Planning a Gluten Free Tampa Vacation That's Fun, Safe and Stress Free

Like everything having to do with celiac disease, travelling to the U.S. requires preparation. Planning your gluten free Tampa vacation in advance will help you to avoid stress and risky food situations.

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This is Part 2 of my Canadian Celiac in Tampa blog series. 

 Today we’ll focus on the planning of your gluten free Tampa vacation.  These are the things you need to do and think about before you leave home:

How Long Will You Stay In Tampa?

The next several decisions will depend a lot on this one. 

How long is this gluten free Tampa vacation you’re planning?  Are you going for a weekend, a week, or a few months?  Maybe you’re lucky and you’re retired, or you can work remotely, so getting out of the cold for a couple of months is doable.  Or maybe you have tickets to a Tampa Bay Lightening game so you’re coming down for an extended weekend. 

How Will You Get to Tampa?

Will you travel by air or by car?  For shorter trips, flying makes sense.  Driving takes at least a day or two off either end of your trip, so unless you’re thinking of the journey as part of your vacation experience you probably just want to get there.  If you’re planning a longer trip here are some other considerations:

  • Budget
  • Number of travellers
  • Tolerance for airports vs long car rides
  • The need for vehicle when you get to Tampa

Flying

Flying of course is faster.  You have to contend with airports and airlines which is seldom fun, but you can get to Tampa from anywhere in Canada in a day.

The cost of flights varies a lot depending on the time of year, but I’ve found as a basic guideline, if you’re travelling alone, you don’t save that much by driving.  Once you add a few people to the trip, driving becomes the more cost-effective option. 

Driving: Planning Your Route to Tampa

Diving to Tampa will take between 20 and 30 hours if you’re travelling from eastern Canada.  Here are some drive times.

  • From Toronto – 20 hours
  • From Montreal – 23 hours
  • From Halifax – 30 hours

Add in restroom, refueling and meal breaks.  We’ve done it nonstop, which is fine for young folks with young backs and bladders, but I don’t personally recommend it.

map showing routes from Toronto to Tampa through Detroit, Buffalo and Gananoque.

This time we decided to split the trip up over three days because I felt that 8 – 10 hours in the car is enough for people in our 50’s and 60’s with aging backs. 

From our home just east of Toronto there are three choices for border crossings:

  • Peace Bridge at Fort Erie / Buffalo
  • Ambassador Bridge at Windsor / Detroit
  • Thousand Islands Bridge just east of Gananoque 

We decided to cross at Windsor / Detroit because it’s shorter than the Thousand Islands route and we were getting mixed messages about whether the Peace Bridge was open.  Also, avoiding the mountains through Virginia in winter seemed wise.

If you're looking for some online help planning your gluten free Tampa vacation, there are a few trip planning apps and sites on the web.  Enter “plan my trip” into google and try a few out.  Some will give you suggestions for sight seeing along the way or allow you to coordinate with friends.

How Will You Eat?


You need to consider gluten free meals while travelling as well as how you’ll eat when you get to Tampa.

I have some airport tips in my gluten free travel article here, and tips for road trips here.

Once you get to Tampa, will you eat in restaurants or cook your own food?  I highly recommend the latter as restaurant dining is risky.  I believe in living life to the fullest and not denying yourself the odd restaurant meal, but if you're like me, eating in restaurants every day even for a week would be just too hard on your system.

Where Will You Stay?

If you plan to cook while you’re on vacation in Tampa, you’ll need a place with a kitchen.  

phone-airbnb.jpg

These days with vacation apps like Airbnb and VRBO, finding reasonably priced accommodations is pretty easy. 

I’ve rented Airbnb’s all over the world with mostly positive results.  It’s the best way to control your food and stay safely gluten free.

What about hotels along the road?  You can book in advance, but I prefer to do it on the road because it allows for flexibility.  What if you run into traffic and decide to stop sooner, or you get a burst of energy and want to drive a bit further?

What Does Your Data Plan Cover?

T-Mobile store front in Tampa Florida

You’ll need data. 

When you’re in Tampa for sure, but also on the road.  If you’re booking hotels and researching restaurants along the way, your phone will be essential. 

Check with your carrier before you leave.  Some have reasonably priced plans that cover the US.  Others have daily roaming packages that can add up quickly. 

My carrier charges $12 per day in the US so I opted for a US SIM card (more on this later).

What Does Your Medical Plan Cover?

Check with your provincial medical plan.  You can do this online.  Most either don't cover international travel or have very limited coverage. 

If you have an extended health care plan through your employer or other group, there is likely an out-of-country medical benefit.  Check to see exactly what is and isn't covered.  Many limit the amount of time you can be away.  Ours was 30 days so we had to purchase extra.

Here's a good article from the Canadian government on travel medical insurance

Will You Take Excursions to Other Parts of Florida?

If you’re only staying in Tampa for a few days or a week, then you may spend your whole trip mostly in one place.  There are plenty of things to do in Tampa, and although the transit system doesn’t have the best reputation, there is always cabs and Uber.

Patty and Jim Maguire at Blue Jays Field Dunedin Florida

If you’re staying longer, you’ll likely want to venture outside of the city.  You can check out the beaches in the area, take a drive to St. Petersburg or over to Orlando and Cape Canaveral. 

If you’ll be travelling around, you’ll need a vehicle.  This may influence your decision to drive vs fly, so you’ll have your own car.  Otherwise, you’ll need to rent one.  Check on availability of rental vehicles before you make your final decision.

Also, think about the food situation.  These excursions are mini road trips.  You’ll need a cooler at the very least so you can pack your gluten free lunch and snacks.  I have a fold up cooler that fits in my suitcase for air travel.

What Do You Need to Bring?

You can find packing lists all over the internet so I’m not going to reinvent that.  Just a few things specific to your celiac disease:

Food

Whether you’re flying or driving, you’ll need food for the trip.  You may also want to bring any favorite brands or products you’d like to have for your stay.  There are rules about crossing the border with food products but generally speaking small amounts for personal consumption will be fine. 

If you're flying check with the airline.  Many offer gluten free food choices.  You can bring your own food, just not liquids over 100ml.

Supplements and Medication

If you take supplements, digestive enzymes, probiotics etc., you can get all of those in Tampa, but perhaps not the brands you are used to and comfortable with.  I suggest bringing what you need.  If you take prescription medication you may need to request an extended supply from your doctor or pharmacist.  Many insurance plans will cover up to three months. . 

Personal Care Products

You can of course buy these in Tampa, but if you have sensitive skin, you may be picky about shampoos, soaps, creams, even toilet paper (I’m not kidding, my life gets pretty uncomfortable if I don’t have the right brand.)

Start a list now so you don’t forget anything.

Looking After Your Canadian Home

House covered in snow with evergreensPhoto by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Making sure your place is looked after while you're away will save you stress and worry.

  • Put a pause on any newspapers. 
  • Have your mail put on hold or ask a neighbor to pick it up for you. 
  • Make sure your bills will be paid while you're away.
  • Arrange for someone to check on the house and shovel the snow. 
  • Consider a security system with cameras so you can see your home while you’re away.  This is not essential but it’s a great idea and can provide comfort that everything is fine and alert you if it’s not.

That’s it for the planning your gluten free Tampa vacation.  Part 3 will be about the journey.

<--Part 1: What Every Canadian Celiac Needs to Know to Vacation Safely in Tampa

Part 3: Road Trip Advice for a Brave Canadian Celiac Driving to Tampa -->


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