Traveling gluten-free and with food allergies is possible, you need to know how to navigate the barriers which surround eating out when you visit.
Guest post by: Elikqitie, creator of the Travel Gluten Free Podcast
It’s hard enough to live with celiacs and gluten intolerance, or a gluten allergy. Trying to navigate supermarkets, restaurants, or being able to find a gluten-free bakery can be challenging in the city where you live, let alone trying to find safe places to eat when you aren’t on your stomping grounds.
Travel brings discovery, excitement, and enjoyment if you are traveling solo or traveling with a significant other or with a group of friends. New places to see, cultures to visit, and people all over the world to meet. Travel is the life-changing experience that people seek out.
Travel when you have a food allergy, celiacs, or gluten intolerance can be very challenging. Where should you eat, how can you be proactive about your food with people you don’t know and what tools can you use to make your experience less stressful?
When you’re on the road, out and about, you want to navigate your travel adventure safely; however, it’s easy for food anxiety to set in when you’re ordering from a strange restaurant. You don’t want your journey to be ruined by a meal or food that has been cross-contaminated or worse, that you’ve eaten thinking the diet was gluten-free and it contained gluten.
Use these Ten Tips for Traveling Gluten-Free the next time the travel bug bites you or when you are simply out and about trying a new restaurant!
Use Apps to find GF Restaurants
There are now two apps available for finding gluten-free and celiac-friendly restaurants. One is the Find Me Gluten Free App, which gives a list of restaurants in the area which serve gluten-free options. This app provides information about how celiac friendly the restaurant is, the gluten-free options that are available from this restaurant, and reviews from other gluten-free peeps in the community. You can use this tool in any country you can get Wi-Fi! I use this tool every time I travel. There’s a free version and a paid version. If you travel often, go for the paid version.
Another app to use to find great dedicated gluten-free restaurants is 100% Gluten Free from For Gluten Sake! This app features ONLY dedicated gluten-free restaurants that do not have any gluten on their premises. This is the safest restaurant to eat at if you have an allergy to wheat, an allergy to gluten, or have celiacs disease.
If you’re traveling to Philadelphia, Gluten-Free Philly now has an app that lists the restaurants in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. Michael, the dad behind Gluten-Free Philly, created this app and curated the restaurants himself BEFORE they are posted on his app. He cross-checks the information with the restaurant to verify the information is current and correct before putting the restaurant on the app!
Ask for a Gluten Free Menu
Many places now have a menu in which their food is either labeled showing their GF options or they have a separate menu, which lists all their gluten-free offerings so you can easily see what options you have to eat.
Tell your server gluten makes you sick
More and more people are trying a gluten-free diet, and they may not get sick when eating gluten. I explain to my server every time that I get very ill from eating gluten, and that eating gluten is not a choice for me. If I think they don’t understand, I tell them I have a gluten allergy. Technically, this is not true – Celiac disease is auto-immune related and not an allergy; however, most servers do not understand celiac disease. Telling them, you have an allergy both drives home the importance of food safety and is easy for your server to understand. If they are not willing or cannot accommodate you, walk out, and find a different restaurant to eat at. Your health is not worth the risk of offending someone.
Find out from your server which dishes can be made gluten-free
If your server can quickly name gluten-free recipes, then they were most likely very well trained and informed. This is a considerable safety measure for a restaurant. When your server hesitates or says, “I’m pretty sure that is gluten-free,” ask them to check with the chef and restate the importance of your sickness (see #3 above).
BYOS: Bring Your Own Snacks
When I’m not sure if the place or city I’m going is gluten-free friendly or I’ve heard it’s not GF friendly, I’ll pack food in my backpack to eat at the restaurant or while I’m out and about enjoying a park or other quiet spot. Feel free to take your diet into a restaurant when you are eating with others who do not have food restrictions. I’ve explained to servers that I cannot eat their food, and they usually don’t have a problem with that since most places cannot guarantee you won’t get sick from their menu or food preparation.
Find a place to stay with a kitchen
If you’re going to stay at a hotel, Air B&B or motel, stop at a supermarket and get gluten-free food. Research ahead of time to find out what types of supermarkets are in the area to get a feel for the variety of food you can eat. Find out if there are natural markets or health food stores in the area, as these will give you the best selection of gluten-free options. You can read the label to see if the food is safe, and you can enjoy a meal without worrying about cross-contamination from a restaurant.
Find a produce stand
Produce stands are always an excellent option to grab a natural and healthy gluten-free snack if you’re out and hungry. Additionally, this is a great way to eat out in a healthy fashion. You’ll also most likely support a local family, so it’s a double win!
Buy chocolate, don’t pack it!
If you’re a chocoholic like me, you may be tempted to pack chocolate. Stay away from this as it could freeze in the winter or (worse) melt in the summer. Either way, it’s messy, and you can’t eat the chocolate readily. Buy chocolate that is a good brand and avoid buying filled chocolates, especially truffles. Truffle candy usually contains wheat as a filler. Unless the place you are purchasing the chocolate from has an allergy list, avoid truffles all together when traveling.
Call the airline to let them know your food allergy
Delta and other airlines can accommodate your food limitations and have special menus which they offer if you have a meal on your flight; however, they don’t carry these on hand, and you must call at least 48 hours in advance to get a gluten-free meal. You’ll need your flight information when you call the airline, be prepared with your information before you pick up the phone. One caveat is that most airlines cannot accommodate multiple food allergies such as gluten AND dairy. In this case, bring your own food with you, especially if you’re flying overseas on a long flight.
Tell your cruise Maitre D your food allergies
If you’re cruising, make sure to call the cruise line ahead of time and fill out the form with your food preferences at least two weeks before your cruise. Also, verify with the Maitre D your food allergies and dine at the same dining room every night. By the end of a week-long cruise, my Maitre D knew me by name and understood what I could and couldn’t eat. This gives you an extra level of food safety when you are cruising, which makes your meals more enjoyable!