It can be stressful enough trying to plan and pack for an overseas business trip or vacation - without trying to do it gluten- free. Here are some ideas to help make your overseas travel start and end smoothly.
Before You Go
Check your overseas medical insurance coverage. Ask your medical insurance company if your policy applies overseas, and if it covers emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. If it does not, consider supplemental insurance in the case of accidental exposure that might require medical attention.
Ship ahead. Consider ordering or shipping your gluten-free supplies online and having the items delivered directly to your hotel or other accommodations. However, please be aware of legal considerations when crossing borders: some countries have laws about what foods can be imported. Make sure you know what the laws are, and don’t try to bring foods with you that might be confiscated.
Get an idea of the local cuisine. If you are traveling to Italy then breads and pastas will be prevalent, if you are going to Hong Kong, then you’ll need to read about the common preparation of different sauces, and so on. Dining in foreign countries is fun and delicious, so knowing what you need to look out for ahead of time will make it much less stressful.
If the local language is different from your own, learn phrases used to make requests pertaining to your diet. For example:
- I’m allergic to [insert food item here].
- I cannot eat [insert food item here] or I will get sick.
- Does this dish contain [insert food item here]?
Make sure you can say wheat, flour and other key words
Order restaurant cards written in the language(s) of the country you’re visiting (See celiactravel.com), and/or use translation software to create your own. Some app’s to download for help with translation are: Google Translate, Jibbigo, Interpret, or Ultralingua. It might also be worth paying for international Internet access on your phone so you can look up restaurants or certain menu items on the fly.
Think Kitchen-in-a-bag: Is there room to pack or ship a small toaster? A camping stove (minus the fuel)? How about a set of pots and pans and silverware? Salt and pepper? There might be nights that you want to make food in your hotel room and if you’ve got some of the key items to make it happen, it will save you from having to buy another set.
Meal plan: Take some time to research restaurants that are close to your hotel or will be close to where you are day-tripping to. Having a plan doesn’t mean you are giving up spontaneity, it means you’ll have more fun! (See glutenfreetravelsite.com and www.celiactravel.com.)
Plan Your Lodging: If you are booking your hotels ahead of time, try to secure a room with a microwave and mini-refrigerator, or even - a complete kitchenette. It might cost a touch more for the room, but you’ll save more money by not dining out every meal. If you are unable to cook or store food in your room, consider purchasing a small cooler once you arrive so you can keep a few items on-hand in the room for snacks and light meals (i.e. deli meats, cheese, veggies). Short of that, ask guest services what the options are at the Continental breakfast (if there is one) and see if you can request gluten-free breakfast options (like boiled eggs). Then you've taken care of at least one meal.
Staying with friends/family: Be sure to communicate yours or your child’s dietary restrictions ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than showing up the first night after a long day of travel to a thoughtful lasagna that is loaded with gluten and have to decline – you’ll be bummed and your host will feel bad. A simple email that explains what you can and cannot eat and why, is perfect. Let your hosts know that you will be happy to help with the shopping, cooking and food
prep. Once you arrive, go to the grocery store and stock up on safe foods.
Camping/Backpacking: The best part about camping is packing meals ahead of time. Pre-make gluten-free sandwiches, carry jerky and trail mix, hard and dried fruits, and gluten-free pasta. If you are going with a group and doing meal sharing, let key members of your party know that you can bring your own food, and will need to be careful about cross-contamination if using communal pots and pans.
Next, whether you are traveling by train in Europe or hiking through Peru, you can always visit a local grocery store and stock up on beans, deli meats, vegetables, fruit, potato chips, corn tortillas (read the label) and peanut butter.
When You Arrive
When you arrive at your ultimate destination, stop in at the local grocery store and stock up on some of the basics. Don’t forget to buy aluminum foil and resealable bags, which work well to store leftovers from restaurants, or any foods that you may have brought with you.
When eating out, some items to avoid if you can’t be sure include the regular suspects: bread, pasta, pizza and bagels as well as condiments and sauces. Watch out for cross contamination – this can be a big one especially at street vending carts. When in doubt? Fish and vegetables.
For some local knowledge, try and contact a local celiac support group to find out the safest and tastiest places they recommend to eat. (Click here for a listing of international groups.)
The most important thing is to relax and enjoy yourself. By planning ahead, you’ve reduced the risk of finding yourself in moments of desperation with no food. Have fun and safe travels!
- International Medical Insurance checked
- International calling and internet plan on phone activated
- Food and utensils ordered and shipped
- Key phrases learned in _______language
- Translation Apps downloaded
- Ordered or made restaurant cards in _______ language
- Talked to relatives about dietary restrictions
- Bought and packed enzymes and probiotics
- Picked a few restaurants and found nearest grocery store
- Found local celiac support group
- Secured a hotel with a kitchenette