Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tips for Gluten Free Traveling 1.0

There's no doubt about it... traveling when you're gluten free is HARD. Figuring out which restaurants you can visit.... wondering if you're going to get sick anyway (and how many times can you pull over afterwards?)... having to plan ahead.... never being able to relax about food... family dinners that you really want to participate in... SO MANY aspects of traveling revolve around food.

I've been gluten free since 2007... and I've taken a lot of trips during the past 5 years. Often to visit friends and/or family, sometimes a weekend at the beach or the mountains, sometimes a trip to the zoo... no matter what the occasion you have to figure out what to do about food.

Most of our trips are within driving distance. We don't travel often by air, so please be aware these tips are for destinations that you can get too within 4-6 hours by car. I'd love for you to share your own tips on how you make international and/or air travel easier!

I STILL make mistakes and I continue to learn new ways to make life gluten free easier when traveling. Here are a few tips for you that have helped me:

A new love for traveling gluten free:

  • Rice Cooker Meals aka Cooking in Hotel Rooms 101: One of my FAVORITE ways to make safe meals gluten free is to bring a rice cooker and make easy meals yourself in your hotel room! Check out this post which shares TONS of rice cooker recipe ideas!
  • Homemade Prepared Meals: I recently discovered these super cute & frugal lunch boxes to take on trips! They are BPA-free, a cheap option, and they travel well! I used all four of my boxes over the weekend to prepare 4 ready made meals to take along with my husband and I. This was SUCH a lifesaver. Safe meals for breakfast/lunch and/or dinner that were already prepared and all I had to do was put them on a plate and heat them up. I didn't have to bring a ton of ingredients to make things once I was there. It was already done! We kept the meals in a cooler on the road. The only downfall to these lunch boxes is that they are not air-tight or leak-proof, so you will need to place them in a plastic bag or a lunch box that does not leak if you are worried about spills. I still love these lunch boxes anyway and I use them almost daily to take my lunch & breakfast to work. I love that it's just ONE container to wash, but it holds many different items like a bento box
  • Planning for Restaurant Meals: Before your trip decide how many times you want to eat out, along with eating the prepared meals you bring along (I really cannot tell you how helpful it is to bring safe meals along!) My husband and I often travel similar routes to different destinations simply because we know which restaurants are safe to eat at along the way. If you don't have time to look up restaurants along the way, purchase a copy of Triumph Dining's latest edition of their Essential Gluten Free Restaurant Guide or their restaurant gluten free ordering cards. These quick gluten free guides that you can keep in your car are incredibly useful for last minute and/or unplanned trips. 
  • For EMERGENCIES ONLY: I am hesitant to share this tip. This may not work for everyone, and I advise everyone to thoroughly research any dietary supplements that you want to add to your traveling routine. Please speak with your physician and/or nutritionist before using defensive enzymes. 
Imagine this situation: You were as careful as you could be, but you still ended up in a restaurant that you were unsure about. You feel like even though your meal should essentially be gluten free, it could have been cross-contaminated. In cases like that I like to keep digestive enzymes in my purse to help lessen any chance of getting sick on the road. I have only tried one brand: Gluten Defense. There are several different types you can purchase. I DO NOT advise using these pills as an excuse to CONSUME gluten on purpose. I only use enzyme pills like this as a precaution if I'm afraid my meal may not have been prepared safely. The few times I have used digestive enzymes, I have often still had symptoms, but they have been greatly lessened. So you may still get sick, but I think the enzymes help lessen the effects that gluten can have. Again, take these pills at your own risk, and do not use them so that you can consume gluten.

What are your tips for making gluten free road trips easier? 

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  1. Carrie, I love the containers! Now I am thinking about if I can use them for my boys "camp" at grandmas.

    When we travel we take a portable refrigerator that plugs into the car. Then we take it out and plug it in at our destination. If we are visiting family it is great that we don't have to take up any room in their refrigerator. Plus, my boys know exactly what we bought for them to eat. No confusion. I had thought I should do a post about this, too.

  2. Awesome post! Thanks for the ideas! I a huge fan of jerky and fruit for road trips!

    I would echo that doing a lot of research on eating out prior to your trip is a good idea. I've done pretty well just through googling various search terms, making phone calls, and carrying cards explaining my various food intolerances. I then make sure I keep a record of all the spots I've found on my blog!

    I've got a particular quandry of a trip coming up by air, where the place I will be staying is fairly remote and I'll only have a microwave and a small refridgerator. So one of my solutions was to pick up a mini hot water kettle, small enough for airplane travel. But I think it might be a nice idea for car trips too! There are some great rice noodle soups out there that only require hot water!

  3. Thank you ladies!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE the easylunchboxes!! I used them today for breakfast & lunch!

    Debbie - a portable refrigerator... I didn't even know they made those! I will have to look into them! That's a great idea! (I really despise ice melting in the cooler!!)

    Adina - Yes, research is SOOO important! That's a great idea to keep a record of helpful restaurants on your blog! I love the idea of a mini-water kettle! You CAN do so much with one! I've sort of done that type of cooking with hotel room coffee makers!

  4. Wow! Thanks for the thumbs up for my EasyLunchboxes Carrie! SO glad they were a big help to you on your trip last weekend. YAY :)

  5. i thought gluten free traveling was hard until i developed over 20 food allergies. makes gluten free traveling seem like a picnic. you can usually get rice or baked potatoes anywhere! and yes, containers are key when traveling on a restricted diet. cheers!

  6. We always scope out the closest grocery store that has gluten-free ingredients (Giant, Wegmans, Kroger, and Trader Joe's so far for New England/MidWest) and just cook everything ourselves (scoping out a nearby park with grills can be helpful for cooking, and you can cook several meals of meat/veggies at once.) We rarely plan to eat out since a corn plus wheat allergy means there's almost nothing reliable (not even salads unless I bring my own dressing) - though I have had success twice, both with places that made their food from scratch and advertised fresh ingredients and knowledgeable chefs. We actually have some good resources locally for dehydrated fruit/jerky and other snacks for the road and we stock up on those and Larabars in case something doesn't work out for a meal. In addition, when we stay at a hotel we always get a room with a fridge and I bring all of my own breakfast materials (muffins, hard boiled eggs, granola with yogurt, etc.) as well as bread and salad dressing for easy lunches/dinners. We use the same hotel chain each time so we know what to expect, which also allows us to build up free nights at the hotel through their rewards program.

  7. I also pack meals for the road. We use hotels with fridges and microwaves. A really big help has been a GPS unit. You can find out what restaurants are coming up and use your cell phone to contact them. In the city, you can use it in walk mode and it will preform the same function, not to mention you won't get lost trying to find a museum since it preforms that function. If you have a smart phone, it would be handy too. I don't really know since I don't have one. It must be harder if you have to avoid other things as well as gluten.

  8. Great post Carrie! I like your idea of bringing a rice cooker and cooking in a hotel room. If I'm ever staying in a hotel I always make sure it at least has a fridge in the room.

    I also try to bring as much food as possible. This last trip we went on was for 4 days to Charleston, SC. I made most of the food we brought the day before we left. I brought, zucchini muffins (posting that recipe soon!), baked eggs, brownies, chicken salad, washed romaine leaves, brown rice wraps, pears, bananas, cultured beets and carrots, amaranth breakfast porridge, kefir, and chocolate (just because). My husband and I had plenty of food and still ate out one meal with my brother. I always look up friendly restaurants online before traveling as well, just in case we run out of food.

    I'm glad you posted about the enzymes as they are very important to our digestion. My sister and I always used to bring enzymes with us where ever we went, just in case we were glutened or simply to help digest a heavy meal. Now though, I do not feel the need take enzyme supplements because my diet is loaded with enzymes, from the fresh vegetable juices I drink to the cultured vegetables I eat. When simply adding those two things to my diet, it brought a balance to my digestive system that I didn't know I had. Again, that is what worked for me and may not work for everyone.

    thanks so much Carrie for sharing your gluten free travel trips! :)

  9. We are vegan and gluten free and I LOVE using the EasyLunchBox system! When I think of all the work I used to go to when we traveled! One thing I used to do on overnight trips (like to Grandma's house - a 2 days' drive away!) was wrap baked potatoes in aluminum foil and heat them in the microwave at the hotel in the morning. (Or sit them on the dashboard in the sun if we were going to be parked anywhere). Then at lunch time I would serve everyone... Problem was that one toddler was in the third row and we couldn't reach him. So if we couldn't pull over we used to throw his lunch at him. Not exactly stellar parenting, but it did teach him to catch! =) (That counts homeschool phys ed, right?) =) So yeah, anyway... yay for those EasyLunchboxes! Now everyone has their own little balanced meal all ready to go! They make everyone's life better!

  10. Very helpful list. When people ask me if eating gluten free is difficult, my answer is still that it's easy at home but challenging on the road or at other people's houses (I've been gf since 2004).
    One other thing I've found helpful is to take along a few basic tools when the trip is more than a couple days and a kitchen will be available. For me this includes some mixed gf flour, a skillet or pot, and a bottle of salad dressing. That way I can safely cook for myself or for the whole family (e.g. when staying at my in-laws) if the opportunity comes up. If our stay is long enough I will plan ahead and volunteer to make a meal or two; since I have to cook for myself anyways and it's easier to avoid cross contamination if I control all the food in the kitchen and on the table instead of working around my mil with flour flying everywhere.

  11. Carrie,
    I love love love your post about how to cook so many things in a rice cooker! Thank you!!

  12. thanks so much for the gluten-defense tip! I didn't know this was out there. I've been dreading some upcoming travels where I have to eat every meal out, so hopefully this will help with any contamination issues.

  13. Great tips for traveling! We have only been on 2 trips since going Gluten Free. We have one coming up in August and I will use some of your tips!

  14. Great tips, Carrie! I love your rice cooker post, and next time we're out of town, I'm totally consulting it again! I use Whole Foods Brand GlutenZyme when I eat out. Not as an excuse to eat gluten or even slack off on checking the restaurant, but even with restaurants I am comfortable with, I use it as a "just-in-case" tool. Even with small amounts of gluten, I still get a reaction, but it's not as long, and my energy isn't as depleted. It's worth it.