healthier eaters blog

Traveling gluten free and dairy free – stress free!

travel gluten free dairy free

Traveling gluten free and dairy free for vacation or work does not have to be daunting or stressful. It takes a little extra time and thought, yes. But, so does planning your ideal trip! 

Think about it. If you wing it on your trip, you may not get to do the things you want WHEN you want, if at all. You might miss tour times, a need to buy in advance or ticket availability, right?

So when you want to do what’s ideal for your body, it will take some extra thought. But this is your body we’re talking about – that temple God created – that’s got to get you through your busy life here on earth!

How to mentally prepare for gluten-free and dairy-free travel

Eating gluten free, dairy free while traveling has gotten easier for me with trial and error – just like everything else in life. Here are some steps to help shorten your trial and error phase!

1. Adjust your mindset.

Before: “I won’t be missing out on anything except the discomfort or misery and possibly guilt that I could feel from eating these foods.”

“I won’t be missing out on anything except the discomfort or misery and possibly guilt that I could feel from eating these foods.”

“Instead, I will be experiencing more life, vibrancy and satisfaction during my travel when I feel less groggy, foggy, bloated, constipated, congested, headachy, hungover (or fill in however gluten and dairy resonate in you).”

2. Research.

Research gluten-free, dairy-free or paleo restaurants in the city to which you’re traveling, ahead of time. Vegan restaurants might be more accommodating too, though you need to ask if they have gluten-free options given that wheat is vegan. Bookmark your findings so they are handy as you travel. 

3. Ask.

3. Ask the host or server for gluten-free and dairy-free menus or options when eating out, because many sauces and even seasonings contain gluten or dairy. Also be mindful of how informed your server seems about this topic and how sensitive you are to the food. 

  • If the server asks if you have an allergy, he or she may be concerned about a liability and act nervous about your eating there. It’s up to you to say either A. “Yes, I am allergic. Thank you for your diligence” and go elsewhere or B. “I’m not allergic but have an intolerance and need to minimize my exposure to it. It looks like you have some options that could work (with some simple modifications), thanks!”
  • Many servers or managers consider a food to be gluten free if it doesn’t have gluten in it. However, cross-contamination can occur when foods are cooked in the same pan or oil (fries cooked in oil used for chicken fingers). Cross-contamination can also occur in the manufacturing of products (rice noodles or oats that are processed where wheat noodles are also processed). This is key to know if you have celiac disease.
  • If you don’t have an outright allergy to the food, and can be more lenient, some go-to options could include burgers without the bun, salads with vinegar-based dressing and no cheese or croutons), grilled chicken or rice noodle dishes with gluten-free sauce. 

How to pack for gluten-free and dairy-free travel

Traveling gluten free and dairy free always feels less stressful when you pack some food. You can take this to the extreme – pre-planning, preparing and cooking all of your snacks and meals. This might be more appropriate for a week of camping or when you have access to a small kitchen or warming devices. This solution also frees you from cooking during vacation (more time to chill!) and saves you money versus eating out. 

If this isn’t practical though, then at least pack some foods with you. Here are some suggestions – that can be warmed as needed, or not! 

Snacks: nuts, paleo snack bars or energy balls, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, fruits, veggies, chips (plantain, apple, kale, sweet potato or root veggies), hummus, guacamole, rice rollers

travel gluten free dairy free salad

Salads: Get creative by switching up berries, pears, apples, broccoli, cucumber, peppers, carrots, onions, nuts and seeds. Also consider recipes for kale and quinoa salad or Brussels sprouts salads – so much more than just lettuce salad! 

Simple cooked foods (no matter whether breakfast, lunch or dinner!): paleo beef or chicken sausages, paleo pumpkin pancakes, hard-boiled eggs, egg muffins, rice or chickpea pasta with steamed veggies, paleo meatloaf muffins, cold soups 

Treats (paleo or at least GF/DF versions): pumpkin oatmeal cookies, pumpkin bars or bread, banana blueberry bread, zucchini bread or muffins, organic dark chocolate bar (72% or higher cacao, check for DF)

Take a virtual trip – traveling gluten free and dairy free with me

We recently took a delightful trip north – of all places – for spring break. Though we did find a beach in Milwaukee, the weather was NOT beachy!

But we enjoyed watching our St. Louis Cardinals beat the Brewers during one game in the retractable-roofed dome, as well as some other sights. Then we headed back south to an indoor water park complete with access to Dippin’ Dots, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, other over-priced restaurants and a candy store. 

Remember, I’m not celiac or allergic to dairy, but have definite sensitivities and eat 95% organic, gluten free and dairy free with limited grains. Plus, I have sensitivities to almonds, bananas, avocados and tomatoes (in SO many things!), so if I can do it while traveling, you can, too! 

Pre-travel

1. I packed food, always keeping some with me, even in between meals, so I didn’t cave in a moment of hangriness and eat something I shouldn’t. My packed goods included paleo snack bars, paleo pumpkin pancakes (brought frozen but they thawed slowly in the cooler), sweet potato and plantain chips, paleo sausage links cooked ahead, carrots, cucumber, apples and Trader Joe’s organic dark chocolate bar. Next time, I’ll take some pictures to share!

travel gluten free dairy free coconut milk

Note that when flying, once I’m at my destination, I will make a grocery run to buy some of my go-tos for the rest of the trip. If you need it, this would be a good time to buy almond, rice or coconut milk. Though, if you buy the organic boxed version off the shelf, it only needs to be refrigerated once opened.

If you are new to gluten-free eating, check out “Eating gluten free made easy – what to avoid and what to eat” for more details to get your started. For more suggestions on going dairy free, read “Eating dairy free with a busy lifestyle“.

On the road

2. I drank lots of water. What we so often deem as hunger pains might actually be thirst pains – so I always drink a tall glass of water first. Then if I still have the hunger pains 10 minutes later, I grab a healthy bite to eat. This will also help keep you hydrated, give you more energy and help prevent you from overeating. 

3. In fast food drive-thrus, I ordered a burger with iceberg lettuce and onion instead of a bun. The grilled chicken breast didn’t work so well this way. It was too slippery and messy. Sometimes when I wasn’t driving, I ordered a salad with vinegar-based dressing but without cheese or croutons. (Note that some of the candied nuts contain gluten and many dressings do also, though gluten-free options are more common now.) When these options weren’t filling or fueling enough, I’d supplement with my packed cucumbers, carrots and sweet potato chips. Ditto for the kids.

At our destination

4. The free breakfast at the hotel only included overcooked hard-boiled eggs, Cheerios and a couple other cold cereals with almond milk as GF/DF options. Their bulk scrambled eggs, potatoes and meat contained gluten and dairy. This is when my packed food made me feel empowered. I took my paleo sausage and pumpkin pancakes in a small container and warmed them in the microwave and toaster oven. If anyone did notice, I didn’t mind because I knew I was getting a nutrition-packed breakfast instead of a processed one! 

5. Before the game and for my dinner, I ordered and ate a quinoa and kale salad from a neighboring restaurant. Then we packed snacks and waters for the baseball game, saving about $25-$30. (Generally, we allow the kids to buy one snack or treat at the ball game, so you could save even more.) 

6. For treats, I ate a couple of squares of my dark chocolate bar “as needed”. I tried a bite of the kids’ occasional desserts, but since I’m still trying to heal my body, I won’t eat a whole serving of gluten or dairy. You can find gluten-free, dairy-free ice cream now, too, but I don’t go out of my way for it unless my dairy-intolerant son is craving it, too. Ultimately, when we travel, we try to focus more on active experiences than on food. 

7. On scene at the water park, we took breaks at meal times and ate outside the resort – to save money and manage our junk food/treat intake – successfully avoiding the pool concessions. Amazingly, we did not spend any money on treats or candy at the resort either! In fact, I don’t even think the kids asked. 

8. When eating out, we had our share of standard American diet fare, like Portillo’s – modified for my GF/DF self. But we also enjoyed healthier, delicious seafood street tacos and flash fried Brussels sprouts at the Blue Bat. When the boys lacked in veggies from restaurant meals, I asked them to eat some of the veggies we packed, which helped me feel good about their nutrition while traveling, too. 

Traveling gluten-free and dairy-free takes practice – because we are rewiring our mindsets and changing old habits. But it’s definitely do-able and actually quite rewarding.

You see, you have a choice. You can let it overwhelm you. Or you can let it liberate and empower you, because there’s something about being intentional and self-caring that trumps all the “food fun” you think you’re going to miss. As a bonus, you get to help your family focus more on quality time and experiences together – which make for more powerful and lasting memories!

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

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