How to Have a Stress-Free Gluten-Free Road Trip

Jeep Traveling Down a Dirt Road in the Desert
Vacation traveling? Moving, but gluten free?
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Road trips and vacations bring additional problems for super-sensitive celiacs, so in this post, I'm going to share with you what I did to prepare for our recent move to Texas, and share exactly what we ate on the road.

Summer is right around the corner, which means road trips and lengthy vacations that can be troublesome to navigate if you aren't prepared with a bit a gluten-free wisdom, as well as knowledge.

Gluten-free eating on the road can be problematic, if you haven't prepared properly, and when you're a super sensitive celiac, it can be even harder.

How can you travel to places unknown when you can hardly stay safe at home?

Well, I'm here to tell you that it's very possible to do. You don't have to be afraid to:
  • go for a lengthy drive
  • take the kids on a special outing
  • go on vacation
  • or even move out of state
When it comes to stress-free road trips, and avoiding getting glutened, you just have to know what's safe to do and what isn't.

Pinterest Image: Riding on Top of Van

But First, A Bit of Background

The owners of the basement we were renting in Utah decided to put the house on the market in February of 2017.

Although, we had been planning to move to Texas that summer, anyway, selling pushed our plans ahead faster than we had originally anticipated. We thought the owners were going to wait another year or two before selling, which would have given us more time to save for the trip, but things didn't work that way.

I don't know how it is in other parts of the country, but in Utah, it's extremely difficult to rent a place that doesn't demand you sign a lease. Once that lease expires, you have to re-sign another one or move out before the original lease expires.

While some landlords do offer month-to-month residency after the lease expires, it generally costs you 100 to 200 dollars a month extra to do it that way.

We didn't want to get trapped into that type of situation, where we'd have to stay another full year before leaving Utah, so we pushed up our plans and decided to move to Texas early.

In early April that year, the house sold, so we had to be out by the 12th of May.

Plan Your Route

Whether you're just taking a day-long journey or going somewhere that's further away, you need to know where you're headed.

Hubby spent a couple of days looking at maps and plotting out our journey. He knew which highways we were going to take, which major cities we were going to pass through, and an approximate distance we could realistically travel in a day.

This pre-planning told us that we needed to pack at least three days worth of food, so we wouldn't have to risk getting accidentally glutened on the way.

Plan to Take Food With You

There are gas station quick-stops across the country here in the U.S. where you can buy drinks and a small snack, if needed, as well as major grocery stores that are often located close to major highways and freeways. Most of these stores have gluten-free rotisserie chickens pre-cooked, but we decided not to depend on anything other than ourselves.

That way, we wouldn't have to do a lot of extra chasing at night when tired and hungry. All we'd have to worry about is a room.

Store Personnel Roasting Several Chickens on a Commercial Spit
Most grocery stores carry gluten-free pre-cooked
roasted chickens, but we didn't depend on that.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas was a three- or four-day drive away, but since we'd never made that trip by car before, we had no idea where we'd be staying each night.

There was no way to plan that part of the trip ahead, so we decided to pack for the journey with the assumption that we'd only be able to find a motel room with a small refrigerator and a microwave.

We also did not assume that we'd be able to find a standard grocery store along the way, so we did a bit of gluten-free shopping before we left.

We also planned on bringing a large cooler that we keep filled with ice to keep cold foods and drinks cold throughout the trip. Ice would be easily available at either the motel where we stayed or at a gas station when fueling up again.

When we took a vacation to Colorado a few years ago, it was pretty much a nightmare because I didn't KNOW what was safe to eat and what wasn't. We ended up living on Fritos, mixed nuts, and diet soda.

As a result, I started reacting violently to corn and corn derivatives when we got home. Not having even a rough idea of what we could eat while on vacation came at a heavy cost.

Today, I can eat corn again, but it took several years for that additional sensitivity to work its way out.

Nice-sized ear of corn on the cob
Today, I can eat a small amount of corn again,
but for three years after that Colorado Trip, I couldn't.

At the supermarket this time, I knew exactly what I could and couldn't eat. This made shopping ahead for food we could have along the way easier and less stressful than it was when we went to Colorado.

Today, I can walk into any supermarket or gas station quick-stop and grab a meal, even if it's only:
  • original-flavor beef jerky
  • Lay's potato chips
  • and a Klondike bar
But it wasn't always this easy, so I'm going to next share what I bought for the trip.

What I Bought for the Trip

In my experience, reacting to gluten residue in gluten-free foods is a hit-or-miss thing. How much contamination you're getting from all environmental exposures is what makes the difference.
  • gluten residue at home and work
  • how social you are
  • whether you go out to eat regularly
  • how contaminated your grocery store is
  • the absolute value of gluten in the food
  • and even how much gluten-free food you eat on a regular basis
These factors will all play a role in whether you react to a particular food, or not.

This makes pinning down some reactions extremely difficult to impossible to do because what you didn't react to yesterday, you might react to today.

Please keep this flexibility in mind as you read through my list. Where I'm exposed to gluten in my environment won't be where you're getting exposed to gluten in yours, so what we each can eat at any given time will be different.

For example, if I've had a good week with no major exposure, one small bag of original Cheetos won't cause a reaction. But, if I buy a huge family bag and start munching on it mindlessly, I'll start reacting before I've finished half the bag. This is why I believe minute gluten exposures are accumulative.

The important point here isn't whether you can do what I do.

The important point is that you know ahead of time what's safe for you to eat, and how, and that you make good use of that knowledge in plotting out how you're going to eat during the trip.

If you know where you're going to stop each night ahead of time, for example, you can seek out motels with a kitchenette and cook a regular gluten-free meal. You don't have to eat can goods if you're already familiar with the area you're going to.

We did go with canned goods because we had no idea what to expect, other than a small refrigerator and microwave in the motel room. This is what we did:
  • Honey-Nut Chex (for hubby; I react to them)
  • Chocolate Pebbles cold cereal (for me)
  • shelf-stable coconut milk (I don't drink regular milk)
  • Box of individual fruit-cups
  • Box of individual chocolate pudding cups
  • several fresh apples
  • loaf of gluten-free bread (for hubby; I react to it)
  • 8-ounce of Hillshire Farm sliced beef lunch meat
  • sliced Swiss cheese from Costco (Tillamok, I think it was)
  • Gulden's Spicy Brown mustard
  • a couple of Lara Bars (for hubby; I react to them)
  • 1 family-sized can of Stagg's Chili
  • 1 package of Fritos scoop-shaped chips
  • 2 family-sized cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew
  • microwave popcorn
  • paper plates
  • plastic-type throwaway bowls
  • plastic spoons
  • gallon of bottled water
I made my own trail mix from things I already had in the house and needed to use up:
  • cashews from Costco
  • Sun-Maid raisins
  • Ocean Spray dried cranberries
  • Nestle's dark chocolate chips
But we didn't really need it. We had more than enough food for that three-day trip already. I also tossed into the ice chest whatever Sobe drinks hubby had leftover from work and a couple of Carbmaster yogurts we still had in the fridge.

Basic Menu:


Cold cereal, milk if available; if not, hubby used coconut milk with me. A small fruit cup.


We took advantage of a rest stop when we found one, since they had picnic tables we could eat at.

Rest Stop with Picnic Tables
Since we brought all our own food,
we stopped at rest stops that had picnic tables to eat at.

Hubby made a sandwich on gluten-free bread. I used two slices of cheese for the bread, then put the mustard and sandwich meat in between. It's easier to eat than lettuce wraps. We also had a chocolate pudding cup, fruit, yogurt, or extra slices of cheese.

On the first night, the motel room was across the street from a small local market, so we picked up more lunch meat, same brand, for the following day. There was no grocery store in the area on the second night, and since it was hailing badly, we didn't venture out at all. Hubby made a cheese sandwich instead.


Canned chili with fritos; or Beef Stew and fruit.

Not an elaborate menu by any means, just the basics, but it got the job done, and we were able to make a nice, stress-free trip, without having to worry about where to buy food or getting accidentally glutened.

Traveling Isn't the Time to Take Chances

I know that lots of people like to eat out when traveling or when going on vacation, and do research ahead, but in my own experience and opinion, research isn't enough.

No matter how much I research, or how well I explain our situation to the waiter, waitress, and chef, I almost always get glutened when going out. And if it isn't the gluten, then I get hit by some other type of intestinal distress.

I just don't do well when other people do the cooking.

Vacation or long-distance driving isn't the time to take chances. While I knew that canned goods were going to promote inflammation and could make me a bit nauseous before the end of the trip, due to the chemical additives in the products, this was a better alternative than being stuck in a gas station bathroom for the day or fasting like we did in Colorado.

Sometimes, healthy concerns just have to go on the shelf, so you can do what you gotta do to make gluten free work.

The whole idea of planning ahead is to figure out ways to make eating gluten free easier to do, so you'll be able to spend your energy on having fun, instead of worrying about every single bite you put into your mouth.

Yes, it sucks that we can't just grab a burger or take advantage of restaurants we'd never visited before, but those days are gone.

Getting upset won't change that.

While I would have much preferred to eat an already baked rotisserie chicken and salad, we did the best we could under the circumstances. The best you can do is figure out ways to make that day trip or vacation or next move as easy on the body as possible.

When you plan your route, plan your food, and take it with you, you can bring some sanity to the journey.


  1. Thank you for this post. I'm a super sensitive celiac and one thing I greatly struggle with is the inconvenience of having to take food with me literally everywhere I go. I have no friends or family that have to live like this so it definitely makes me feel alone. I'm surprised how depressing something like not being able to eat packaged food or eat at restaurants can be. I have to prepare and take my own food and drinks EVERYWHERE with me. It makes trips and vacations a little less carefree and relaxing, but I also physically feel better, happier, and healthier than I ever even knew was possible. Reading your posts makes me feel less alone and I'm grateful that you take the time to share these kinds of stories :). Thank you.

    1. Being alone in all of this must be extremely challenging. I am so glad that my hubby is supportive and understanding. He has dermatitis herpetiformis, we think, but takes more risks than I do. I really miss the spontaneity. People who don't have any experience with at least allergies just don't understand the emotional stress. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience. This is definitely a difficult road.


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