Curious how to travel with celiac disease so you can avoid getting glutened and still keep going after your bucket list?
You've come to the right place, my gluten-free friend!
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While the prospect of traveling with celiac disease or on a gluten-free diet may seem daunting, I’m here to tell you it is POSSIBLE for EVERYONE with preparation, diligence, and flexibility.
A celiac disease diagnosis does not mean your adventures are over. It's just the beginning of a new chapter!
Less than a year after my celiac disease diagnosis, I spent a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain. In 2019, I spent six months backpacking around the globe to more than fifteen countries on five continents.
I learned that gluten didn't mean an end to my wanderlust, and it doesn't have to end yours either. With a little practice, and the right strategy focused on balance, not burnout, you'll be on your way to planning your next trip with more confidence and less fear.
Here are my top strategies for how you can travel with celiac disease!
NOTE & DISCLAIMER
Please note I am not a doctor and the information here should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional regarding your nutrition and following a gluten-free diet. Remember, restaurants and establishments may change, so always double-check! Only eat where you feel safe doing so. This is a guide to help point you in the right direction. Please make sure to have due diligence and follow your gut.
How To Travel With Celiac Disease: My Top Tips For Gluten-Free Travel
- How To Travel With Celiac Disease: My Top Tips For Gluten-Free Travel
- Research Restaurants & Food Beforehand!
- Stay Somewhere With A Kitchen To Prep Easy Meals
- Use Your Phone To Find Gluten-Free Food
- Pack Gluten-Free Meals, Not Just Snacks
- Practice Self-Love If You Get Glutened.
- Rely on Support & Go Slow
- Final Thoughts: Traveling With Celiac Disease
- Looking for more celiac travel posts?
Research Restaurants & Food Beforehand!
The best way to travel safely with celiac disease is to research your destination as much as possible before you go. That way, you are aware of what to expect and what you are able to eat. This includes researching before your trip, before you go out for the day, or before you go out to dinner somewhere. The more you do beforehand, the less stress you'll have while traveling.
Look into the area where you will be staying.
Some things you should keep in mind are:
What is the culture like around food?
How are meals prepared, eaten, and served?
Are they cognizant of food allergies?
Is cross-contact an issue at restaurants?
Are there dedicated kitchen spaces or fryers?
I know this is a lot to think about, but these are all important factors when researching your destination. By taking the time to learn this information BEFORE you go, you'll have less stress during the actual trip and can focus on enjoying yourself and the vacation itself.
Stay Somewhere With A Kitchen To Prep Easy Meals
Whether you are staying in a hotel, guesthouse, homestay, Airbnb, bed & breakfast, or hostel, stay somewhere with a kitchen!
Having a kitchen is BIG in making you feel more comfortable because you can prepare your own meals, grocery shop, and have control over your food. This is honestly one of the best ways to travel gluten-free because you'll always have something to eat and you won't have to rely as much on restaurants. This will in turn REDUCE your stress because you won't be speaking up for yourself constantly, and you will reduce the possibility of getting sick.
If you're thinking, "Jen, I don't want to spend my vacation cooking." - I get it! I'm not saying this is the time to prepare five-course dinners (unless that's your thing, then go for it!)
You can dine out in restaurants for every meal, but it's going to be mentally exhausting. Having the option to prepare a quick and easy meal for yourself, like a rice bowl, tacos, or even just a quick cup of noodles, can make a big difference, so you won't come home feeling burnt out!
Staying somewhere with a kitchen is how I was able to travel extensively throughout Southeast Asia for 2 months in 2019 without getting sick every single day.
Use Your Phone To Find Gluten-Free Food
Locating gluten-free food can be tough when you're traveling. While it's critical to speak to the restaurant directly to make sure their celiac protocols work for you, sometimes you just want to get an idea of what's available. One of the best ways to do that while traveling is by doing your research first, on an app/website like FindMeGlutenFree.
FindMeGlutenFree can help you get an idea of what gluten-free restaurants, bakeries, and safe menus are available. Yes - this app is used around the globe! And with a Premium Subscription, you can filter by most celiac-friendly, see what's open now (so you don't drive all the way to a bakery for breakfast and discover it's closed), and what's gluten-free in the direction you're headed. It's like Google Maps, but a gluten-free version. And no Ads!
I've been an FMGF user for over a decade, but I think their Premium version is much more effective. Take $5 off a Premium Subscription with the code THENOMADICFITZ to make your travels with celiac disease less stressful.
FindMeGlutenFree, has been an absolute lifesaver for me when traveling with celiac disease around the globe. You can also check Spokin, Yelp, Google, and social media (try searching hashtags with your location and the words gluten-free, like #glutenfreeaustin or #glutenfreeperu, or TripAdvisor.
Pack Gluten-Free Meals, Not Just Snacks
Everyone will tell you to bring snacks with you when traveling with celiac disease. While snacks are great, they can be found almost anywhere, especially in airports, gas stations, and of course - grocery stores!
But if you bring your own quick meals when traveling with celiac disease, you'll avoid hanger, frustration, and mental exhaustion because you'll have something safe that will keep you full! I love bringing sandwiches like a PB&J, salads with grilled chicken, a microwaveable mac & cheese cup or oatmeal cup, or cold pizza for quick meals.
Remember you don't have to pack an entire suitcase of snacks with you when traveling gluten-free. If you are traveling to a place that will have a grocery store nearby, just make a point to stop there when you arrive to stock up. Think of grocery stores as your new fast-food restaurant!
It's also a great idea to stop at a grocery store again before you leave, especially to avoid going hungry in airports.
Practice Self-Love If You Get Glutened.
One of the realities of traveling with celiac disease or on a gluten-free diet is the possibility of getting glutened - which means having a gluten exposure happen to you away from home. Nobody wants to get glutened on vacation. It's the worst. But these things can happen.
It's important to not beat yourself up about it. Self-love is key here to make sure you are on the road to healing. Be gentle and take care of yourself to get better. Check with your doctor for what's best to bring to recover, and even better - bring a doctor's note with you, too, that you can present to TSA, hotels, tour guides, or anyone else who should be informed of your diet. Make time for rest so if something goes wrong, you aren't stuck missing out on travel experiences.
Everyone's health is different - consult your doctor or medical professional about what emergency meds to have on hand for your travels. Tayler of Celiac Dietitian has a great gluten exposure kit recommendation.
Rely on Support & Go Slow
You have every right to ask as many questions as you need when traveling gluten-free. This is important to ensure you have a pleasant eating experience and don’t end up with a stomach ache. But speaking up can be tricky and uncomfortable. It requires you to advocate for your needs, which can be awkward and can be mentally heavy.
But one of the best ways to feel more confident when having to speak up for yourself is to have support with you. Rely on your partner, family, friends, or colleagues for support on your trip as much as you need to. If you can't advocate for your needs, ask them to step in and order for you, call restaurants, or even just be a sounding board to vent your frustrations. With them helping you, it will make your gluten-free diet feel less burdensome.
Finally, make sure you are GOING SLOW when traveling with celiac or traveling gluten-free. This will prevent you from making bad decisions (like eating somewhere that isn't safe when you're super hungry & not thinking straight) and can help prevent mistakes from happening. This also gives you a buffer in case of a gluten exposure so you can rest and feel better.
Final Thoughts: Traveling With Celiac Disease
It takes practice, preparation, and certainly more mental thought, but it is not impossible! Traveling with celiac disease is a skill that you can improve on with time. Don't let your celiac diagnosis derail you from a life of adventure and fun. It's still doable for you, and I hope these tips give you a good placec to begin.
Looking for more celiac travel posts?
Flying somewhere and worried you'll be starving in an airport? Not to worry, this post on flying with celiac disease has you covered!
How do you travel with celiac disease?
What tips would you add to this list?
Let me know in the comments below!