7 Tips for Traveling with Celiac Disease.

Through our full-time traveling adventures, I (Sorcha) have become the Gluten-Free Guinea Pig of travel.  In doing so I have learned some really useful tricks for traveling with Celiac Disease and thought they may be useful to you!  

  1. Research Research Research!

This seems simple enough but you would be surprised at how many people don’t do this. A week before you leave to sit down at the computer with a note pad and just hunt for places to eat. I recommend using Yelp, and Google Maps, setting your Destination City and Searching by the keyword Gluten-Free. You would be shocked at how many results you get. Now, of course, you will have to filter through comments and questions, and in many cases call or email the restaurants to verify that what is advertised is actually safe for CD.   I also recommend pulling up a map in Google Maps and dropping a pin on each location you plan to visit. For example if I wanted to find a GF restaurant near the Met I’d drop a pin on the Museum and then using the Map feature in Yelp look for restaurants in Manhattan, I would then see that NoGlu is very close to the MET and would write it down on my itinerary as “NoGlu for dinner after MET.” This method helps me from being stranded without safe food in an unfamiliar city. 

2. Call your airline.

Most Airlines offer a Gluten-Free food option on every flight. BUT they have to know you’re coming or they won’t stock the plane with it. It’s ALWAYS recommended that in addition to listing it as a request when you book online that you call in advance. I additionally recommend checking with the ticket agent upon arrival at the airport and again with the gate agent when you get to the gate. This means you really need to show up early so you have enough time to talk to them and if for some reason your food restriction didn’t make it into your reservation beforehand they can add it when you arrive. The airplane foods are loading just before each flight, so it’s not hard for them to make a change 2 hours before take-off… But don’t expect them to do miracles when you are halfway through the flight and suddenly spring your food restrictions on them. 

3. Bring Disinfecting Wipes.

picture of a United airlines tray table.

This is just a good practice for flying in general but fun fact y’all…. The airplane cleaning crew does NOT wipe down the tray tables between flights… I repeat, they DO not clean the tray tables between flights. This is a thing I learned after getting a job with United Airlines. So many Airlines offer pretzels now instead of peanuts due to the higher prevalence of peanut allergies … This is great for those with nut allergies but not so great for those of us with Gluten Sensitivity or Celiac. I once forgot my wipes and opened my tray table to work and literally someone had crushed like ALL of their pretzels on the tray table and closed it. Then when I opened it I got crumbs all over me and was itchy and sick the whole way to London from Denver.  Because of this experience, I also recommend that you clean the tray table BEFORE sitting down. To prevent a backup of passengers behind you-you can always pre-board when they call for pre-boarding for children under two and people with disabilities. Just give the gate agent a heads up before they start the boarding process. If they stop you (Which they won’t, at least I’ve never been stopped) tell them you have Celiac Disease and want to pre-board so you can disinfect the tray table and ensure there are no pretzel crumbs.  

4. Pack Snacks

I like to bring approximately 173827272828282728 snacks with me everywhere I go. I hate getting stuck anywhere hungry. I try to have stuff like Almonds, GF Pretzels, GF Crackers, Tates GF cookies, a banana, apple, maybe some chopped veggies and some sort of Hard Cheese like Parmesan. I try to pack snacks that I am excited to eat and I bring them in my carry on. That said you ARE allowed to bring snacks through security as long as it’s not a liquid or semi-solid over three oz. So no smoothies or protein shakes in water bottles. 

5. Pack Medicine

picture of hand and colorful pills

I know that many people hate taking medicine on a regular basis unless absolutely necessary. And I get it. It’s important that we don’t just mask our symptoms and ignore our bodies. But guys, if you’re dropping $3-4-5-10K on a vacation to Italy and you get glutened you don’t want to miss out on the Colosseum because you’ve got heartburn. Vacation, in my opinion, is the time to take some Pepto and push through. I also recommend seeing your Dr. Before a big trip and seeing if they will prescribe you some anti-nausea meds. Most will and they are a trip saver. Then just hang on to whatever you don’t use on your trip and save it for the next one. I take an anti-inflammatory, enzymes that help me digest gluten in case I am accidentally exposed called Gluten-ease, tums, anti-nausea pills, anxiety meds, CBD sleep spray, and allergy meds with me on every trip. I put a two day supply in my purse/ fanny pack and the rest in my luggage. That way I’m never without them. I rarely have to use them but I am so dang glad when I do need them to have them on me.

All this said you should 100% check with your Dr. before taking ANY medications.

6. Drink Lots of Water.

This seems obvious but it really is a game-changer. It’s very easy to become dehydrated during travel. Planes especially are dry environments. If you have Celiac Disease the hydration combined with inflammation can cause you to arrive at your destination extremely fatigued. Because of this many people with Celiac avoid travel, because in addition to the fear of finding foods you can eat it’s physically harder on our already fragile systems. Remaining hydrated will help you feel less tired, it will help reduce foot/ ankle swelling, and it will prevent chapped lips and dry skin that often accompanies a long flight.

7. Ask 3 Locals.

I like to find 3 locals wherever I go, be it on the train, or in the hotel or at the airport who speak English and I ask them to tell me about any good Gluten-Free restaurants in the city. Often two out of three of them will recommend the same place, and that’s the one I will try to check out. With two to 3 percent of the world’s population having some sort of Gluten intolerance almost everyone has at least one friend who they have to take special consideration for when eating out. And while Yelp and Google are super useful tools word of mouth is still a popular way to advertise a business. As many of you know, most Gluten-Free establishments are mom and pop and they may not have the budget to advertise with Google or Yelp, etc.   I also recommend doing this for things to see/do as well!

Above all the overarching theme here is to be prepared. Unfortunately, our disease requires us to take more steps to ensure we’re safe in transit, but I can’t emphasize enough that anyone with Celiac Disease CAN travel with just a little extra planning and by applying these tips!