Any trip requires planning. But when you eat gluten-free, trips are going to require a LOT of planning, since you’ve got to be sure that you will have safe food to eat for every meal. Here are some tips, tricks, and common sense reminders to make sure you enjoy your vacation, gluten-free!
1) Do your research. If you’re headed somewhere in the U.S. or Canada, find out if there is a local Celiac support group in the area and reach out for dining suggestions. The Restaurant Guide can be a big help for finding gluten-free restaurants in American cities. If you’re headed abroad, look to see if there is a national Celiac association in the country you’re heading to and use them as a resource. From what I hear, many European countries have pretty good awareness of Celiac disease, due to high prevalence rates. Also, internet forums and chatboards with tips for traveling gluten-free in different countries abound. Finding gluten-free friendly dining spots ahead of time will save you a whole lot of time later.
2) Learn the basics. If you’re headed to a destination where another language will be spoken, learn rudimentary words in that language related to gluten-free eating. “Wheat, rye, barley, and oats” is a good place to start. Our Dining Cards come in 10 languages, so packing the appropriate card can be a lifesaver when ordering food abroad. Also, different cuisines have different common sources of gluten (for example, soy sauce is a concern in Chinese cuisine, but not so much in Greek food), so it can help to know what to look out for.
3) Always have a back-up. No matter how much you plan in advance, unexpected events can occur during your trip. Always have some gluten-free food with you, whether at the airport, in a hotel, in your car, or in your backpack as you sight-see. It’s no good to go starving while you search for safe food in an unknown locale. Be extra sure to pack your own gluten-free snacks or meals when traveling by plane; there’s always the chance that your specially ordered gluten-free meal (if your airline even has that option!) will be lost, forgotten, or given away to someone else, and there’s not much worse than being stuck on an 8 hour plane ride with no food. Airports no longer allow you to bring liquids, but I’ve never had a problem taking dry foods through security. I’ve heard, though, that packing a note from your doctor to verify your dietary restrictions might be a good idea, just in case TSA decides that your gluten-free sandwich on Udi’s bread looks threatening. (But please don’t yell at the guards for questioning you! They’re just doing their jobs!)
4) Make contact in advance. Call and request a refrigerator and microwave in your hotel room, if possible, so that you can store and cook your own food. In the US, hotels like Marriott’s Courtyard and Hilton’s Homewood Suites are typically good bets for this. Airlines usually need 24-48 hours notice to provide you with a special gluten-free meal. And of course, always make reservations at restaurants to let them know about your gluten-free dietary needs ahead of time so that you can be fully accommodated when you arrive. (Check out our Top 10 Tips for Gluten-Free Restaurant Dining if you’re feeling anxious about this.)
5) Be cautious… Don’t automatically trust the food the flight attendant hands you; I’ve read plenty of stories of people being given a glutenful roll with their gluten-free meal. And if you are unsure of the gluten content of food, whether the waiter only knows Greek or the package labeling is in German, be safe and stick to what you know is gluten-free.
6) … but be ready for adventure! When dealing with a special diet in a foreign cuisine, flexibility and patience will be required, but you will also come across kind and helpful people, and you might make some friends along the way. And if you can confirm that a food is gluten-free, try it! Even if it’s new. Because, hey, you never know – it just might become your new favorite!
7) Other Gluten-Free Travel Helps
- If you want to travel but don’t want the hassle of planning gluten-free meals along the way, look into Bob & Ruth’s Gluten-Free Dining & Travel Club. They plan group trips all over the world, with gluten-free food provided at every meal.
- GoPicnic makes boxed gluten-free meals-to-go, full of snacks such as pepperoni, applesauce, gluten-free crackers, cheese, and dried fruit. You can read Tiffany’s recommendation of GoPicnic here.