I used to be a spur of the moment kind of girl. Weekends on a whim; day trips decided by the flip of a coin (or a suspenseful game of eeny meeny miny moe). Then in 2005, my free spirit promptly crashed and burned. Insert resounding KABLAM here. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and suddenly had to plan even the smallest of details. After spending hours in the grocery store reading ingredient labels, I couldn’t even fathom an impromptu jaunt into this gluten filled world. Dining out in my hometown and eating a Cheese Salad (yes, this is an actual menu item) was daring enough for me. Gluten-free travel? Thanks, but no thanks. “Homebody” sounded just fine and a heck of a lot safer on my healing gut.

My husband Chuck and I recently found out that we will be traveling to Orlando, Florida this summer. Typically Orlando is a “no brainer” as we vacation in Walt Disney World. In my humble opinion, Disney is the most forward-thinking vacation destination in the US for people with special dietary needs. I could recite in my sleep where we safely dine while in Disney. However, this time we will be traveling (gasp) sans children and have decided (in part due to an immense amount of guilt); we cannot set foot within the Magic Kingdom without our kids in tow. So we are branching out and exploring what else the Sunshine State has to offer.

Immediately after booking our trip, my food anxiety began to set in. Where would I eat? What would I eat? What if there was nowhere to (safely) eat? What if I had to eat cardboard-flavored food all week? After soothing myself with some chocolate and bad reality TV, I decided to take action. I logged onto my trusty computer and sent my S.O.S. out to the masses, “social media style”. What is social media, you ask? Social media is a trendy new past-time and all the kids are doing it. Got an Internet connection? You’re in with social media (now wasn’t that easy?!). At first, I was a bit hesitant to jump into this online experience. Truth be told, I need cliff notes to use my remote control and tend to get into arguments with my GPS system. Technical savviness isn’t one of my strong points. However, I tested the waters and found that I could navigate just fine in this virtual gluten-free world, and I came away with a ton of first-hand information on my travel destination. Intrigued? Check out these resources:

  • Twitter: Where else can you find up to the minute gluten-free information, tips, and news in 140 characters or less? Do a keyword search for “gluten free” or “gfree” on Twitter and you’ll find a bevy of gluten-free people sharing information. Check me out here.
  • Facebook: Have you become a friend of Hold The Gluten? Search for gluten-free fan pages and groups and jump right into the communities.
  • Gluten-free Blogs: Gluten-free blogs offer an awesome first person perspective that allows you to glimpse a gluten free day in the life. Google “gluten free blogs” to check out the diverse group of bloggers that include teenagers, foodies, eco-friendly, and athletes.
  • iPhone Applications: I must admit, I still think lovingly about my red Nokia cell phone from 1992. I have not crossed over into the iPhone realm, but luckily my techie husband possesses one. For those with iPhones, there are several gluten-free applications available.

Now that you’ve amassed some gluten-free travel tips from the above resources, I highly suggest creating a vacation cheat sheet. Pack one printout in your luggage and another in your carry-on. This way when you’re famished and desperately looking for a restaurant to accommodate your gluten-free needs, you can quickly reference your notes. Be sure to detail the restaurant names, addresses, phone numbers and chef/manager information.

Last but not least, share your findings! Did you come across a restaurant in Poughkeepsie dishing up drool-worthy flourless gluten-free cake? Or maybe you uncovered a diner in Fayetteville serving a killer grilled cheese on gluten-free toast (with a side of expertise in cross contamination)? For the good of gluten intolerant people everywhere, shout your experiences from the rooftop! Word of mouth is huge within our gluten-free community. Sharing is caring people!

I am counting the days until my plane touches down in sunny Florida. With confidence, I will feast gluten freely and I will not let my food intolerance rule my days. Yes, a little pre-trip planning was necessary, but thanks in part to our amazing gluten-free community, I have overcome my fear of traveling outside a ten-mile radius from my home. And I pinky swear to share the location if I find my holy grail, aka a gluten-free pizza that doesn’t taste gluten-free.