Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gluten Free Travel Tips, part 2

This is part two, click here for Gluten Free Travel Tips Part 1.

Air Travel:

  • Most international flights offer a gluten free meal although you may need to pay more for it, or inquire about it. Do not count on it being there or being correct [have a backup plan]. (With multiple food allergies I don’t even try this. I always just bring my own lunch/dinner avoiding anything liquid.)
Coast of Norway at Sunrise

  • Always double check the latest TSA regulations. Carrying a note from your doctor wouldn’t hurt either.

  • When traveling internationally it is generally forbidden to carry food across borders. This almost always refers to agricultural products [unpackaged fruits, vegetables, meats, etc.]. I’ve never had issues with sealed gluten free processed foods but I do avoid fruits and vegetables [I take them on the plane but eat them before arriving].

  • Don’t forget to pack food for the flight back as well. (I usually polish off whatever cereal bars I have left.)

General tips:

  • Ask at the hotel. They may have no idea what gluten even is but they may be able to recommend a local health food store and/or super market. (And it doesn’t hurt for them to know. On a recent trip to Oslo I never said anything to the hotel about being GF/DF. They had gluten free crisp bread for the breakfast buffet and there were plenty of naturally gluten free and dairy free items to supplement it. However, on the last day, they restocked the gluten free bread they were out of! Had I mentioned my issues before hand it is likely I would have been enjoying hearty Norwegian gluten free bread the whole time!)

  • Be prepared for people that have no clue. Use your trip as an opportunity to educate them.

  • It may also be easier to stay in a central location and take day trips from there rather than staying in a new place every night. This is especially true if you rent an apartment.

  • Eat at odd times. Find out when the locals eat and eat slightly before or after. It is easier to get the attention you need at less busy/crowded times. (Heck, I even do this here in the U.S. for the same exact reason!)

Santiago Island in the Galapagos, Ecuador
  • Make friends in safe places. They may be able to recommend other safe restaurants or even deviate from their menu so you don’t have to eat the same thing every night. (I read an account online from someone who mentioned there was only one local restaurant with a gluten free option and even then it was just one dish. He ended up eating it multiple times and got tired of it. I can’t help but think had he talked with the restaurant that the chef wouldn’t have been willing (or even excited) to put together something different for him given some advanced notice.)

  • Not every illness is from gluten. Don’t mistake food poisoning / travelers’ diarrhea for exposure to gluten. (For days, I thought I was being exposed to dairy or was super seasick in the Galapagos Islands. Hours after starting the antibiotics that all faded away!)

International Tips:

  • Overall the hardest place I have found to travel is right here in the United States! Most countries are much less wheat-centric than we are and are much less likely to bread and deep fry their food or smother it in gravy. There are still some additional tips that can help you through:

  • Be polite and gracious. People are much more likely to help if you approach the situation as a request to help rather than a demand for service.

  • Learn a couple of words in the local language [remember many countries have more than one language so make sure you learn the correct one for the area you are in]. (With a month of study I was able to learn 100 words of Norwegian for a trip to Oslo. Yes, everyone spoke English and all I ever got to say was “I don’t speak Norwegian, do you speak English” but everyone thought it was great that I tried.) No, you don’t need 100 words, but things like “please”, “thank you”, “celiac”, “gluten free”, “allergic”, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak local_language, do you speak English?” are all incredibly helpful. [There are numerous free online resources for this.]

  • Learn the local customs before you go. Most travel guides have a section on local customs including how to dress and behave. Blending in a bit and not expecting things to work the same way they do here will go a long way toward endearing you to the locals.

(Using these tips in Paris resulted in my wondering why anyone ever complains about the French. Everyone I spoke to was nice and helpful –they would even go and find me someone who spoke English if they didn’t!)

Kayaks on the beach we paddled to in Bonaire
  • Restaurants in hotels and tourist areas are much more likely to have English speaking staff.

  • Pay attention to local business hours. Things aren’t usually open as late as in the NY/NJ area. (I found most establishments in Ireland opened at 9am, closed an hour for lunch, then closed for the day at 5pm.)

  • Use travel cards to get past the language barrier. I prefer the allergen dictionary at since I have multiple intolerances and can therefore print a whole list. Others have also used the Celiac Travel cards from Triumph Dining to great effect.  (You can buy threm from here: Gluten Free Dining Cards(With my multiple food issues, I’ve never used them.)

Roll with the punches:

And my final tip is to roll with the punches. Things will go wrong at some point so focus on the good parts of the trip and work past the others.

  • On a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru, I had a craving for chips and guacamole. Chips in Peru are made either from wheat or a blend of wheat and corn. I asked in every single restaurant in Agua Calientes [Machu Picchu Village] before giving up and eating something else for dinner.

  • I’ve found restaurants that have gone out of business, entire towns closed for a particular holiday (I’m talking to you Spain!), and arrived in many towns after closing time of the local shops.

In every case I still managed to have a great trip, and so can you!


  1. Another great post packed full of super helpful tips!

    I generally only travel with (mostly sealed) snack packs of food for the outward and return journeys but Australia and New Zealand are probably the strictest places I've ever been to. Even sealed snack foods from packs of dried apricots to cakes and biscuits need to be declared. The good thing is that - like Italy - both Australia and NZ are wonderful for Coeliacs so you only need to take enough food for the outward flight and can buy everything you need for your trip/return when you get there.

    Whereabouts is your next trip going to take you?

  2. @Gluten Free Mrs D, I'm glad you liked it, and great tip concerning Autralia/New Zealand! Both are on my 'someday' list.

    Don't think I'm going too far this year. It is the 150 anniversary of our Civil War and a lot of the national parks are having commemorative events. Most of the major battles were only a couple of hours (by car) south of where I live so I think I'm going to drive down for a few.

    Of course, I'm always up for any trip that may come along!


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