Preparation for Gluten Free Travel

Whether you’re coeliac or, like me, are very gluten intolerant, anytime you leave home to travel, thoughts of will I be able to eat?  will I be hungry?  where will I go to eat?  is there going to be hidden gluten? linger.

If you are GF, you will have already developed many of your own survival rules.  I wanted to present you with mine which are important things to think about before travelling, especially to a new country (but really, anywhere).  And even though I’m talking specifically about “gluten free”, most of these concepts will apply for any diet

Dear Bread, you are not welcome on this vacation. Yours untruly, Leah (picture courtesy

1) Do some research.  Type in the name of the city/country to which you are visiting and “gluten free” to get a general idea of what’s available.

2) Research the local food.  For example, I know that whenever I visit Thailand, gluten free isn’t too much of an issue for many of the meals.  Researching before hand can get you ready for what is naturally GF, and what isn’t.

3) Find out how to say ‘gluten free’ in the local language.  “Senza glutine” was one of the very few components of my Italian language skills – but really helped me when dealing with B&Bs and wait staff.

4) Bring food with you.  I am the absolute WORST at being hangry and those of us who have a gluten allergy know how easily people forget about our tolerance…and suddenly we are eating celery and peanut butter for the weekend.  Be sure to bring along some high protein snacks – nuts, nut butter & crackers, dairy – that will keep you feeling FULL and not sluggish.

5) Call 72 hours before your departure, if flying, to check again on your special meal.  Then ask again upon check in/baggage drop.  Even though you probably requested a special meal when you booked your flight, many airlines still require you to call 72 hours in advance to guarantee the fact that you’re coming and are still in need.  I’ve learned this the hard way – call ahead!  And then, just to be safe, when you’re checking in and/or dropping off your bags, get them to check in their system that the meal is available.  Often they will call the gate agents to ensure everything is in order for you.  If you’re connecting to another flight, get the agents at the first flight gate to ensure that your gluten free request is in order on your next flight.  Check your boarding pass(es)!  In most cases, it will say that you have a special meal.  If it doesn’t, ask!

6) Don’t be afraid of going into kitchens.  Italy was remarkably gluten free sensitive, but whenever I felt like the gluten free pizza was a little to good to be true…I’d simply ask to see the GF section of the kitchen.  This is of course imperative for anyone who is coeliac, but if you’re GF intolerant, make sure that there isn’t a communication error and that, yes, indeed, what you ordered is GF.

7) Research alternatives to eat.  In Rwanda, spaghetti is deemed as a very respectful meal to cook for foreigners.  Often I’d show up at someone’s house with the assumption that all I’d want to eat is noodles.  You probably do this at home, but it’s especially important when travelling to areas where gluten free might not be as common.  Don’t let people guess what they can cook for you!  Stating easy things – potatoes.  rice. – offers suggestions for what someone could easily cook for you instead.  Take the guesswork out of the planning.

8) Be wary of similar products.  Not sure if that local sausage has some wheat in it?  Pass!  Unaware of what maltodextrin is made of in this country?  Pass!  Don’t assume products that you called about back home are made from exactly the same materials in your new country.

9) Stick with nature’s basket.  Did you know that everything in the world that does not require any additional processing  is gluten free?  Meat.  Dairy.  Vegetables.  Fruit.  Stick with nature – she gives us the best bread basket of all.

10) Know when holidays fall.  Ken and I once walked way too long to stumble upon the one gluten free bakery in Paris…only to discover that is was closed for August.  We had a lovely walk nonetheless (we got engaged the very next day!!!!:) , but calling ahead given that it was August, the holiday month, would have saved us the hassle.

11) Make sure your travel partner(s) are aware.  Ken is always on the look-out for gluten free options for me, which means that if he happens to enter the small, middle of no where convenience store on the side of the road in northern Ghana that happens to sell GF crackers (true story – SO random!!!), he will buy them!  Having your travel buddies looking out for gluten free items means that you can share in finding something to eat!!!!

Allergies and intolerances should NEVER deter anyone from seeing the world…but it does give us something extra to think through.  With a little bit of pre-planning, you can travel worry-free and peacefully.

Anything else anyone does to ease travelling with an allergy, not just GF, please put in comments below!

Happy healthy travel!!!!


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