Travelling with Coeliac Disease (or following a strict gluten free diet) can be incredibly challenging at times (trust me…although many places are amazing at catering for me, I’ve had some incredibly hard times abroad).
Over the last 19 or so years I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to make travelling on a gluten free diet much easier. Here are the ones I can remember for now (I’ll add more as I find more!). I’d love to hear your tips, tricks or amazing travelling experiences too so do comment away on the post!
1. Working around The Language Barrier
If you’re jetting off to a foreign country in which the common language(s) spoken are not familiar with you I always make sure I am prepared to face waitresses that don’t have a clue what I mean when I say ‘gluten’ in English. I take cards that clearly explain in the foreign language what I cannot have and must not be served.
For example; on one side of my card written in English I have ‘I am severely allergic to gluten, wheat and barley and therefore these must not be in my dish. That also means I cannot have flour, soy sauce or anything cooked using the same pan as these. I can eat rice and potato based dishes.’ On the other side of the card, I’ll have exactly this written in the foreign language. Simple. Go to the restaurant and hand it to the waiter – it should make your life easier.
Another tip for countries that may not understand what gluten or wheat are (eg. Thailand) – I found it helpful to write this on the card: ‘I am severely allergic to flour, soy sauce and batter. I can eat rice, meat, eggs and vegetables.’ and the locals understood it well – I wasn’t gluten-ed once (which is pretty good going for Asia)!
2. Pack Snacks
I don’t mean to state the obvious but sometimes when you’re focussed on finding your favourite bikini and that summer top you bought 2 years ago that you never go away without, packing a bit of go-to gluten free food can easily be forgotten.
I always find chucking a heap of cereal bars, bread rolls and gluten free oats in my suitcase a great shout. They can easily be compacted (ok yes the bread does get a tad squashed but what can you do) and don’t weigh too much. Going away with one-too-many bits of food won’t harm you, but if you’re inadequately prepared you might get yourself into problems.
3. Utilise Google
Google is a GREAT, I repeat G R E A T, tool for many reasons. You can look up local restaurants serving gluten free food (and reviews from people that have visited these). Find out the local translations for ‘gluten-free’ and ‘contains gluten’, look up the brands in that country that produce gluten free food. The world is your oyster (well, not quite..but you get the idea).
4. Mentally prepare yourself for simple, repetitive meals
I know it’s annoying/boring/sad to have to eat the same dinner 3 nights in a row, but it’s doable and if it’s going to prevent you from getting gluten-ed, then why not. In Thailand I was forced to eat the same meal 3 times a day for 3 weeks and instead of moaning, I just accepted that that was all I could have [if you’ve read my other blog posts you’ll know I’m big on positivity].
5. Find out the local supermarkets and they types of food available (including photos)
I really recommend looking up the names of supermarkets in the area you’re staying to get an idea of what food you’ll be able to buy. What’s even more helpful is, if the stores list products online, have a look at the packaging that the foods you’re interested in come in. This will help you to identify these gluten free products when you’re faced with rows and rows of products that you’re unfamiliar with.
In Menorca a few years ago I was able to order gluten free bread, cakes, brownies and croissants from the local Pharmacy (obviously this came with a hefty price, but it was still available) so it’s worth checking what places other than supermarkets can offer you too.
6. Speak to someone that has been there
This is also something that Google can also help you out with! If you don’t know of a Coeliac that’s visited the area, have a search to find others that have – people are likely to have written blog posts, reviews videos and all kinds of things about their gluten free experience there. I try and do this before every trip I go on, even if it’s in the UK just to get an idea of what’s available in the area.
Do you have any gluten-free travelling tips that you swear by?