Get a list of travel tips that will help you maintain your gluten and dairy-free diet, including car trips, air travel, and staying at hotels.
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If you’ve been on a trip recently or have one coming up anytime soon, you know that trying to follow a gluten and dairy-free diet can be super tricky.
It’s not impossible with a little research ahead of time and some forethought for getting between meals, but it’s totally doable.
One thing that I always try to remember is that a trip isn’t always about the food. Sometimes it is, but for the most part, it’s about having a good time, enjoying the sights I don’t always get to see, and making the most of time with my family or travel friends.
Getting caught up in the food aspect of a trip is one of the fastest ways that I can start to lose sight of what matters when I travel, so I try very hard to see food as a necessity but not necessarily the biggest most important part of any trip.
With that in mind, let’s go over some helpful tips for maintaining a gluten and dairy-free diet while traveling. We’re going to go over a few different scenarios in this post, simply because not every trip looks like another. We’ll cover some ideas for car travel, plane travel, eating at restaurants and hotels, and staying at a house (family or rental).
I hope that with all these tips, you’ll feel a little more confident stepping out into the world and enjoying all the fun things there are to see – even if your diet is limited at this point in your life.
Let’s get to the ideas!
1. Pack snacks
If you’ve been around my site at all, you know I’m no stranger to keeping snacks on hand in the pantry, car, and of course – while traveling.
2. Pack a cooler if you have space for one
Packing perishables, like fruit, veggies, hummus, gluten-free deli meat, and bread can help you make your own meals on the road and save on having to navigate restaurants for gluten and dairy-free options.
3. Research rest stops
If you’re going to be traveling a long way, check out where you can have a rest stop and see if any potential places have gluten and dairy-free options. Maybe stopping at a place with a grocery store is a better idea than stopping in a town that only has fast food options, since those are notorious for having very little to offer folks on a gluten and dairy-free diet.
4. Look ahead to pre-order meals on the plane
Many airlines offer food options that are gluten and dairy-free. The last flight I was on, I was able to get a hummus plate that was surprisingly delicious and had zero gluten or dairy items in them. This was my first flight where I could actually order something from the plane – and I was stoked! Just be sure to make a note for your item if you have allergies before ordering so the flight team is aware.
5. Bring your own snacks
Of course, there are many things you can’t take on an airplane. Liquids, applesauce, and peanut butter come to mind. But you can pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and many other snacks are air travel approved. Gluten-free granola bars, nuts and trail mix, and gluten-free pretzels are all okay to bring along. I even brought an entire batch of bananas on a trip I took last year – much to the TSA agent’s amusement.
6. Check out airport restaurants ahead of time
Many airports have restaurants with gluten-free options. It’s always a good idea if you plan to eat at the airport to see if you can review the menus online before going, so you don’t wind up ordering something then later wishing you didn’t. Two of my go-to choices at airports are salad places and build-your-own Mexican bowl places. That way I can leave off any cheese or other dairy items, or any croutons of other sources of gluten.
7. Look ahead at menus
If you have the chance, look ahead at menus before going into a restaurant. Make a choice before you leave your hotel or place you’re staying to help you feel at ease about having time to make a decision that works for you and your diet.
8. Use gluten-free apps
There are so many apps like Find Me Gluten Free or Yelp that will help you narrow down your search for a restaurant in the area you’re visiting. It’s also helpful to get some reviews from people who have been there before to help you know what their experiences have been like.
9. Communicate your needs with servers
It can be intimidating to explain to service staff that you need things cooked a certain way due to your diet. But it’s better to communicate when you first sit down than to wait until you’ve gotten a meal to clarify. Be honest and open about what you need so that the staff can customize dishes for you. Or on the other side, to find out if this restaurant simply doesn’t cater to customizing dishes for customers. (I’ve experienced both!)
Staying in Hotels
10. Research hotel breakfast
If you’re choosing a hotel based on a free breakfast or breakfast buffet, it’s a good idea to call ahead to get all your questions answered about what’s available for a gluten and dairy-free diet before you go. This will help you cut down on any surprises and anticipate if you need to bring other options to help you steer clear of gluten and dairy.
11. Bring your own breakfast
If a hotel breakfast doesn’t offer gluten or dairy-free options and there’s nothing in the area that you’re visiting that does, don’t be afraid to bring your own breakfast. I always travel with a few packets of gluten-free instant oatmeal (you can make your own packets at home or buy at the store). You could even bring gluten-free bread, bagels, or muffins. If your hotel room has a mini fridge, you can bring in fruit, dairy-free yogurt, and even some cereal and dairy-free milk.
12. Notify the hotel in advance if necessary
If you have allergies that require the hotel to address it in your room, be sure to notify them far in advance so they can make the necessary accommodations. For me, this doesn’t come into play much, but I understand that folks with a dairy or wheat allergy definitely could be affected with free refreshments or food left in the room beforehand.
Staying at a House
13. Visit a grocery store
If you have plans to stay at a rental house or stay with friends or family, make a plan to come up with meals that work for your gluten and dairy-free diet and visit a grocery store to stock up on ingredients. Communicating your needs with family or friends ahead of time will help you get your needs met while making sure no one feels like their meal plans are squandered.
14. Make a cross-contamination plan
Designate certain areas of the kitchen as a safe zone for gluten-free items. Maybe one spot on the counter or one area in the pantry is where the gluten-free foods, utensils, and serving dishes go. Again, discuss this with the people you’re staying with to keep the communication lines open.
15. Cook together and make meals work for everyone
One of the easiest ways to make sure your needs are met for a gluten and dairy-free diet is to help make the meals. You can work on meals that work for you and discuss with others how to make it safe for you, as well as adding options that will work for those who can eat gluten and dairy. Example: making tacos is easy to be gluten and dairy-free, but adding cheese and sour cream works only for folks who can eat dairy.
If you’ve been looking for some tips to help make eating and following a gluten and dairy-free diet a little easier, I hope these ideas help you! Remember that travel is supposed to be fun and about the adventure, so don’t let a limited diet prevent you from having that!