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How to Travel Successfully with Celiac Disease

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How to Travel Successfully with Celiac Disease

Jul 15, 2021

Whether you’re flying around the world or just going out of state, if you have celiac disease and you’re travelling, thinking about your future food selections may make you feel a bit nervous. What will the restaurants be like where you’re going? Will the grocery stores there carry gluten-free food selections? Will you be able to have a gluten-free meal on the plane (if you’re flying)? 

All of these questions may be buzzing around in your head—but many people with celiac disease travel every day, even to countries where they don’t speak the language—but the critical thing to do to assuage your worries is to plan ahead. 

Read on to learn how to prepare for your gluten-free vacation, what to pack, and how to ensure you have a great time, all while staying gluten-free. 

What Is Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free?

The term “gluten-free” has been a big buzzword for several years, and many people choose to go gluten-free for myriad reasons, whether it be for their diet or mood. Some people are sensitive to gluten, who may experience symptoms such as bloating or gas after consuming it but do not have a severe reaction. Celiac disease, however, is quite different from gluten sensitivity or intolerance and those who have celiac disease have no choice but to adhere to a gluten-free diet.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system “attacks” the small intestine after gluten is consumed. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye products. Suppose someone with celiac disease continues to consume gluten and they go undiagnosed. In that case, they could experience health problems such as nutritional deficiencies, anemia, depression, and permanent damage to the small intestine. 

Celiac Disease

Gluten is most obviously found in breads and pastas but is often hidden in other foods, such as soy sauce, processed meats, potato chips, oats, and soup. Those with celiac disease always have to worry about cross-contamination, meaning if a gluten-free food was closely prepared with a food containing gluten.

Planning for a Gluten-Free Trip

One of the first things you should consider when planning your trip is the destination. If you’re absolutely crossing something off your bucket list, it’s completely understandable, but the more remote the location, the less likely the area may understand gluten-free. Some gluten-free bloggers report they have travelled to places where restaurants had never heard of “gluten-free” or celiac disease, so choose your destination wisely. Other tips when it comes to planning your vacation include:

  • Get a doctor’s note stating you have celiac disease. This way, you do not experience problems from TSA if you bring special snacks (especially those containing liquids) on board.
  • Notify the airline (if you are flying) well ahead of time that you require a gluten-free meal, and then double-check again soon before your trip. 
  • Choose an Airbnb or similar rental over a hotel, so you have access to a kitchen. This way, you can prepare your own meals if you can’t find an accommodating restaurant. 
  • Research restaurants and grocery stores in the area ahead of time, and make phone calls to inquire about the menu. 
  • Read blogs by gluten-free bloggers that may have visited the area, or download apps such as FindMeGlutenFree, which will help you find something in a pinch. 
  • Pack medications just in case you are accidentally exposed to gluten. 

You may also be wondering, what gluten-free snacks should I pack? This is one of the biggest tips you should follow because you can’t depend on being able to find gluten-free food as you’re travelling. Gluten-free granola bars and bites are great on the go, and you can also pack gluten-free ramen and oats and other quick meals, should you need to make a meal on the go. Even if you’ve done the best planning, always know you can’t rely on restaurants and stores until you actually arrive, so it’s best to pack some food comforts from home for those “just-in-case” moments. 

What Are Some Gluten-Free Tips for Eating Out?

If you’re travelling to an area where you don’t know the language, you should try to learn some of it before your arrival, particularly the language that pertains to food and ordering from a menu. You can also order (or make) gluten-free restaurant cards in different languages that explain what celiac disease is, what gluten-free foods are, and what cross-contamination is. One of the biggest problems you may encounter while eating out is that restaurateurs may understand your needs for being gluten-free, and they may say that they have gluten-free selections, but they may not understand the dangers of cross-contamination. 

Your first point of contact at the table will be your server, and while you don’t want to seem rude, oftentimes servers don’t have a broad idea of how foods are prepared in the kitchen. They can offer suggestions on menu selections, but they are not behind the line watching the cooks and chefs prepare the meals. Because being exposed to gluten is a serious matter, you may want to kindly ask to see the manager or chef to fully ensure that the food you’re ordering is truly gluten-free and there is no cross-contamination involved. 

No one wants to seem like a pest, but you also don’t want to be exposed to gluten and have your vacation ruined, either. It’s best to just be polite and upfront and simply explain that you have a serious medical allergy. Most restaurants will understand and be accomodating. However, it’s best to call in advance before you arrive in an area, so you have specific restaurants already picked out. That way, there is no letdown when you arrive. Staying in an Airbnb with a kitchen is wonderful for your needs, but surely on vacation, you don’t want to cook each night, so planning ahead is a must. 

You may wonder, what should I avoid when travelling? Other than destinations that may not be able to grasp “gluten-free” or celiac disease, the number-one thing to avoid is the food you are unsure of. If you have any doubts at all about a food, it’s better to skip it than risk gluten exposure. Being in an unfamiliar place with celiac symptoms would surely be unpleasant. 

If you need more information about celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance, or wish to be seen by a physician, contact us at Carolina Digestive Health Associates in Charlotte, North Carolina today. We offer comprehensive care for all of your gastrointestinal needs.