Traveling can be one of the greatest pleasures in life and for the gluten intolerant it can also be one the most challenging. I have traveled a lot in my life, sometime with great gluten-free success and sometimes with fairly poor results. I like to think we learn more from our failures than our successes so here are my top ten tips for traveling gluten-free.
1. Take food with you – Airports, train stations and roadside snack shops are not the best places to find gluten-free options. Delays at the airport can leave you famished, frustrated and more susceptible to poor decisions. Take enough gluten-free snacks (including some that contain some protein) to keep you well fed. Gluten-free pretzels or crackers, <target=_”blank”>Sunbutter On-The-Go Snack Packs (it is never a good idea to take peanuts or peanut butter on an airplane, train, bus or boat as even if you can tolerate peanuts, others may be very allergic) pieces of fruit and vegetables, cheese cubes, gluten-free sandwiches and gluten-free nutrition bars are great items to have on hand. (At the bottom of this post is a recipe for Pistachio Fruit Bars that you can make yourself which are delicious, easy to make and will give you plenty of energy.)
If you take food which needs to be kept cold, put it inside a small insulated soft sided lunch box and tuck in a few heavy weight Ziploc bags. After you go through security go to a restaurant or fast food place and ask for some ice to fill the Ziplocs. This will keep everything chilled while on the plane. That little lunch box will come in handy on your trip and can easily be put in your suitcase when you don’t need it.
2. Plan ahead – If you are planning to travel within the United States, Triumph Dining sells this book with over 6,500 gluten-free dining options. If you don’t have the book or are traveling outside the U.S., do a little research before hand on the internet so that you arrive with some options and don’t wind up starved, exhausted and in a restaurant where you won’t be able to eat anything. Of course once you reach your destination you can do a little more digging around but it is good to arrive with a few options under your belt just in case!
3. Put it in writing – If you are traveling to a foreign country where you do not speak the language Triumph Dining makes these cards that you can give to the server in the restaurant to ensure you get a safe, gluten-free meal. I have found that sometimes the servers don’t quite get it so if they look confused or give you a glib response, make sure you get the card to chef. They will understand much better. If you don’t have the cards, ask the concierge at your hotel to write out a simple statement that you can take with you to restaurants. Make sure they include that you can not eat wheat, oats and barely.
4. Don’t cheat! As much as I personally love to explore culture through food sometimes you may need to forego the regional culinary specialty because of gluten. I have traveled in Italy and forewent pizza and pasta, France and forwent bread and pastry and China where I forewent a lot but I always found something delicious to eat. No one wants to be ill when on vacation and for some people (like me) a little gluten triggers a craving for more. Considering the long term effects of ingesting gluten when Celiac or gluten intolerant, it is just not worth it.
5. Find what you can eat – With a little Google time you can usually find some local dishes that are naturally gluten-free. It is a good idea to have an idea of some local delicacies you can enjoy, especially in a foreign country. This way you can experience local food culture and stay safe.
6. Fresh is best – No matter where you are you can usually get some simply grilled fish with vegetables and salad and not have to worry about a gluten attack. When in doubt stay away from soups, sauces and anything fried.
When time allows, I make a point of always trying to find the local markets and buying some fresh fruits, cheeses, etc to have on hand in the hotel room or when out for the day. This is another way to explore the culture and if the street food is questionable I will always have something to eat. Your little lunch box comes in handy here too.
7. Drink plenty of bottle water – No matter how careful you are, you may accidentally ingest some gluten. Drinking plenty of water will help flush it out of your system faster. Also it really helps with jet lag to stay hydrated.
8. Take probiotics – Buy the strongest probiotics you can find and take double the dose every day. This is good practice anyway for anyone with gluten intolerance but especially when traveling. This will help with digestive issues.
9. Digestive Enzymes – Many problems associated with gluten intolerance and celiac disease are digestive. Taking digestive enzymes before each meal, especially when traveling where you are not certain of getting a completely gluten-free meal will help break down the food and allow for greater absorption of nutrients and assist in normalizing the inflammatory responses to eating a little gluten by mistake. Products like Glutenease are specifically formulated for breaking down the gluten proteins. But beware – taking Glutenease or other enzymes is not a license to eat gluten! They should be viewed as a precaution, not a cure.
10. Utilize the minibar – I don’t mean drink the tiny $10.00 bottles of gin so you don’t care if you eat gluten or not, I mean use the minibar to store your own perishable gluten-free snacks in your hotel room. Better yet ask for a mini fridge to be brought the room. I always ask but am not always accommodated so the minibar stands in. I just take out the items that don’t necessarily need to be in there (bottles of water, soda cans, bottles of liquor), store them right on top of or next to the minibar and let the hotel staff know I have not used them and will return them when I check out – this way I don’t get charged for the items by mistake.
A note for people who will be camping and backpacking – You will of course have better control of the food you eat because you will be taking your own food with you. This is the good news. Tasty Bite makes a whole line of shelf stable food that requires no refrigeration and is light weight. As the name implies, they are very tasty and quick to prepare. They also are made with no preservatives and come in gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and Kosher. You can pack up whole, healthy meals that can be prepared in just a few minutes. Supplement with some fresh foods if you are taking a cooler and you will be assured of eating well. Don’t forget to take some gluten-free trail mix and jerky for hiking.
These are my gluten-free travel favorite tips – what’s yours? Leave a comment below so others can benefit from your experience.
For some delicious bars to take with you on the plane, try these Pistachio Fruit Bars. They are easy to make and will travel well for the day. For longer term storage they should be refrigerated.
Pistachios are a great source of protein with no cholesterol and are loaded with nutrients which will help you sustain energy throughout the day. Cherries are a natural source of melatonin which will help combat jet lag. Apricots help fight constipation which can always be a problem when traveling. These bars are packed with antioxidants which will help combat the effects of airplane air and strange germs. Oh, and they are absolutely delicious!
Gluten Free Pistachio Fruit Bars
2 cups roasted pistachios
2 cups raw almonds
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried tart cherries
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ cup coconut oil – at room temperature
6 tablespoons agave nectar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 inch by 12 inch baking pan with parchment paper allowing the paper to stick up by a couple inches on two sides..
Place the almonds and sesame seeds on separate baking sheets. Toast the almonds and sesame seeds until warm, lightly browned and fragrant – about 10 minutes for the almonds and about 5 or 6 minutes for the sesame seeds. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. Let cool slightly.
Place the pistachios in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and grind until they are coarsely chopped. Add the almonds, apricots, cherries and salt and process until the nuts and fruit come together in a sticky ball. Add the coconut oil and agave and process until you have a thick cohesive dough. Add the sesame seeds and process in long pulses until they are blended into the dough.
Press the mixture into the prepared pan evenly and firmly. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 1 hour. Pull out the parchment paper with the chilled mixture out of the pan and cut into squares or rectangles.
Makes 12 – 3 inch by 4 inch bars.