On Monday, the Gluten-Free Guidebook celebrated its second anniversary. That seems like forever in blog years, and I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to write to me, make a comment on the site, join the Facebook group (745 members and growing!), follow me on Twitter, and subscribe to the e-mail digest. I’m especially grateful to those who’ve sent me Reader Reports about where they live or a place they’ve visited. There are now reports on celiac-friendly restaurants and shops from Paris to Buenos Aires, from Amman to Edmonton, and from Oahu to Las Vegas. All of your suggestions are appreciated — often by more people than you may realize.
Since an anniversary is a good time for reflection, I want to share the rules that guide me while I’m on the road:
- The trip starts when you’re still at home: Before you hit the road, you need to spend some quality time researching your destination online. Starting with a basic Google search is fine, but check out sites that list restaurants that cater to a gluten-intolerant clientele. Some of my favorites include Gluten-Free Maps and Celiac Handbook; I also love city-specific sites, such as Gluten-Free in SD (San Diego) and Toronto Celiac. Look for local celiac-awareness groups via Clan Thompson’s Celiac Site and the Association of European Coeliac Societies. Also, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Gluten Intolerance Group have great information for travelers to, or within, North America. Don’t overlook local blogs — these can be invaluable.
- Getting there is half the battle: When I arrive at my destination, I know that I’ll find some restaurants that are willing to feed a celiac (even if they’ve never done so before!). On the other hand, my experiences in trying to get gluten-free meals on flights has been dismal (a couple of bright spots for me have been LAN and British Airways, though I haven’t flown either one recently). I’ve told you already about my awful experience with American Airlines, and you may have seen the news that Continental has just eliminated its gluten-free meal option. When I interview people for the “On the Road With…” columns, I always ask how they handle the issue. Everyone brings food with them. You can take a look at the archive to get ideas of what to pack — just don’t go empty-handed, or you’ll likely end up with a very empty stomach.
- Celiac dining cards go everywhere: They fit into your wallet, weigh nothing, and are life savers. Need a card in a foreign tongue? Head over to Celiac Travel for an amazing selection of free cards (in 47 different languages) that you can download and print. While you’re there, print out a couple in English, too. That can save you from repeating your dietary restrictions to each member of the restaurant staff, and the card can be left with the chef for reference purposes.
- Remember that you need to relax: When I’m traveling, sometimes I feel worn down by having to explain my dietary restrictions at every breakfast, lunch and dinner. That can be exhausting, especially when you’re doing it in a foreign language. Find ways to make it easier for yourself. If you find a restaurant that does a terrific job of accommodating you early in your stay, visit it again before you leave. If you’re at a hotel with a helpful concierge, have him or her call the restaurant and explain your dietary restrictions in advance. Go to a local supermarket and buy foods you can stash in your room (fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt) so that you have snacks on hand, or even breakfast for the next day. Travel is all about new experiences, but that doesn’t mean that every meal has to be a fresh challenge.
I’d love to hear what helps you when you’re on the road. Here’s to the year ahead, and to making plenty of new discoveries.