Just because you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease or another form of gluten sensitivity doesn’t mean that travel has to be avoided or has to be a huge pain. In fact, traveling will undoubtedly open your eyes to new gluten-free foods from different cultures that you might not know about. With a little planning and research, those with gluten sensitivities can travel the world while minimizing the chance of an upset stomach.
1. Plan ahead. The most important thing you can do to make sure that your gluten sensitivities do not interfere with your trip is to plan ahead as much as possible. Research your destination. Learn about the local cuisine and which ingredients are used to make popular dishes, so you will know what to order when presented with a menu. Learn how to say the words in your host country’s language for “no wheat please,” or use preprinted travel cards from CeliacTravel.com that do the speaking for you. Another great source of information are local celiac organizations; if your destination is home to such a group, their website will usually be able to tell you about restaurants and grocery stores that cater to gluten-free travelers like yourself.
2. Request special meals on flights. If you are flying internationally, meals are still provided on the plane and most airlines will let you request gluten-free dishes for free as long as you do so ahead of time. Remember to make your special meal request directly with the airline that is operating your flight – don’t trust a third-party website or travel booker to do it for you.
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3. Pack a cooler. Is there a road trip in your future? Save your stomach and some money when you pack a cooler for the trip. Fill it with your favorite gluten-free drinks, munchies and meals and then check the map for great picnic places where you can stop for lunch, such as natural parks or pretty roadside areas. This is a great travel tip for anyone hitting the road that wants to save money on pricey restaurant meals.
4. Always have snacks with you. Carry your favorite gluten-free protein bars, a bag of almonds, beef jerky or other favored snacks (try our Superfood Granola!). Like someone prone to attacks of low blood sugar, you must always be prepared to deal with your stomach in case external methods fail. The airline might not order your special meal, and you don’t want to be stuck on a flight, bus tour, train ride or anywhere else without a healthy snack in your pocket. Choose protein-rich snacks or carry a jar of nut butter, which many seasoned travelers pack for the times when foreign food isn’t cutting it.
5. Be polite, but trust your gut. Having special requests for your meal order can be intimidating anywhere, and when you’re in a new place, you might be tempted to shy away from making them. Don’t be shy, but realize that ordering food is going to take a little longer when you have dietary restrictions. Never get huffy just because your waiter has never heard of celiac disease or thinks that your allergies are not serious. Always be polite, and realize that other cultures have different ideas about food and food allergies. That said, never ever eat something you suspect might make you sick just to be polite. Trust your gut not to lead you astray, and say “no thank you” with a smile.
6. Have a back-up plan. The world can be an unpredictable place, and it’s quite possible that during your trip, you will ingest something that contains wheat. Plan ahead for this moment and prepare yourself for the diarrhea, bloating and stomachaches that might follow. Bring appropriate medicine and don’t schedule your itinerary so tightly that you can’t call off an afternoon here and there for a restful nap. Don’t beat yourself up if the inevitable happens and you wind up with traveler’s tummy – it’s an acceptable side effect of seeing the world.
image: Matthias Rhomberg