge before leaving, so I just fill the cooler with what we have on hand.
- Sandwich – I usually will make some sort of gluten-free sandwich or two to carry on. That way, I don’t travel with that jar of peanut butter.
- Baby Bonbel individually wrapped cheese or string cheese. Cracker Barrel has prepackaged cheeses, too.
- Fruit – grapes, clementines, apples
- Gluten-free pretzels – I put these in a little reusable sandwich bag. Glutino makes some good ones.
- Crackers – We like Back to Nature brand.
- Trail Mix – Enjoy Life makes several kinds. Sometimes, I mix my own with gluten-free pretzels, seeds, nuts, raisins, and cranberries.
- Gluten-free muffins – I often bake up what’s in my house, take some with me and freeze the rest.
- Raw veggies – carrots, cucumbers, celery, baby tomatoes
- Yogurt – either the individual cups, I put some in a little container.
- A treat – Kinnikinnick makes excellent graham crackers, but use what you’d like. Plan to pack extra. See #8.
5. Plastic Utensils – I try to keep a knife, fork, spoon, and napkins always in the cooler pocket. That way I never forget, and if they break or I lose one we can always pick up more in the airport.
6. Baby Wipes – These are great for cleaning up messes.
7. Extra Ziploc bags – I use them for trash or repacking opened items, but if you forget, you can always use the barf bag on the airplane as long as you don’t get motion sick!
8. A special kid’s snack for the snack cart or, in my case, bribery – It became clear that my cute, boisterous, and obstinate daughter refused to put her seatbelt on and sit in her seat at take off. To settle her down, the flight attendant offered her animal crackers with gluten. Yikes! I have since learned to carry my own treat to sneak to the flight attendant in such instances. This can also be used when the drink and snack cart gets pushed around, too.
By Train or Car
1. Bring a cooler, but a larger one than the one used for the plane. Use the tips above to think of good food ideas. Make sure to pack it all up the night before and leave the food in containers in the fridge until just before heading out.
Buy some ice.
2. Bring non-perishables, too – I usually pack a grocery bag full of gluten-free bread, peanut butter (or whatever you can eat), jelly and canned tuna, along with a can-opener, plastic utensils, napkins, wipes, etc. That way, if we have to stop and there’s nothing around, I have my own little dining stash.
3. Carry a dining card with you at all times that specifies what you can and cannot eat. I like to give this to the chefs in restaurants when I go out; it makes my life so much easier.
4. Research your route and find acceptable dining locations and groceries – To this day, I use the old-fashioned map. I put dots on it along our route so I know where it’s safe to stop and sometimes the hours they’re open. We often drive late at night.
Packing ahead of time and cleaning out the refrigerator before I go really helps me in terms of time management and maintaining a low anxiety level. No matter how delayed we are or how often the car breaks down, I am always well prepared. Happy, healthy, and safe travels over this holiday season!
– Annsley Klehr
Gluten Freedoms, LLC
- Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Tips: 3 Scenarios
- NFCA December 2011 Newsletter: Traveling Gluten-Free
- Gluten-Free Holiday Central