I found out that I was allergic to gluten allergic to gluten long after my travels around the world had begun.
In fact, I found out because I noticed that I got frequent stomach aches only when I was back home in the United States.
I ate pasta, pizza, and cake in Italy. I indulged in the bakeries in Paris and enjoyed them even more in Spain. I ate strange, green tea flavored pastries in Japan, pies in Australia, toast with marmite in New Zealand, and anything I felt like all over South America.
But in America, I suddenly had food allergies.
Ugh, and I had always prided myself on my iron stomach.
I also couldn’t drink beer anymore, which was my drink of choice, so that was a buzz kill (pun intended).
For me, the stomach aches felt like I had eaten a handful of Legos.
For those of you who have stepped on Legos, you know how painful this can be.
Now, just imagine eating some Legos and how for about 20 minutes you might feel fine. But then they would slowly work their way through your digestive system, those tiny, sharp little corners destroying you from the outside out.
Yeah, that’s pretty much how it feels for me.
The good and bad news is that a lot of people now have to travel gluten-free. That means there are many more options out there than there used to be.
I hope this page helps to guide you in the right direction and gives you some useful information for your trip.
Gluten-free travel is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I have been able to find alternatives fairly easy and managed to feel healthy and well for the entire journey.
I’ll admit though, I do sometimes risk a small amount of riksy foods like pasta in Italy. I never risk it in North America though because the results are a reliably a miserable day.
Although I don't advocate for risking a gluten reaction, I did create this post with the intention to help you enjoy the local cuisines of your travels as part of the experience.
Here are my tips to get you through on your journey and what has worked well for me.
Unfortunately, I did find that gluten-free travel takes a bit more work ahead of time.
Oddly enough, the times it has been most challenging is when I’m traveling from point A to point B. By that, I mean anything in planes, trains, busses, and long car rides. When you only have time for a pit stop, the options tend to be very limited.
When I’m on the ground in a country, say between destinations, I’ll also try to bring a packed lunch or my own snacks for long trips because you don’t know what you’ll find.
I try to always have some non-perishable snacks on hand. I bring some in my carry-on and pack more for the rest of the trip in a checked bag for longer journeys.
If you are concerned about the food on a long flight, here is a list of airlines offering gluten-free options.
When you book your flights, make sure to note your gluten-free meal preference. Some airlines can accommodate gluten-free diets fairly well while others are abysmal, so check the link above and bring back-up snacks just in case. You can also confirm with the desk at check-in that the correct meal will be available onboard for you.
When you need to prove to the TSA that you can’t eat just anything thrown on a tray, you can bring your own foods if you have a doctor’s note allowing “medical foods”. I have not had to go this far, but for some, it’s a nice option. This lets you pack foods that would normally be limited as liquids as well.
This is a very helpful article about how to carry gluten-free foods through airport security.
If you are going on a tour or cruise, contact the organization ahead of time and make sure they can accommodate dietary preferences. Honestly, pretty much everyone seems to have a food allergy these days so I’m betting they can. Just allow them the opportunity to prepare.
Here is an article on gluten-free cruises that will help get you on the right track.
Resources for gluten-free tours:
The Celiac Disease Foundation has a helpful web page that can connect you with gluten-free resources in each country to navigate gluten-free dining; it doesn’t cover every country, but does have a helpful selection since there are gluten-free bloggers across the world.
My gluten allergy isn’t severe enough that I have had to do this, but for some, it might just save the day. A gluten-free language card is a card in the local language that you can use to show a translation of your specific food allergies. Bringing a card can be very helpful since often these types of subjects are tricky in a second language. Gluten-Free Passport is an awesome resource for gluten-free travel cards in all languages.
You may be surprised at how many cultures are naturally gluten-free. Rice, corn, millet, and dozens of other options make up the diets of so much of the world that you might find gluten-free travel to be less of a challenge than you expected.
As the home of glutinous foods and seductive bakeries, I thought gluten-free travel might be the most difficult, but it wasn’t. This Gluten-free Guide to Europe helped to clarify some of the challenges and find ways around them.
I was happy to find plenty of easy gluten-free options during my time living in Scotland this year. A lot of menus had icons indicating the gluten-free options and delivery services like Deliveroo also had gluten-free preferred restaurants and dishes. When any of that failed, an internet search was always reliable.
Norway had tons of gluten-free options in the grocery store.
Croatia was a little more challenging.
However, finding allergen information was very easy on food packing and in restaurants in all countries.
I think what you find is that western Europe is close to the same level as the US in accommodating gluten-free diets, while eastern Europe take a bit more legwork. However, it is definitely doable without too much hassle.
These countries are very similar to Europe in the ease of finding options and decent food labeling. Also, the lack of language barrier is helpful when talking to restaurant staff.
Read the article, Gluten-Free in New Zealand and Australia? No worries. for some helpful information.
South America has a lot of bread products that I did not miss. This is because their ethnic foods are fantastic, but their breads and cakes tended to be more mediocre. Rice, beans, corn, and tapioca-based products are easy to find and are better than their glutinous alternatives too.
I found the article How to Eat Gluten-free in South America full of helpful advice.
I think Southeast Asia and China are a god-send for gluten-free travel. There’s so much good food and so few limitations. Rice noodles, rice, curries, fish sauce, and coconut-based foods are, of course, gluten-free.
Japan has few restrictions in their ethnic foods, but of course, there are lots of gluten-containing options available. Remember, to check if sauces contain soy sauce and request tamari when possible. Sadly, ramen and udon noodles both contain gluten, but there are increasingly more options for gluten-free ramen.
This Guide to Gluten-Free Travel in Asia is awesomely helpful.
Now, I know India is part of Asia, but it deserves a little separate attention since it's cuisine is more unique. There are very few restrictions in India since they use gram flour in many cases which is made out of chickpeas but always ask to confirm.
The article, Eating Gluten-Free in India is the best place to start.
I did not find any issues with travel in Africa, besides food that was catered to tourists. Most ethnic foods are better options for those of us with gluten sensitivities. For example, on safari, I wasn’t aware that I had a gluten allergy, but our lunches often seemed weighed down with breads and snack cakes. Egypt and Morocco were both very easy to travel with gluten restrictions.
That being said, Africa is so vast with so many different cuisines, I'd suggest getting country-specific to research more details.
If going on a group tour, most will accomodate gluten intolerances so check ahead.
I hope that helps to guide you in gluten-free options throughout the world. The switch to gluten-free travel hasn’t been a terrible inconvenience for me and hasn’t hindered my travels at all. The most significant change is probably just the need to carry more snacks, but I can’t say that’s a bad thing.