12 Tips for Gluten Free Air Travel During the Rush Season

''Tis the season...for holiday travel! While Christmas might trigger images of sugarplum fairies and presents under the tree, the holiday of the season is also one of the busiest times for airports. And one of their customers this year? Your favorite (recently graduated) college celiac, of course!

This past weekend, I had the unique adventure of flying from San Diego to Denver, Colorado...of course on the one day that a snow storm hit (bringing temperatures down to a cozy -4 degrees). In the spirit of the season, though, I thought I'd give some gluten free air travel tips in the form of a famous Christmas carol. (And, to be honest, my 12 hours of travel certainly felt like 12 days!)

casey the college celiac

So, without further delay, here's a gluten free traveler's 12 Days of Christmas

1. On the first day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...two large suitcases, a backpack and a soft cooler. 

I'd love to say that I'm the kind of girl who can fly across the country with only a carry-on for company. But, while I may be low maintenance, celiac definitely isn't. So pack as much as you think you need, and don't feel guilty. I ended up splitting my bags between food and other life necessities (like clothes to survive a Colorado winter!), and every inch of space was put to good use!

2. On the second day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...a deconstructed brunch with all of her favorite things. 

So what did I pack in that small cooler of mine? First of all, I basically used it as my "carry-on" along with my backpack. Between those two, I brought a spread of my favorite (airport friendly) breakfast items, including:
  • Oatless Oatmeal Crunchy Clusters. If you've ever had your oatmeal turned away because it contains too much liquid, this recipe is a gluten free traveler's best friend! I simply made it the night before and stored it in a plastic container with strawberries and one banana
  • Enjoy Life Trail Mix. Whether you can't tolerate nuts, you want to accommodate flight passengers with allergies or you just want a delicious snack, you can't go wrong with this trail mix. When I have it on hand, I eat some of it every day. It's a tasty smoothie topper, and an even better snack on a plane
  • Mini baked pancakes. Since I knew my oatless oatmeal clusters wouldn't hold me over as long as a smoothie usually does, I made some mini pancakes the night before my flight. These are winners for snacks or breakfast. 
  • Homemade granola. You didn't think I'd forget my favorite part of breakfast, right? The truth is, flying is freakin' stressful, so comfort food is a must. Snacky comfort food that's also portable? Even better! 
Basically, I'm sharing my breakfast spread to show you that you can still enjoy a healthy, homemade gluten free spread in an airport. And with Einstein Bagels only a few feet away from my gate, I was very happy to have my own treat on-hand!

casey the college celiac
The ugly and the pretty shots!

3. On the third day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...a print-out of research on airport eats.

Even if you have your bags stuffed with enough Christmas treats to make Santa jealous, it doesn't hurt to do a little research beforehand. After all, mistakes happen: you forget your food at home, it gets taken away by security or you're just hungrier than you expect. 

In my case, I simply spent a few minutes looking up the gluten free options at Denver International Airport. While I didn't get the chance to try it, an Udi's Cafe and Bar apparently offers some pre-packed and upon-order gluten free meals. I also spotted some gluten free snacks - like Purely Elizabeth Granola and different types of snack bars - at various food shops in the airport. When you have a back-up plan already in mind, you can take surprises (like flight delays...as many flying this last weekend probably experienced) in stride. 

4. On the fourth day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...a dinner for later in case of delays.

Speaking of delays, it's also a good idea to pack another meal (either lunch or dinner depending on your flight time) in case the airport madness takes longer than you expect. I ended up chowing down on my leftover Chipotle while waiting at the baggage claim...and finishing it off while camping out on the airport floor and waiting for my ride

casey the college celiac
Real life eats...

Not my most Instagram worthy moment, but this meal did the trick

5. On the fifth day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...a plastic bag for ice cubes.

And how should you keep your dinner cold hours after you first pack it? First of all, you might want to choose a vegan or vegetarian option so you don't have to worry about keeping meat cold. If you have a Chipotle craving the night before, though, and end up with a chicken burrito bowl, here are some of the tricks I learned: 
  • Put your food in the freezer about an hour to an hour and a half before you leave for the airport. For my Chipotle, I simply sealed it tight in a plastic bag, and popped it in the freezer. Seven hours later, it was perfectly defrosted and still cold. 
  • Use frozen food as an ice pack. Since regular ice packs aren't allowed through security, use bags of frozen veggies or bagged frozen meats. I used a bag of frozen Daiya cheese!
  • Bring a small plastic bag, and after you go through security, ask (or pay) a restaurant to fill it with ice. You can also pull a Casey and ask for a cup of ice along with your water during your flight
While you may need to get a little more creative, you can definitely keep your food safe to eat hours later! (Even if you don't have the Colorado winter to help). 

6. On the sixth day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...charcoal pills in case of an upset stomach. 

I don't know about you, but I've noticed that stress and changes in routine are the top two irritants for my stomach - and travel causes both of them. I can't move, eat, drink or stretch like I usually do, so I make sure I have my favorite medicines in case my tummy needs a boost. If you struggle with gas or are worried about possible cross contamination with airport food, charcoal pills are one possible option. While you need to carefully time when you take them (since they can interfere with absorbing medicines or food), these pills have helped me when my stomach isn't behaving. 

7. On the seventh day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...way more snacks than needed.

Is it just me or does traveling make you extra hungry? Whether because of the stress, the time change or the constant munching of people around me, snacks and I were best friends on Saturday...which is why you should always throw one more bar in your backpack than you'll probably need. Some of my favorite snacks, besides the ones I've mentioned earlier, include: Health Warrior chia bars, raw or dried fruits, roasted veggies, and the usual crunchy addictions like cereal or rice cakes. 

casey the college celiac

Years ago, I remember our plane being delayed two hours and pigging out on the extra PB&J sandwiches my mom had packed "just in case." Let's just say that I always try to be my mom in this scenario - and not our fellow passengers, who looked like they'd kill for a bite! 

8. On the eighth day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...cash to use on lots of water

One of the hardest parts of traveling, in my opinion, is staying hydrated. My pet peeve is having to constantly ask my seat partners to move so I can make my way to the airplane bathroom...but getting a headache from dehydration can be even worse! 

While you may not want to chug water like your life depends on it, make sure to always have some liquid on hand. Because the only thing worse than flying is flying and feeling cruddy while you do. 

9. On the ninth day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...a checked off shopping list sent to Mom. 

Because - of course - my first requirement after getting home, hugging the family and taking a shower is enjoying some food! To keep your arrival as calm as possible, ask your hosts to have a few of your dietary staples on hand. Not only will you be too tired after the flight to go to the store, but you'll probably also want to stay close by and catch up with your hosts after you arrive. 

10. On the tenth day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...a suitcase with a few staple cooking items

Another secret weapon to a relaxing first day (back at home or on vacation)? Pack your suitcase with a few of your favorite foods, too. For instance, my suitcase included a few random purple potatoes, a ripe avocado and Food for Life brown rice tortillas. With these, I knew I could quickly whip up dinner (or lunch the next day). 

casey the college celiac
The usual suitcase sneak peek...

You might especially want to bring specialty items that are harder to find. For instance, I brought my beloved jar of Kalot Superfood's White Chocolate Strawberry Cashew Butter from my Whole Foods in San Diego. Whether you're staying home for awhile or just visiting for the holidays, less time scouting local specialty stores equals more time with friends and family!

11. On the eleventh day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...plenty of (gluten free) reading for the flight.

Okay, okay. Maybe my reading wasn't entirely gluten free. (As much as I love reading blogs and new recipes, my mystery sweet tooth had been denied for the months I was crazy busy with school!) However, you should always remember to bring a little entertainment with you to the airport. If you want to explore the celiac side of literature, you have plenty of options, like: 
12. On the twelfth day of Christmas, a savvy celiac packed...an understanding that travels may not go perfectly as planned, but that's OK.

The truth is, no matter how much you plan, your travels may not go perfectly. Like many people, my plane was delayed (though luckily only for half an hour. Anyone traveling to Chicago, you have my sympathy and best wishes!). Because of a snow storm, the roads were also too icy for my parents to drive and pick me up from Denver, so I waited for a 6:30 shuttle to Colorado Springs instead. By the time I got home around 9 that night, I was beyond exhausted...

...but so happy to be home for the holidays (and for good until grad school)! And proud that I survived packing up my apartment and flying back alone, not to mention facing -4 degree weather with limited access to winter gear. It wasn't my most enjoyable travel experience, but I know all my preparation made it 10 times better than it could've been! 

casey the college celiac
My first view of Colorado snow...

After all, traveling during the holidays isn't easy - and traveling with dietary restrictions can further complicate your trip. However, with a lot of practice and these twelve tips, you'll be caroling all the way home.

What are your tips for traveling while gluten free? Have you ever flown during the holidays? Comment below! 


  1. I pack, pack, pack when it comes to my travel! Though I dont have Celiac [just gluten-resistance], traveling can be scary for me as well so I pack as much as I can. Thankfully there are so many options now at restaurants and such that make it easier but it can still be stressful when going to parties or events!

    1. Traveling is definitely a challenge with any dietary restrictions! Glad you are packed for success ;)

  2. You flew in the day of the snow?! Eek! Yeah, that was a terribly cold day--I'm up in Fort Collins. Thanks for these great tips--they are really useful for folks for celiac, but they're really useful for me following the low-FODMAP diet, too.

    1. It was CRAZY COLD! Go figure that I'd fly in on the one insanely freezing day ;) Have a fabulous New Years!


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