Traveling gluten-free can be riddled with fear and anxiety, but it doesn’t have to be that way with a bit of planning and forethought. This article includes the many travel tips I’ve gleaned over my 10+ years of traveling the world while following a strict gluten-free diet. I hope these tips will help you travel with confidence and ease. Bon voyage! This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosures.
People with celiac disease and gluten intolerance often fear travel because eating out is a big part of the journey. I feel most of the gluten-free community would agree that eating out is their top challenge when it comes to following a strict gluten-free diet.
Many gluten-free travelers carry a lot of fears, anxieties, and worries with them when they travel. These worries might include the following:
- Getting stuck somewhere with no gluten-free options.
- Being a burden to friends and family.
- Having to explain their dietary needs over and over again.
- Not speaking the language.
- Getting glutened and have to deal with diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, and other symptoms when they’re far from the creature comforts of home.
I’ve traveled dozens of times since my celiac disease diagnosis 10+ years ago, and I can attest that traveling can be a fulfilling and fun experience with a little planning and strategic packing.
Hunting for gluten-free options is part of the journey, and when I find good gluten-free food, these finds often become some of the most memorable parts of my trip.
Of course, it has taken me years to feel comfortable and confident enough to write this article. And even though it’s easier to stay home, I never regret getting out of my bubble and seeing the world in spite of my disability.
My hope for you is that after reading this article, you’ll feel more confident and comfortable traveling the world.
Where to Go
The first step to planning your vacation is deciding where to go. Fortunately, there are many options available to the gluten-free community today. Here are a few resources to consider:
(1) Work with a Gluten-Free Travel Agency: Gluten-Free Travel is a company dedicated to helping people travel gluten-free in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Disneyworld. They also coordinate vacations for groups of people with gluten disorders. In January 2023, for example, Gluten-Free Travel is coordinating a group trip to the UNICO 20°87° Hotel in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
(2) Consider a Celiac Cruise: If you’re going on a cruise, consider booking your cruise through Celiac Cruise, a company that offers a dedicated gluten-free dining experience on select destinations throughout the U.S., Europe, and the Caribbean.
My husband and I went on an Alaskan Celiac Cruise in 2023, which you can read about in my article, 22 Things to Consider Before Going on a Celiac Cruise.
Keep in mind that other cruise ships can accommodate gluten-free diets; it just might require a little more pre-planning and communication. For non-Celiac Cruise experiences, read The Ultimate Gluten-Free Cruise Survival Guide.
(3) Read Gluten-Free Travel Guides: My friend Elikqitie has created a 200+ page Guide to Traveling Gluten Free that I highly recommend. She also hosts the Travel Gluten Free podcast. Jennifer from the Nomadic Fitzpatricks offers a variety of free gluten-free travel guides in select cities.
(4) Consider Gluten-Free Friendly Resorts: A growing number of all-inclusive resorts offer gluten-free accommodations. Here are a few resorts to consider:
- Arenas DelMar Resort in Costa Rica: This luxury resort offers a fully certified gluten-free program for its gluten-free guests.
- Beaches and Sandals (Caribbean): The Beaches resort website shares the following video that showcases how their resorts cater to the gluten-free community.
(5) Visit Disney Resorts: Disney is known for being highly accommodating of all food allergies, and Disney says on its website, “In most cases, no advance arrangements are needed.”
I can attest that Disney takes food allergies seriously. When I visited Disneyworld, wherever I went, the chef would speak to me directly about my dietary restrictions and make me a special meal. I never got sick, and the food was incredible.
When possible, note that you require a gluten-free meal when making your reservations (reservations are a must at most Disney restaurants).
(6) Stay in a Gluten-Free Bed and Breakfast: Planning a trip around one of the following dedicated gluten-free bed and breakfasts would be an excellent way to travel. I have not personally stayed at any of these B&Bs unless noted, but I wanted to share a few that I have either heard about or researched online:
- The Inn at Randolph near Napa Valley, California is a dedicated gluten-free B&B.
- Inn Berlin Bed & Breakfast in Berlin, Maryland is a dedicated gluten-free B&B.
- Anamaya Resort in Costa Rica offers many gluten-free options.
- Barcelona Lakeside Bed and Breakfast near Lake Erie in Westfield, New York offers plenty of gluten-free options.
- Loba Luna Bed & Breakfast in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is 100 percent dedicated gluten-free B&B.
- Ste Anne’s Spa in Grafton, Ontario, Canada is located 1.5 hours from Toronto and has a dedicated gluten-free bakery too!
- St. Francis Inn Bed and Breakfast in St. Augustine, Florida offers gluten-free options and trained staff that will ask about your dietary needs upon booking your room.
- Mostarlic Vegan and Gluten-Free B&B in Bouconville, France is a vegan and gluten-free B&B.
- Southern Grace Bed and Breakfast in Brandenburg, Kentucky caters to gluten-free and other specialty diets.
- Relais Borgo Gentile in Tarano, Italy is a dedicated gluten-free B&B.
a say in your next vacation spot, look for gluten-free friendly destinations. Some countries and cities are more accommodating to the gluten-free community than others. I found London, Amsterdam, and Tel Aviv to be highly accommodating to the gluten-free community.
I also know that Italy, for example, takes gluten-free diets seriously (as seen in the following video), and Finland has some of the highest rates of celiac in the world, so chances are you could be able to find plenty of gluten-free options.
Where to Stay
(8) Stay in a Vrbo: If you’re not staying in a dedicated gluten-free resort, hotel, cruise ship, etc., I highly recommend staying in a Vrbo or a hotel with a kitchenette, which needs to include a fridge, microwave, and stovetop.
I use Vrbo or Airbnb to find vacation rentals that fit my needs. I find it doesn’t cost much more to stay in a vacation rental home vs. a hotel, especially when I travel with my kids or another family because we stay in one home vs. separate hotel rooms. There are usually cost savings when we stay together, and it’s much more fun to be in a spacious home than a small hotel room.
Staying in a vacation rental allows me to prepare and eat breakfast at “home” and quickly pack a lunch to take with me.
Preparing breakfast and lunch in my Vrbo saves me money, creates less stress because I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from, and it gives me more time at my destination vs. spending precious time worrying about finding gluten-free food.
(9) Request a Gluten-Free Meal on International Flights: If you’re flying internationally or first-class, you’ll want to contact the airline to request a gluten-free in-flight meal (if offered on your flight).
The airline will need to curate this meal ahead of time, so be sure to order it as soon as you book your flight and confirm it the week before your flight. You cannot request and be guaranteed a gluten-free meal when you step on the plane. You must request it ahead of your flight.
Once you board your flight, let the flight attendant know you requested a gluten-free meal ahead of time (show her any confirmation you received in writing) so she can make sure the meal is on the flight before takeoff.
I did this on my last flight to Israel, and because I had introduced myself to my flight attendant, she brought me my “special” meal ahead of serving everyone else.
Below is what a gluten-free airline meal looked like on a recent Delta flight. I enjoyed a fresh salad and fruit, grilled chicken with rice and pesto sauce, steamed vegetables, and a rice cake.
Since you’ll be eating dinner out, you’ll want to do a little research and planning ahead of your trip.
(10) Research Restaurants and Make Reservations: Research a list of restaurants with safe gluten-free options near your destination. A Google search or search on the FindMeGlutenFree app will help you identify potentially safe restaurants across the U.S. and worldwide.
Then, once you’ve planned your itinerary, you should start making dinner reservations. Restaurants in big cities and popular tourist locations, like Hawaii and Disney, book up quickly.
(11) Download Foreign Language Dining Cards: If you’re traveling to a country where you don’t speak the native language, look at the foreign language dining cards offered by CeliacTravel.com. You can download and print these dining cards, which explain your dietary needs in various languages and can be shared with your server and chef.
Servers in many foreign countries already understand what’s involved in a gluten-free diet. I tried to hand a Hebrew gluten-free dining card to my waiter in Israel, and he said, “I’m happy to look at your card, but I speak English and understand what gluten-free means.” Fair enough.
(12) Communicate Ahead of Your Visit: If you’re staying in a hotel, resort, or cruise ship (not through Celiac Cruise), you’ll want to communicate with the staff ahead of your visit to ensure gluten-free accommodations will be available upon your arrival and for the duration of your stay. The goal is to be as proactive and communicative as possible.
After booking your cruise or all-inclusive resort, contact customer service and ask them what you need to do to ensure you get gluten-free meals during your entire visit. Most cruise lines have come a long way in accommodating the gluten-free community, but each has nuances that you’ll need to be aware of and which I learned the hard way on my Royal Caribbean cruise.
When you arrive, introduce yourself to the staff (ideally the head chef) and discuss your dietary needs. Ask what you need to do to ensure you get safe, gluten-free food at every meal.
What to Pack in Your Suitcase
Now that you’ve planned your trip, you’ll want to start thinking about what to pack. I’ve found the following items to be helpful during my travels:
(13) Pack Gluten-Free Bread and Wraps: Gluten-free bread is hard to find in many grocery stores, and if a grocery store has it, it may not be the brand you want or you might get stuck with a loaf of frozen Udi’s as your only option.
Because I pack lunches every day of my trip, and suggest you do too, I bring several loaves of my preferred bread. When I’m traveling, you’ll find several loaves of Canyon Bakehouse bread in the stay-fresh packaging and BFree protein wraps in my suitcase. (The extra space the bread takes in my suitcase becomes extra space to bring home souvenirs!)
Remember, you can buy deli meat and condiments at any grocery store, so there’s no need to bring those items.
(14) Bring an Insulated Lunch Box and Ice Pack: Because I pack lunches while traveling, I always bring an insulated lunchbox with an ice pack. The lunchbox is cloth and foldable, so it easily fits in my suitcase. Be sure to pack the ice pack in your suitcase (vs. carry-on bag) so it doesn’t get confiscated by TSA.
(15) Bring Reusable Bags: Because I pack a lunch, I always bring reusable zip-top bags when I travel. Many people like Stasher bags, although I think they break easily. I’ve enjoyed my reusable storage bags from Ello, and I purchased a huge set of them at Costco for less than $20. I wash the bags each night and use them again the next day. If you don’t have reusable bags, you can alternatively bring a handful of disposable zip-top baggies.
(16) Bring a Pan (optional): I’ve been known to bring my own medium-sized non-stick pan when I travel. Most Vrbos will have clean pans, but occasionally they’ll only have a dirty, scratched-up pan, which can make you sick. If I don’t have my pan and the pans in my Vrbo aren’t usable, I find a Walmart to buy one.
What to Bring in Your Carry-On Bag
Here are a few suggestions for things to bring in your carry-on bag:
(17) Always Have Snacks: You always want to have snacks in your carry-on bag because even a short, one-hour flight can turn into a 24-hour nightmare. You never want to find yourself unprepared or desperate for food.
Pack plenty of non-perishable snacks that are high in protein, like meat sticks and peanut butter packets. Also, bring sliced apples and oranges, chips, and other snack foods that will keep you satiated.
I also recommend packing portable meals, like oatmeal cups and ramen noodle cups. I can easily find hot water on a plane or at a coffee shop. Be sure to check out my list of 75+ of the best gluten-free snacks for more suggestions.
(18) Carry a Reusable Water Bottle: A sensitive stomach requires constant hydration, so carry a reusable water bottle wherever you go. While you can’t bring water through TSA, you can carry a reusable water bottle with you and fill it at a water-filling station or restaurant on the other side of TSA.
(19) Bring Probiotics: Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you should take a break from your probiotics. You want to keep your gut happy and healthy. Purchase shelf-stable probiotics to bring with you on the trip. They should contain 30-50 billion CFUs per dose.
(20) Bring a Portable Gluten-Detecting Sensor (optional): You can also pack your Nima Sensor, a portable gluten-detecting sensor. If you do, stock up on extra test capsules before you go.
Truth be told, I don’t always use my Nima Sensor with me when I travel because it sometimes makes me a little crazy. Of course, I don’t want to get sick, and I do everything I can to eat out as safely as possible by researching safe restaurants and communicating with authority, but testing my food adds an extra layer of fear and complexity during my vacation, especially in foreign countries.
Plenty of people will only travel with their Nima in hand. I bring mine with me just in case I’m overly anxious about a meal, but I only use it when my instincts tell me this meal is too good to be true.
(21) Bring Medications: If you’re worried about getting glutened on your vacation, or you tend to get sick when traveling and eating foods outside of the norm, be sure to bring along any medications you take to soothe your stomach. Digestive enzymes can be helpful when eating out and preventing severe symptoms from potential gluten cross-contamination.
What to Do When You Arrive
Once you arrive at your destination, allow yourself time to get situated in your Vrbo and do a little grocery shopping before you venture off on any excursions.
(22) Assess What You Need: Get into your Vrbo first (if possible) and access your kitchen situation. Does the Vrbo have clean pots? Is there aluminum foil so you can cover baking sheets? Does the Vrbo have salt and pepper shakers you feel comfortable using?
If desired, you can run the dishes, glasses, and silverware through the dishwasher so they’re extra clean and ready for you to use the next day. And, of course, be sure to wash any pot, knife, or surface before using it. Avoid using colanders and toasters due to the high potential for gluten cross-contact.
(23) Go Grocery Shopping: Find a nearby grocery store and buy food for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Think deli meats, condiments, vegetables, fruits, eggs, butter, lox, etc. For longer trips, where my kids grow sick of sandwiches, I make a giant pasta salad, and we pack it for lunch to enjoy for several days. You can buy disposable plastic containers or grab a few containers and disposable forks off the salad bar at the grocery store.
(24) Eat a Warm Breakfast in Your Vrbo: Before you start your day, enjoy a healthy, warm, and filling breakfast. I enjoy making eggs or toasting bread in a pan (not in a gluten-y toaster) and then topping it with cream cheese and lox.
(25) Pack Lunches: Pack lunches and snacks for the day and head out for a fun day exploring the town. There’s no need to worry about finding a restaurant. Your food is packed and ready when you need it most.
Good thing you brought an insulated lunchbox, ice pack, and reusable bags! If you don’t have an ice pack, you can always freeze a half-full plastic water bottle and use that as your ice pack instead.
At the end of the day, your dinner reservations await you at a restaurant you researched ahead of time. It’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy a meal with your family and friends.
A No-Stress Vacation
Here are a few more tips for making traveling gluten-free a stress-free experience:
(26) Take It Slow: Try not to overschedule your days. You may need extra time to seek out places to eat, or you may not feel well if you become accidentally glutened. Vacations tend to be go-go, but when you travel with dietary restrictions, try to keep the go-go to a minimum and enjoy the journey and downtime.
(27) Make Finding Food Part of the Journey: My family and I have had the most memorable adventures trying to find gluten-free crepes in Paris and gluten-free falafel in Jerusalem. We loved discovering a restaurant in Chicago that made homemade gluten-free pasta, and we were shocked at how amazing the gluten-free pizza tasted at a small hole in the wall in Portland, Oregon. We still talk about these “food finds” to this day. Remember, finding gluten-free food can be a fun and fulling part of the journey, especially when you’re with people who love and respect you.
Preparing, packing, and slowing down (vs. overscheduling) will ensure your gluten disorder doesn’t put a kybosh on your travel adventures. Let the world be your [gluten-free] oyster!