Traveling gluten-free can be a great way to explore foreign cuisines and sample foods from around the globe that you otherwise would never try. Although it may take some time to establish your comfort zone with restaurants in unfamiliar lands, it is certainly possible to have a wonderful gluten-free experience while traveling both domestically and abroad. After years of traveling with celiac disease, I can offer the following tips to ensure you will feel well enough to enjoy traveling:
- Plan ahead. Finding something to eat at airports, on planes, and trains is typically more difficult than eating at the final destination. While cruise ships and hotels have come a long way at accommodating the gluten-free diet, airlines, airports, and trains still have a long way to go. Here are some tips for maintaining your gluten-free diet in the sky, on the ocean, on the rails, and in hotels:
- Obtain a doctor’s note allowing you to carry “medical foods” through security at the airport so nothing is confiscated by TSA. This way, you will be able to pack snacks and meals, including: peanut butter, hummus, yogurt, protein shakes, smoothies, soups, etc., which may be considered liquids.
- Request a gluten-free meal when you book your flight (flights abroad, as well as long domestic flights, will serve meals, and many airlines have a gluten-free meal option). Confirm with the airline when checking in to ensure it will be on-board for you.
- Always travel with non-perishable “back-up” food: bars, trail mix, chips, cereal, etc. in case you are caught in a place without gluten-free options. The CDF Gluten-Free Allergy Free Marketplace features some great options.
- Stick to simple foods when necessary – cheese, fruit, vegetables, and nuts are naturally gluten-free foods that are widely available.
- Contact cruise lines ahead of time to see if they will be able to accommodate your needs. Cruise lines typically have a division that handles allergies and meals; you will want to get in touch with this specific division to explain your dietary needs.
- Call your hotel to ask if a refrigerator and microwave are available in the room. Check the Internet to find nearby restaurants with a gluten-free menu and stores that carry gluten-free foods.
- Research good restaurants for people with celiac disease. Celiac Disease Associations and local bloggers can be a big help in navigating the gluten-free diet where you will be traveling. Gluten-free bloggers exist in nearly every country who have already done the foot-work of finding safe places to eat.
- Use celiac disease language cards. Utilize gluten-free restaurant apps and language cards once you arrive. The language cards include translations of an explanation of specific food allergies into a variety of different languages and can be helpful when discussing your dietary restrictions to restaurant staff in foreign countries. Glutenfreepassport.com is a great resource for getting dining-out cards in all languages.
- Search for gluten-free travel companies. Book with a specialty gluten-free travel company – let other, seasoned professionals, do the work for you! Bob & Ruth’s Gluten-Free Dining & Travel organizes gluten-free getaways and is a great way to travel completely gluten-free.
- Eat ethnic foods. Eat fresh, local cuisine. Many cultural foods are naturally gluten-free, and eating fresh, rather than processed foods, can help you avoid gluten. I recommend always double-checking about gluten-containing ingredients with the travel cards mentioned above just in case the food is prepared with gluten. Here are some examples of naturally gluten-free foods in major cuisines around the globe:
- Southeast Asian: rice noodles, fish sauce, and coconut-based foods are naturally gluten-free. Soy sauce (containing wheat) is rarely in Thai food, but more common in Vietnamese and Indonesian cuisine.
- Indian: rice, chickpeas (also called “gram flour”), and curries are naturally gluten-free.
- Japanese and Korean: rice, seafood, and meat are naturally gluten-free, but be aware that most sauces will contain soy sauce (wheat). Ask for tamari if available. Avoid Udon or ramen noodles, which are made with wheat.
- South American: rice, beans, corn, and tapioca-based products are plentiful. This is a very easy cuisine to navigate gluten-free.
- African and Middle Eastern: teff, millet, lentils, and cassava (tapioca) are commonly used starches and naturally gluten-free.
- Some European cuisines can be challenging to navigate gluten-free, but many European countries include allergen labeling on packaged foods and in restaurants, making it easier to identify products that contain gluten.
- Prepare your medication. Take enough prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, vitamins, and supplements to last your trip so that you don’t need to search for a reliable pharmacist to check ingredients or try to read hidden gluten on a medication label.
As you can see, with preparation and research, it is possible to travel gluten-free safely and enjoyably!