No burgers or spaghetti: travelling gluten-free

Travelling gluten-free is not always easy, but it doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. Here are my tips for travelling while following a gluten-free diet.

I followed a strict gluten-free diet for around 18 months starting back in September 2013, and during this time I also travelled to arguably two of most carb-ridden and gluten-focused countries: Italy and the USA.

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The epic route I took across the USA in 2014

As most people with dietary requirements know, travelling can often be a struggle, especially when it is to a place that is not known for being well accommodating to such preferences or needs.

Why do people go gluten-free?

Most people who follow a gluten-free diet have some kind of gluten intolerance. Coeliac disease is the most common one, which can leave people feeling bloated, sluggish and generally unwell when they eat gluten. It can also lead to further health complications if they continue to eat gluten products.

Although thankfully, my intolerance to gluten has improved and I now just do simple things such as avoid pasta and don’t eat lots of bread, I did manage to learn some useful tips during my gluten-free travels.

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It was my birthday while I was in Nashville, but I couldn’t eat the birthday cake they brought out 🙃

Research, research, research

Unfortunately for me my cross-country road-trip through the United States was booked before I realised that I needed to follow a strict gluten-free diet and, being 19, naive, and more nervous about the fact that this was my first solo travel adventure, my dietary requirements took a back-seat.

I did not tell my tour guide that I was gluten-free until the first day of the trip, something which I soon came to regret. Although my guide was more than helpful, often making sure there was at least something on the menu that I could eat, I felt embarrassed and guilty that I hadn’t done my own research. I didn’t know what to ask for in restaurants, what States would be easiest to eat in, or what common American foods I could/couldn’t eat.

On the other hand, before my holiday to Italy, I did do some research, learning from my American mistakes. I found a wonderful gluten-free Italian restaurant that meant I didn’t have to miss out on pizza or pasta, and I took note of what Italian dishes were/weren’t likely to contain gluten.

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Gluten-free pizza in Italy…
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…complete with breadsticks too!

The best and worst States to visit while gluten-free,
from personal experience

Best – California, Arizona, Texas, New York
Worst – Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Maryland (Washington D.C.)   

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At Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis, the only thing I could have was a drink…

Take your time

Having a dietary requirement is a hassle at the best of times, let alone when you’re in a foreign country and with a group of people who are hungry for food. However, make sure to be vigilant and don’t be embarrassed.

Take your time when picking somewhere to eat. If the restaurant menu doesn’t look like it will contain anything suitable for you or isn’t somewhere that will have an allergy menu or pay attention to cross-contamination, say so. It is your trip too.

I also travelled around Croatia with a group of friends during my gluten-free days, however in this case I wasn’t the only one with a dietary need. One girl suffered a milk allergy and another was vegetarian. It was difficult picking somewhere where all of us could eat; there’s a tendency to go for Italian’s whenever you’re in a country not known for its cuisine, however Italian restaurants were often bad news for myself and the milk allergy sufferer. Still, we always managed to find a place that (mostly) fit everyone’s tastes.

 

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Luckily there were always cheap cocktails on our Croatian restaurants’ menus

 

Allergen information cards are your greatest friend

It can often be embarrassing asking for allergen information, however, most restaurants are required to have them. Of course, this may not be the case in relaxed or remote backpacker destinations, but particularly in places like the USA and Australia, they will usually have a copy of this available for diners.

Thankfully in recent years, eating gluten-free has become more and more popular and widely accepted, meaning that many menus now outrightly show what dishes are gluten-free just as they do vegetarian or vegan dishes. However, if you’re unsure, don’t feel afraid and simply ask for the allergen information card. It’s a few seconds worth of embarrassment and will potentially save you much more discomfort later.

10 foods that you don’t expect to contain gluten…but sometimes do!

  • Soup
  • Sausages
  • Soy sauce
  • Stock 
  • Couscous
  • Coated-nuts
  • Beer
  • Crisps
  • Sauces and salad-dressings
  • Ice-cream (!!)
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Yes, I did resort to taking pictures of other people’s food while I was in the States

If in doubt, snacks

If you’re going to a destination that you really think you will struggle to find something to eat – perhaps a long road-trip with just petrol stations and fast food places or an organised day-trip where the itinerary is tight – bring some snacks.

I’m always amazed now at the amount of free-from options in supermarkets in the UK, so even pack some of those in your luggage if you can, for emergencies.

Learning the words for ‘wheat’, ‘gluten’ and ‘gluten-free’ is also a great shout for when you’re visiting places abroad too, so you can quickly check the local supermarkets and stock up on tasty treats you can eat.  It would be a great shame for your holiday to be ruined because you’re so weak from lack of food.

gluten free mistake
We all make mistakes – sometimes through no fault of our own. Some great advice here from coeliac.org.uk

 

I’m not going to lie, travelling gluten-free is difficult, and I’m extremely lucky that I only had to cut gluten out of my diet for a short amount of time. However, you can still enjoy your trips when you’re a gluten-free traveller, it just takes a little more preparation and a lot more self-love.

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At our penultimate stop in San Diego, I discovered that Cheesecake Factory did ONE gluten-free cheesecake. It was the Godiva one and it was delicious

Do you have any tips for travellers with dietary requirements too? I’ve recently turned vegetarian (hoping to go vegan) so am really keen on hearing from anyone who has travelled a lot as a veggie/vegan.

Let me know in the comments below!

You may also like…

Why Zadar should be on your radar

10 photos that prove the Grand Canyon is the best place on Earth 

Why you should visit Monument Valley

My weird and wonderful relationship with food 

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