So here’s the dilemma….We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to travel, if you hadn’t figured that out already 😉 We also love traveling with our kids whenever we can. However, once my two daughters and I were diagnosed with Celiac’s disease, the future travel adventures I had always envisioned we would have with our kids were starting to look pretty bleak. In the beginning of our new gluten free lifestyle we could barely figure out how to eat safely at home, let alone halfway across the world. But I was determined to not let that be the end of our adventures. Little by little, and with every new trip we go on, I learn something new, or figure out a better way of doing things. I am always on the lookout for better ideas, or new information. If you have some great ideas to share, please feel free to comment below and help everyone in our worldwide gluten free family out. So after seven years of trial and error, here are my top tips for traveling gluten free.
#1…..NEVER, EVER, EVER Think You Can Wing It!!!
It’s true confession time again. I will tell you about a disaster of a trip that we had when I thought I could wing it. We were headed to Las Vegas for a woodworker’s convention for my husband’s business. Summer was crazy as always, and the trip kind of sneaked up on me. I wasn’t really ready for it when all of the sudden we needed to pack, and fast. I hadn’t prepared or researched like I always do for other trips. I made the HUGE mistake of thinking, “Las Vegas is a big city, they cater to everyone. There is grotesque amounts of food everywhere. I should have no problem finding safe food to eat.” And this is when I learned never, ever, ever assume you will be able to find safe food. We were staying off the strip where the convention was being held. I won’t mention the name of the hotel where I thought I was going to starve to death. Just know, this was not a small hotel. It was every bit as huge and over-the-top as every other hotel in Las Vegas. Thus the reason I thought I would have no problems. The first night we were there, we went from restaurant to restaurant, within the hotel, asking about gluten free options only to be given one completely glazed-over blank stare after another. Since it was getting late, and we were all hungry, but more tired than anything, we decided to just go to the little store in the hotel and get a bunch of snacks for dinner (yes, I know this is not the model of healthy eating, but we were getting desperate!!) So we wander around the little store and the only gluten free thing in the entire store that we can find is a bag of potato chips!!! You have got to be kidding me!!!! I know I was really tired, but in that moment, I really felt like crying. My poor kids were going to be eating potato chips for dinner, and nothing else. Parenting FAIL!! The next morning, the girls’ grandparents came to take them for a couple days while my husband and I attended the convention. They were in good hands, so I knew they would be fine. However, I still had 3 days to go. Each subsequent day got worse and worse. I even had trouble finding gluten free food on the Strip. I will never forget one waitress at a sushi restaurant that was so rude about it, I wanted to yell at her, and I’m not a yeller. Living off of potato chips wasn’t doing much good for my personality. Fortunately, I survived to tell the tale, but I learned a very, very important lesson….NEVER, EVER wing it!!! Which leads to the next point…..
#2…..Plan, Plan, PLAN!!!!
This is so critical to having a great vacation. Food is a huge part of traveling. It’s a great way to connect with a new culture and new people. You want to be the girl, or guy, who ate fresh pasta (gluten free, of course) in a quiet, little piazza in Venice, or dined on gluten free crepes in Florence. That’s the whole point!! So before I ever make any decisions about where to stay in a new city, the first thing I do is research the food, both at the place we will stay, and in the vicinity. How do I do this? I do A LOT of reading! Blogs like mine are gold mines of information. Websites like, Gluten Free Travel Site, are full of reviews of places all over the world. When I’m considering a hotel, I email them directly and ask what they have available, and if they know of any places in the area that offer gluten free food. I will also contact any restaurants that look promising to discuss gluten free options. So far, they have all been great at providing plenty of information. They really appreciate the heads up that we’re coming as well. Their whole business revolves around making people happy, and when they have advanced notice you are coming, they can be better prepared. That will give you more options to choose from so you’re not stuck eating a salad…again, or that squished up protein bar you’re been carrying everywhere. Also, when planning your adventures, remember that a lot of tour operators offer all day excursions that include food. Always, always contact them before booking to find out if they have any gluten free options. If they don’t, it’s easy enough to bring your own food. There’s nothing that can ruin a fun day more than getting out in the middle of the ocean, or jungle, and realizing there is no food you can eat, so plan, Plan, PLAN!!!
#3…..Cook Your Own Food
We really like staying in vacation rentals. Not only can we stay in a nice size house for the same cost, or less, of a hotel, but more importantly, we can cook our own food and have total control over what we eat. I know some people may not like the idea of cooking while on vacation, but we just keep it super simple. I don’t want to spend my vacation cooking either! We usually try to hit the grocery store on the way to our place to load up for the week. We find it’s best to do it before we get to wherever we will be staying. That is because it’s so easy to get into chill mode and be tempted to skip the store all together. If you’re like us, once we drop our bags, we want to go play!
If the place we are staying has a grill, we can grill up some meat and vegetables. Depending on where we are, Hawaii for example, we hit the farmer’s market and load up on fresh fruit and veggies. Then we gorge ourselves on tropical fruit for breakfast, with eggs, or yogurt. For lunch we make sandwiches and have a picnic wherever we are. We keep it super simple. And as a bonus, we save a lot of money on food since we’re not eating out every meal, and that gives us extra money for adventures.
#4…..Pack your own food
I know in this day and age of hefty airline fees and having to be careful how much you pack, it’s tempting to skip this….Don’t!!! I’ve been in a lot of airports, and do you know what is consistently missing from airports??? Gluten free food…Unless you want to hand over $5 for a cup of fruit… which seems ridiculous to me!! There’s nothing more annoying than my girls and I eating our $5 fruit cups, while my non-gluten free husband is enjoying his $4 breakfast sandwich. There is something very wrong with that picture. In each of our carry-on backpacks, I pack a variety of snacks. Each of my daughters has a quart size Ziploc bag with lots of bars, nuts, dried fruit, etc. as well as at least one Go Picnic meal. If you’ve never heard of Go Picnic, they make shelf stable, ready-to-eat meals. They have a lot of different healthy, gluten free options that my girls like. Here are some of the foods we like to take with us….
On a recent trip to Kauai, we brought our own bread. We decided to do that because, if you think gluten free bread is expensive at home, it’s at least double that in Hawaii. As it turns out, it was a great idea. While it took up a good amount of space when we packed it, we ate all of it, and that just made more space in our luggage available for souvenirs. Save money, eat well, and room for souvenirs….What more could you ask for? This was the brand we took on our trip:
We bought two of the double packs from our local Costco. It was exactly how much we needed for a week long vacation. This bread has the taste and texture of normal bread, and it traveled really well. It’s wasn’t all squished when we got to our house in Kauai. Not that I’m saying you could pack your snorkel gear on top of this bread and it pop out of your suitcase looking like you just got it off the shelf. Common sense my friends!
#5…..Order a Gluten Free Meal for Your Flight
I know it’s pretty rare to be served a meal on any flight these days. Even so, you should always request a gluten free meal when you book a flight. There have been times when I wouldn’t have thought we would get a meal on a flight, only to be handed a gluten free meal from the flight attendant. I was really glad I had requested the gluten free meal when I booked my flight, otherwise I would have been stuck with a meal I couldn’t eat.
Bonus: When you order a special meal, be it gluten free, vegetarian, kosher, etc., you will be served your meal before everyone else is served the standard meal. There’s a gluten free perk for you!!! It’s a good idea to reconfirm your gluten free meal at least 24 hours before your flight.
Side note: I don’t think the airlines have quite caught up with the gluten free bread industry, so don’t be surprised when your bread tastes like cardboard, and you have to guzzle water just to get it down.
#6…..Download a Gluten Free App
Find Me Gluten Free is one of my favorite apps. With this app you can search for restaurants near you that have gluten free menus. It also includes ratings and reviews, directions, phone numbers, websites, and menus. This app has helped us a lot on our travels. You do need data or WiFi, so that’s something to keep in mind if you are traveling out the country, or if you will be traveling somewhere that you don’t have access to data or WiFi.
The Dine Gluten Free app is associated with the Gluten Free Travel Site that I told you about earlier. I don’t use this app as much as the Find Me Gluten Free app, but it also has a lot of reviews of restaurants, hotels, even cruises all over the world, and what gluten free options they have available.
Even though the apps are a huge help in finding good, gluten free food, always remember that just because they offer gluten free food, that doesn’t mean it’s safe for someone with Celiac’s. That’s why it’s super important to read the reviews and call the restaurant directly to be sure you can eat there. There’s nothing worse than spending more time on the porcelain throne in your hotel, than being out having an adventure in whatever city you may be.
#7…..Print out Gluten Free Restaurant Cards in Other Languages
Just because someone hears you say you need to eat gluten free doesn’t mean they know what that means. This is especially true when you’re trying to communicate in another country in a different language. The Celiac Travel website has created gluten free restaurant language cards in 54 languages so you won’t have to worry about things getting lost in translation. They are AWESOME!!! They are free, but you have the option of making a donation via PayPal to help them out, and show your appreciation for these incredible cards. Here are a few examples:
#8…..Be Nice!! Don’t be Demanding!!
We have all been out to eat with someone who is never satisfied, who complains about absolutely everything, and sends their food back at least once. I always feel bad for the hard working wait staff that have to put up with people like that. They do this all while trying to keep a smile on their face. Don’t be that person! Yes, we have a major, very serious dietary need, but that doesn’t give us the right to be rude. Like everything in life, you’ll find people are more willing to help you, even when things are going horribly wrong, if you mind your manners and stay polite. Nicely tell the waiter about your dietary needs. I always say something like, “Can you please help me with the menu? My daughters and I have Celiac’s and need to eat gluten free. Can you help us find something we can eat?” Said in a nice manner, and asking for their help, not being demanding, has gotten us a lot of great service, and even some really delicious dishes not listed on the menu. Just like we all learned in kindergarten…USE YOUR MANNERS!!!
I hope my tips help you out when you’re planning your gluten free travels. I’ll add new ideas as I get them. And please, if you have any great ideas you would like to share, I would love to hear them!!
Happy Gluten Free Travels!!