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Gluten-Free Traveling Without Losing It

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Ah, summer. Vacations, road trips and getting away from it all. Unfortunately, for people like me -- the gluten-challenged -- it also means leaving the safety of our own kitchens. Our beautiful (if somewhat sad) gluten-free kitchens with zero possibilities for cross-contamination or accidental gluten'ings that would send us straight into the bed and far away from the hang gliding lessons. (Please note: Your gluten-free kitchen may not be sad. It may be very, very happy. Mine would just be a bit jauntier if croissants were allowed inside. That's all I'm saying.)

What once was, "Woohoo! Let's hit the road, KFC, 7-Eleven, and Waffle House!" is now, "Oh hell, I'm going to starve or poop all week." Gone are the days of ordering a pizza when you hit town late at night, and the ability to relax unless you know exactly where your next meal is coming from. I know. It sucks. I'm sorry, but if you've got that danged gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, or a weird rash that flares up every time you eat bread, you've got to do some planning in order to relax.

Unlike those who diet by choice, when a gal with celiac disease goes off the wagon during vacation, it means the fun times come to a screeching halt and instead the party heads into the loo as you writhe in pain between bouts of unpleasant bodily functions. Suddenly, you're not the life of the vacation party, and instead people are whispering about ditching you and heading to the Donut Palace. Hey, I don't blame them. I want to ditch me, too, when I'm in the middle of a gluten attack.

Which is why when I was on my epic road trip, up and back down the West Coast, I was ridiculously careful not to ingest any of the gluten that attacks my immune system and causes me to freak the hell out. Thanks, celiac. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't stress free. How could it be, when everything in you wants to shut down your brain, but your small intestine will not allow it, for fear of mass destruction up in the villi? Since nearly 1 out of every 133 Americans suffers from celiac disease, and about 18 million of you people are gluten sensitive, I'm guessing you might want to know how I managed that long on the road without completely losing my shit. Okay, so it's possible I lost it right around that stretch between San Francisco and Santa Barbara, when I decided Wendy's was the BEST. I think that counts as losing it, no matter how delicious a Frosty actually tastes.

Here's what I would recommend you gluten haters do before heading out on the road:

  • 1. Only travel to Portland, Oregon.
  • 2. Call ahead to any home that is inviting you in on your journey and say, "You'd better get that good gluten-free pasta, and not that soggy bullshit like you did last time."
  • 3. Two words: adult diapers.
  • Not helpful? Okay, some real tips (although I'm kinda serious about the Portland thing):

  • 1. Always, always, always bring gluten-free snacks. Non-perishable, and some of your favorites, so you won't suffer from the "I'm-starving-because-I'm-living-on-baked-apple-chips" thing. Unless you're in love with baked apple chips, of course. Then get on with your bad baked apple chip-loving self.
  • 2. Download apps that explore your food world for you. I love Locate Special Diet and Find Me Gluten Free and even Yelp can help you find the nearest safe joint.
  • 3. Find out which restaurant chains are gluten-free friendly. Sometimes the only options on the road, or in the airport terminal, will be fast-food chains. You have to know ahead of time what's safe when you dine and dash, and what is not. You cannot rely on the employees right in front of your hungry face to know every single allergen on the menu. Call each major chain before you head out, so you know what you're dealing with when you're lining up at the register. Know that in some cases, you have to stay away altogether.
  • 4. And of course, always ask the server, even if you think you know. Take it from the lady who enjoyed a gluten-filled taco -- expect the unexpected. Even if you have your go-to gluten-free favorites (see: tacos and me), an out-of-town restaurant might have a different recipe. You don't want to get gluten'ed unexpectedly after all your hard vacation sleuthing. Especially because if you DO ingest gluten, you're going to be super pissed off if you don't even get to enjoy it.
  • Now, get on out on the open road! But don't forget an extra set of clothes. Even the most diligent traveler can accidentally suck down a piece of gluten on that side salad. Sorry, but the alternative is the staycation, and no matter how much we say that that's a fantastic option, I think we all know the truth.

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