Gluten-Free Travel Essentials

Hit The Road! Image from Poetic Home

Hit The Road! Image from Poetic Home

Since we’re striving to be 100% gluten-free, we have to plan ahead to make sure safe food will be available wherever we go. It’s also critical to make sure our gluten-free food doesn’t get contaminated when we prepare it.

Grocery stores are usually available on the way and at our destination. Not being able to find “gluten-free” packaged products or restaurants isn’t a problem if you are prepared to cook meats and vegetables. If we are going somewhere where we won’t be able to get organic produce and pasture-fed, organic meat, we pack as much food as practical from home, and then make our compromises if we have to. But we never compromise on gluten-free!

These are things we bring or buy at our destination when we travel:

  • New Sponges – Don’t count on having access to a dishwasher! You’ll need to be able to wash your dishes with a gluten-free sponge or dishrag. Bring more than one, so that if one of them gets contaminated you have a back up.
  • Paper Towels – These are great for taking a first pass at gluten-covered surfaces. You definitely don’t want to use your safe sponges for that! Paper towels are also great for putting down as placemats on shared tables.
  • Hot Plate or Camp Stove – When on the road, most hotels and motels don’t have a kitchen. But with a hot plate you’ll be able to cook anywhere there is electricity. With a camp stove you’ll be able to cook anywhere! (Outdoors only, of course!)
  • Stainless Steel Pot – Relatively lightweight and portable, this is easy to use with a hot plate or camp stove.
  • Parchment or Foil – This can be used to line otherwise unsafe baking sheets and toaster oven surfaces. A Silpat works great for lining baking sheets as well.
  • Cutting Board – Cutting boards get little scratches in them that gluten will never come out of. Always bring your own! We like our bamboo cutting board for regular use, but for a more portable solution try flexible ones.
  • Chef Knife – This knife is a basic necessity for most cooking.
  • Spray Bottle with Vinegar – This is good for basic cleaning up.
  • Salt and Pepper – Bringing your own salt, pepper, and other seasonings means you won’t be stuck with bland food! Condiments and seasonings in a kitchen with gluten often have been cross-contaminated or are not gluten-free to start with.

The type of trip you are taking will make a difference in how much food to pack and which things you are more likely to need. Usually when we travel we drive and then stay with family or in a motel with a kitchenette, so we rely on our thermoses and a cooler.

Air travel is a bit trickier but still doable. You can check a bag with your knives and basic cooking utensils, as well as any liquid food like broth that you may be bringing with you. You can’t pack as much, but you may be able to pick up the basic necessities at your destination. I don’t normally shop at places like the Dollar Tree, but stores like this generally have cookware that will be fine for a while.

The worst part of air travel is that once you get past the security gate, there is nothing safe to eat aside from the occasional piece of fruit or Larabar. We learned this the hard way.

But going through security with food can be problematic. Make sure that before you travel you check the TSA guidelines to see if they have changed. Since bringing much food will likely get you searched, and you will need to declare anything remotely liquid, make it easy for the TSA. Use clear containers wherever possible, make sure your food is easy to get to. Type out a clear list of all the food that you have with you so that you won’t forget to mention something and get in trouble. While celiac disease and gluten-intolerance are not recognized on the TSA site, having a doctor’s note explaining your need for gluten-free food couldn’t hurt, either. Pack a backpack full of food for each family member. That way if your flight gets delayed there will be enough safe food to eat!

Here are a few more things you might want to bring along:

  • Crock pot – When you are a houseguest, a crock pot is a great way to cook. You can prepare your meal when no one else is trying to cook, and then plug it in someplace that’s out of the way.
  • Cast iron or other pan – We normally do our stove-top cooking in cast iron. It can also be used in the oven (or over a fire if you don’t mind scorching it). If weight and space aren’t issues and you plan to stay somewhere a while, it’s nice to have the comforts of home.
  • Serrated knife – Never borrow a serrated knife that’s been used with gluten! Gluten trapped in the tiny grooves and comes out in your food. If you think you’ll want one, bring one along or buy a cheap one at your destination.
  • Flatware – Silverware cleans up just fine if washed and rinsed well. But it can be nice to have your own, especially if you are eating on the road. It can be a good idea to bring your own serving utensils as well.
  • Dishes – Glass and ceramic dishes are safe if washed and rinsed well. But scratched plastic dishes are not. For peace of mind, we usually bring dishes for our sensitive son.
  • Colander – If you plan on eating gluten-free pasta, you will need your own colander or will have to drain your pasta with your pot’s lid. Sharing a colander that has been used for regular pasta is a recipe for disaster.
  • Toaster Oven If you will be staying someplace that doesn’t have an oven, you may want to bring a toaster oven. They really work well reheating food or baking small dishes – just make sure not to leave it on!

Happy travels, everyone! What are your tips for staying safe and cooking real food when traveling?

This post is a part of Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays, Fat Tuesday, Gluten-Free Wednesdays, Fight Back Friday, Freaky Friday, Fresh Bites Friday.

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16 comments to Gluten-Free Travel Essentials

  • jen

    thanks for the helpful tips! eating gluten free (as well as dairy, egg and yeast free) while traveling is not always so easy! sometime i’d just rather stay home. 😉

    • Mama

      I’m glad you liked it! It really is more work to travel when you have to plan for all your food and cooking. The more we do it, the easier it gets, though!

  • Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. This was very helpful. You sound like me when you travel — lots of baggage! Hope to see you next week!

    Be sure to visit on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

  • I was diagnosed with Celiac in March 2011. My son, in June 2011. Since then, we’ve not had any trouble traveling locally. Later this year, we’re going to Hawaii for the first time. Thank you for all your tips. Lots of options to consider for where to stay and how to handle cooking, at least while we’re on land. Part of our trip includes a cruise. I’ve been assured the cruise line can accomodate us…fingers crossed it’s a great trip!

    • Mama

      Hi Helen,
      I’m glad to hear you and your son got your diagnoses and have been able to make being gluten-free work for you! The thing to remember when traveling is that as long as there are whole food options you should be able to find something safe to eat. A cruise is trickier of course since everything is packed up ahead of time and they may use some processed foods.

      You are right to be asking ahead and making sure they are informed of your needs. Our post on eating out might help you as well. I might bring a stash of things like safe beef jerky, nuts and dried fruit on the cruise just in case your options are more limited than you would like.

      I hope you have a great vacation! Please come back and let us know how it goes!

  • This great post is featured at Sunday Snippets this week! Thanks for sharing! Come and check it out!

  • Such a helpful list! It is amazing how helpful it is to simply take our cutting board and chef’s knife. We took a cross country trip with our 3 adult/teen kids in a car that isn’t so big. We still packed our cooler, and Googled parks in the towns we drove through when we were ready to eat.

    It was the best we ever felt on a trip!!

    Great post!

    ~ Tiffany

    Transfer of Health
    Healthy Living and Recipes

  • Great travel tips! The one thing I’ve learned about traveling while being gluten free is to be prepared. When we travel by car or air I always pack snacks like beef jerky, nuts, fruit and chocolate. I also always pack at least one meal such as a large container of chicken salad w/ tons of veggies.

  • Scooter

    Great starter list! I’ve done a ton of GF traveling and visiting other people’s homes, and I’m extremely sensitive and get super-sick if contaminated. A couple things I would add:
    1. Instead of a kitchen sponge, I take a scrubbie, or one of those super-thin “disposable” dishrags (which you can totally wash and reuse!), because they dry fast so they don’t get disgusting when you pack up the next morning. I take a couple bandanas for drying, cleanup, etc. for the same reason. They dry quick.
    2. Large utensils and even nonporous (not cast iron, plastic, or teflon) cookware can usually be borrowed at your destination, but avoid anything with “joints” where the item is made of multiple pieces–gluten hangs out there and is virtually impossible to remove. For instance, I will borrow a smooth, one piece kitchen spoon or spatula, wash and use it, but definitely not a skillet with bolts on the cooking surface.
    3. I keep my “travel kitchen” packed all the time in an old lunchbox, in case of last-minute or emergency trips. If I need to drop everything and leave the house, I can’t do it without gluten-free supplies, so that way everything’s in one place. I’ve only needed this once, but it was a godsend. I grabbed my “kitchen”, my pot (a camping pot that has its own lid attached), and a few pre-frozen meals in quart jars, and I was out the door in less than 15 minutes.

    Thanks again for the good list!

  • mark

    Do you seriously trust the TSA goons not to do anything disgusting to your food, especially the containers of broth?

    • We have flown with food several times and have never had a problem with them doing something to our food. We have had them tell us to consume or throw out certain foods (be careful with crossing state lines with fruit, for example), and fluids are always more of a problem. We do not attempt to bring thermoses full of broth – that would almost certainly be a problem. Instead, we have brought stew and chili through without issue.

      It’s not a matter of trusting TSA employees or not. It’s a matter of stacking the deck in favor of having something to eat! Sure, they may throw out some food. If they took it out of my sight to examine it I might question what they had done to it. But that hasn’t been my experience. Usually they examine your property in your sight.

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