Note: This is a guest post by Jami at Celiac Travel Pack
Hawaii has always been a popular vacation destination. The warm weather, tropical environment, beaches, and outdoor activities make it a great way to spend a vacation so…you can’t really blame anyone! If you live with food allergies or autoimmune disorders it can feel like seeing the world, Hawaii included, is for other people and not for you. But, that’s not true! I can prove it.
About Jami’s Celiac Disease
Before we get started you’ll need a little background about me. My name is Jami and I run a website called Celiac Travel Pack. I have Celiac Disease so I can’t eat gluten, we’re talking one little crumb and I’m out sick for several days. My planning revolves around my Celiac disease and I also have allergies to tomatoes and sesame. (They haven’t caused anaphylaxis- thank goodness!) Most of my mishaps when traveling involve one of these two.
To add to it, I struggle with peppers… It’s probably an allergy (based on the tests) but presents as more of an intolerance and it isn’t too bad. I tend to push my luck with peppers (don’t @ me…I know I shouldn’t). I’m also lactose intolerant and my husband can’t eat dairy. So, we’re a real party. Traveling anywhere requires an extensive amount of research and planning. It’s also very possible and totally worth it! We’ve traveled on every continent except Antarctica managing all of these dietary things.
This post is a breakdown of how I start planning all of my trips with an emphasis on Oahu. We’ll start with what I did in Oahu. Then I’ll give you my general tips so you can plan your own trip!
We’ll start off with information about Oahu specifically and close out with tips you can use to plan your own trip to Oahu (or anywhere).
Just remember, my celiac isn’t your Celiac or gluten-free journey. My food allergies aren’t your food allergies. Some of the things I’m comfortable with you may not be and you may not have the same experience with the restaurants. I hope you do because I had a great experience! But, you do you, no judgment and no pressure. This post is to provide some insight and give you some ideas to make your planning easier.
Hawaii is a bucket list destination. It is also a paradise for those traveling with autoimmune disease and food allergies. I was cautiously optimistic before we left but the food in Hawaii exceeded expectations! We are still talking about meals from Hawaii and how impressive it was. Maybe it’s because the islands see so many tourists? This flexibility makes planning and booking your own trip to Hawaii way less intimidating than some destinations.
Oahu is home to Honolulu and the largest population of the Hawaiian Islands. Locals from any other island will complain to you that Honolulu is just too busy and crowded. It is busy and crowded compared to the other islands but is a far cry from New York City. The plus is that more people usually equals more restaurant options and that proved true in Honolulu. Oahu is also home to some must sees on your Hawaii vacation: Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Waikiki, and the North Shore to name a few.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Hilton Waikiki because we have Hilton points from travel hacking. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds check out the North Shore or somewhere further away from Waikiki. The resort wasn’t my all time favorite but it was nice. If we went back I would stay again but wouldn’t go out of my way to stay there. This was the only place that felt really crowded to me. They have a lot of stuff in a small space and it can feel kind of cramped. The flip side is that you have shopping, the beach, and restaurants within walking distance so it does make some things easier. Trade offs.
I could tell there were lots of restaurant options on Oahu so I wasn’t worried about having access to a kitchen. If you are new to traveling with your dietary requirements I’d recommend a place with a kitchen. After experience you’ll find your own groove but it makes the trip way less stressful to know you have a kitchen as a back up. Make sure to inspect the cookware and cutlery and wash any that are suspect. I’ve never had issues but I still use a lot of foil and inspect every colander I come across. It’s a paranoia I’m convinced will save me one day.
Whatever you are thinking, a Travel Agency like Inspire More Travel can help you find amazing accommodations!
The food scene was actually really good on Oahu. There was a list of restaurants we wanted to try. It was so extensive that it was divided into two groups: this should be good and we have to eat here!
Some of my Oahu favorites:
La Birria – Seriously could be the best taco ever. It’s almost entirely gluten-free. There were some peppers to work around but luckily I could avoid most of them.
Maui Mike’s – Everything in this place is gluten-free except the buns. No one seems to order those because it is a clear mistake to eat this chicken on a bun even if you could. We ate here twice and it may be my favorite meal. Don’t be duped by the sweet potato fries though – get the normal ones. They are thin, crispy, and fried to perfection.
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the north shore is a tourist experience that we actually get to participate in! The garlic shrimp are served over rice and are delicious. They are cooked in butter so if you’re allergic to dairy steer clear and head to one of the other nearby food trucks.
Dole Whip is everywhere on Oahu (and most of Hawaii) and is gluten-free and vegan. Just don’t get a cone. There is even a place in Honolulu where you can get a vegan Dole Whip Milkshake.
Banan is a dedicated gluten-free/vegan banana based ice cream. Honestly, it was a must try. It was so different I didn’t love it and didn’t go back. Most people love it though so I think I’m the weirdo here.
Things To Do
Pearl Harbor – it’s worth a couple of hours to visit this site that feels so much less like a museum than I expected it to. Get your tickets to the USS Arizona in advance.
Diamond Head – this hike is iconic and gets you great views of Waikiki. The information online will say it’s super difficult. It’s a little steep but it’s really not that bad. You should go for it. A reservation system is coming soon though so check before you go.
Snorkeling – Hanauma Bay is one of the best snorkeling spots you could ever imagine. It’s not open every day and permits are required so make sure you’re ready to get your permit in advance and take in some snorkeling! If you miss out on Hanauma there are other options. Go to a Snorkel Bob’s to rent gear and get location information.
The North Shore – check out the Pipeline on the northshore when you’re visiting. If you’re around in winter you may catch a surfing competition or some pro surfers out practicing.
Beaches – Waikiki and the North Shore are home to some pretty stunning beaches. Make sure you have reef safe sunscreen and relax on the beach or in the water.
Hiking – There are so many great hikes on the island so you can find what works best for you. I’d recommend the Ka’ena Point Trail or the hike to Makapuu Lighthouse. There are also several Pill Box trails that looked incredible that we didn’t get to do.
Before You Go Anywhere…
Research the restaurant situation. I check Find Me Gluten Free. If you’re not gluten free I hope your community has a similar source for you. For my other allergies I honestly just have to research my own. By now I know what kinds of foods are usually okay and which ones aren’t. Read reviews and check websites. Keep a list of where you want to go and what the restaurants are close to. This information can help you decide if you need to get a space with a kitchen or not. It is a must do before you book your accommodation for the trip.
Have a Plan
Know what you like to do. I am not someone who enjoys sitting for long periods of time. I love exploring outside: hiking, exploring, and adventuring. I’m not someone who is going to spend hours at museums. I stayed at several resorts in Hawaii but that’s my typical travel style. Take some time thinking about what you want the trip to be and spend some time finding a place that can provide what you want. Oahu may be it but you may be more interested in another location.
Have a general idea of what you want to do before you go. I never plan out my days fully because so much can be changed by the weather and how we’re feeling that day. Keep a list of the things you want to do and group them geographically. Each night take a few minutes to decide what you want to do and where you’re going to eat the following day. Leave time to stop by the grocery if you need more snacks or a trail lunch. Exploring groceries in other places is one of my favorite things!
Keep Medications Close By
Create a backup plan in case you get sick. I carry all of my medications with me when we travel and know what my play is. I know what medicine I’m taking, what activities I may have to push through for, etc. Always be prepared to get sick. I’m pretty hypervigilant and even more so when traveling so I’ve never actually had to use my plan. It could happen though (I’m positive it’ll happen to me one day) and you need to be prepared.
Extras: Car Rental and Trip Insurance
Decide on a rental car. We will almost always opt for a rental car in the US.. You can do a lot of things on Oahu without a car but it is much more convenient and opens up restaurant options if you can drive. It’s always been worth it.
Consider trip insurance. Know what parts of your trip are refundable and which aren’t and decide if trip insurance is worth it for you. If you’re booking with points it may not be since the points are often refundable. If you’re booking with cash I’d recommend looking into it.
COVID has resulted in a lot of trips being canceled so I’m more aware of this now then I was a couple of years ago. If you’re new to traveling consider using a travel agency like Inspire More Travel. It can relieve a lot stress knowing someone with experience is managing your trip so you don’t have to.
After Research- It’s Time to Book!
After you’ve done your research and feel like you have a good plan to keep yourself healthy it’s time to start booking. Make sure you double and triple check dates of flights, accommodations, and rental cars. Consider printing a calendar or using a planner to help you make sure you’ve got it right.
Truthfully, most people think the difficulty in planning is this stage of the process. But it’s not. Once you get here you’ve done all of the hard work. It’s just a matter of checking dates and availability and booking what you want. So, congrats if you’re at this part! You’ve basically made it! But, if you’re stressed remember that travel agents can make this part much easier!
My most important rule when traveling is to always have snacks! Honestly. I am much less anxious and the trips just go better when I have an abundance of snacks.
I always know what I’m eating before we fly and I try to eat as much as possible before I get to the airport. Pack snacks. Lots of them and a great variety. Normally, I am very aware of what I’m eating and try to stay healthy. On a travel day, gummy bears, oreos, bars, and nuts reign. You can also bring fruit and salad through security but no dressing or anything liquid or spreadable (looking at you peanut butter).
I bring a large variety so matter what I have something that sounds good. I try to snack every couple of hours even if I’m not hungry. Never bank on airports or airlines. You’ll end up hangry, sad, and defeated. Plan enough food to get you through your flights and the first day or so of your trip.
Once you arrive, I keep some snacks in my bag and more in the hotel room. If we have a rental car we also have a grocery bag with car snacks. Oftentimes this means one of my first, and most frequent, stops in a new place is a grocery store.
The second most important thing, be flexible! Something won’t go as planned. The weather won’t cooperate, a restaurant will take an unexpected holiday, or you’ll take a wrong turn; Maybe all 3 but hopefully not on the same day! That’s okay. It may end up being better than what you’d originally planned! If you have snacks and can come back to the research you’ve already done you’ll be able to change plans without too much hassle or work.
Traveling with food allergies can be tough since the allergies never take a vacation! It’s also very possible to do it safely and have a trip that recharges you and doesn’t add stress. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed or stressed about it I’d love to help if I can!
Check out my site for more posts or information. I’m writing frantically to try to share all I’ve learned in a decade of traveling gluten-free. Don’t be afraid to reach out! I’d love to answer any questions you have and help you take control of your vacations. You deserve to travel and experience life in a way that makes you feel good and I would love nothing more than to help!
Jami fell in love with traveling when she studied abroad in college in 2009. After being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2013 she had to re-learn travel basics. It felt impossible and overwhelming to travel with food restrictions. Turns out, it’s really not that bad! Jami shares her tips, restaurant picks, itineraries, and more. Connect on Instagram and feel free to send a DM if you have questions about GF travel!
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