Have you been to the Grand Canyon? Have you seen the Eiffel Tower? Do you dream of relaxing on the beach with a cool cocktail in your hand?
Will you be able to travel and see all you want to see and be gluten-free?
Actually, your dreams of travel can still come true. It just takes some planning and the willingness to be an explorer.
How to Plan a Successful Gluten-Free Vacation
A vacation is supposed to be relaxing, so you don’t want to spend precious time stressing over what to eat and where. Making trips to the supermarket and eating on your bed while watching TV in a hotel room is NOT a vacation, nor is it relaxing. I know from experience, and you can learn from my mistakes.
Yes, you will be able to travel and eat gluten-free. But you’ll need to follow a plan to make the most of your time away from home.
But What Will You Eat?
Now that you’re eating gluten-free, going on a vacation requires researching what you have or don’t have available at your destination.
These are the most important things to look for while doing your research:
- Where will you buy gluten-free food? Are there supermarkets or specialty stores nearby?
- What restaurants serve gluten-free food?
- Where can you stay that has a kitchen (or at least a refrigerator and stove)?
Sometimes your research will go well and you can comfortably book your vacation. But sometimes, research reveals that your vacation might be more difficult than anticipated. Maybe you can’t find an affordable place to stay that meets your requirements. Or you can’t find one single restaurant that serves gluten-free food. For one reason or another, things aren’t falling into place like you hoped.
If possible, find an alternate vacation destination (I’ve experienced that a few times when planning a family trip). It’s not easy – particularly if there is a specific place you want to go. However, I have a long list of places I would like to see and when one place doesn’t seem like a fit, I just start researching the next place.
But how can you tell if a destination is good for gluten-free? I’ll show you each of the steps I take when planning a trip.
How to Find Places to Buy Gluten-Free Food
Open an Internet browser and search for supermarkets in whatever destination you want to travel to, and be as specific as possible. Maybe you want to go to San Diego, California, so enter “San Diego supermarkets” in the search bar. If you want to stay on Coronado Island, be more specific by typing in “Supermarkets Coronado Island.”
Note the location, phone number, and name of grocery stores that pop up. Call to see what gluten-free food they have. Check their website (if they have one) for any recognizable gluten-free items on their menu. A digital version of a circular in the local newspaper might show the food they carry.
Every supermarket has produce, meat, dairy and beverages, so you won’t have to worry about food if you’re not planning on eating in restaurants. But it would be nice to know if they have gluten-free items like cookies, crackers, pasta and bread.
If you prefer to eat organically, change the search to “organic markets” instead of “supermarkets.”
How to Find Restaurants with Gluten-Free Menus
This time replace “supermarkets” with “gluten-free.” “Gluten-free Coronado Island” should bring up all local restaurants that offer a gluten-free menu.
Again, you’ll want to note the name, phone number, and location of the places that sound interesting. You might find reviews from people who have eaten at these particular restaurants, which will help you decide if you want to eat there.
How to Find a Room with a Kitchen
The search for a room with a kitchen can be difficult. Sometimes they don’t exist or are not affordable. It will cost more, but you’ll save money in the long run by eating in. Plus, the amenities of a kitchen make it possible to have a relaxing, worry-free vacation.
Enter the search term “Coronado Island suites,” which should bring up some hotels or motels with kitchens. Several major chains have affordable suites as they’ve recognized the need for travelers to feel like they’re in a warm, homey, comfortable environment, especially if they stay for a long period of time.
Alternatively, you might look for a short-term rental condo or home. You can find daily and weekly rates on websites like Vacation Rental by Owner at vrbo.com.
Why Do You Need a Kitchen?
The hardest gluten-free meal to eat when traveling is breakfast. Having a kitchen is wonderful. Most continental breakfasts served by hotels consist mainly of toast, cereal and pastries. Hot items such as eggs and bacon are often served buffet style, and are red flags for cross-contamination.
But with a kitchen, you can make your own breakfast. And after you eat, you can go out for a nice coffee or tea.
Lunch can also be a tricky meal. And then there’s snacking, especially if you have kids. With a kitchen, you will be able to keep them happy, healthy and gluten-free much more easily.
A quality kitchen should be equipped with a refrigerator, stove and microwave. Having them at your disposal will make it easy to take gluten-free restaurant leftovers back to your room.
But will you have to buy everything at the supermarket to stock your kitchen? What if the local supermarket doesn’t carry your favorite gluten-free crackers? One thing I’ve learned is that you should pack a lot of gluten-free food and bring it with you – even if you’re flying.
What to Pack
Can you travel with gluten-free food? Of course you can! My family and I have been known to fill an entire suitcase with gluten-free food.
So what would be good to pack? Non-perishable gluten-free items in air-tight containers, such as:
- Boxed cereal
- Pre-packaged meals like those from Go Picnic
- Pamela’s flour mix (for making pancakes)
- Small bags of spices to season your meals (this is a good one!)
- Protein bars
Being equipped with gluten-free food will save money, and will be a lifesaver if you end up arriving in the middle of the night thanks to travel delays.
Now, get ready for one of the most challenging parts of traveling: Finding gluten-free food in an airport.
How to Eat Gluten-Free in an Airport
The only thing more difficult than getting through airport security is finding gluten-free food.
As opposed to franchises like Applebee’s or Chili’s that now offer gluten-free meals, few airports in the United States have restaurants that cater to gluten-free clientele. None of the options will be ideal, so you might end up eating junk food if your flight gets delayed.
As a back-up, have a list handy of gluten-free candy bars to buy at the newsstand along with a bottle of water. Remember, you can bring packaged food into the airport and through security, but you can’t take liquids through. Check with the Transportation Security Administration about what you can bring (most airlines offer this information on their websites).
Pack things like dried jerky, crackers, chips, dried fruit and nuts in your carry-on luggage as traveling can be very unpredictable. You never know when they might come in handy.
Another idea is to pack and eat a gluten-free lunch at the airport. Come into the airport, check your bags, find a place to sit and eat your bagged lunch, then go through security.
If you have a layover, check the in-airport restaurants to see if they have anything gluten-free. If nothing is available you can always get a cup of fruit, which is great because flying can be dehydrating.
Don’t forget the ice cream shops. It may be indulgent, but it’s a much better choice than eating food containing gluten. Having jet lag is one thing; having jet lag and an upset system is another.
If you can’t find anything in any of the shops or restaurants, get out your list of gluten-free candy bars and head to the newsstand.
- Find out what grocery stores carry gluten-free food at your destination.
- Find out what restaurants have gluten-free menus.
- Find a place with a kitchen that’s close to stores where you can buy gluten-free food.
- Pack your favorite non-perishable gluten-free food.
- Be careful at airports since they tend to have few – if any – gluten-free options.
- Bring a pre-prepared meal to eat when you arrive at the airport before going through security.
- Have a list of chips and candy bars handy so you can buy snacks in the concourse.
Traveling can be stressful, but you can make your trip more relaxing by researching your options ahead of time. Making sure you have everything you need when you arrive at your destination will make you and your family happy campers!