Travelling sans gluten
July 29, 2013 12:01 PM   Subscribe

What is in your gluten free travel "toolbox"?

I’ll be on a 1-month long multi-country trip and it’s impossible to research gluten free options for all the places. Since I simply cannot expect a high level of awareness about coeliac / gluten intolerance everywhere, I am curious what other coeliac/gluten intolerant travelers do.

Thanks for sharing!
posted by travelwithcats to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am not gluten free, but my mother is allergic to wheat (not coeliac so she has a little more leeway) and this is what she does when we travel:

Has printouts and pronunciation guides for every language with phrases like "I am allergic to bread/wheat. Does this have any bread/wheat in it?" and "No bread, please" or "Bread on the side" [since some countries like Turkey have a lot of different breads, we had to substitute a lot of different names]

Learning common menu items in advance, like types of meat and common side dishes and their ingredients

Packed food: single-serving tubs of peanut butter, asian rice crackers or Glutino crackers (depending on where you are, the grocery stores may have a lot of gluten-free options-- Italy's been getting amazing about having different options, but I don't know Eastern Europe as well,) Nature Valley granola bars, trail mix, oatmeal packets

Grocery stores: we eat a lot of meals (especially breakfast) in the hotel or on the go, so cheeses, meats, fruits etc. from stores to go with the crackers et al.

Kit: a couple of extra plastic knives and forks for said meals on the go or for separating out things that do get bread on them
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:12 PM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: When I travel, I usually bring an assortment of shelf-stable Kind bars, dried fruit, nuts, and something like pepperoni or beef jerky (though I'm not sure how international travel and customs law would affect that). It's fairly easy to supplement with foods like cheese or yogurt and fresh fruits and veggies along the way.

I also have Triumph cards, which can be super helpful for restaurants where you encounter a language barrier.

Good luck, and I hope your trip is amazing!
posted by Andrhia at 1:39 PM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: I have an app called GF Card on my phone that has an explanation of gluten intolerance on it in a large number of languages, so I will show that to waitstaff or a manager at restaurants when I'm traveling and it seems to work fairly well. I also have an app called Find Me GF that lets you search for restaurants with GF menus, but I am not sure what countries are in its database. I also will search Chowhound or similar for "[cityname] gluten free" and there are usually decent recommendations from locals.

I also bring food with me - Kind bars, Quest protein bars, and nuts and nut-based snacks (Mrs. May's brand is a particular favorite). If I can, I will go to local grocers and get fresh veggies and cheeses to eat while I'm there, especially if I have access to a refrigerator or cooler. Fortunately, things like nuts & chips are pretty readily available most places so it's easy to pick up extra nonperishable snacks while you're traveling.
posted by bedhead at 3:36 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you get really sick when you do get glutened? If so, pack whatever comfort things you need in the event of a glutening.

I guess if I were to do this, I'd be eating variations on what I call "celiac picnic." Celiac picnic is: fruit or veg, nuts or cheese, any GF cured meats I could find, crackers and chips, maybe some hardboiled eggs. Peanut butter packets are good to bring with. I'd assess what to take based one what seems like it might be available. I also usually look up the location of any natural foods stores near where I'll be staying. They're the most reliable sources of GF shelf-stable staples like crackers and chips. I'd also bring some candy/chocolate from home because that can be the most challenging to find GF versions of in a foreign language. And at some point you'll probably want a sweet treat.

I've used some translation cards in restaurants and it worked out okay though it was rather nerve-wracking at first. The recipients seemed offended/alarmed but I didn't read or speak the language so I couldn't tell you if it was a bad/bossy translation or not. I printed my own from free sites so I could just give them away if need be.

Now the caveat part: I'm quite sensitive to cross-contamination. The rest of this advice is with that in mind. I opt to eat out as little as possible so that I don't spend my entire vacation sick. I stay where I can find a kitchen and pack my own frying pan, spatula, cutting board and dish cloth. (Yes, even abroad.) Many places with kitchens are ill-equipped and this way I don't have to worry about rewashing everything when I first get there, or accidentally glutening myself because there's only a gluten-laden sponge available to wash the dishes, etc. Hopefully this last paragraph doesn't apply to you.
posted by purple_bird at 4:38 PM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: We travel a bit with my daughter who has Celiac disease. We don't travel as long as a month, but what we do it make sure that we have some Udi's GF bread with us. For better or for worse, we figured this out relatively early and if she gets some wheat in her diet, she'll just have the runs. The worst part is when she looks at cake and tells us confidently that it has no gluten in it. (as if).

Now, you're a responsible adult so there are all kinds of options open to you. For example, most places won't blink an eye if you asked for a hamburger without the bun and you had no back up. You just eat it as is. My daughter would likely throw a fit so we have the Udi's handy.

Honestly, unless you're super sensitive to cross contamination, you can just be very specific with restaurants and you'll do OK. Most places in the US should have enough understanding to change gloves for your food and keep it away from the bread and to let you know if they have a separate fryer for non-wheat.

Things I would keep with me if I were you: udi's gf bread, Rice chex, fruit.

Things we have done: handed the Udi's to a server and asked for French toast. We've gotten pushback from some places (no outside food on our griddles) and we've countered by asking that they put some foil down on the griddle.

Celiac is manageable if you stick to a paleo-ish diet, which is fortunately, an in thing, so it's easy to get a plate of meat and vegetables, but generally speaking your best bet is to explain it to the waitstaff in no uncertain terms: I have a wheat allergy. If I get any wheat in my diet, I will end up in bed in a great deal of pain, so would you please help me find something appropriate on your menu.
posted by plinth at 6:20 PM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: Nth-ing pack your own food-- I regularly travel in weird places where I don't speak the language or only speak a little of the language, and I travel armed with Kind Bars, Nogii Bars, and almonds or cashews. They travel well-- they stay fresh, and don't get smushed or crushed when cramming things into your suitcase. Jerky is good too, but seal it up unless you want your clothes to smell like a BBQ nightmare.

I have tried explaining what gluten intolerance is (even just saying "allergic to wheat") both verbally and with written cards, and found that while some places know what you're talking about, lots don't. People will be well-intentioned, but honestly, a lot of times they just don't know and it ends up like when you get directions from a well-intentioned person who doesn't really know what they're talking about (except your destination is intestinal discomfort and sadness). So try that first and see where it gets you, but be prepared to supplement your diet with packaged snacks. Not as much fun as sampling the local cuisine with abandon, but a lot more fun than sampling the local medical care!
posted by shaka_lulu at 7:00 PM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: I'm not gluten-free myself, but I will never forget this priceless bit of advice from an interview I did with a celiac patient: travel with rice cakes and peanut butter.
posted by Ouisch at 7:54 PM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: There's great advice above. Adding to the suggestions, I use the website for all the single-serving stuff that is easy to travel with. Also, "The Gluten Free Bible" book has cards in every language for gluten intolerance.
posted by luciddream928 at 7:59 PM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: I have celiac disease and travelled in the Balkans a bit last summer (covering a good chunk of Croatia and part of Slovenia, and also hitting Budapest, after coming down through Berlin, Krakow, Prague and Bratislava) and had no problem at all; basically if something looked gluten free, it was. I pretty much never even told people I can't eat gluten and had zero issues. Most of my food knowledge of these areas came from the cuisine section of a Frommer's guidebook and a little online research (mostly via looking at recipes to see what these dishes normally contained) to figure out which traditional foods I could eat.

That said, my usual travel kit basically contains some kind of cracker product that I can pair with meats, cheeses, etc., plus a small thing of mustard so I don't have to buy a giant one on my travels and schlep it around. Typically I only eat from this GF travel kit for breakfast, since I find that breakfast is often the one meal of the day it is hard to grab gluten-free on the go and have some kind of sustaining carbohydrate. I also carry around an Immodium tablet in case of contamination, as it will stop the, erm, most inconvenient symptom of being glutened, if not the headache and other bodiiy aches.
posted by urbanlenny at 11:25 AM on July 30, 2013

Response by poster: Many thanks to all of you!

I really hope that I can avoid getting glutened! So I'll be researching as much as possible beforehand and opt for self-catering.

So far it looks like Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary would be easiest to navigate, as regular supermarkets stock gluten free food. Restaurants seem to be limited though. There are dining cards in 54 languages at celiactravel - pretty cool. Some countries seem to be totally undeserved though, no coeliac societies, limited awareness, gluten free foods only available in pharmacies...but that are stupid reasons not to travel there.

I am taking a backpack on this trip and will have limited space for a gluten free snack pack, or I'll have to take an extra bag for food :-). But it's a good idea to take at least some comfort food - I encountered gf bread in Poland, eating it was kind of like biting on styrofoam (brand Bezgluten). They had good, dry cookies though. Yes, Italy has many great and really tasty gf products, neatly labeled and usually easy to find as well (brands Probios, Schär). And there tends to be awareness, so eating out is possible.

My basic kit includes: kitchen sponge, dish towel, cutting board. Plus cutlery & dish for those improv-gf-picnics. I'll pack some bread, crackers, granola/protein bars as a back-up.

Thanks again and happy gluten free travels!
posted by travelwithcats at 7:54 AM on July 31, 2013

Best answer: For Croatia, I just found this list of national meals that are gluten-free on the Croatian Celiac Society's guide for tourists. It's in Croatian, but Google and Google Translate should be able to help you figure out what you'd like to eat from there.

The list is reminding me that I ate a LOT of cuttlefish risotto with black ink when I was in Croatia. Yum.

If you can find yourself some Wasa gluten-free crisp bread , which is stocked limitedly in Europe (but not North America because they are MEAN!), but especially in the Nordic countries and Germany, pick up a box or several. Super delicious. I went to Scandinavia a few years ago (a celiac suffer's dream region) and grew very attached to this crispbread. I now have had people pick up boxes for me whenever I can and eat it mostly as special treats at home.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:34 AM on August 2, 2013

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