Celebrating Coeliac Awareness Week: Essential Tips For Successful Gluten Free Travel

Today marks the start of Coeliac Awareness Week for 2019 in the UK. In order to raise awareness of Coeliac disease and the importance of getting tested, Coeliac UK are focusing this year on diagnosis so that more people ask themselves, “is it Coeliac disease?”.

To assist in this endeavour, Coeliac UK have a short 3 minute questionnaire on their website which you can click on here. This tool can help you to understand if you should be tested for Coeliac disease. If you have concerns it could be Coeliac disease, Coeliac UK advise you should take the questionnaire to your GP to discuss directly with them further.

Aside from (finally) getting a diagnosis for a multitude of seemingly random and unconnected medical conditions, one very unexpected pleasure that came from being diagnosed as Coeliac was writing this blog.

This blog and my Coeliac diagnosis are intrinsically linked since they both happened just over 9 years ago in early 2010.

Back in 2010 I was travelling a lot, at least once a month (often more) somewhere in Europe for the weekend and 2 or 3 long haul trips a year. It seems hard to believe, since there are many gluten free travel blogs now, how hard it was to find much information about gluten free or Coeliac safe foods for any destination I was visiting. 9 years ago, Instagram had not been launched and there were only two bloggers (Laura and Erin) who were writing on a regular basis about gluten free travel, yet both were US based. And so I started to write this blog to share some of the finds I made on my travels in case it might help other Coeliac travellers.

In order to celebrate Coeliac Awareness Week and celebrate the fact that Coeliacs CAN travel, here are my tips on how to travel gluten free from someone who’s been lucky to visit nearly 70 countries, many as a Coeliac:

Pick your destination wisely!

If you’re newly diagnosed and/or concerned about taking a trip away from your home town, it can seem overwhelming to plan a trip away from your familiar home environment.

  • Perhaps consider a destination known to be very easy to find gluten free food. In the UK, London and Edinburgh have many restaurants which offer gluten free food, including those which are 100% gluten free. Perhaps start with a weekend away to test the waters and build confidence for a longer trip?
  • Within Europe, it’s hard to stroll far in Paris without finding a gluten free cafe or bakery. In Rome you would be hard pressed not to eat in Coeliac safety there are so many AIC (Italian Coeliac Association) accredited restaurants dotted all over this wonderful city. Some are 100% gluten free whilst others have separate, dedicated kitchens to prepare gluten free food in. Generally in Italy the understanding of Coeliac and cross contamination issues is very high in restaurants.
  • For the more adventurous gluten free and Coeliac traveller, you don’t need to restrict yourself to the Coeliac-safe cities, you CAN venture further afield. You just may need to do more research in to safe places to eat and perhaps adjust your expectations.

The world really is your oyster and there are many Coeliac travellers showing that anywhere is possible to visit as a Coeliac traveller, if you do the following….

Do your research using a variety of reliable sources:

  • Check out the online guides provided by Coeliac UK on their website. These concise guides are very useful because they give information specific to each country including the key retail outlets and gluten free brands, explanation on allergen labelling and awareness, the local Coeliac associations and key phrases in that country’s language.
  • Get tips from fellow travellers in gluten free travel Facebook groups. From my experience, you might need to join a few to see what suits you as the focus can vary in terms of content and geographical focus. The groups I like most are those which are filled with lots of worldwide gluten free travel chat from fellow Coeliacs. It’s also worth seeking out gluten free travel groups on Facebook for the specific city/country you’re visiting (Japan for example is very useful).
  • Use hashtags on Instagram to search out great spots in each of the towns and cities you’re visiting. If you search on the hashtag #glutenfreetravel you could be lost for hours seeing gluten free posts from all around the world. This is increasingly a great source of information for my travels. And of course don’t forget to share your finds as well to help other travellers!
  • Mine Pinterest for blog posts covering gluten free travel. I have Pinterest boards for places I’ve been and those I want to visit. Each time I find somewhere new I pin and am slowly creating scrapbooks of places I’m going and want to go.

Bonjour! Привет! Konichiwa! Be prepared when visiting countries where you do not speak the local language

  • Use translation cards to explain what you can / can’t eat. When I travel somewhere I think the language will be an issue then I take printed copies of this translation card. I also use their app, however having seen my waiter disappear off with my phone to show the chef the app, I make sure I have printed copies too.
  • I also like these translation cards because they’re tailored to dishes in the local country which I think is helpful for everyone to understand.
  • Unfortunately not all of the countries I’ve visited have cards in that countries local language. In Albania, for example, I used Google translate at home in London before travelling. When I arrived I asked the hotel’s concierge to review and correct Google’s translation.
  • If, like me, you have additional dietary restrictions to Coeliac, you may want to have custom card made for you. I’m currently doing this for a couple of countries I’m about to visit where the prevalence of nuts is high and understanding of Coeliac disease is zero. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.

Prepare for meals while travelling en route to your destination

  • Where offered on flights, always pre-book your gluten free meal (GFML) in advance in your online booking. I have this set in my frequent flyer accounts so it gets automatically applied to my flights at the time of booking. However, even if you’re requested the special meal at the time of booking, you should additionally call your airline directly 48-72 hours in advance of your flight to re-confirm the GFML remains on your flight booking.
  • Pay particular attention when flying on a code share. The only time I’ve not had my airline meal loaded recently was when the partner airline (in this case I’d booked with British Airways but I was on a Qantas operated flight for one leg) did not have details from BA for my special meal. Lesson learned, I’ll call each partner airline in future.
  • If I’m travelling by car I usually bring a few snacks like crispbreads and crackers to keep me going in the car and a pack of gluten free pasta for a quick emergency meal when we arrive.

Save space in your gluten free suitcase (sometimes)!

  • Remember that Coeliacs live in the destination you’re visiting and you don’t always need to waste valuable shoe space with gluten free crackers/protein bars etc..
  • In many countries, supermarkets have amazing gluten free sections and – for me – one of the real joys of travelling is the opportunity to visit overseas supermarkets and check out the local gluten free finds. Pre-holiday research can tell you in advance about food options in your destination destination but if you’re visiting the UK or Italy, for example, don’t waste space in your case on much more than emergency travel snacks.

Finally, remember to keep in perspective that travel isn’t ALL about the food (although it might not always feel like it when hanger strikes!). Sure, my trip to Japan as a Coeliac (I’d been to Japan prior to diagnosis, luckily) was frustrating at times when I either couldn’t eat safely or couldn’t eat what I wanted but Japan is an incredible country to visit. What I lost out on in food experiences I more than made up for in cultural experience of that trip.

Happy gluten free travelling!

What are your top tips for successful gluten free travel? Is there anything you’d add to the above to help other gluten free and Coeliac travellers?


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