Gluten-Free Girl’s 5 Essential Travel Tips

updated May 24, 2019
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You want to get away. You want to eat some of the best food of your life, on the road, in a car with the windows rolled down. You want to feel free.

Unfortunately, when you have to eat gluten-free, travel is rarely that spontaneous. You never know if you’re going to find much you can eat in a gas station off the highway (Fritos are gluten-free). Walk into a diner in the middle of the country and you might be met with confused stares when you ask to see a gluten-free menu. You’re hungry. This trip isn’t what you expected.

Here are my five essential tips to ensure a great and filling vacation.

1. Make a plan.

If you were once the kind of person to throw a backpack in the car and head out on the road without much warning, you’re going to have to change your ways. You’re not Jack Kerouac. You’re going to have to plan ahead so you don’t go hungry or get sick. Plotting routes on a map — oh, who am I kidding? The GPS on your phone — is important; knowing where you are going to stay and where you are going to eat is much more vital.

The days of the annual guidebook to a region are probably gone. They’re certainly not useful when planning where to eat without gluten. Before I go anywhere, I spend an hour or two on Google, researching gluten-free places in the towns we are going to visit.

What are the restaurants that keep showing up? Are there any bed and breakfasts with gluten-free owners? Is there a family owned barbecue joint where they make everything from scratch? It might have gluten-free options. I make a list.

Apps & Resources for Gluten-Free Travel

  • To be honest, most of the GF apps are pretty poor, since so many of them point to chain restaurants. Not my thing! Find Me Gluten-Free is the best of the bunch.
  • I completely rely on Google Maps for mapping GF locations. You can do all the work on your desktop or laptop and then your saved locations will show up on your phone.
  • I also lean on some of the gluten-free forums on Rick Steves’ — but it’s only helpful if you’re going to Europe!

2. Tap into social media.

In addition to Google, I also take to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to ask. Gluten-free folks are always eager to help each other out. The best meals we’ve eaten on the road came from suggestions from readers of our site, not the guidebooks or official apps.

You might also consider looking for “healthy living” bloggers wherever you’re traveling. Check out their Instagram feed — if they post some good-looking gluten-free stuff (they almost always note #glutenfree), you can use the save function on Instagram to bookmark the spot.

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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

3. Pack snacks.

If you’re traveling by airplane, there will be nothing for you to eat once you board. (That’s pretty much true for most people these days, gluten-free or not.) Pack your own grain salads, homemade jam bars, or even a couple of apples and packages of cheese.

Airports are better at gluten-free options than they were a decade ago, but some of them are pretty barren. I always have a small bag full of snacks that last — granola bars, nuts, dried fruits, jerky, and popcorn or chips — in case I land in a place where there’s nothing to eat.

If we’re traveling by car, we pack a cooler full of food in the trunk for the trip. Heck, eating is cheaper that way too.

Homemade Snack Ideas

4. Forget the plan.

The great thing about having a plan is that you can always veer off your plan. Think of it as insurance rather than an itinerary that is set in stone.

We were driving between Missoula and Whitefish, Montana last year on a winter road trip. We stayed at a generic hotel with not much local flavor. When we asked the young guy at the front where we could eat breakfast the next morning, his face lit up. “Betty’s Diner!” he said, excitedly. A young woman came out from the room behind him to say, “Oh yes, Betty’s! It’s great.”

The next morning, we drove by it on the highway that skirted the lake. Hungry, we pulled in. I scanned the menu, worried nothing would be gluten-free. When I asked the young server, she said, “Oh, it’s all gluten-free. All of it.” Turns out the owner has celiac, so she switched everything to gluten-free ingredients. That French toast was amazing.

5. Splurge on the good restaurants.

The unexpected diner in Montana was a gorgeous surprise. Most times, however, the best restaurant in town is the likeliest place to have gluten-free food I can truly eat. Find the restaurant that uses local ingredients and changes its menu for the seasons. Extra points if the place is owned by the chef. When we’re traveling, we either have picnics or a quite lavish meal. Hint: Breakfast is the least expensive way to splurge and fill yourself up for the day.

Do you or someone you know have celiac disease? What are your best tips for making your gluten-free travels safe and delicious?