Gluten-Free on Trains, Planes, and Automobiles
Going on a trip? Avoiding gluten can be challenging when you eat out—and even more challenging when you are traveling.
If you have been living gluten-free for a while, you know it is best to be prepared. Being prepared when you need to eat gluten-free can mean calling, ordering food in advance, or bringing along snacks or easy-to-carry meals just in case there are no safe options for you.
Depending on your mode of transportation, you will encounter different accommodations for dietary restrictions. How do you avoid gluten when traveling by trains, planes, or automobiles?
Depending on the train you are taking, it may or may not have a café car or a dining car. If a train does have a café or dining car, most do not offer accommodation for special dietary needs, particularly with prepared meals in dining cars. The major train company in the U.S. even specifies on their website that they cannot prepare special meals other than kosher and vegan. If the food is packaged in the café car, read all labels. In other countries, such as across Europe, accommodations for gluten-free options are common. Even if it seems safe to eat, double-check before purchasing and opening it. If ingredients are not listed on individual packages, steer clear.
Ordering a gluten-free meal or snack on a flight can be safer than on a train, particularly if the food is packaged or wrapped well. Unlike trains, airlines have been more attentive to dietary restrictions for years—especially on international airlines and flights—allowing special orders in advance and including gluten-free as an option. Some airlines might not be educated about the gluten-free diet and might mistakenly think the meal or snack must also be “low fat.” While it should also be gluten-free, you may be getting low-calorie meals or snacks whether you prefer that option or not. In other cases, an airline may offer a snack box for purchase consisting of entirely packaged snack items from recognizable gluten-free brands, each labeled gluten-free. Call the airline as far in advance as possible to find out your options.
Make sure to order your special meal in advance if the flight offers that perk. Some airlines allow you to pay for boxed or packaged snacks in advance and some have online ordering in preparation for your flight. Take advantage of this service.
Don’t expect that all flights will have sufficient gluten-free offerings to order when you’re on board. Pack a few non-liquid, non-perishable snacks in your carry-on bag in clear plastic bags like carrot slices and homemade trail mix or individually packaged gluten-free protein bars or nuts.
Are you going on a road trip and planning to stop off at roadside diners, truck stops, and food stands? Watch out for potential cross-contact. Most of these establishments may not have the knowledge or training to keep gluten out of gluten-free offerings or will not accommodate gluten-free needs out of fear that it could be a risk for them to try.
Cobbling together a meal with naturally gluten-free items—like a side salad, plain baked potato, yogurt, and a clear soup—might seem like an option, but it still carries the risk of cross-contact. If you’re planning your road trip, conduct searches online to identify restaurants along the way which accommodate gluten-free diners.
Still worried about cross-contact risks of eating on the road? Your safest bet is going to a local grocery store and picking labeled or certified gluten-free foods and putting together your meals for the road.
If you’re traveling by car, you have the freedom to choose the foods you’ll bring along. Check out our article Gluten-Free Eating On-the-Go for tips on how to remain gluten-free while traveling, including advice on proper food storage depending on what you’ve prepared and the duration of your trip.
A little research ahead of your trip can help put your mind at ease. Bringing along foods you know you can eat can minimize concerns and free you up to enjoy the ride!
The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.
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