Do you have a gluten allergy or gluten sensitivity or intolerance? Does travel seem scary to you with all the dietary and food unknowns? Let this be your guide to help you safely eat gluten-free while traveling.
No one wants to be sick or not feeling well when traveling especially in another country without the comforts of home. But don’t let that feeling or that fear of the unknown keep you stuck at home and away from all the beautiful places to see around the world.
By using the helpful tips below as a guide, you can better prepare for your travels and feel comfortable when it’s time to get going.
1. Plan and then Research, Research, Research
First things first, research and planning are the number one best things to do to safely eat gluten-free while traveling. Try to plan out most (if not all) of your itinerary from start to finish.
- What restaurants or food options are at the airport?
- Does the airline have allergy-friendly snacks or meals?
- How do I go about requesting that?
- What restaurants are at my destination?
- If going on an excursion, are they providing allergy-friendly snacks?
- Does my hotel have allergy-friendly dining options?
These are all great questions to ask yourself in order to help guide your research for your next travel adventure. There are so many great resources out there for your research as well. You can download the Find Me Gluten Free app. With restaurant listings all over the globe, this tool is a great way to find places to eat as you plan out your itinerary.
2. Seek Help from Others
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel in your planning either. Find people who have already been there and done that. Look for gluten-free or allergy-friendly travel blogs. There are so many travel bloggers and food bloggers out there whose whole focus is to be able to help you eat gluten-free while traveling.
If their focus is on gluten-free or allergy-friendly guides, chances are they also have a similar food allergy or intolerance just like you. Because of this, they are a great resource to you and a wealth of information about where to eat gluten-free while traveling and even where to avoid eating.
They can also provide you with specific restaurant recommendations, or specific food recommendations, or even the best cities to visit (that are gluten-free friendly).
3. Overcome Language Barriers
At times, it can be difficult to explain a food allergy in your own language. Now add in a completely different language and it becomes even more complicated. You can read about my own experiences implementing all of these tips in my Montreal blog post. If you are going to a destination where the primary language is not your own, it’s even more crucial to be prepared.
The best way to do this is to come up with a brief script that explains your food allergy and translate it into the primary language of the location you are visiting. Make sure to also translate alternate words like wheat, barley, and rye instead of gluten.
Waiters and waitresses would likely recognize the more common versions of those words. Write them out and practice saying them out loud. It’s always best to have either a paper copy or a copy saved to your phone.
Basically, you need it to be accessed easily and not reliant on the internet or cell phone connection. Because if you ever do lose that internet connection, then you also lose your script for healthy dining.
4. Travel to Big Cities versus Little Towns
While you may not always want to go to a big city on your next adventure, it tends to be the simplest for food allergy sufferers especially those who are gluten-free. Big cities are used to just that, big groups of diverse people. Because of that, they are more likely to have already encountered food allergy sufferers versus smaller towns that cater to a more focused group of people.
Big cities are typically catering to more tourists as well, which can be helpful with language barriers. Many waiters and waitresses may already be bilingual or at least know a little bit about their menu in order to effectively communicate with someone speaking another language.
On the other hand, if a smaller town’s main industry is tourism, then you may find all the above to be true. In those cases, traveling to a small town may be done safely.
5. Choose the Friendliest Gluten-Free Cuisines
Depending on where you travel, there are certain cuisines that may be more gluten-free friendly than others.
Like Mexican or Latin American food, which has many corn-based products. Asian foods, such as Vietnamese cuisine, can sometimes be gluten-free friendly since rice or rice noodles are often used. You may just have to check on the presence of soy sauce or ask if a gluten-free soy sauce can be substituted. Thai food specifically often uses fish sauce vs soy sauce, so that may be a better choice.
Cuisines that are typically not gluten-free friendly would be French cuisine. The French are known for their pastry, which means there can often be cross-contamination in the kitchen. To add to that, many of their sauces have added roux which is flour added to thicken. So be cautious!
6. Finding Accommodating Accommodations
Another way to take the stress out of having to eat gluten-free while traveling is to find accommodations that allow for that. One way to do that would be to choose hotels that have a hot breakfast instead of just a continental breakfast. Hot breakfasts will likely have gluten-free friendly items rather than the grab and go pastries from a continental breakfast that are not.
A second way would be to choose a hotel that has a mini-fridge and microwave in the room or a suite with a mini kitchen. By doing this, you can eat at least one or more of your meals in your room if needed or at the very least keep your leftovers fresh.
Along those same lines, you can also choose to rent a house with a full kitchen rather than a studio hotel which would give you more flexibility to cook in rather than eating out.
7. Go on an all-inclusive vacation
Don’t let a gluten allergy or sensitivity keep you from all-inclusive resorts, since this is a great and fun way to take a non-stress holiday. All-inclusive resorts hire people from all over the world. So, while it would be difficult to translate a script, you can let the resort know of your allergy during booking.
Once you sit down to your assigned dining time, you will typically have the same waiter team almost the entire holiday. So, once you clarify your allergy the first time, you can often be worry-free the remainder of your trip. In my experience, by day two, there was gluten-free bread waiting for me at the table. If you choose to do any specialty restaurants, most have chefs that would understand a food allergy and be able to accommodate it.
During the day, at the buffets, you can ask for a chef to come out. They can walk you around and advise on the gluten-free options as well as make anything special that isn’t available. Just be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination when eating at the buffet.
8. Bring Snacks
Despite all the research, unfortunately, the unexpected can still happen. Such as, the restaurant has a smaller menu (which has been happening frequently due to COVID) or it may be closed completely. It’s times like this when you will be glad you have that snack on hand.
Remember to bring a snack with you on every leg of the journey such as through the airport, on the plane, on an excursion, and even in the hotel. If you are going to be at a destination for an extended period of time, finding a local grocery store or organic food store for healthy snacks and food can be helpful too.
It’s also a great way to immerse yourself in local food culture, while still being sensitive to your own dietary needs.
Now, Get Out and Go!
Hopefully, all these helpful tips will ease the anxiety that can come when you have to eat gluten-free while traveling. The good thing about all these helpful tips is that most of them can be applied to almost any other food allergy too. And, now that you have all the necessary information, you can start planning, getting out, and traveling the world. Best of all, you can enjoy it knowing you are prepared and ready for anything!
Rachel is the blogger behind The Rx For Travel. She is a wife and mom of two eating gluten-free and dairy-free. She wants to help others with food sensitivities and families (just like her) to keep on traveling. Follow their daily Florida life and beyond.