Every coeliac has a story about airline and airport food and their lack there of, of gluten free options. Most domestic flights in Australia are short legs, so we find that the best option is to be prepared and take your meal or snack with you.
Our family are not experienced international travellers, but here are a few things that helped us make sure our teenager survived long haul flights as well was our ‘just in case’ supplies once we arrived at our destinations.
1. Make sure you obtain translation cards not only for the countries that you are visiting but also for airports that you are transiting through. We transited through Hong Kong and Singapore but didn’t think to get translation cards to help us in these terminals. Translation cards for Hong Kong and Singapore would have made things that little bit easier. If you prefer not to have to carry pieces of paper around, then scan translation cards and email to your holiday email account accessible via your phone.
2. Not all airport security operates the same. We flew home from Barcelona, via London City, transferred to London Heathrow and transited through Singapore. I had no problem with my carry on bag and gluten free supplies through Barcelona security, but had a lengthy wait at Heathrow, before security attended to me and repeatedly asked questions regarding what I had in my bag. I had nothing to hid. I had placed all my fluids in the zip lock plastic bag. And then finally the offending item was uncovered… a can of tuna in olive oil. Next time, I will make sure the tuna is in the zip lock bag and reduce my time through security by 45 minutes.
3. For long haul flights, pack 24 hours of snacks and then add some more. Travelling time from Townsville to a destination in Europe can be up to 40 hours. I found packing items into a sturdy plastic container helped keep food in once piece and items didn’t slide down into your bag and get lost. I also find zip lock bags invaluable for all sorts of reasons but especially useful for that packet of rice crackers you have opened. We found that ordering a gluten free meal only relates to the meals. The order does not relate to snacks eg crackers and cheese, spiced nut mix. So pack crackers, nuts, muesli bars, biscuits, lollies, chips. If you don’t use them during your flight then they will be used once you reach your destination. For a just in case you don’t like the gluten free breakfast served to you, take a serving of your breakfast cereal.
4. Know the Quarantine Requirements of the countries you are visiting. Australia and New Zealand have strict quarantine requirements. You must declare all food coming into these countries and acknowledge this with a tick in the box on your Customs landing card. Fresh, unprocessed food such as fruit and nuts are not allowed in, so if you have any in your bags, deposit them in the bins provided. Have food accessible and the officers will let you know which items can be taken into the country.
5. Train travel needs a little planning in advance. Food kiosks at train stations have an extensive range of sandwiches (none of which are gluten free) and even the salads were off limits due to the generous scattering of croutons or an unknown origin dressing. We found a collapsible insulated lunch bag and a food thermos essential. As we stayed in apartments, we could prepare food for our train journeys or day trips. Freeze a water bottle to keep food cold in the soft pack and a microwaved meal keeps hot for quite some time in a food thermos.
6. Food Supplies. Our family holiday was 12 months in the planning and during this time our son had his coeliac diagnosis. I felt that I needed to over prepare because I wanted our holiday to be a success and for our son to understand that gluten free and travelling was do-able. With this in mind I packed a few just in case meal items because gluten free shopping is an adventure in your own country but Spain and France were unknowns for us. Vietnamese Rice Papers : an easy lunch if we couldn’t find a suitable bread for sandwiches. El Paso Taco Mix: add 500 g mince and a few vegetables and you have a meal for the food thermos. Microwave single serve rice: a good side or filler with a can of tuna. Packet tomato soup: a just in case quick snack. And probably next time I would consider taking one or two packets from the Passage to range for a quick evening meal in the apartment.
7. In case of an accidental ingestion of gluten. Unfortunately for us, this did happen when my son ate two normal crackers instead of gluten free ones. I was mortified, because it happened on my watch so to speak. We were new to gluten free and this was the first accidental ingestion of gluten post diagnosis, so were quite overwhelmed by my son’s reaction to gluten. Next time we will take medication for this just in case situation to ease the cramps and for re-hydration. We will take a heat pack to help ease the cramps. And I will make sure I have some language phrases prepared to help explain to the pharmacist the situation. I will say though that the pharmacist in Paris did very well to understand my panicked bad French and was most helpful.
I suppose as we all know, gluten free eating and cooking requires that little bit extra planning and preparation. The same goes for travelling.
My hope is that the next time my son travels overseas, he won’t feel so daunted by the prospect of having to eat gluten free and that he has a few ideas about how best to be prepared.