Guide to traveling when you are gluten-free


Imagine visiting one of Taiwan’s night markets and feeling terribly disappointed. Lots of people there indulge in some of the most fantastic street food in the world, but someone with a wheat allergy looks over the skim pickings and chooses a fruit salad. Then think about those blank stares flight attendants serving meals on board give passengers asking if there’s gluten in the food. The language barrier doesn’t make things easier: try saying “severe wheat allergy” or “wheat intolerance” in Japanese.

Travelers with special dietary needs face an array of barriers that most people don’t even consider when traveling. It is even worse when they leave their country of origin and have to interpret food labels into another language. That being said, everyone deserves the chance to explore this world and a food allergy is no reason to stay home. There are many ways to see the sights, experience another culture, and eat in safety. Read on to find out more.

Choose your destination wisely

Two journalists, Becca de Half Half Travel gluten-free-travel-destinations.html and Anne Kohtz from Japanese, describe their experiences with a gluten-free diet abroad. Kohtz has lived in Japan for the past two decades and explains that not many people there understand what a wheat-free diet is. Becca, meanwhile, has personally visited many countries and explains where it is easiest to find delicious gluten-free food. Both women stress how important it is to plan ahead and know a bit of the local language when traveling with allergies, wheat intolerance or celiac disease.

Kohtz writes that the Japanese diet involves a lot of soy sauce, as do the cuisines of South Korea and China. This makes it incredibly difficult to find gluten-free options because there is wheat in the soy sauce. Sometimes restaurants in these destinations marinate almost everything in gravy, making it difficult to find non-wheat options. Another concern of Kohtz was understanding food labels in Japan. Only a few items carry a gluten-free tampon, and these are very expensive.

Related: Food Guide: Japan’s Vending Machines Are More Than Snacks

Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia, on the other hand, are highly recommended by Becca who explains that these crops consume a lot of rice and beans. Tortillas and arepas are made from corn, which also makes them gluten-free. In Mexico, visitors can try tacos, enchiladas, and tamales in most places. They will want to ask if these dishes contain “trigo”, but more often than not they are gluten free. Becca even went so far as to try the street food and suffered no consequences.

The journalist also approves the visits to northern Europe. Even though countries like Estonia, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland rely heavily on bread and cheese in their meals, residents are generally familiar with alternative diets. Restaurants often offer gluten-free dishes and cater for allergy sufferers.

Related: Estonia: When To Visit This Little-Known European Destination & What To See There

Research before you go

Taking a few simple precautions before traveling makes things much easier for people with allergies and intolerance to gluten. First of all, it is good to know how to ask if the dishes contain wheat. If learning to say this in the local language seems too difficult, Google Translator will do the job.

Google translate for gluten-free travelers
Google Translate screenshot

Celiac travel website has published restaurant cards in 63 different languages. Travelers can simply print them out in the language of their destination and present the card to the servers at the establishment where they plan to dine. The cards clearly ask waiters and waitresses to help diners choose options without wheat, rye, barley or oats.

A little research will also reveal whether or not locals tend to consume a lot of wheat in the destination country or not. People on a gluten-free diet may encounter foods that they should avoid, such as soy sauce. This pre-trip read may also uncover some perfectly safe traditional dishes to savor, for example Bandeja Paisa in Medellin, Colombia.

An important planning step is to pack a backpack with gluten-free snacks like Soy Joy Bars, GoMacro Bars, Lara Bars, RX Bars, Rice Crackers, and Trail Mix. Travelers never know when they’ll be stuck on a bus, train, airport, or hotel with no other option. Although people with allergies to wheat are most likely tired of eating these snacks, it will get them out of a tough spot.

Stay in accommodation with a kitchen and go to the grocery store

Renting an apartment, booking an Airbnb, or staying in a hostel with a kitchen is a prudent decision for people with a wheat-free diet and other allergies. This way, they will be able to cook their own meals and avoid the cross contamination that could occur in a restaurant. As Becca points out, cooking is also a fantastic way to save money on the road.

Going to the local grocery store or market is another way to cater for special diets. Whether or not there is a large aisle for allergen-free foods, travelers will be able to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, bags of rice, and beans that are safe to eat. Here, visitors will also be able to learn more about how the locals eat and cook. They can also find dishes that are not served in restaurants.

Traveling with celiac disease, a wheat intolerance, or a wheat allergy can seem difficult, but would-be travelers shouldn’t be put off. There are so many amazing places to visit and it would be a shame if people let dietary requirements get in the way of their freedom. With a little care, planning, and research, people on a gluten-free diet should be able to do so just about anywhere in the world.

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