Get Bitten By the Gluten-Free Travel Bug
Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Traveling is a wonderful experience. Visiting a new city or another country opens your mind to new experiences and creates rich memories. In my travels, I've met wonderful people, seen awe-inspiring sites, and eaten delicious food. If I did it, you can too.
But what about our celiac disease? We invest months or years in cultivating safe places to eat in our home towns. Having found restaurants and even bakeries where we can eat safely, why would we risk getting glutened someplace new?
That' a valid concern; I've been glutened everywhere from India to Indianapolis. Suffering through my celiac symptoms in a hotel room even worse than suffering through them at home. And yet, I say travel anyway. For each time I've been glutened. I've eaten safely another dozen times or more. Here's how I do it.
If there's one thing celiacs learn to do, it's plan ahead for meals. Do the same for your trip. Before you go, learn which local specialities are naturally safe. Google "gluten-free restaurants" in your destination and make reservations.
Try to book a hotel near a grocery store and with in-room refrigerators. Familiar brands may have different ingredients in different countries. Learn the important words in the local language and always read the label. "Wheat" is "le blé" in French, "Weizen" in German, and "trigo" in Spanish.
If you're an app user, look for one based in your destination country, and use it to help you find safe food. I also look for podcasts about the local cuisine and history.
Ask the celiac community
I recently shared my appreciation for our global celiac community, and the way we help one another. Lean on local celiacs when you travel: contact local celiac associations, post in Facebook groups or email the celiac listserv for suggestions and warnings.
Traveling internationally? Bring a restaurant card in the local language, or learn to say the key sentences. When I moved to Switzerland, one of my first German phrases was "ich esse kein gluten" (I don't eat gluten). Another was "bitte, eine Flasche Weisswein" (a bottle of white wine, please).
If you don't want to go it alone, try one of the travel providers who cater to our needs. Bob and Ruth Levy of Bob and Ruth's Gluten Free Dining & Travel have been organizing 100% gluten-free getaways since 1998. They take away the food hassles so you can just have fun. I'm not affiliated with Bob and Ruth; I just know them from the listserv.
Have a gluten-free backup plan
Even with the best preparation I have occasionally fallen victim to an accidental glutening. It's taught me to plan for the worst. Bring whatever medications you normally use to get you through your reactions. I rely on water, simethicone for the gas, and Tincture of Time - in other words, I just ride it out, painful as that may be.
Bring emergency food too: meal or protein bars, dried fruit and nuts, whatever else you like. When I traveled to India for work, I brought boxes of Luna Protein Bars. They got me through the week until I boarded the plane and could have a British Airways full English breakfast tray. Or two.
The benefits of traveling, whether to a new town or to another country, far outweigh the risks of being glutened. Celiacs are everywhere, and we all learn to eat safely. So plan, get advice, bring some backup, and get out into the world.
Each time you enjoy someplace new, you become more confident about your ability to manage your celiac life. Don't be one of those people who looks back and says, "I wish I had traveled more!" We only go around once; make the most of your turn.