10 Gluten-Free Travel Tips

Traveling with celiac disease can be tricky! Kim Koeller is sharing her top ten tips for gluten-free travel. Kim is the award-winning author of Let’s Eat Out Around the World Gluten Free and Allergy Free series of books and mobile apps, traveling over 2.5 million miles across the globe while managing a 100% gluten and allergy-free diet for the past 12-plus years.

Traveling for business and pleasure with food allergies, celiac disease and gluten-free diets can be challenging at times. According to global market research conducted by GlutenFree Passport, over 85% of gluten-free and food allergy individuals have two primary concerns when traveling away from home: safely eating out in restaurants and the availability of gluten-free and allergy-friendly snacks. In addition, about 50% of travelers are concerned about airlines, hotels/accommodations and communication in foreign languages.

With a little extra effort and careful planning, your next gluten-free trip can be highly rewarding, enjoyable and fun by following these top 10 gluten free tips for traveling anywhere around the world!

1. Order special airline meals for longer flights, and reconfirm your airplane meals in advance based upon standard airline codes – GFML for gluten-free meals, NLML for non-lactose meals, PFML for peanut-free meals and even DBML for diabetic meals.

2. Assess hotel options to find the best fit for your special diet, and determine if you need a small refrigerator in your room. Notify your hotel of your food concerns when booking your reservations and contact customer service and/or restaurant staff about meal alternatives as required.

3. Pack safe snacks keeping in mind airport security regulations. Bring enough food to get you to your destination and for your excursions throughout your trip. For example, if you’re flying eight hours to Hawaii, take two to three meals worth of food (including protein and carbohydrates) in case of delays. Upon arrival to a foreign country, discard any food that is not pre-packaged prior to entering customs based on agricultural regulations.

4. Carry your medications with you including several epinephrine auto-injectors and any other related medicines as required in case of anaphylaxis and an emergency.

5. Conduct research about your travel destination(s), restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, food labeling laws and level of special diet awareness. Arm yourself with resources such as the Find Me Gluten Free app for restaurant locations, iCanEat Fast Food app for specific menu items, iEatOut app for navigating ethnic restaurant menus, dining cards and more.

6. Notify restaurant wait staff about your food concerns (e.g. I’m allergic to gluten and wheat so I can’t eat any bread or flour. I’m allergic to dairy so I can’t have any milk and butter). If you feel more comfortable, call ahead and discuss menu options with the restaurant.

7. Understand what ingredients are safe to eat, what foods contain gluten and other allergens, how dishes are prepared as well as the type of cooking techniques used (e.g. flour dusting, dedicated fryer, etc.) Educate yourself on what modifications can be made and where gluten and other allergens may be hidden (e.g. soy sauce contains wheat and gluten, etc.)

8. Communicate your dietary requirements and ask questions based on ingredients and food preparation in “restaurant language terms.” Use English language dining cards to explain your dietary requirements when needed. Rather than simply asking, “Is this dish gluten free?” a few example questions for safe gluten-free meals are:

  1. Are your hamburgers and the flourless chocolate cake made with bread crumbs?
  2. Is your chicken flour dusted?
  3. Is the sauce made from a roux which includes wheat flour?
  4. Are your French fries fried in the same oil as your breaded items such as chicken fingers

Even though more restaurants around the world are offering gluten-free menus and/or food allergy charts, it is still critical to ask restaurant staff questions about how food is prepared to ensure safe meals everywhere.

9. Confirm your gluten free dish upon delivery and reiterate your special order request. Assess your meal to ensure that it has been prepared as discussed during the ordering process.

10. Use restaurant translation cards when traveling in foreign speaking countries. Carry chef dining cards in the native language and present these to the wait staff and/or chef at your restaurant and hotel. Communicate your food concerns with cards for gluten-free, dairy-free and shellfish free diets as well as multiple food allergies. Also, prepare yourself with country-specific travel paks, foreign language phrase guides and recommendations from local celiac/coeliac/food allergy groups, associations and travel blogs for safe global travel to fully experience your destination.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Debbie Carlson says:

    Do you offer dairy free information also? I am more dairy than gluten. Thanks.


    1. lauragfmg says:

      Hi Debbie! While gluten-free information is our primary focus, we do have some resources for dairy-free folks. Do you have our Find Me Gluten Free app on your phone? You can filter by dairy-free restaurants too! Just tap “search near me,” “go,” “filter” at the top right, “tag,” and scroll down to “dairy-free.” We also occasionally post dairy-free recipes on our Facebook page, and many of the vendors at the Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo have dairy-free products.


  2. camilla says:

    This article contains some useful tips, however, it should be noted that cross-contamination from airborne gluten is a serious risk for people with Celiac disease. According to GIGO, flour dust can hang in the air for up to 24 hours, settling on surfaces and equipment in a non-dedicated kitchen. If a restaurant is dusting their meat, etc., with flour, the chances are that your “gluten-free” meal isn’t. The US only recently adopted testing requirements for food bearing the “gluten free” label, and while these technically apply to restaurant food, they are NOT enforced. Some countries have stricter standards than the US, but in most places, you are on your own. Point number 6, “Conduct Research” is very well-advised. Traveling or not traveling, eat out–in restaurants or in homes–at your own risk.


    1. lauragfmg says:

      Thank you for your comment, Camilla. Yes, research is key!


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