On the weekend, I came up to Toronto on a research trip for a Frommer’s guidebook (I’m currently at work on Frommer’s Toronto 2010, my eleventh edition of that book). Visiting Toronto isn’t a stretch for me — it’s my hometown, and I know it has plenty of places that can serve up a good gluten-free meal. Unlike my trips to Peru or Turkey, I don’t need to stress about learning new words for “wheat” and “starch,” or packing enough celiac translation cards. Still, this seemed like a good time to talk about how to prepare for any trip you make.
- Do some groundwork before you leave home: The good news is that it’s getting easier to find information. My long-time go-to sites, such as Celiac Handbook and Celiac Travel, have been joined by newer sites such as Gluten-Free Maps and the Gluten-Free Registry as reliable sources of information. 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.
- Think of your worst-case scenario… and plan for it: As someone who has had to resort to eating potato chips for dinner at midnight while waiting for a long-delayed flight, I want to warn you to be prepared. Wherever you’re going — even if you think it’s a short trip — pack a gluten-free protein bar… or two. They’re easy to carry, won’t cause problems with airport security (unlike, say, yogurt), and if you don’t need them, you can store them till your next trip. I’m particularly fond of the Organic Food Bar for Vegans. It contains 14 grams of protein, and among the gluten-free bars that I’ve tried, it stands out as the most delicious.
- Never count on an airline to feed you: This is not to say that I’ve never had a good gluten-free meal on a plane. LAN comes to mind for doing a great job, as does British Airways. On the other hand, I’ve been promised gluten-free airplane meals that never materialized, and one time a flight attendant plopped a wheat roll on my dinner tray (in fairness to her, she was trying to be helpful and thought that I had been shortchanged on dinner). I’ve learned that it’s best to be pleasantly surprised by the appearance of a celiac-safe meal on a plane.
- Celiac dining cards aren’t just for foreign travel: When I interviewed Beyond Rice Cakes author Vanessa Maltin a year ago, I was surprised that she used celiac cards when she dined at new restaurants. I swore by them for travel — especially when you don’t speak the language — but hadn’t tried the cards at home, or in an English-speaking destination. As it turns out, it’s a great idea: you don’t need to repeat your dietary restrictions to each member of the restaurant staff, and the card can be kept in the kitchen for reference purposes.
- Keep the spirit of adventure: New experiences are good for mind, body, and spirit. Whenever we step outside of our comfort zones, we have the opportunity to learn something new — not only about the world, but about ourselves.