There are so many things to consider on a trip when you need to eat gluten free. Going on vacations and traveling should be fun, but navigating the gluten free waters of travel can be difficult.
Pack gluten free snacks for plane travel that do not require refrigeration and are not identified as liquids according to the TSA. Consider packing gluten free bread, crackers, or other nonperishables that can be easily paired with naturally gluten free items which are easily obtained.
In order to make travel as easy as possible, planning ahead is the way to go. I’ve broken down all the common questions about traveling by plane and the things you might need to consider that being gluten free adds to the mix. Travel can be stressful under the best circumstances, but if we plan ahead of time we can make sure that gluten free isn’t one of them.
Packing Gluten Free Essentials For Airline Travel
If planning ahead and packing the right things are the most important ways to avoid stress and incidents that come from requiring a gluten free diet, then the most important thing we can do is to start planning as far ahead of the trip as possible.
There are a number of variables that will influence these decisions such as how many people are gluten free in your party, what the accommodations are like at your destination, and whether you are traveling with kids that require a gluten free diet.
Start with what you will need on the plane. Since ice and ice packs are only allowed through security if they are solid, avoid them if possible. Pack items to eat on the plane and at the airport that are non-perishable. Consider using a cooler as your carry-on to transport your snacks and other items so you have it to use at your destination during your trip.
Below you will find some ideas on what to pack for the plane trip.
There are considerations for plane travel when you need to maintain a strict gluten free diet that is not edible. I highly recommend packing gluten free soap, wet wipes, and other cleaning products. This is to clean off surfaces that may have housed gluten as well as to wash hands and other surfaces.
Depending on your accommodations at your destination, you may want to have your own pots and pans to cook food while there. To decide whether it is worth bringing them from home you need to factor in baggage fees and the cost of the items. Consider purchasing them at the destination or purchasing them online and having them shipped.
Traveling with kids can be complicated on its own, but children that need to maintain a gluten free diet add layers of difficulty. The most important things to pack are their favorite nonperishable snacks and plan ahead to prepare their favorite meals. Depending on your circumstances, this might be the first time recently they have to eat differently than other people around them. This can be mitigated by planning to have their favorites with you.
Planning doesn’t stop with the plane. Don’t assume there will be food options at your destination, check to see what dedicated gluten free locations might be in the area and see what locals say about where to shop for gluten free food.
For more information on all of this, scroll down to a discussion on each item.
Gluten Free Travel Information Hub
For more information on traveling while gluten free, see the below links for additional information.
Gluten Free Travel Guide – For general information on all types of travel when you need to maintain a gluten free diet.
Gluten Free Airlines – A list of airlines with information on airlines that offer gluten free options, carry-on allowances, and more.
Gluten Free Travel By Air – Essential tips, packing advice, and food ideas for successful gluten free plane trips.
When You Can’t Pack Your Food – How to stay gluten free in a new place when you can’t bring your own supplies.
What To Consider For Gluten Free Accommodations – A list of questions to ask when staying somewhere related to gluten free and the pros and cons of different types of accommodations.
Carry On Essentials When Traveling Gluten Free
Some standard items that are commonly suggested to bring along for a plane ride:
- Passport, Government ID, birth certificate, or other identification for each person traveling
- Cash, credit cards, and for international travel some local currency
- Printed itinerary
- Phone, tablets, and chargers
- Change of clothes
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
- Contacts and glasses
- Light blanket or pillow
- Compression socks
- Reading material
- Electronic entertainment is downloaded in case no wifi
- Pen and paper
- Medication both prescription and over the counter
- Face Mask for each person plus a backup
These items apply to most people flying, but they are great items to consider packing if they apply to you. Below is the list of items I’d recommend bringing with a short explanation. Not every item will pertain to everyone, but they are all things that should be considered when you need to keep yourself gluten free while traveling.
Wet Wipes. I’d recommend everyone travel with wet wipes, but they are especially important for those needing to remove crumbs due to a gluten free diet. Think about wiping down tables, chairs, and especially the tray on the plane. They can also be used to wipe hands when running water is not available.
Soap. When eating snacks it is likely that you will be eating with your hands. To avoid accidental gluten exposure, make sure you bring your own gluten free soap. Some hand soap does contain gluten and it is impossible to know what may be provided ahead of time. I highly recommend finding a bar soap to bring otherwise it will be to be less than 100 ml to pass through security.
Empty Water Bottle. An empty water bottle will go through security without difficulty and you can fill it on the other side. This applies to gluten free so you do not need to rely on cups or water fills that may have cross-contamination. One airline I looked at served a cookie and water bottle sealed together to each passenger which would be unfortunate to rely on.
Napkins. These mostly seem the same as the wet wipes, but a small stack of napkins can be helpful. They double as a small plate if needed and they can be used to cover food if using a public microwave to protect against cross-contamination.
Bowl. Paper or plastic bowls may be useful. They are better to microwave food in, and are more versatile than plates. If you have room for both you may consider it. If you bring cereal as a snack and have access to milk, you easily have access to a more fulfilling meal.
Silverware. Plastic silverware is easy to pack and fit into luggage and can be cleaned for multiple uses.
Lip Balm. Airplanes have notoriously dry air and in addition to having water available, you should bring your own lip balm to avoid potential cross-contamination as well as not rely on finding gluten free lip balm during your travels.
Gluten Free Card. If your destination speaks a language you are not fluent in, create or purchase a laminated card that explains you need gluten free food free of cross-contamination. Consider a travel card that explains gluten free in common languages in the event that you need to explain this to your neighbor on the plane that doesn’t speak your language.
Doctor Note. Request a note from your doctor explaining that you need to maintain a gluten free diet. This may allow you to bring additional items through security. Even with this note, I recommend limiting quantities to 100 ml. Anything over that has the potential to be confiscated by security even with a doctor’s note.
A Cooler. Consider a cooler as your carry-on. There are soft- and hard-sided options as well as many options that vary in size. Pack all food you need for the airport inside this as well as additional items from above. At your destination, you may use this as a portable refrigerator for perishables.
Another option with the cooler is to pack it with perishable items and hope to find ice or ice packs after you clear security. However, if you choose this option make sure you are prepared to consume all perishable items if you cannot find ice or ice packs at the airport.
In addition to these items, you will want to pack the most obvious: gluten free food. I cover that below.
What Gluten Free Travelers Need To Do At The Airport
Planning ahead isn’t just packing, it is planning what you need to do along the way as well. When we get used to our own sheltered gluten free world at home it can be difficult to remember that the rest of the world does not consider this a priority.
At Checkin. If you ordered a gluten free meal, verify they have that information at check-in to ensure your meal makes it onboard your flight. Even if you are not ordering food, having it noted on the reservation can help with your onboard experience.
At Security. Have your doctor’s note with your tickets and identification to present at security in case there are any questions about your need for the specific food.
After Security. Find a water fountain or water bottle fill station for the empty water bottle. Find a place for ice for your cooler or prepare to consume your perishable food. If you chose to purchase perishable items at the airport, find ice and items you need. If you feel comfortable eating at establishments that are not dedicated gluten free, look for gluten free options at restaurants.
At The Gate. If you ordered a gluten free meal for your flight, talk to the attendant at the gate to verify they are including your meal when supplying the plane with meals and snacks.
When Boarding. Introduce yourself to the flight attendants and learn their names. Kindly explain the need to be gluten free and avoid cross-contamination from other people’s food. Ask about snacks and meals onboard that are served to all passengers. Some airlines serve fresh bread to all passengers and the crumbs from that could be troublesome.
Seated On The Plane. If you are sitting in a row with strangers, explain that you need to be gluten free and that even a stray crumb may cause severe symptoms. Be careful with your expectations of other people, but approaching others with kindness and simple explanations can make all the difference.
If your airline offers an option for a gluten free meal on your flight, the best advice is to mention it in every interaction with a representative of the airline. At check-in, at the gate, and when you board your flight.
Even with the best diligence, however, there is a chance that you will be without due to an accident or miscommunication. People frequently confuse gluten free with vegan or allergens so there is a chance they will provide that meal by mistake.
If you are looking for information on whether the airline you are flying with offers gluten free meals, contact their customer service line or click here for the list I created.
Gluten Free Food For Air Travel
Food is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about traveling gluten free. There are many other considerations and items you may need that are not edible and are addressed elsewhere in this article. However, this is where we will go into the food talk.
There are a few different types of food to consider bringing.
First and foremost you will need snacks. These are items that can be eaten just about anywhere and do not require heating, cooling, preparation, or additional products to consume such as silverware, napkins, or plates.
Secondly, you may want to pack meals. These would be larger portions that are more sustaining than snacks. Consider this for longer flights or ones that serve a meal to other people. You may consider this for shorter flights in the event a flight is delayed and you are at the airport for longer than you originally anticipated.
Something else to consider is whether the food is perishable. I highly recommend packing limited amounts of perishable items and being prepared to consume them before they go bad in case ice or ice packs are not available past security.
The other option for cooling your food according to TSA is to use dry ice. But this may not be an option if you want to eat the contents of your cooler on the plane.
Non-Perishable Gluten Free Snacks For Air Travel
These are all options that do not need heating, or cooling or rely on other products (napkins and forks for example). They are easy to eat a little at a time without much fuss. These are essential for any gluten free traveler. They are especially necessary for airline travel with the restrictions on what to bring on board.
Chips. Find individual packs of chips that are labeled gluten free at your grocery store.
Crackers. Bring your favorite gluten free crackers. You can pair this with cheese and deli meat found beyond security, but this is always a risk that you can find it.
Fresh Fruit. Apples, bananas, pears, peaches, or other fresh fruit. As long as they are not cut up or made into other forms they should be allowed through security.
Peanut Butter. Up to 100 ml (3.4 fl oz) is allowed, but the size is limited. You could pair this with celery sticks or apples as well.
Trail Mix. If you can find a trail mix labeled gluten free, you may also choose to make it. There are many mixtures for trail mix and you can find some ideas online. My favorite has carob and flaked unsweetened coconut with a variety of toasted nuts.
Dried Fruit. Dried cranberries, raisins, bananas, mangoes, and so many more are available. I personally love to bring freeze-dried fruit for my snacks. So much crunchier!
Pretzels. One of the surprising snack foods of the gluten free world, pretzels suffer almost nothing in their gluten free form. And perfectly snackable.
Cereal. Your favorite gluten free cereal can make a great snack and you may even find you have access to milk at the airport or in the air to make it into a bowl of cereal!
Cereal Mix. Think Chex Mix made with only gluten free Chex varieties with your favorite sweet or savory flavors.
Cereal Bars. Rice Krispy Treats or the like made with gluten free versions (Crispy Rice by Malt-O-Meal is a good option) of the cereal. Breakfast cereal bars are a popular breakfast replacement as well, although the sugar content puts it squarely in the dessert category if that is a concern for you.
Popcorn. Bring your favorite flavor of popcorn in a ziplock bag or find ones that come in individual packs.
Kale Chips. Or other alternative chips like Nori.
Protein Bars. There are a few brands of gluten free protein bars. If they’re your thing, pack a few of them. Small easy to pack, but great for a meal replacement as well.
Baked Products. According to TSA, baked products are allowed. Bring your favorite baked products as snacks.
Bread. An easy option for sandwiches is to bring slices of bread and find the inside pieces at a market past security or have a restaurant make a sandwich minus bread which you then add gluten free bread to.
Muffins. Bake your favorite muffins or buy them from a local gluten free bakery. I suggest getting them as last-minute as possible before your flight as gluten free fresh-baked goods don’t tend to last long.
Jerky. There are some commercially available brands that are gluten free. Another option is to make it yourself. This can be time-consuming, but potentially great results. This is one of the only non-perishable options that contain a good amount of protein. I always try to travel with good sources of protein for long-lasting energy sources.
Perishable Gluten Free Snacks For Air Travel
Perishable foods are those that require cooling or which must be eaten within a few hours. This is a risk to take as finding ice or ice packs after clearing security. I recommend packing only as much as you can eat before boarding the plane.
Another option if you want to bring a meal to eat while waiting for your flight or at the beginning of the flight is to pack a bag of ice or ice pack that is less than 100 ml or 3.4 fluid ounces. It won’t keep food cold for long, but you could potentially keep one sandwich cool enough for a few hours.
Cheese Sticks. Individually packed string cheese or cheddar cheese sticks are an easy snack low in sugar and carbs and high in protein. A great option for traveling if you have a good plan for keeping them cool.
Bagel and Cream Cheese. Canyon Bakehouse has bagels that are fairly good at room temperature. I recommend bringing cream cheese in an individual-serve container (less than 100 ml) and keeping the bagel at room temp for the best results.
Sandwich. Pack your favorite sandwich or wrap, but be prepared to eat it before your flight if ice is unavailable past airport security. Use bread or a tortilla, you may also choose to bring the fillings unassembled. Always make sure dressing or other liquid is under the 100 ml size.
Hummus. Carrot sticks and hummus are a classic combination. Hummus is considered a liquid by TSA so pack less than 100 ml or you will risk having it confiscated.
Salad. Although this won’t last long, a salad can be a refreshing meal during travel when junk food is more easily available. Pack less than 100 ml of salad dressing.
Grain Bowl. A cold bowl of rice or quinoa with veggies, cheese, and a dressing might be a great option. The dressing should be in a container on the side and the entire container should hold 100 ml or less.
Charcuterie. Pack a container of hard cheese, salami, olives (not in liquid), and some crackers for an easy and filling option.
Snack Pack. Premade snack packs with cheese, nuts, and dried fruit are filling snacks. I’ve eaten these instead of lunch many times while running after my kids!
Yogurt. Always a great option, the tricky part here is to pack it in a container of 3oz or 100 ml.
Hard-Boiled Egg. One of the best and most complete foods out there, hard-boiled eggs are a great food for on-the-go and sustained energy.
It’s good to remember to pack food that is good for you, but keep in mind what people you will be traveling with are eating and allow yourself some treats as well. Feeling included is vital for lowering stress levels and enjoying yourself.
To Pack Or Not To Pack: Gluten Free Pots And Pans
When considering what to do for food during your trip, consider what awaits you at your destination.
If you are staying at a hotel with a kitchenette or a full kitchen, you may want to bring your own pots and pans to reduce exposure to gluten as much as possible.
The same goes for if you are staying with family and have access to a kitchen. If your hotel only has a fridge and microwave, this question isn’t relevant and you will want to plan for meals that require no cooking or are microwaveable.
This question isn’t restricted to whether or not to pack your pans. The first question is whether you really need to worry about gluten in pots and pans that were used for it previously.
In my opinion, vacation isn’t the place to test it. If you want to push it and see what happens, I’d recommend trying it out when you have time to feel icky and recover, not while you are on a likely long-awaited vacation or at the very least are out of town with less access to everything that makes you feel better.
Most pots and pans that are provided tend to be nonstick. These are susceptible to scratches where small particles of food may be lodged. When used to cook gluten free food, it may dislodge and contaminate the food made in it.
The other thing to consider is how much you trust their cleaning process, and if you trust that a sponge covered in gluten wasn’t used to clean it.
As to the question of whether to pack your own, this will depend on a few things.
Cost of Pans. What would the cost be to purchase new ones for the use of your trip?
Length of Stay. If you are only staying a few days, it might be a better option to rely on microwave meals and not invest in pans.
Cost of Checked Bags. Does your flight offer a checked bag for free? If not how much would it cost to pack your pans?
Room Available in Luggage. How much room do you have in the luggage you are already planning on checking? Space is usually in short supply when the cost of bringing extra bags is in question, and most will not have additional space.
Cost to Ship. If you want your own pans, consider the cost of a flat-rate box.
If you can buy the items for less than an additional bag would cost to check or ship, it makes absolutely no sense to pack and bring your own. Consider ordering online to have them available at arrival or order them for pickup at your destination from a large store such as Target or Walmart.
You may also want to consider how few pans you really need. For example, could you use an electric skillet instead of frying pans? They usually have more surface area and as much cooking area as two frying pans. Many times they can also be used to cook items that may typically call for an oven, such as chicken nuggets.
Order the lowest cost item if your trip is under a few weeks. Even the lowest cost pan or electric skillet will last a few weeks. I usually opt for a mid-range item for quality, but for this situation, I’d get whatever is the cheapest.
Instead of planning to fly them back in your luggage or throw them in the trash, consider donating them to a used store or offering them up for free on a local Buy Nothing group on social media. This way you end up blessing someone else as well as saving money.
Packing For The Airplane With Gluten Free Kids
Traveling with kids does not make anything easier. Let’s preface this by saying I am not going to advocate that you purchase items for people on your flight so they will accept your small humans’ existence on the plane.
Focus on your children’s needs and experiences and let other people settle their own emotions.
I highly suggest packing tablets preloaded with movies, games, and other entertainment to last 10x as long as the flight. They will get bored or not like some options so extra options are best. Make sure none of it requires wifi connection just in case. And have at least one device per child no matter your typical setup at home.
Don’t forget to pack headphones and chargers for the tablets too!
Include craft supplies that aren’t too noisy or messy.
Pack their favorite snacks for the flight and any other activity that will help them sit as still as possible for hours at a time. For this flight, don’t worry about the typical limits you set on your kids. Focus instead on what a different experience this will be than they typically have.
If you have access to them, I recommend noise-canceling headphones, the kind that is made for when kids go to concerts. This can help some kids with the sensory input of so many bodies in one place. Additionally, tight stretchy shirts and weighted lap blankets should be brought if that helps them in a typical situation.
Before the flight, talk about expectations and break things down to specific details. Discuss this with them ahead of time and often. Watch videos at home on what to expect.
The snacks on the flight will be more difficult than in other food situations since everyone is getting the same food except gluten free kids. Plan to keep a distance between them and any other passengers eating typical food for less chance of crumbs.
Be prepared with extra special snacks that they don’t know about, including candy, to bring out when you need a helping hand. I’m not usually for bribing with food, but this is not a situation that will be repeated so don’t worry about setting unrealistic expectations.
Planning Ahead: Gluten Free Travel After The Airport
In this article we’ve discussed packing, what to bring, food and non-food essentials and ideas, traveling with kids, and additional steps to take at the airport.
Now it’s time to look at what happens after you land and leave the destination airport.
With the cost of luggage, packing and bringing your own food is usually out of the question. This is another part of the trip that you should consider as far ahead of your dates of travel as possible.
Log onto a local social media site, such as a Facebook group or a subreddit, and ask them the best places to find gluten free products. It works best if there is a local gluten free group, but any local online gathering of people in your destination is likely to be helpful.
Many large grocery chains offer online shopping with an option to pick up curbside. Plan before you leave home what you need and put in an order to be available on your way from the airport. If you are flying into a large city but traveling to stay outside the area where large grocery stores are available, pick up your food before leaving the city, even if you are tired and want to cut it short.
Smaller towns don’t tend to have gluten free options as the larger cities. If you leave before getting everything you need, you may need to drive all the way back or go without.
If you want to look into more travel options and advice, visit the Gluten Free Travel Guide to get started.