Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The long lines, endless delays and occasional cancellations travelers face at airports are enough to cause mild anxiety in even the most seasoned traveler. When you throw gluten intolerance or Celiac disease into the equation, that anxiety level only increases. It’s fairly challenging for any health-conscious traveler to eat nutritiously during a long day of flying with Pizza Hut, McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts as the staple airport dining establishments. So what is someone whose diet is severely limited by gluten intolerance to do? Be prepared.

According to the US Department of Transportation, only about 75% of flights departed on time in 2006, so if you’re planning to fly in the near future, there is a good chance you’ll experience some sort of delay. Be prepared by bringing lots of gluten free food with you (but don’t forget that liquids in containers over 3 fl oz are not allowed through security!). While Peanut M&Ms from the terminal vending machine may satisfy your gluten free requirement, they are not good for your waistline or your blood sugar. Moreover, delays are not limited to the terminal, where at least there are vending machines and restaurants. Delays once you’re on the plane—at the departure gate, on the taxiway and at your arrival gate—are all too common and the supply of gluten free snacks you’ve brought might be your only food source for hours.

As for the meal that some airlines provide for you on long-haul flights, the good news is that most carriers can prepare a gluten free meal for you if given enough notice (inquire immediately after purchasing your ticket). The bad news is that there is a high risk of cross-contamination because large catering companies without dedicated gluten free kitchens prepare airline food. The other bad news is that come mealtime, your gluten free meal may simply be unavailable. I’ve witnessed many disputes between hungry passengers and helpless flight attendants when a pre-ordered special meal goes MIA. If you’re willing to risk cross-contamination, order the gluten free meal but pack a back up in case your meal doesn’t make it on your flight. Don’t trust the airline snacks unless it’s a brand you’ve had before and verified as gluten free. What appear to be plain cashews may not be wheat free, as there is often wheat in nut coatings. Also, don’t forget to pack enough food for the first day and night at your destination so you can get settled and enjoy yourself without rushing to go gluten free food shopping.

After reading about the hassles of gluten free airline travel, you may have just sworn off flying forever! I hope that’s not the case, but if it is, trains and automobiles are your other options and each comes with its own set of surmountable challenges. There is a chef aboard each overnight Amtrak journey and speaking with the chef well ahead of time (check with Amtrak for this information) is an option. How much, if anything, the chef will be willing and able to do for you may vary by trip because the chefs, their pre-planned menus and, consequently, the available ingredients differ. One Amtrak passenger said they managed on an overnight trip by having the chef prepare steamed fish and a vegetable for dinner, eggs and fruit for breakfast and a salad for lunch (with dressing brought from home). If you’d rather not deal with the onboard food, it is important to know that Amtrak is forbidden by federal health regulations to refrigerate, handle or heat your food, so be sure whatever meals you prepare and bring are non-perishable, ready-to-eat, and taste good at room temperature.

Driving to your destination, although not always possible, obviously provides the most flexibility. You’re free to bring as much gluten free food as you can fit in your vehicle and with time to prepare, you can plan your route with gluten free friendly stops. Doing a quick search online, I was able to find out what restaurants and shops are at each service stop along the Massachusetts and Florida Turnpikes. Getting this information ahead of time enables you to research what gluten free options are available along your route. If you have more time and can make detours from the highway, searching for gluten free friendly restaurants in towns along the way is another option. Check out GFDelights.com’s list of gluten free accommodating restaurants to help plan your trip. Another important tip is to always keep a stash of non-perishable food and water in the trunk in case of a breakdown in a remote area or a serious traffic jam.

4 Tips for an Easy Gluten Free Travel Experience
• Prepare for the worst: pack enough food for hours of delays and cancellations
• If you’ve ordered a GF airline meal, bring a back up just in case
• Pack enough food for the first day and night at your destination
• Research your driving route and plan GF friendly stops

We at
GFDelights.com hope that these suggestions make your next trip successful and relaxing so that you’re Living Easy Gluten Free!


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