5 Holiday Travel Tips – Gluten-Free & Chronic Pain

by Jennifer Iannolo | Print This Page

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For the average person, holiday travel is a burden to endure. For those of us with special things to work with, like gluten intolerance, chronic pain or other sensitivities, it can be downright scary.

After more than a year of intensive travel with a few of those things, I’ve developed a strategy for managing it all. Airports, in particular, can be a challenge, as you can never quite be sure what you’ll find to eat. And sometimes you are driving through the middle of nowhere, but thanks to certain ubiquitous fast-food chains, there is hope even in that situation.

Below are my top 5 tips for keeping the whole travel process manageable:

Pack Snacks

As someone who is gluten-free, I’ve learned NEVER to leave home without some kind of safety net in my purse in case I can’t find something on the road or at the airport. I’m not one to pack food and take it with me (I have enough to carry), so that takes a little work before leaving.

In my bag you will always find one of the following:

  • KIND bars: Their sheer variety of flavors makes it a pleasure to choose my snacks. I’m hooked on the dark chocolate and cherry bar of delicious wonder.
  • Luna protein bars: Luna just came out with a gluten-free line that is delicious. Coated in chocolate, these can get you through that extra hour or two with a protein boost.
  • A bag of nuts: I get these at my local supermarket, as I can ensure they don’t have wheat additives.

At the Airport/On the Road

When all else fails at the airport, I’ll usually buy a salad before boarding, but on long flights that can be a challenge, as I end up being really hungry by the end of the flights (hence the snacks noted above).

Thankfully some folks have thought ahead. If you research your airport on http://ifly.com you can see what food vendors are in your terminal. The chains like Chili’s To Go and some of the grill-type restaurants typically have at least a salad, and more likely some meat, chicken or fish to go with it.

If you’re driving, and in a veritable wasteland of junk food and strip malls, or can’t find a local deli/salad place, head for the nearest Subway. Some now have gluten-free rolls and, if all else fails, you can get a salad. Chipotle is also a great option, as you can get a burrito-free bowl with rice. Both have fresher ingredients than you’ll find in a pre-packed salad from one of those scary places. You know the ones of which I speak.

On the Plane

If I know the airline, and the flight is short, I sometimes rely on the on-board snacks. Here are some favorites:

  • Where a fruit and cheese plate is available, I’ll have that, or if they have a snack-pack that has at least some safe things, I’ll give away the crackers and other unsafe items to the people around me. It’s a great way to make friends.
  • Virgin America is a favorite of mine, as they have a gluten-free “cube” that contains all safe snacks.
  • For long-haul flights that serve meals, call ahead and order a gluten-free meal. On Aer Lingus, I had steamed chicken and vegetables, and slathered them in Kerrygold butter. Best airline meal I ever had.

Dress Comfortably

Now that we have the food covered, let’s talk about the discomfort. Traveling in a compressed container 30,000 feet in the air can be … unpleasant … for those of us with chronic pain conditions. (Or a 5-hour car ride — but at least then you can get out and stretch at normal altitude.)

Aside from making it a point to get a good night’s sleep the night before (I can’t sleep on planes — ever), I try to ensure that what I’m wearing is both comfortable and presentable. I only do yoga-wear on a plane if it’s an overnight flight or I’m feeling particularly lazy, as I do like to dress to fly. That means I’ve found comfortable flat shoes and boots, and skirts that are versatile.

I dress in layers to adjust to the varied plane temperatures, and carry a Pashmina that serves as a blanket.

P.S. Don’t forget to get up and stretch every once in a while. The compression on your body can be quite painful at times, so keep that blood circulating! Also make sure you stay hydrated.

Have a Little Kit

I’m all about amenities, and I never travel without my little bag of tricks for the flight. Here’s what I include:

  • An essential oil in a vanilla-orange or cinnamon scent to soothe my spirit and relax me
  • Cocoa butter for my lips, which get dry (I love Dr. Palmer’s, though it looks like a glue stick)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • A good hand cream (the soap on airplanes is deplorable)
  • A Tide pen. Because things spill.

Now, above all these things, I invite you to keep the following in mind: People are going to be rude and pushy. They are going to be stressed out. Lines will be long. Know this ahead of time, and just get that it will be that way — it doesn’t mean you need to be affected by it.

And if the crowds don’t work for you, see if you can travel at a lower-peak time. When I take my train from Manhattan to the Hudson Valley for the holidays, it’s typically standing room only, so I’ll leave a day earlier and take my laptop to finish up any other work. If you know what you’re heading into, you can manage it.

You can maintain zen in the midst of chaos, my sweet pea.

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