Gluten-Free Travel: Family Road Trip

Last updated on June 2nd, 2023

Even when you have gluten-free eating mastered at home, gluten-free travel is not easy, especially when you have kids with you. How do you know how to find safe food? Is it possible to avoid getting sick from gluten while you’re on the road?

illustration of a car, bag of snacks, word bubbles, a map, and a magnifying glass
Many thanks to wellbeing designer Vanessa for providing this illustration! (Find Vanessa on Twitter @theWblogger)

The number one thing you can do is research as much as you can before you travel. Nice work if that’s what you’re doing right now. You’re on the right track!

Give yourself the gift of peace of mind: the more you know ahead of time, the more you’ll be able to enjoy your time on the road. Researching where to find gluten-free food will become a regular part of your travel prep. You’ll be able to enjoy the calm confidence of having a plan (and a backup plan if something doesn’t work out).

Topics you can and should research ahead of your trip include:

  • Snacks to bring
  • Stops on the way
  • Potential restaurants
  • Where to stay overnight
  • Grocery stores

Bring Snacks!

If you’ve ever traveled with small children (ok, if you’ve ever left the house with small children) you already know the power of having snacks with you. This is also helpful for anyone with food intolerances. Don’t get stuck in a situation where you can’t find anything safe to eat.

Here are some trustworthy options for gluten-free travel snacks:

  • Sliced raw vegetables like carrots, celery, and bell peppers
  • Fruit such as apples, bananas, or oranges
  • Gluten-free crackers
  • Gluten-free pretzels
  • Cheese (easier if you slice it ahead of time)
  • Nuts
  • Individual pouches of nut or seed butter (I don’t love the packaging, but sometimes you have to make due)
  • Gluten-free protein bars (try to stick with ones made with simple ingredients)
Fill the Gaps with Protein Bars
Gluten-free protein bars have saved the day many times for our family. They aren’t a meal replacement for the long term, but in a pinch they fill nutritional gaps when there are truly no other options!

Bring some helpful items for gluten-free travel snacks.

Pack lunches and snacks in bento boxes or other reusable containers, and store perishable provisions in a cooler or lunch bags with ice packs. Bring refillable water bottles to keep everyone hydrated while you travel.

Plan Stops Based on Where You’ll Eat

Any meals you can plan ahead will save you stress while you’re on the road.

Look for natural food stores and food co-ops.

Food co-ops and independent grocery stores often offer areas where you can sit and eat a meal at a table in a café area. They might supply free water as well as compostable flatware, napkins, and more.

Create meals kids will love with fruit and packaged foods you know are gluten-free. Look for items like yogurt, cheese and crackers, or sliced vegetables with hummus.

Avoid hot bars and salad bars, both hot spots for cross-contact with gluten.

Look for grocery stores as a backup.

Larger grocery stores might not include a seating area, but you can still shop for components of a healthy meal. Weather permitting, find a nice spot to eat outdoors (perhaps even with a picnic table), or simply eat in the car.

Gluten-Free Travel and Restaurants

Research and verify before you show up.

If you really want to eat at a restaurant while you’re traveling, you need to research and verify that they can safely prepare the food. Use apps and sites like Find Me Gluten Free, Trip Advisor, and Yelp. These are a good place to start, but don’t put all your faith in recommendations from strangers on the internet. Check the restaurant’s website or reach out to them before you arrive.

Get a feeling for if the kitchen is able and willing to safely prepare the food.

We’ve called restaurants that have said they don’t feel like they can safely prep our food free from gluten, and we’re always grateful for their straightforwardness.

Talk to the people helping you.

I’ve met so many servers and cashiers that either have a food allergy themselves, or are close to someone with a food intolerance, and are knowledgeable about celiac disease and gluten cross-contact.

Should I Call It An Allergy?
In the case of celiac disease or another autoimmune disease, explain it as a food allergy rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of autoimmune reactions. Restaurants often have protocols in place for allergies, and using the right language will get the conversation where it needs to be quickly.

If eating gluten free is a preference and not medically necessary, please do not tell your server it’s an allergy. It’s not fair to ask staff to make the extra effort without cause.

Staying Overnight

The best way to stay gluten free when you travel is to prepare your own meals, so book accommodations with at least a refrigerator. Even better if they also provide a microwave, and best case scenario you book a place with a kitchen or kitchenette.

Find a grocery store. You’ll be limited by the size of the refrigerator and by what GF food is available locally. You might not get what you want, but the alternative is to pack your vehicle with all the food you’ll need.

Keep an open mind about what constitutes a meal, and be prepared for some unusual combinations.

People travel with all sorts of cooking equipment from hot plates to toaster ovens. At the bare minimum consider bringing your own sponge, a small amount of dish soap, and parchment paper. Other helpful gear includes flatware and a paring knife, napkins or towels, and a way to store leftovers.

Continental Breakfast
If you stay at a hotel with a continental breakfast look for gluten-free items like yogurt cups, fruit, and single servings of peanut butter.


You can keep your family gluten free on a road trip. Planning is key, and the more research you do before you hit the road, the easier and more relaxed your trip will be. Think outside the box when pulling together meals, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

One thought on “Gluten-Free Travel: Family Road Trip

  1. This article is top-notch! Thank you so much for offering us these alternatives and guiding us on how to prepare for travelling when food allergies are a reality. I’m just getting myself started around this topic as I’m discovering I’m allergic to some substances at the age of 34! Posts like this are very useful and also help reduce our own stigma and shame about having food allergies. It was a great honour to be able to illustrate such great content!

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