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Gluten Free Travel: When Packing Food Isn’t An Option

Traveling while maintaining a strict gluten free diet for medical purposes is all about preparation. When planning ahead and packing your food isn’t an option, it gets more complicated and increases anxiety about travel. But there are still some ways to plan ahead and prepare to have a great gluten free vacation.

Order gluten free groceries for pick-up close to your arrival point and locate dedicated gluten free restaurants near your destination preemptively. Plan to bring food prep equipment from home, or order it for arrival on the trip. Prepare to provide your own food, don’t rely on accommodations.

Prepare for your trip prior to departure to have the best possible trip. One of the most important things you can do is figure out the schedule early and plan for food options and other social situations where food will be provided. For example, if you will be camping on your trip, prepare to have gluten free smores ingredients so you or your children will not be left out.

Traveling Gluten Free Without Food

When I’m planning a trip, food is a high priority. I plan and pack a large cooler for my children and myself since we all need to remain gluten free. I usually have a few boxes or bags of non-perishables for snacks and meals. I’ll make pasta salads, wrap-up sandwiches, and pre-cook as much food as possible so the vacation is easy and free of cooking.

But when traveling further from home, this isn’t an option.

If traveling by plane or train there are limited storage options. Even in a car on a road trip packing your own food may not be an option if there is limited space. So, what is the best way to handle this situation?

Plan. And then plan some more. Plan like your child is autistic and needs to know expectations ahead of time and specific details. Just me?

But it isn’t solely the food you need to plan for. How will you prepare the food? If you lack the space to pack food, you likely won’t be able to bring pots and pans. Making a plan for food preparation is as important as what you will cook.

Part of planning for your trip should include ordering food and cooking equipment for pick-up soon after your arrival. You can order online to pick it up at the store or have it shipped to your destination.

The pressure to eat gluten on vacation can be intense. These people don’t understand the risks involved. As part of planning for your trip, come up with a few things to say when these situations come up. If you never have to use them, all the better.

For a further discussion of these points and more, keep reading or scroll to the relevant section or use the box below to find the relevant gluten free travel info you need.

Plan Your Accommodations For Gluten Free Travel

One of the most important considerations on traveling gluten free is where you will be staying. There are numerous options, but some common ones are hotels, house rentals, camping or rustic cabins, and staying with friends or family.

For each of these options, there are things you will need to consider.

  • Where will you prepare food
  • How will you prepare food
  • How convenient is a grocery store with safe options
  • Cross-contact with gluten in food prep spaces
  • Flour in the air from other people’s food prep
  • Inclusion in activities
  • What you need if exposed to gluten

The list will depend on your trip and whether the goal is to experience a place, see people, attend events, work, or other travel plans. But no matter the reason you are going, staying gluten free to protect your health is the main concern.

Consider if you get exposed to gluten, and what you will need access to. This is an unfortunate reality when you need to be gluten free for a medical issue. Getting exposed to gluten can ruin all your carefully laid plans. And planning the wrong accommodation or failing to plan can increase your risk.

Accommodations are even more important when you are traveling in a way that you are unable to bring your own food.

Read more about how to choose the best accommodation for your stay in this article I wrote including the pros and cons of different types of accommodations.

Set The Itinerary To Plan Your Gluten Free Trip

Part of planning ahead for a trip when you are gluten free is getting into the details.

If you aren’t in charge of the itinerary, you will need to contact the person who is in charge. Planning ahead may involve the plans of the people you are traveling with or visiting in addition to your own.

Some questions to consider:

  • What meals are planned
  • What meals are communal
  • Special meals planned
  • Menus of meals if you would like to match your food as closely as possible
  • What meals are planned “out”
  • Events planned that involve food
  • Is anyone cooking with flour
  • Plans for all events

I like to plan my family’s meals when traveling around what everyone else will be doing so my children do not feel left out. Keep in mind that if special events are planned, such as a birthday, you may want to acquire cake or other special treats planned.

The most important thing when planning the itinerary: is never to rely on anyone else to provide what you or your family needs.

You should always be prepared to provide your own food and treats and never completely rely on someone else to remember to provide what you need. This is an unfortunate part of being gluten free, but if you prepare properly there is no reason you can’t enjoy your trip and be included in all aspects.

It can feel extremely overwhelming to plan everything out this extensively, but I cannot stress enough the importance of taking responsibility for your own experience. The biggest mistake I see those new to gluten free make on vacation is relying on others to ensure their health.

Pack Gluten Free Cooking Equipment Or Use What’s Available

In order to keep gluten free food truly gluten free, you will likely need some sort of cooking equipment that will remain gluten free. There is a risk in using whatever is available where you are staying. It might be fine, or you might end up sick.

It is my position that risking getting sick and wasting a vacation is not an option. There are times I will risk it and there is no more tempting time to let down your guard than a vacation. But there is no worse time to suffer the effects of accidentally eating gluten. I highly recommend making plans for cooking equipment based on the plans you have.

You won’t need to worry about things like ovens, microwaves, or toasters. It’s the direct contact surfaces that you will need to plan for. For an oven and microwave, you can make sure the food is covered if there are concerns. For toasters, I recommend disposable toaster bags. These are great whether you are staying in a hotel or a house.

The cooking equipment I’m referring to is pots and pans, electric skillets, cooking spoons and spatulas, pot holders, and any other items with direct contact. I include pot holders on the list because there is a chance of direct touch.

Stainless steel pots and pans should be fine to use if they are provided at the place you are staying. However, you should inspect them thoroughly for scratches or other defects that might trap small particles of food. Everything should be cleaned very well with clean sponges.

Nonstick surfaces are known to not be safe for use by both gluten and gluten free food. If these are the pots and pans offered, replacements should be used.

In addition, anything wooden, plastic, or silicone should not be used as there is a cross-contamination risk.

The amount of risk you wish to take is ultimately up to you.

The question of whether you should bring your own or purchase them on arrival is about whether you have room in your luggage. Most of the time if you need to pack an additional bag for your cookware it is less expensive to purchase cheap options at your destination.

The last thing to consider is what you absolutely need. Vacation is no time to be making meals that take a long time, so purchasing food that is easy to make and requires less cookware is vital.


  • What material are the pans made from
  • Do you want to risk using equipment that may have gluten
  • Will you bring or purchase cookware
  • What pieces do you need

Plan Your Food For An Easy And Fun Gluten Free Vacation

Even when you can’t bring your own food, planning meals will make everything easy and allow you to have a great trip.

Read the above section on planning your itinerary before starting to plan your meals. Figure out what everyone else you are traveling with will be doing, any events planned, and other things. This will make planning your food easy and you can match what other people are doing if you want.

For example, if someone you are traveling with is celebrating a birthday and plans to order Thai food and have donuts you can look for gluten free Thai food options, microwaveable options, or something to cook and frozen donuts. This is why it is essential to look at the itinerary first.

If you can find a dedicated gluten free spot nearby, you are in luck! This is the first thing you should look for when traveling. Most of these restaurants and bakeries that are dedicated gluten free are small businesses and those are the best places to support! I’ve made a map listing all the dedicated gluten free spots I could find. You can access that here.

After planning out the special events during your trip, plan out the rest of your meals. Look online at local grocery stores to see what might be available, look at gluten free restaurant options, and match what other people will be having as much as you wish to.

When planning the food you will cook, consider what cooking equipment you need. Try to plan meals that reuse the same equipment or plan meals that can be microwaved.

The most important thing to do is simply make a plan.

Order Gluten Free Food And Supplies Before Departure

Grocery shopping isn’t fun in the best circumstances, so making plans to avoid it on vacation is high on the priority list.

Using the itinerary and meal planning above, schedule a grocery order for pickup when you arrive at your destination. If you are staying outside of town, make sure to pick it up before you leave the big city. Smaller towns don’t tend to have as many gluten free options at their grocery stores, so plan ahead.

You can also plan ahead by shipping food and cooking supplies to your destination. If the local stores don’t have what you need, you can find them online and ship them to your location. It might be more difficult to plan with limited local supplies, but still entirely possible to get everything you need by shipping, bringing limited supplies, and buying naturally gluten free items.

If there is limited availability locally, it is even more important to plan ahead.

How To Handle Pressure To Eat Gluten On Vacation

Most of us who have been gluten free for a significant period of time have dealt with a family member or friend who suggests that you eat gluten while on vacation so you can enjoy yourself.

This stems from the assumption that either eating gluten free will ruin your time or the assumption that gluten free is something that is a choice and not a necessity.

Everything I write here makes the assumption that you need to maintain a strict gluten free diet for medical reasons.

If eating gluten free wasn’t something you had to do, you would have already decided to let up on your restrictions without someone suggesting it. This may be one of the most difficult parts of vacation for you. You may want to prepare a strategy for this to complete your pre-trip planning.

I can’t recommend eating gluten on vacation. Even for those without obvious symptoms, such as silent Celiacs. If you have had a doctor tell you that a gluten free diet is required, it is imperative to maintain that. On the other hand, if you do experience symptoms and choose to consume gluten, you may exclude yourself from the best parts of your visit. Days or weeks of symptoms are not worth a few minutes of inclusion.

You may need to come up with an explanation that is easy to explain as well as easy to understand and sympathize with.

There is no obligation to be truthful in this if it helps the people you are with take the pressure off. Even though there is no such thing as a “gluten allergy” this is a term people easily understand where Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance, or the nuanced symptoms you experience might encourage discussion or argument.

Use your doctor as an excuse or anything else they will easily understand. The only thing I would not do is use symptoms that you do not experience. If you tell everyone that you experience severe vomiting at gluten exposure and you get accidentally exposed and do not exhibit these symptoms it will cause distrust. Unfortunately, some people experience friends or family that attempt to “test” their tolerance.

Whatever you decide to do, make a plan for what to tell people when they question whether you need to eat gluten free. It will make your vacation easier to have this plan and hopefully you won’t need to bring it out.

The best advice I can give for travel is to plan more thoroughly than you need and you will be able to avoid the fallout of gluten exposure, leaving you available to enjoy the rest of your tip as much as possible.