Travel tips from Olympic bronze medalist, triathlete Susan Williams
Susan is one example of a top-level athlete that has learned to live quite successfully with celiac disease. Here are some of the tips she has for the gluten-free athlete that travels:
- If you are traveling within the U.S., check online to see if there are any health food stores in the area where you are staying. You can get a wide assortment of gluten-free items at these stores.
- If you are traveling internationally, educate yourself about the cuisine of where you will be visiting. Many European countries are big on breads, pastas and sauces. You can often find lunch meat and cheese at corner markets in these countries, so I will pack along my own gluten-free bread so I can make sandwiches. In Asia there is always rice and steamed vegetables, but I suggest bringing some packaged tuna to get protein. Watch out for the sauces in any country because many of them contain gluten.
- Pack along plenty of healthy snacks for the flight and for the duration of your stay. An easy option is nutrition bars that are low in saturated fats but are good sources of protein.
- Most importantly, plan ahead. If you have any doubts about food availability, bring your own.
While traveling around the world with various World Cup level athletes that deal with celiac disease, I have noticed that many of them have become quite creative. Here is a collection of miscellaneous tips I picked up from them:
- Pack a separate travel bag or box just for food. You can take the bag with you on your flight or ship it ahead. If shipped ahead, send it well in advance and check with the hotel to be sure the box arrived before you depart the U.S.
- Stay in accommodations that have a kitchenette or access to a microwave whenever possible so you can prepare your own meals.
- When a kitchenette or microwave is not available where you are staying, check with the hotel to see if kitchen staff will prepare food that you bring along.
- You can cook in your room with a small one-burner electric stove. The stove and light-weight camping cookware can be packaged with the food.
- In warm weather conditions, and with a first-level room, you can prepare food using a fuel-based cook stove outside on your patio. In this case, you can utilize lightweight camping tools, utensils and a camp stove. When you travel with a camp stove that requires fuel canisters, be sure to follow Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines for camping items. Also know that your hotel may frown upon you burning fuel canisters inside your room and in fact may evict you from the hotel if you are caught with an open flame in your room.
If you want to minimize the food you pack, know that some airlines offer gluten-free options with some advance notice. A site called Gluten Free Passport gives a list of gluten-free meal availability on various airlines. You can obtain gluten-free restaurant cards to use at your destination in several languages at www.celiactravel.com.
With some planning and preparation, a gluten-free athlete can remain healthy while traveling nationally and internationally, with minimal worry and frustration.
For more information on celiac disease:
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Celiac Disease Foundation