Monday, October 7, 2013

Traveling mercies

Don't let celiac disease foil your travel plans or
you might miss beautiful Niagara Falls!

Just because I have celiac disease, I’m not about to refrain from travel. Sure, it gets old, having to seek out restaurants with gluten-free offerings—but with patient companions and a little perseverance, it can certainly be done.

My walking buddy Lee Ann and I recently completed a 10-day road trip from Springfield, Missouri, to New York without my experiencing a single incident of “glutening” the entire time. I’m amazed at how much easier finding gluten-free food has become, even in the twenty-six months since my diagnosis.

Here are a few tried and true Travel Tips for Celiacs to make your road trips comfortable and worry-free:

1.                  Take along plenty of gluten-free snacks in case you find yourself in “iffy” situations. We took along a bag of Glutino pretzels, fruit, nuts, cheese dip, and gluten-free granola bars—and we picked up more interesting snacks along the way, including kettle corn and pumpkin fudge from a country store.

2.                  Pack some gluten-free oatmeal (if you can tolerate it) or other gluten-free cereals, in case the complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel where you’re staying doesn’t have much to offer celiacs. Each of the five different hotels we used during our trip supplied yogurt, hot water for instant oatmeal, and some type of fresh fruit. Most had scrambled eggs and bacon as well. Unfortunately, none had gluten-free bread or muffins.

3.                  Make use of apps. I always check Find Me Gluten Free, which usually has at least a couple of recommendations near your current location. You can also type in “gluten free menus” on Yelp and come up with restaurants in many places.

4.                  If you’re in a hurry, frequent your old chain standbys. Wendy’s, McDonalds, Chipotle, and Panera (avoid if you’re super sensitive) are my favorites. If you have a little more time but don’t want to take chances on unknown places, chain restaurants such as Cracker Barrel, Applebees, Red Robin, Ruby Tuesday, and many others have gluten-free menus.

The second half of my Collegetown bagel.
5.                  Don’t be shy to ask about gluten-free offerings at places where you might not expect to find them. While we were in Ithaca visiting Lee Ann’s son, we breakfasted at Collegetown Bagel, where I thought I’d probably be limited to yogurt, but, lo and behold, they had a great gluten-free breakfast bagel!

6.                  Never travel without Imodium or other drugs to treat your symptoms, in case you accidentally ingest gluten.

7.                  Since many hotel rooms and/or hotel dining areas are equipped with microwaves, take along microwave popcorn for a snack, in case you find yourself hungry in the evening. You can also find gluten-free chips, nuts, or candies in most hotel vending machines, but the calories in these items add up fast.

8.                  If you’re traveling out of the country, don’t forget to download and print free Gluten Free Dining Cards from the Gluten Free Passport website at Show restaurant personnel these pocket-sized cards, which outline celiac dining needs in a number of different languages to ensure that your meal will be safe. You can also obtain this information for your Apple or Android by downloading the Gluten & Allergy Free Translation Cards for Travel App.

Buttermilk Falls near Ithaca, NY.
While you’re on the road, take some time to check out grocery stores in other parts of the country for items that you can’t find locally. We visited three or four different grocery stores on our trip, and I found interesting new gluten-free products at each of them.

On our road trip, Lee Ann and I visited her son Michael and my children Emily and Bryson, all studying in New York. We attended two of Michael’s wonderful piano performances in Ithaca, took in two Broadway shows (Matilda and Newsies), ate at several of my favorite NYC restaurants, walked the length of NYC’s High Line Trail, explored The Cloisters, braved the lines at the 911 Memorial, hiked around many Ithaca-area waterfalls, visited Niagara Falls, overnighted in Canada, sampled wine at a couple of charming wineries, discovered an off-the-beaten-track covered bridge, and spent some time with a friend in Detroit. We walked and talked and laughed and marveled.

I refuse to let the threat of gluten complications mess up my travel plans. With a little planning and a bit of extra packing—and a few traveling mercies—folks with celiac disease can still enjoy their favorite destinations.