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How to eat Gluten Free when Travelling as a Coeliac

Gluten Free Travelling

Nearly four years ago I sat down with an NHS dietician to chat through my new coeliac diagnosis. Along handing over a pile of leaflets she told me that whenever I go on holiday, I needed to stay in an apartment and cook all my own meals at home to avoid eating any gluten. I felt so crushed and sad, as I love experiencing new food when travelling.

Gluten Free travelling

Fast forward a couple of years and it doesn’t feel nearly so limiting as it did at first. Whilst it’s not always easy, I’ve found ways to not let coeliac disease ruin exploring the world. And I definitely don’t stay in an apartment and cook all meals on the trip! I have found lots of blogs really useful so wanted to share my own tips for gluten free travelling here! (I realise that this blog post probably doesn’t apply to a lot of my readers, sorry!)

Gluten Free Travelling
Travelling when coeliac

Gluten free food has transformed massively over the past four years in the UK. This is a good and a bad thing for coeliacs. It’s pretty frustrating when people dip in and out of gluten free fad diets and trivialise this disease. I got judged hard by a café owner for asking about gluten free food the other day, and he was really apologetic when he discovered I was coeliac because he was apparently just really over the GF trend. There is however, way more options for us on menus and in supermarkets, and for that I’m grateful. (I’m also pescatarian so it limits me a little more.)

Gluten Free Travelling

When you’re coeliac you can’t even cook potatoes in the same oil as onion rings, for instance, so you have to be super careful. Every country I’ve been to has a different level of awareness. The best places to travel when eating gluten free? New Zealand, Australia and surprisingly, Italy. Denmark and Singapore were pretty easy, Spain and Portugal were manageable, and France, SE Asia and southern states of the US were quite tricky to navigate. Here are my tips:

Research the cuisine

This is probably the most vital part of not letting your dietary requirements ruin your holiday. The bigger the language barrier, the easier it is to know a bit about the cuisine before you go. Before I went to South East Asia, I was nervous about what I was going to eat for a month.

In most areas, it was just impossible to communicate that I couldn’t eat wheat, especially as gluten free diets aren’t really prevalent in SE Asia. So it was easier for me to know exactly what I could have, which was Thai green/red curries, rice, and rice noodles. I read that some street food like grilled corn, and banana rice flour pancakes were fine. I also knew that the sneaky ingredient to watch out for was soy sauce (it contains wheat), so that was the question I tried to ask when I wasn’t sure what something contained.

Gluten Free Travelling
Research specific restaurants

This is especially useful for short city breaks, as I find eating out is such a fun part of exploring a city! It’s not fun at all though when you turn up at a restaurant and can’t eat anything, especially when you’re hungry. So I usually have a short list of ideas where I know I will be able to find something delicious and coeliac friendly.

If you are staying in a hotel, it’s always worth emailing ahead and just letting them know you are coeliac. They sometimes get gluten free bread in for breakfast especially, which is a lovely treat.

Learn the right words

It’s so helpful to learn the common words like flour, wheat, and barley, especially for when you are scanning ingredients on the back of food packets. It helps that allergen ingredients are usually in bold but you’ll want to know whether it’s nuts or dairy that are highlighted instead of wheat.

Gluten Free Travelling

Take snacks

I always travel with a few cereal bars, which can be really handy for breakfast. Recently I went to Paris and whilst my friends were tucking into fresh croissants, I had a Trek bar to munch on so I didn’t become a hangry, jealous monster.

I have also learnt a few easy snacks/meals on the go. Fruit is always great, and in most places you can pick up plain crisps and nuts. My go-to replacement for bread is rice cakes, which are great with an avocado and tomato for picnics or the beach.

Gluten Free Travelling
Gluten Free Travelling
Just half of my month’s worth of supplies for Cambodia and Thailand haha ^^ they were actually a lifesaver!

Be flexible

Especially when I’m travelling with other people, I try and go with the flow and accept that maybe this holiday isn’t going to be a culinary experience! There’s nothing more mood-killing than making everyone trek for miles looking for the ‘right’ menu when you’re all hungry.

Also in Cambodia I was trying to avoid gluten so much that I ended up getting food poisoning for a week, and wish I’d just stuck with some plain rice or Trek bars to be on the safe side.

Translation cards

These are so handy for when you just can’t explain verbally. I usually just screenshot them on my phone. They were really useful in Porto when I was trying to find out if the fish was fried in flour or not.

Gluten Free Travelling
Do a cookery course

This was so much fun to do in Thailand. Not only did I eat so much delicious food (all gluten free, because I made it!), but I also learnt the traditional ingredients for all the classic Thai dishes. I didn’t realise that pad thai didn’t have soy sauce in it until the cookery course. It made it a lot easier to understand the menus after that.

Take your own plane food for long haul

And also book a gluten free meal beforehand. My favourite airlines to fly with for the food are Indian ones because veggie Indian curry on a plane = actually delicious. However recently I’ve been presented with a plain piece of chicken with steamed veg for the gluten free meal, as you can’t book both GF and vegetarian. Pretty gross! For a 24 hour flight (which I did 6 times last year!), I usually pack a homemade quinoa and veg tupperware, snacks, and a supermarket long life meal pot like free-from pasta. You can find them in big supermarkets and they are really handy for meals which you can’t refrigerate, like after 12 hours on a plane.

I hope this helps for gluten free travelling! Let me know if you have any other top tips, or if you want any country specific advice 🙂

Gluten Free Travelling

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  • Reply
    October 27, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Such a great and informative post – thank you! I’m not a coeliac myself, but my best friend is so I try to keep myself informed too so I can be at least a little help when we travel together. x

    • Reply
      Polly Rowan
      November 1, 2017 at 10:01 am

      Aw that’s so lovely. That’s something else I should have mentioned in the post actually – my husband and some friends are so good at sometimes doing the talking for me. It gets so boring having to explain myself to every waiter, so it’s nice to have a cheerleader now and again to do it for me 🙂

  • Reply
    October 27, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    These are good tips! Whenever I travel I always bring snacks that way I can save some money and have picky items at the same time.

    • Reply
      Polly Rowan
      November 1, 2017 at 10:01 am

      Yes I think it’s a good travel tip all round, whether you’re coeliac or not! 🙂 X

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