First of all, a celiac or food allergy diagnosis is initially overwhelming. I mean we have all been there and it does throw a bit of a wrench into your lifestyle until you get up to speed. There is a learning curve for the newly diagnosed but I am proof positive that it does get easier as time goes on.
Traveling can seem like a daunting challenge because not only do you have to deal with eating out in a new location that may be unfamiliar, but there’s also the getting there and back which depending on where you are going could prove to be a significant chunk of time. So, with Celiac Awareness Month upon us and the summer travel season about to kick in, I thought I would share a few tips and tricks that I have picked up as I have literally circumnavigated the globe as a celiac and food allergic traveler.
The most important tip that I can give is to plan before you go. This will help to alleviate unnecessary stress when you arrive at your destination. I like to go online and get a lay of the land if you will of where I will be visiting. I look for restaurants and grocery stores near where I’ll be staying that are gluten-free friendly. Be sure to also check out any local celiac or food allergy support groups that might have websites as they often provide a host of information at the local level. Trust me, having a lay of the land before you go will make your trip all the more smoother. When you arrive at your destination, talk to the hotel staff or concierge for local recommendations. You’d be surprised what great local tips they can provide and I have even run into a few that were fellow celiacs and had some fantastic recommendations for me.
Planning also involves looking at things like airlines and hotels as some do a better job in catering to travelers with dietary restrictions. If you are flying, go to the airline’s website or call them to find out if they offer a gluten-free (or other special meal type) before you book. This is a must on long-haul and ultra long-haul flights and less important on shorter domestic hops. At the hotel level, more and more hotels are catering to guests with dietary restrictions and a few even have formal programs in place to ensure that guests with special needs can dine without worry. Fairmont Hotels with their Lifestyle Cuisine Plus program does a particularly good job.
Packing is equally as important as planning in my book – and by packing I mean in the food/snack department. Tip number two is to always take along what I like to call a gluten-free contingency pack. This usually contains a range of food items that I can snack on if I am delayed, my gluten-free meal on a flight didn’t make it onboard or is not really to my liking, or I just feel like a treat while enroute to or at my destination. I typically include things like pretzels or chips, something sweet, and of course snack bars – guess which ones you’ll always find in my bag? The good thing about a contingency pack is that you can tailor it to your specific trip and make it more comprehensive for longer journeys and smaller for quick hops. I also like to throw some larger snacks or treats in my checked bag to enjoy at the hotel when I arrive at my destination. More often than not you’ll be able to find a host of great items at your destination but sometimes you might just feel like relaxing after a long journey and it’s nice to have something ready to nosh on.
The final tip that I can offer is to get out there and enjoy yourself. Do not let celiac or another food restriction limit your lifestyle. Will everything always go as planned – likely not. Even those of us that have been doing it for a while still have things go wrong from time to time but look at them as learning experiences. The more often you get out on the road, the more comfortable you’ll become traveling with special dietary needs and it will just become second nature.
About the Author:
Michael De Cicco-Butz
Hailing from New York City, Michael is perhaps best known as his gluten-free alter ego Gluten Free Mike a global advocate for celiac disease who pens a very popular eponymous gluten-free website and blog. He and his site have been featured on MSNBC.com and the TodayShow.com discussing luxury travel from a food allergic perspective. Michael has made it his personal mission to share his experiences on his gluten-free journey to help others navigate and make the most of their own journeys. Diagnosed with celiac disease more than ten years ago (and shortly thereafter developing severe shellfish allergy), when the gluten-free landscape was very different, he understands how confusing, overwhelming, and isolating it can be when first diagnosed.
He lives by his mantra of Living Well, Gluten-Free, No Apologies and does not let celiac or his food allergies limit where he goes or what he does. He has travelled the globe as a celiac taking full control of his food restrictions proving that by making smart choices and asking the right questions anyone can get out there and enjoy all the fabulous tastes and places our world has to offer — just gluten-free.
A foodie through and through, you’ll often find him dining out at both gluten-free and non-gluten-free restaurants and has created a Quintessentially New York Gluten Free dining guide on his site that follows him dining gluten-free at some of the most iconic restaurants in New York City. He also loves to cook and has adapted many of his favorite recipes to be gluten-free.