Gluten-Free Travel Tips

gluten-free travel tips

 

Travelling with a dietary restriction isn’t easy. Will you be able to find foods you can eat? How are you going to communicate your dietary needs? What will you do if you get sick? These are questions anyone with food sensitivities will ask themselves as they plan an upcoming trip.  The world is becoming more aware of Celiac disease, but gluten-free travellers still have to be responsible for their own safety when abroad. These gluten-free travel tips I’ve learned through trial-and-error will help you plan your next trip and minimise your risk of getting sick.

As a celiac with severe sensitivities and reactions, knowing the food culture of where I am headed is a top priority. Some countries are easier than others to navigate on a gluten-free diet. Latin America, for instance, has a diet typically comprised of rice, beans, and corn. Countries in Asia however, where noodles and soy sauce are prevalent, are a minefield of dangers.

Preparation is key before setting out on a gluten-free adventure. Once you have an idea of what kind of foods will be available in the country you are visiting, you can assess how much food you need to take with you. We never leave home without packing at least some food we know is safe to eat. When we went to Japan, half of our luggage was food! Packing some simple foods will not only save you from getting sick, it will also save you some time and money.

 

gluten-free travel tips

 

Gluten-Free Travel Tips

Use translation cards. These are cards you can print off for free (or use as an app) and explain in detail what you can and can not eat in the language of your destination. Print off a couple of copies and take them everywhere with you.

Don’t be shy. Take your time communicating with restaurant staff and don’t be embarrassed to repeat yourself, ask questions, send food back, or use your translation card.

When unsure, don’t eat. Even after going through all the hassle of communicating your restrictions, something may have been lost in translation. Celiac disease is a new thing, and many countries are not familiar with the intricacies of a gluten-free diet. For me, even a tiny bit of flour in a sauce will have me vomiting all night. If you are served something that looks like it contains gluten, assess the risk you are taking by eating it.

Spend some time on the internet. Google gluten-free restaurants and bakeries in your destination. Save these places to your Google Maps for easy reference when wandering around. Consider joining a Facebook group or forum for suggestions and advice on gluten-free travel in general or for a specific region.

Book accommodation with a kitchen. Cooking for yourself when travelling can actually be a lot of fun! Peruse grocery stores for new and interesting foods. Use a communal kitchen to chat with fellow travellers and even share some of the food you have prepared. Look up some traditional recipes and see if you can recreate them.

Pack medication. Once you’ve ingested gluten, the symptoms hit quickly. I know I have about three hours before I start puking my guts out. When you’re sick, or about to be sick, the last thing you want to have to do is find a pharmacy that is both open and carries the medication you need. Always carry something in your day bag for emergencies (I use Gravol).

Bring Tupperware and re-usable food wraps. If you have a kitchen at your accommodation, you can prepare a healthy lunch to take with you when you’re out for the day. This will save stress, time, and money searching for a restaurant that can accommodate you. If the weather is good, find a park and have a picnic!

Pack your own flight meal. Even if your airline offers gluten-free meals and even if that meal actually makes it onto the plane, you’re pretty much going to end up with a plain rice cake and an apple. Pack something delicious and make the person sitting next to jealous as they choke down their microwaved and soggy burger.

Download Google Translate. This app can be a lifesaver when trying to read ingredients in a foreign language. You can download a language before you leave to use offline. However, I found the camera translation feature (where you take a picture of the words you want translated) only worked with an internet connection.

 

gluten-free travel tips

 

Suggestions for Travel Friendly Gluten-Free Foods

 

  • Protein bars. Pick your favourite brand and toss a couple in your bag before you head out exploring.  They might not be delicious, but at least you won’t go hungry when touring the ancient sites of Rome all day.
  • Seasoned tuna in cans with pull tabs. Instant protein that doesn’t taste like cardboard and artificial sweetener!
  • Instant oatmeal. You can make this even without a kitchen – we have even made oatmeal in a coffee machine!  Add some dried fruit for variety and nutrition.  Also consider using quinoa flakes or fonio – a highly nutritious grain from West Africa.
  • Dried fruit and nuts. Get creative with your favourite items and make your own trail mix.
  • Rice cakes. The thinner ones are better for saving space in your luggage.  Pick up some jam and bananas at your destination to make a healthy snack.
  • For your flight, take a sandwich or salad with cheese, tofu (or protein of your choice), bean sprouts, and lots of veggies. Note: you can not take fresh produce across borders.  If you don’t finish your meal, toss it before going through customs.  Add a sliced apple with peanut butter for dessert.

 

How do you manage dietary restrictions when you travel? Tell me your tips!

 

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Gluten-free tips to keep you safe when you're travelling!

 

 

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19 Replies to “Gluten-Free Travel Tips”

  1. Good tips about the translation cards and when not sure, don’t eat. I was using cards throughout Thailand and had one day where no one would feed me. They were scared of the cards! I was glad the cards were working but was so hungry. In retrospect, I am really glad they took the cards so seriously and prevented me from getting sick from gluten so far away.

    Erin aka Gluten-Free Globetrotter

    1. I had the same sort of experience in Japan. I would rather be turned away than get sick though.

  2. Translation cards are a great idea for when there’s a language barrier. I often wonder just how aware some countries are of these types of conditions.

  3. Fortunately, none of us have Celiac Disease. I do have GERD with Barret’s esophagus and I am lactose intolerant. Spicy foods, even the slightest amount of pepper, causes pain. Just like you said, I have to ask plenty of questions and be somewhat bold.

  4. It would be hard to travel and have allergies or dietary issues. Thankfully, I don’t have any issues, but I know plenty of people that do. Great tips for those that face this situation.

    1. It isn’t difficult, it just takes a lot more planning and flexibility. You also learn to get creative making a meal out of what is safe for you to eat.

  5. You’re so right that travelling with a dietary restriction isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible! You give good tips in this article, it’s very informative!

  6. In India you would just need to order always rice and curry or dosas and you would be not only glutenfree half the time but also vegetarian. ^.^ I am from the hotel industry in Europe and in most hotels (especially 4 star and above) if you let them know about your diet restrictions, the house appreciates it and will prepare everything in advance accordingly. Besides most buffets & restaurants etc have gluten free options these days, except maybe super remote places.

  7. Some great tips. I have been gluten free for years (thankfully not celiac), so I appreciate how it can be a challenge to find allergy free finds, particularly in poorer countries. I have to say though it’s SO much easier than it used to be years ago.

  8. I feel really thankful that I can eat whatever I like and don’t have to wade through that minefield. I think these tips would be very useful for those who are travelling for the first time and having these allergies. We love having a kitchen when we stay in an apartment too….

  9. I have friends who are coeliac and have similar strategies to you for travelling safely, without triggering the severe reactions you have described. For those of us without these kinds of reactions to common food stuffs, it’s easy to forget how you need to check every single meal, every day. You are right that some countries are harder or easier to avoid gluten. I think the translation cards are very helpful indeed.

  10. These are great tips for travelling with a dietary restriction. I’ve always recommended translation cards for key items for my readers (just in case there is no access to wifi for google translate) – but preparation and doing some research before you go in also key.

  11. A very useful list of recommendations for those with dietary restrictions as well as those who want to restrict eating extra calories while travelling. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free food is becoming so popular now and for good reason. The variety of tastes available can be astounding.

  12. Being vegetarians we too have to keep in mind our dietary requirements and plan accordingly. When we travel to Europe, sometimes we have had issues with getting vegetarian food, however we have managed with some food that we usually carry which includes dry fruits and energy bars. Nice and practical tips suggested by you which apply to us too.

    1. I am vegetarian at home, but I find travelling on a gluten-free and vegetarian diet too difficult in some countries, so I will eat fish if I have to. It’s not ideal and I don’t feel great about it, but I tried eating meat once and couldn’t even swallow it. At least I know the fish I am eating is fresh and wild.

  13. These are great tips! I will have to pass along to some friends who are gluten sensitive. Soy sauce, eh? I did not know that. Excellent read.

    1. Wheat is everywhere! It’s amazing how it gets into everything…

  14. My son and his partner are gluton intolerant, vegan, and lactose intolerant. It’s always a challenge to travel with them. We look for a place with a kitchen so they can prep a lot of their food when we travel. Sometimes, there are great surprises. We went to a Mexican resturant in San Diego and a Korean resturant in Berkley that were highlights of the trip.

    1. I am always grateful when the people we are travelling with are patient and considerate of our dietary needs. We always find a compromise, though sometimes we stay at home and cook when others go out to eat (but this is cheaper, so I never mind:)

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