This is part two of my “Traveling While Gluten Free” series. Part two focuses on time spent at your destinations, and part one focuses on flying.
You’ve survived the long day of travel and landed without getting glutened! Congratulations. Now the real fun starts! How will you assure you can find gluten free meals while out of your comfort zone? No problem, I’ve got lots of ideas!
Traveling while gluten free
Small town, few options
So you’re visiting your cousin in small town America, and the town has two fast food restaurants, two diners and a Chinese place? You’ll be okay.
All the big chains now have allergen information on their websites, so this is another time advance planning (or Internet access) will be handy. Salads and bunless burgers are my go-tos in these situations.
Again, look for salads, soups, potato dishes, or unbreaded meats that can be taken out of sandwiches. This is where you’re going to need to know your sneaky gluten sources – be cautious of thickened soups/stews, crumb toppings, and breadcrumbs used to hold burgers together. Always be aware of sauces and try to stick to things that are in their labeled bottle (ketchup/mustard/etc). Do not feel bad asking 100 questions to assure that your meal is safe – the alternative is way worse.
Avoid if possible, but there may be a few things you can eat. White rice, egg drop soup (no crunchy bits!), and dishes that don’t involve soy sauce (like ginger or garlic chicken) may be okay. Again, you’re going to have to ask and ask and ask some more to assure that you’re getting safe foods.
If all else fails, try to get a hotel with a mini-fridge and microwave, and make your own meals in the room. Hit the grocery store and stock up!
City lights, lots of choices
In bigger cities, there’s a good chance someone has already done the gluten free trailblazing, so all you need to do is find that information. Some good sources of information are:
Yelp (and other user review websites)
I have created gluten free guides for the cities I’ve visited and lived in, and many others have to. Rely on this local knowledge to point you in the right direction. Search the site for “gluten free” in “city” and see what reviews and lists pop up. Bookmark or make a note of the ones in areas you’re planning to visit so you’ve got a few options everywhere you go.
Just Google “gluten free” and “city” and chances are, you’ll find news articles and blog posts about the best options in that city.
I prefer to try the local haunts, but sometimes, you just have to visit the chain place because you know they’ll have a gluten free menu or allergen information available. It’s okay to take the easy (and safe) route sometimes!
International jetsetter, language barrier
Many of the tips above still apply – you’ll find lots of information in English when searching online. But even if you know where to go, how do you make sure you’ll be safe?
Carry Gluten-Free Restaurant Cards in the appropriate languages
Traveling to France, but don’t speak a word of French? Celiactravel.com has put together an amazing resource – cards that explain what gluten is, what foods contain it and what foods are safe. This will help you communicate to wait and kitchen staff so they can be sure they are accommodating your gluten free diet. They are available in 54 different languages, so you’re sure to find one that suits! Find the cards here, and consider donating using the link on that page if you find them useful. Five bucks to avoid getting internationally glutened is a really good deal, if you ask me!
I used these cards in Amsterdam (I speak no Dutch) and Germany (I speak some German, but my accent is really American and most people don’t understand much of what I say.) In Amsterdam I hardly needed the card as almost everyone I encountered spoke English, but I did use the German card fairly often in Berlin, especially out in the suburbs. In both cities I was really glad to have them, and they saved me from several glutenings.
While preparing for my Amsterdam trip, my friend who had gone the year before told me they found a great grocery store that carried lots of gluten free foods. They stocked their room with breads and snacks to supplement meals out. (See the gluten free snack ideas in part one if you’re stumped.) If you can just figure out how to say “gluten free” in the local language, you can usually find what you need. This is particularly true in Europe, where gluten free is becoming quite common. (In Europe, look for brands like Schär, Mrs. Crimbles (UK) and “Free From” lines (common in UK grocery stores like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.)) If all else fails, use those restaurant cards to check labels for the allergens you need to avoid.
Long train ride? Spending the whole day riding bikes through the countryside? Pack a lunch! When you’re going to be isolated with few to no choices for the day, preparation is essential. When I traveled through Germany for two weeks, I would pack myself a daily “train sandwich” and have that plus a piece of fruit for lunch. (This is also a great cost-cutting measure, if you’re traveling on a budget – especially if your hotel has a breakfast buffet!) Pre-made salads and packaged lunch meat are other easy, portable options if you can’t find gluten free bread where you are.
I hope that you’ve found my two-part series on traveling while gluten free helpful. Now go plan that vacation! If you’ve got any top tips for travel, please leave them in the comments!