Gluten Free Travel 9


Entrecote, Paris, France

Gluten Free and Delicious! Steak, Paris, France

Travel can present dietary challenges for everyone, but can be very intimidating for people with serious allergies or dietary restrictions. One of the most common challenges that I see on the road is a gluten free diet. Gluten free travel is not impossible, it’s actually become very common and pretty easy to do with a little preparation.

As I mentioned in my previous article on dietary challenges, I’ve had clients with all kinds of limitations. Everything is possible to accommodate. Really, it is! You can really eat well, just think of it! Salads! Steak! All the cheese!

Tea, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Enjoying gluten free tea with Stefanie

I recently had an assistant who has a particularly tricky situation. Stefanie Bielikova (www.postcardsfromstef.com) is a vegetarian by choice but gluten free by necessity. She can’t really eat any gluten, as it makes her have a bad reaction. She is always on the hunt in her travels to find good local dishes or restaurants that offer gluten free options.

We talked often on our tour together about the challenges she faces in travel. Having worked on cruise ships, she’s been all over the world. She’s a naturally positive person, and seemed to delight in tackling gluten free travel issues. On the days that she found new gluten free restaurants or bakeries, she would light up with excitement. That’s turning lemons into limoncello!

Rosti, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Rosti in Switzerland! Gluten free and yummy. Yes!

Her main message to share is that traveling the world is absolutely possible. Having a gluten free diet doesn’t mean that you should stay home and miss out on all that the world has to offer. You can make it work.

Stefanie and I sat down and brainstormed ideas on how we both handle gluten free travel. I am coming from a tour guide angle, and she from a gluten free traveler angle. These strategies are a good start, but remember that you must always be vigilant and double check food before you eat it.

Tips for Gluten Free Travel

  • Prepare translations in advance. A good general tip for any allergy, print out a card in the local language that describes your allergy and the severity of it.
  • Don’t assume that people will know what gluten is! Find out the how to communicate the word and concept ahead of time. Also, know the local words for wheat, barley and rye.
  • Do some internet research for each city, looking for local food bloggers that cover dietary restrictions. Local food blogs will tell you where to eat and what’s on the menu.
  • Don’t be shy about asking restaurants if they serve gluten free items. It may not be on the menu, but is often available. Italian restaurants, for example, almost all stock gluten free pasta these days, even if it isn’t on the menu.
  • It’s a fact that bigger cities are better equipped to deal with gluten free travel. Pick up supplies to bring to the smaller cities.
  • Health food stores will almost always carry gluten free products, even beer in Germany. Most larger grocery stores in Europe will have a small section of products.
  • Staying in apartments rather than hotels is smart. Having your own kitchen will allow you to cook for yourself, so you can eat without concern. You also usually get a washing machine as a bonus!
  • Bring snacks to avoid Hanger. If you have a favorite protein bar at home, bring a bunch. You can always pick up fruit at your destination.
  • Notify the airline ahead of time that you need a special meal, reconfirm it at least 48 hours ahead of time. Telling them at the counter doesn’t work, they have to arrange gluten free meals ahead of time.
  • Contact hotels ahead to request special gluten free items for breakfast. Most places will have yogurt and fruit. Large hotels will usually have gluten free items in stock, but smaller places will need to know in advance to buy it for you.
  • Picnics are great because you can control whats in your food. Shopping at local markets is a fun adventure anyhow.
  • Try to find out which local specialties that are typically gluten free, but also confirm when you order it.
  • BYOB- Brong your own bread! OK, that sounds kind of dorky, but it’s a good strategy. Keep some in your bag for a quick substitution if needed.

Where to Travel

Cambodian food, Angkor, Cambodia

Cambodian cuisine, delicious and gluten free

Most countries are doable, but a few are easier than others for gluten free travel. Some ideas from Stefanie’s travels about where is easiest…

Paradise: Most of Asia, particularly SE Asia. Rice and veggie diets abound in Japan, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. China and India are trickier as they bread meats and add wheat flour to thicken sauces.

Great: Italy, France, England, Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia. Even if these are places that are rife with pasta, bread, cakes and wheat-filled delights of all sorts, they are aware of the gluten issue. It is easy to get substitutions.

Tricky: Greece, Turkey, South America. These countries are not as aware of the issue and can’t cater to it easily outside of the big cities.

Even with preparations and precautions, it’s smart to have some meds on hand to deal with it if you happen to eat something that you’re allergic to.

Stefanie has traveled all over the place on a gluten free diet. Her advice is simple. “Don’t be afraid, travel anyway. Communication is the key, and bring snacks just in case.”

Have some strategies to add to the list? Found great gluten free restaurants in your travels? Leave a comment and we can compile a list!

Stefanie Bielikova is a travel advisor for Rick Steves Europe. She writes about her travels at www.postcardsfromstef.com.




About sarahinitalia@yahoo.com

Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.


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9 thoughts on “Gluten Free Travel

  • Kerry

    My husband is Turkish, and so I travel to Turkey regularly. I actually find that even though they’re not as aware about gluten issues (though they are becoming more aware these days), it’s quite easy for me to be gluten free there. Aside from the bread and sweets, much of the food is naturally gluten free, and I find I don’t have to scrutinize labels as much for hidden gluten as I do here in the US. Of course, it helps to have a good translator, and I’m not as sensitive to gluten as some, but it’s definitely doable. The main things to avoid are the rice pilaf, which almost always has pasta in it, kebabs made with ground meat (I just assume it might have bread crumbs), and many of the stews (called guveç). And Turkish breakfasts are much easier to deal with than in much of Europe, so you can always eat well before you head out for the day!

  • Berry

    Sarah, I’ve been reading you since your first post. Because of you I’ve got my 20″ carry on weight down from 26 lbs to 18 lbs. Thank you very much. Here’s my problem: Since I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, and had most of my left lung removed, I’ve been on 3 RS tours. I’ve had no problems keeping up, and unless I told you I had lung cancer, you would not know. I’m scheduled to go on VFR in October. Because of extensive and numerous X-rays because of my cancer, my stomach has developed problems. Coffee, tomatoes, chocolate, salt, so many things make me sick. I take meds, and they help, but I really have to watch food. I’m thinking of skipping the group dinners–of course I will tell the trip guide. What do you think?

  • Gwen Karlson

    I appreciate all I have read in your posts. Were I gluten-intolerant, I would be vastly relieved to read what you have written. However, I am on a sodium-restricted diet and find eating while travelling (even in the USA) difficult since salt is a common ingredient that makes food taste so darned good. While visiting a friend in Wiesbaden last fall we concluded what I could eat would have to be made from scratch in her apartment. Even basic items like cheese and bread are off limits to me and no-salt-added products do not seem to be readily available. How frustrating.

    • Pam R

      I also am on a sodium-restricted diet and agree this makes travel difficult. I avoid products I know to be high in sodium, but unless a food is obviously salty, you never know. Like who would guess that cottage cheese and breads are so high in sodium? I just returned frm England and had some problems with swollen legs and ankles. I was as careful as I could be, but it’s difficult. Would love any tips,

  • Cindy Ferguson

    I had thought Asia – all the countries which use soy sauce – would be difficult. The soy sauce here in the US is made with wheat. We buy tamari sauce (soy sauce without the wheat) for use at home. One reason I have been postponing travel there is that I wasn’t sure how difficult eating might be! I once had a (bad) reaction after eating at a Cambodian restaurant here in the US – although after that it was clear to me and my doctors that GF isn’t an option for me – it’s necessary for my health!

    One thing to consider is cross contamination. Yes, Italian restaurants have gluten free pasta on hand. But some of them will cook it in the same water used to cook regular pasta. I will get ill from that; my daughter who is less sensitive will do fine. It’s the same with pizza; I had to pass on several GF pizza lunches since they are all cooked in the same oven. I did have one of the best pizzas in my life in Florence last March – I went to the restaurant of the winner of the world GF pizza contest. It was awesome!

    The translation cards are very useful. I print them out for every country I visit now. I haven’t had to use them much but I felt secure knowing they were there. I also use the FineMeGlutenFree app for my phone – it’s great to use from home prior to the trip to see what’s available but it’s wonderful when you’re there to see what is available within a short walk!

    I do rent apartments as much as possible now. I enjoy going to local supermarkets and/or farmer’s markets to find food. I always buy a shopping bag as a souvenir! Now when I shop in the US I use them and recall fond memories of my travels!

    I am trying to find a strategy of packing lightly and taking the food I might need along also! I actually find those ‘problems’ to be a fun part of travel though.

    Thanks for discussing this topic. I had a difficult tour in Nov. – I don’t know if the guides didn’t understand or if the hotels/restaurants didn’t. Some meals were difficult – sitting there not able to eat the appetizer or dessert courses or eating less than appetizing main courses (meat w/o sauces) was hard to handle after a few days. I admit it puts me off taking tours ever again. (This was a tour to see wildlife – polar bears in Canada so I expected better – I had no problems eating GF in Canada while not on the tour.)