Planning an overseas trip with Coeliac Disease can be scary. However it doesn’t need to be.
I’ve done a bit of overseas travel after my diagnosis with Coeliac Disease, and I’ve put together a list of my top tips and tricks to make it easier.
With some preparation you can make your gluten free trip fun, easy and stress free!
If you’re not set on going somewhere in particular, then choosing a location that is known for great gluten free options can make your trip easier. I would highly recommend joining a Coeliac Abroad facebook group, as members are often recommending places they have been.
In my personal experience Italy, Fiji, New Zealand and the USA were some of the best countries I visited for gluten free options. Cruises are often a popular choice for a holiday, as they’re all inclusive, and particular ones are recommended in Coeliac facebook groups regularly.
When I’m going somewhere that has less gluten free options, I like to choose self-catering accommodation that has a kitchen. Local markets or supermarkets usually always have naturally gluten free products, to make a delicious meal. Also eating breakfast in everyday is an easy way to save money.
How to choose a hotel or resort: these days most hotels and resorts can cater for gluten free needs, however some are better than others. To pick a good one I do a bit of research.
To do this I search Coeliac groups on facebook, for what other people have recommended. I also search tripadvisor and their resorts website for any information. When I’ve made a short list, I then contact the hotel or resort directly via email to check their understanding and what they can offer before deciding and booking.
When checking in I also confirm a gluten free meal. However, at this stage it’s usually too late for them to put a gluten free meal on the plane, but don’t fret this is where snacks come in!
4. Travel Snacks
- Gluten free noodle cups – most airlines will fill these with boiling water for you
- Protein powders, balls or bars
- Muesli bars
- Pre-packaged nuts – I have heard reports these can be banned on same flights due to nut allergies, but this has never happened to me.
- Breakfast cereals – put them in a small container or snaplock bag, and then just add milk.
- Fresh fruit – you can take this on board, but you must eat it or discard it before you enter your final destination.
- Rice cakes with spreads – just be careful with the liquid limit. I had a jar of peanut butter taken off me flying home from New Zealand, as it was classified as liquid.
- Crackers, pretzels or popcorn
- Tinned tuna or salmon
- Shelf stable salami sticks
- Pre-packaged biscuits or cakes – you can find cookies, banana bread, brownies and more in Australian supermarkets.
5. Travel Cards & Translation Apps
Travel cards help translate your gluten free dietary needs into different languages. You can show these to whoever is cooking and preparing the food to give them a clear understanding of what you can and can’t eat.
The translation phone apps, are useful when translating ingredients lists and menus when eating out. I have personally used the google translate phone app when travelling. You can take a photo of the food label and it will translate it for you.
To be honest I’ve found the travel cards to be hit and miss. Sometimes waiters, have looked at my card and dismissed it, and others times it’s been amazing at bridging the language barrier. So I don’t rely solely on these, but use them as a tool, along with my other tools of research and trusting my ‘gut’ about their understanding before eating.
You find travel cards at multiple places online, to print or via phone applications. Some cost money, but most I’ve used were free. I’ve listed some I know about below:
- Gluten free restaurant cards – phone application
- http://www.celiactravel.com/cards/ – free via their website or phone app
- SelectWisely – cost money
6. Toaster bags
These can turn any toaster into a gluten free one. They are reusable, and fairly cheap. You can purchase them from Coeliac Australia or most Reject Shops.
However, if you are staying in a hotel with a conveyor toaster, they can’t be used in these (don’t do it I tried!). In this situation, asking the kitchen if they can heat your gluten free bread on a clean pan in the kitchen.
7. Foods to pack in your suitcase
- Gluten free bread – my personal choice is Schar Caserrece. I take this as it’s vacuum sealed in packs for 5 pieces, so it lasts for ages until I open it. This is especially good in hot countries where the humidity can make food go mouldy really quickly.
- Gluten free breakfast cereals
- Gluten free breakfast spreads – vegemite, peanut butter, jam
- Muesli or protein bars
- Canned tuna or salmon
- Packaged nuts
- Soy Sauce – if you’re going to Thailand or Japan, I would highly recommend you take gluten free soy sauce. You can go to your local Sushi Sushi restaurant in Australia and purchase the mini fish filled with gluten free soy sauce. This saves you having to carry around a bottle of soy sauce, and you can easily put these into your bag during the day.
Note if you’re worried about taking food into another country you can get a note from your doctor, explaining the reason for this to avoid any issues at customs.
8. Gluten free food laws in other countries
Australia has the strictest gluten free requirements in the world. This is good, as we also have amazing healing rates for Coeliac Disease. However when travelling the food laws are different. For example in the USA and the UK oats are considered gluten free.
However 1 in 5 Coeliacs will still react, and you wouldn’t have been exposed to them in Australia, as we don’t consider them safe (unless you’ve undertaken an oats challenge, see Coeliac FAQs on my page for more information). So be careful when travelling and check labels for oats on gluten free products.
Be prepared with some medications in case you do get sick from gluten or otherwise. It’s not ideal but immodium has saved me when I’ve unfortunately been sick, and needed to get on an 8 hour bus ride. Talk to your medical professional about what works for you to best prepare for your travel.
It can be difficult when you’re overseas and need some medication to find out if it is gluten free. Let’s face it this can be difficult at the best of times in Australia. So I like to take some essential medications that I know are gluten free, in case of an emergency.
10. Relax and enjoy
Please remember to have fun! People always tell me, travel isn’t all about the food. However before I was diagnosed, I loved food and this hasn’t changed because I can’t have gluten. If anything I think about food even more. However if you follow the tips above, you can make any trip with Coeliac Disease a success.
A picture that reminds of this is the one pictured to the right, where I’m holding a gluten free pizza in Fiji. The pizza base I brought all the way from Australia, and they prepared it in the kitchen for me, instead of the wood fired pizza oven to minimise cross contamination. It was absolutely delicious, but what made it so was the setting! Surrounded by my family in the warm weather with, a Fijian sunset and a cocktail on the beach. A holiday really is what you make it, so remember to enjoy the other aspects of it, and if in doubt bring a gluten free pizza base.