Gluten-free travel can be challenging, a little bit. Imagine:
Stranded overnight in a hostile airport food environment for 16 hours when the food vendors are CLOSED
Locked down on the tarmac in a commuter plane grounded during a terrorist attack for 6 hours (yup, they only had gluten-y food which they ran out of there)
Abandoned in rural Connecticut on a dead locomotive for 14 hours (they also ran out of food there)
Closed airports because they can’t x-ray luggage due to a fire in a transformer
Those are just the extreme examples; fortunately, all prior to my diagnosis. More typical is an extra 4-6 hour delay. (My work friends say they won’t travel with me. And we’re not even going into the lost luggage issues here.) So what are you to do? BYO!
Packing for the car or train trips just requires a personal cooler, a couple of ice packs, and your favorite food. Flying, on the other hand, requires serious thought. Although the TSA bans soup, salsa, applesauce, salad dressing, nutella, goat cheese, and peanut butter not in sandwiches, there are still a good number of foods to pack for your plane ride. I have not attempted hummus, but I suspect it falls in the same category as nutella and peanut butter. What can you take?
- Peanut butter, in sandwiches
- Rice and Beans
- Apples (eat before landing on international flights)
- Dry hot cereal, i.e. grits or cream of buckwheat, with dried fruit and nuts– take an empty thermos (don’t put the cereal in the thermos until after you are past security) and beg for hot water from a stewardess or coffee shop. Seal, and eat after about an hour.
- Chocolate bars
- Crackers or pretzels
- Trail mix or nuts
- Protein bars, Larabars, or nut bars
- Cold frittata
- Grain salads, like a quinoa or rice salad
- Vegetable sticks, sans dip
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Sliced hard cheese
- Hard cheese, sliced
- Small containers (less than 3 fl. oz or 100 mL) of forbidden “creams and gels” in your toiletry baggie
- Empty water bottle (fill after security)
- Tea bags (empty thermos!)
A balance between perishable “I’m going to have this for lunch” food and non-perishable ICE food is helpful. Keep in mind you should plan to eat eggs, cheese, etc fairly promptly since you can’t take an ice pack. You can pack cold food in an insulated bag to help keep it cool longer, and completely filling the bag with cold items will help them stay cooler longer. Going ahead and chilling your trail mix might seem silly, but it can act as a wimpy ice pack for your quinoa salad.
Typically, I like to keep at least a small bag of trail mix or a couple of bars stashed in the bottom of my carry-on for the inevitable unplanned “emergency”. It’s like the emergency $20 you’re supposed to have for the surprise cab ride to the ER. Forget that it’s there, until you really need it. But what if your bag gets destroyed by the x-ray machine, you didn’t pack enough for the return trip, or a small child eats all your good food? Time to get creative. There are a number of safe foods available in most airports, as long as you have your reading glasses and are ready to ask questions.
- Starbucks: most (but not all-check the labels!) drinks, KIND bars, fruit cups, and occasionally dried fruits, nuts or popcorn.
- Chinese takeout: plain white rice, maybe plain steamed veg
- Burger place: plain burger patty (confirm no added ingredients and make sure they don’t toast buns on the grill first), with lettuce and perhaps other toppings
- Salad shop: salad, minus croutons, crunchy noodles, unlabeled dressings, unlabeled meats, etc. Custom made with hard-boiled eggs, no croutons, and just veg is often safe and reasonably well balanced.
- Snack shop: trail mix, nuts, popcorn, corn chips, selected chocolate bars, hard boiled eggs, fruit cups, yogurt.
- Legal Seafoods: they have a gluten free menu and will bring you warm bread. How’d you like that?
Packing your own is generally considerably cheaper and healthier, but it’s always good to have an idea of what options might be available if you need them. Bon Voyage!