Next month we’re taking a big road trip up to Tennessee for a family reunion and trekking half way across the country brings a host of issues for a family with a Celiac kid. From meals-on-the-go to toiletries from unknown sources in hotels, it’s an added level of stress and planning added on top of the normal traffic/reservations/altered-sleep-schedules upheaval. Here are a couple things I’ve learned from previous road trips that have smoothed the path between home and destination:
- Research! (And take it with you)
Use the internet for all it’s worth and look up restaurants and grocery chains in the region of your travel. I keep a file folder in my car with print outs of fast food chains’ and well-known restaurants’ food allergen lists so we’re not at the mercy of wi-fi or phone connectivity when a last-minute dinner decision is necessary. Be sure to double-check with your server for up-to-date safe menu items! Wal-Mart now carries a remarkable selection of gluten-free items, as do most major grocery stores in America, so find out what’s available along your route and plan to make stops as necessary.
- Pack up!
Stock up on non-perishable items that can serve as either snacks or meals if you find yourself in a situation without a safe option. I always have a couple different boxes of granola bars on hand – these are particularly good since they can sub as a pb sandwich for a meal in a pinch. I’ve also found shelf-stable hummus and gluten free cracker packs and a couple items that are more substantial than the default gluten free pretzels. (If traveling through airports, it may help to have medical documentation for unusual dietary needs to justify taking specialty items through security. I’ve found TSA to be pretty accommodating as long as I’m patient, well informed, and polite.)
- Go fresh!
Traveling always puts stress on our digestive systems (even without special dietary needs.) Eating fresh, whole fruit and veggies is a great solution to almost every food allergy/issue I know of and really helps keep everyone’s tummy comfortable. FYI: if you’re traveling through agriculturally rich areas and have the opportunity to stop at roadside stands for some of the local produce, be sure to rinse well in bottled water before serving to your Celiac/food-allergy family members. I recommend altogether staying away from strawberries for Celiacs since many farmers still protect the beds with wheat straw (hence the name straw-berries) and it’s impossible to scrub the gluten off without pulverizing the fruit – it’s not worth the risk!
- Kitchen items
I have a running list of kitchen items I’m planning to take with us to Tennessee next month. At the top of the list are a non-stick frying pan and silicon utensils. These items are super easy to scratch and harbor gluten so I always take my own. I’ll probably also take a medium sized pot so it’s easy to keep his meal prep safely separate from the rest of ours. This is a really important step to take even when visiting friends and family since their kitchens are very unlikely to be safe from contamination! (If you’re flying and can’t spare the space/weight in your luggage, consider purchasing inexpensive tools to use while you’re visiting – they don’t have to be superior quality since they’ll only be used for a short while.)
- Disposable stuff
In addition to reusable kitchen tools, several disposable items are really helpful to have on hand both during the travel and during the time at the ultimate destination. Disposable plates, utensils, napkins, and baby wipes are super helpful, especially when the alternative is well-used, scratched, kids’ plastic-ware that can harbor contaminants. Press-N-Seal wrap is also remarkably good for covering serving dishes (like my tortilla warmer). Aluminum foil is great for covering cookie sheets for baked items… you get the idea. These things might not be staples in your daily routine but they are super valuable for travel!
- Toiletries & Medications.
One way companies achieve the desired consistency of their lotions, soaps, tooth pastes, medications, etc, is to use wheat flour as fillers. This is a great, natural option for most people… but for Celiacs and those with wheat sensitivities/allergies it makes life more complicated. Travel with your own bath supplies for your kids or have a planned stop at a store you know reliably stocks gluten-free options.
Even with meticulous planning you may find yourself in a situation that your kid just doesn’t have an option that’s comparable with everyone else on the trip. It’s a major bummer to be the one who’s always left out, or the reason everyone has to not go to the place they want to so they can accommodate you. My son handles this remarkably well so far but I like to have some special treats on hand to lift his spirits when the stress of travel starts to get to him. It’s not bribery and it’s not spoiling him – it’s a reminder that he’s loved with the Celiac disease (not in spite of it). My friend (with non-food-allergy kids) once told me she always traveled with a box of Junior Mints in her purse “…because every now and then every kid just needs a Junior Mint to make it through.”
For some more ideas, check out our gluten free snack ideas!