Tips for gluten free travelling
Travelling when you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease can be daunting but here are some tips to help make your next trip go smoothly:
Pack food for your journey
Pack enough food for your entire journey (plus a little extra). Although gluten-free food is much easier to find in small stores or restaurants these days, it is still not guaranteed so make sure you have enough food for your car, (or train, plane, boat, etc.) ride. Travelling by air means you will be limited on the type of foods you can pack in your carry-on. Here are some things I like to take with me (obviously I am careful to select GF varieties): Snacks: granola bars, fruit bars, gummy candy, chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, plantain chips. Meals: GF bagels with nut or seed butter, oatmeal or instant rice noodles (the kind that comes in its own bowl so you just have to add hot water- ask a flight attendant for hot water and presto, you have a safe meal), fruits, vegetables, meat jerky (if you are crossing an international border, make sure to throw out what you don’t eat on the plane since these foods are often not allowed through customs).
Pre-order a gluten free airplane meal
If you are traveling by air and there will be a meal served, pre-select a special meal. Most airlines have gluten-free meal options but the trick is that you have to order them well ahead of time. Each airline has different procedures so check the airline’s website for instructions. For example, Air Canada offers gluten-free meals on international flights. To order one, you must call the reservations number; 1-888-247-2262. Unfortunately, you can usually only select “gluten-free” and not a combination of intolerances or allergies. Since I have other food allergies and intolerances, I usually can’t eat everything in my GF meal. However, on a long trip I am grateful for anything to supplement the snacks I bring with me.
Pack breakfast in your checked luggage
Pack enough breakfast foods for a couple of days in your checked luggage. I find that breakfast is often the most challenging meal to find gluten-free and most mornings I am not up for that challenge! Therefore, I usually pack some GF granola, some tetra packs of milk (the kind that don’t need refrigeration) and a bowl and spoon. Instant oatmeal is another great option. That way, I have a back-up plan in case the hotel doesn’t have a suitable breakfast for me. Once I get oriented in the new place, I usually try to find a grocery store to stock up on more GF supplies but bringing a few days’ worth with me takes the pressure off.
Print communication cards in the language of the country you are visiting
If you don’t speak the language of the place you are visiting, print out translated cards which clearly explain that you have celiac disease (or gluten intolerance) and that you cannot eat wheat, barley or rye or any food containing these ingredients. You can purchase these types of cards from many different sources and there are also many free sources where you can download and print them yourself. Here’s one site you can check out as an example: https://www.brokerfish.com/food-allergy-translation-cards
Research your destination before you go
When planning a trip, I usually spend quite a lot of time researching restaurants, grocery stores and bakeries which serve gluten free options in all my destination points. Then I save them all to a personal list on Google Maps so that I can easily find a restaurant option wherever I am. Another option is to save all your options to a word doc and print it out or save it to a cloud account. Make sure to include a short description of each restaurant so you can easily find the right type of place for your mood. Doing all this before your trip has many benefits. Firstly, it can take time which you probably won’t want to be spend when you arrive at your destination. Secondly, it can be a fun way to get excited about your trip. Lastly, doing this research can help you find some great places to experience local food without worrying about whether it is safe for you to eat. Lastly, knowing before you go that you have options helps reduce some of the anxiety that often comes with travelling with celiac or gluten intolerance.
Plan ahead with your fellow travellers
If you are travelling with a group, make sure you discuss with them before you leave what are your dietary requirements. Come up with a plan together about how you will all deal with it. For example, when travelling with my family, I usually ask them what type of food they would like to eat and then offer to find a suitable restaurant that we can eat at together. When I travel for work, I usually try to book at a hotel that has GF options at their restaurant. This way, I always have an easy fall-back option at the end of a long day. I also always discuss with my colleagues what my dietary requirements are and usually try to suggest several restaurant options that they can choose from. So far, this approach has always worked well.
Alert event organizers of your dietary requirements
If you will be at a conference or other group event, inform the event coordinators well ahead of time of your dietary restrictions. Usually, they will make sure there will be special meals for you. However, this hasn’t always worked out for me so just in case, I always have a protein bar in my purse for emergencies.
Ask for help
Despite all your planning, there will be times when you don’t have a planned place to eat. In these situations, be prepared to ask before you sit down whether the restaurant will be able to accommodate your dietary requirements. On several occasions, the chef has offered to cook me something special that meets my dietary requirements and I always had a delicious meal with no allergic reactions. This approach is not common in North America but in other places it seems to be much more common. For example, during a work trip to Beunos Ares, I quickly learned that if I told the server what I couldn’t eat, they would make suggestions for a customized meal. It seems that scratch cooking is the norm there so asking for something special isn’t seen as unusual. I had similar experiences in Copenhagen, Denmark and in Bangalore, India. These experiences have given me more confidence to ask.
Last but not least, remember to focus on your trip as a whole and if you have to substitute an occasional meal with a protein bar from your backpack, don’t sweat it!