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5 Tips for Travel with Celiac Disease

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

The key to travel whether you have Celiac Disease or not is an ability to be flexible. That means that you do your best to plan, but you understand that plans may change. Unfortunately, flexibility with food is sometimes challenging when you have Celiac Disease. This means you need to have the skills to adapt to your surroundings, and you should always have a backup plan.

I have traveled extensively prior to my Celiac diagnosis, and the skills I developed with travel apply to travel with Celiac Disease, they are just a bit different. Here are the skills that worked for me before, and are invaluable today:

1. Research your destination When you plan a trip somewhere, you learn about the local attractions, the neighborhoods, and the best places to stay. Before Celiac Disease, my research would be limited to those items. With Celiac Disease, I research gluten-free restaurants and grocery stores. Read my blog on how to find safe restaurants. If I find an area where there are many, I may look for a hotel or apartment nearby. Since my diagnosis, I love to plan more food-centric trips, so finding lodging near good food is a huge win for me. I also connect with local Celiac groups or experts in different areas like Erin Smith, Gluten Free Globetrotter who is the expert for New York City, and Catalin, Celiac In Italy

2. Follow the local festivals Before I travel places, especially overseas, I like to learn what local traditions and festivals are. Maybe there is a local festival, concert or event I could attend.

brass band wearing red coats at a festival in Koblenz, Germany
Band Playing in Koblenz, Germany

In Germany, you may find a local brass band playing a concert in the town square. They may also have beer and food trucks, but perhaps wine or cider too. The nice part about these types of festivals is that you can just stand around and enjoy them. There is no pressure to buy or eat food, you can just take in the experience.

3. Discover local cuisines I like to understand what foods are popular locally. This helps me understand what foods may be available. This also includes what fruits and vegetables are common there. For example, before going to Costa Rica, I learned fresh tropical fruits are plentiful, and meals often are served with plantains. They also use mainly corn tortillas, and rarely flour. Those are all good news to those who are gluten-free.

A man holding a machete and a freshly picked coconut.  He is opening the coconut.  His shirt says "What if you could change the world. Give Clean Water.
Freshly picked coconut in Fiji

I love to visit farmer’s markets or fresh food markets. You can see the wonderful fruits and vegetables and buy them fresh from the source. Whether I am at Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington or the main market in Nadi, Fiji, I have found wonderful treats in these markets. In Fiji, I was able to eat a coconut fresh off the tree. You may even find some nice handmade gifts to take home.

4. Take time to rest Overscheduling is a big challenge for trips. Since my Celiac Diagnosis, I have learned that allowing myself time to rest, prevents me getting sick or extremely fatigued. For me, I prefer to be active during the day, and go easier at night. This may mean that I eat a large lunch and maybe stay in with some leftovers for dinner. It may also mean that I eat an early dinner and just have a night in. For other people, it may mean sleeping in, and staying out late. It is important to listen to your body and not make your trip a scorecard of what you saw. Take time to enjoy the places you visit, rather than checking off the stops. Rest time also gives you flexibility to change your plans or decide what you feel like doing next.

5. Ask lots of questions When I travel I will always ask questions at the hotel, in stores, and especially in restaurants. Prior to my diagnosis, those questions were more about things to do and which dishes were the most popular. With Celiac Disease, I still ask those questions, but I ask the same questions I ask at home when I go to a restaurant. For overseas travel, you may want to buy some Celiac translation cards. They will make It easier to communicate no matter the language. In addition to asking questions about food, I also ask questions about the culture, places locals like to frequent, and the history of the place. This takes me out of the role of visitor and helps me understand my destination better. This also opens new areas to visit beyond the tourist locations. You may even meet a new friend.

When you follow these 5 tips, you will be able to fully experience your destination, and you will find safe food to eat. One tip that overrides all of these is the most important, have fun. No matter where you go, enjoy the journey. Practice these travel tips in your area or a place close to home, then expand your circles wider as your confidence grows. Please let me know where your travels take you. I am always interested in new destinations.

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