For as long as I can remember, I thought it was perfectly normal to have a pretty bad stomach ache after eating a sandwich or a slice of pizza, and the pain drinking beer caused me is the main reason I’ve only ever had a few sips in my lifetime. I just assumed that bread based products caused severe stomach pain, cramping, and bloating for everyone. As I got older, this problem only got worse and worse, until I realized that it was in fact not how food should be making anyone feel, and that there was something really wrong with me. When I was diagnosed with a severe gluten intolerance I cried, because I had no idea how to eliminate gluten – it was in everything! From pasta, noodles, breads & bagels, waffles, crêpes, and soy sauce to many of the vegetarian foods I ate like seitan, granola bars, croutons, and so much more, I didn’t think I’d be able to eat anything but salad and plain nigiri or fish for the rest of my life. When I thought about trying to travel with a gluten intolerance that could hospitalize me again if I slipped up, my head started spinning, and I was imagining myself loading my luggage with gluten free foods, and having to haul it around with me wherever I went. I’m here to reassure anyone who has a gluten intolerance, allergy, or Celiac’s Disease, that you will be just fine traveling while taking care of your body and getting adequate nutrition! Here’s how travel the world on a gluten free diet.
If you know exactly where you will be traveling, search the internet and social media for gluten free restaurants in your destination, you may be surprised by how many you find! If you can’t find dedicated gluten free restaurants, research the area you’ll be heading to to see what type of traditional foods you’ll be able to eat there. For instance, in Japan I couldn’t eat ramen as a pescatarian (I don’t eat meat) with a gluten intolerance, but I could eat all of the tofu dishes, sushi, and vegetable based dishes Japan is famous for! I was able to indulge in their culinary delights without worrying. This is how I travel on a gluten free diet!
Tip: If you’re headed to a country where you don’t speak the language, look up how to say phrases like “I have Celiac’s Disease/a Gluten Allergy. Can you please help me find something on the menu that doesn’t have (wheat/gluten/etc.)?” Print this phrase in English and in your destination’s language(s) and print out a few copies to show to waitstaff at restaurants. They can help you find something that suits your dietary needs – no one knows ingredients in the dishes better than the chefs and waitstaff!
Tip: You could also make a simple list of things you are allergic to (soy/wheat/gluten/etc.) in English and the local language(s), and provide that if the wait staff needs more help. Depending upon your diet, it may be easier to ask for specific items, like salads without bread, fish dishes, rice based dishes, etc.
**Also remember that if you’re in a place where tipping is common or expected, you should plan to tip extra, because they are taking extra time to help keep you safe and healthy!
Bring Your Own Snacks
I know I said I dreaded the idea of bringing a suitcase of food with me everywhere I go, but I do always make sure to bring snacks with me on my travels. I pack healthy, nutritious snacks like raw unsalted almonds, almond butter, dried fruits, homemade granola or granola bars, salmon jerky, popcorn, cheese & gluten-free crackers, and whatever else complies with local and immigration laws. Generally, you can’t bring fresh produce into foreign countries, but you can buy that at your destination!
Tip: I carry 1-3 snacks on me when I head out each day, and if I don’t end up eating them I save them for later, but if I can’t find anything that suits my diet, at least I’m not left hungry and cranky. When traveling on a gluten free diet, you have to rely on yourself, because sometimes there simply aren’t any other options available.
Seek Out “Safe” Staple Foods
Things like smoothies, salads, fish dishes, and dairy products like yogurt and ice-cream are almost always gluten free, and therefor a very safe bet when traveling. Seek out smoothie restaurants, salad bars, fish grilles, rice noodle dishes (common in Thai foods), and shaved ice or ice cream stands in your destination if you’re having a hard time finding gluten free places.
Connect with Locals and Others Travelers
Seek out other gluten free people in your destination, and ask them for recommendations! I search hashtags like #GlutenFreeTravelers, #GlutenFreeTulum, & #GFLosAngeles to get inspiration on where to visit when traveling, find others who may live in the destination I want to visit that I can ask for advice, and to get an idea of how “gluten free friendly” a destination is for travelers like me.
Tip: Search some combination of GF/Gluten Free/(gluten free in the local language) + (destination name) to find places to eat, local delicacies, and ways to thrive as a gluten free traveler.
Visit Great Gluten Free Destinations
I have been to some absolutely incredible gluten free paradises, like Tulum, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Tokyo, and had such a wonderful time exploring the area through (gluten free) food. If you’re flexible on where you’d like to travel, look into places famous for an abundance of gluten free foods like Amsterdam, Portland, OR, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tulum, and so many more. More than once I’ve been inspired by new recipes, new flavors, and new ways to live without gluten in the places I’ve visited, and we have planned some of our travels around this.
I hope these tips give you a better idea of how to travel on a gluten free diet & help ease any fears you may have of traveling with a gluten allergy or intolerance. You’ve got this!
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