Whether you are new to the gluten-free lifestyle or an old hat, there is no reason to curtail your travel dreams because of your diet restrictions. As an “expat expert,” and a long-term traveler, I have traveled gluten-free and dairy-free throughout Europe, Asia and North America with my family for almost 11 years! Here are my top 5 tips for globetrotting gluten-free.
1. Contact your hotels
If possible, I always contact our hotels ahead of time to see what they are able to offer for gluten-free items like bread, pasta and cereals. Whatever the hotel may or may not be able to provide, I know ahead of time. Then, I can either bring supplies or decide to expand my palate with local options already on offer. For example, when we traveled to Sri Lanka, very few hotels offered gluten-free bread. However, Sri Lankan food is naturally gluten- and dairy-free, so it became an opportunity to dive into the traditional spicy cuisine!
2. Request a special meal on your plane
Airplanes are an easy place to request a special meal. There are two options I prefer: the Gluten-Free Meal (GFML) or the Raw Vegan Meal (RVML). The GFML is good for gluten-intolerant individuals, so if you are celiac, do not count on this meal. The RVML generally contains all fresh vegetables and fruits. I have yet to encounter any grains besides the bread roll with this meal, but it’s a good example of always having a backup just in case! For those times when they get your meal wrong for whatever reason, there are good ways to navigate around meal disasters. Don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendants for other options: Do some of the trays have extra fruit? Can you get some of the nut mix from business or first class? Do they have any ideas to help you get by? If you have forgotten to order a meal in the first place, I find flight attendants very kind, especially on long-haul flights.
3. Carry an allergy card
A few websites offer these cards for free or purchase and can be downloaded. If you don’t have any options in the language you need, contact a travel agent. Depending on the area, you may need translations into local dialects. China is the perfect example for this. There are about ten main dialects used throughout China, and some subtleties occur within the written language as well.
It’s an even better idea to say on the card or piece of paper what you can eat. For example, writing down that meat, rice, vegetables and fresh fruit are OK is helpful to restaurants, hotels and cafés. Depending on the area, you may want to add specific types of cooking oil, as well. Celiac Travel has free allergy cards in multiple languages. I print these off and take a screenshot on my phone in case I lose the paper. Often, wait staff want to take the paper back to the chef, so it’s always helpful to have a paper copy.
4. Pack your own snacks
- Nairns Gluten-Free Biscuits (chocolate chip, stem ginger and more)
- Kind Bars (wide variety of flavors)
- Nuts.com organic dried fruit (especially dried mango)
- Dr. McDougall’s range of dried soups
- Mary’s Gone Crackers pretzels
- Justin’s Almond Butter packets
- Crackers (many brands!)
- Single serve tamari
- SeaSnax Roasted Seaweed (four different flavors)
- Udi’s Gluten Free Granola (variety of flavors)
- Kelp noodles (no cooking needed)
- Coconut wraps
- Gem Wraps
- Mixed nuts
5. Find a travel agent
Are you going somewhere remote? Employ a travel agent who can do translation for you when you are out and about. Many agencies, for a small fee, will happily be on call to assist you. Plus, they can help you plan safe places to stay, talk to restaurants before your arrival and make travel plans that keep everyone happily fed.
6. Stay flexible
Flexibility is the key to living happily with dietary restrictions. We never expect restaurants to make us regular dishes completely gluten-free, but instead we opt to work with what is there. Most restaurants can furnish meat, plain vegetables, fresh fruit and rice all over the world. If we know there will be too much contamination or no options at the restaurant (such as dim sum), but we are going to meet friends, then we make sure to eat a little bit before and bring snacks for the children during the meal. Even at dim sum, restaurants are able to make steam vegetables and steamed rice. In this case, bringing portable tamari packets can add a bit of flavor as well.
Have more questions about traveling gluten-free? Send me an email!
Laura Paul is most widely known as Hong Kong’s Gluten-Free Guru and champion for natural health and wellness. She enjoys creating, curating and sharing natural health and wellness news throughout the community to improve the lives of individuals and families. She is the founder of Healthy Living Asia and the by-invitation-only Facebook forum “Healthy Living in HK.” When she isn’t thinking, reading or writing about natural health, you can find her running parent support groups for highly-able children as a Certified Facilitator of SENG parent groups, working on commission oil paintings and traveling around the world with her family. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.