Travelling with celiac disease

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Travelling to new places with a diagnosis of celiac disease can sometimes feel overwhelming. With careful planning and research, you and your family can enjoy your trip, gluten-free!

Key points

  • Plan ahead and research your destination to find safe, gluten-free options for your child to enjoy.
  • Clear communication with wait staff, kitchen staff, hotel managers, resorts or cruise ships is key to making sure your child's gluten-free needs are met.
  • Navigating gluten-free options in a new region can sometimes feel challenging. It can be helpful to use resources such as translated celiac restaurant cards, local celiac disease support groups or gluten-free food bloggers on social media.

Travelling can be an exciting way to try new foods. However, travelling to unfamiliar spots with a celiac disease diagnosis can sometimes feel overwhelming and take you and your family outside of your comfort zone.

The good news is that with careful planning and research, gluten-free travel can be done safely.

Plan ahead

How you prepare for your family's trip will depend on the type of travel and where you will be going. Here are some considerations for planning a gluten-free trip:

  • Contact your resort, cruise ship or tour group in advance to clearly communicate your child's diagnosis of celiac disease and need to follow a strict gluten-free diet.
  • Ask the resort, cruise ship or tour group if they offer gluten-free options.
  • When booking your domestic or international flight, ask about their gluten-free options for your child and ask the airline to have a gluten-free meal or snack available for the flight. When you are served these snacks or meals on your flight, make sure to carefully inspect and confirm that the food is gluten-free.
  • Book a seat on trains, planes or buses near the washroom if your child tends to get digestive symptoms when exposed to gluten.
  • Book a hotel room or home rental with a kitchenette or mini-fridge and microwave. Sometimes, hotels will come with a coffee pot, which is perfect for boiling water to make gluten-free instant oatmeal or soups. If you are travelling in a region where it is more difficult to eat gluten-free, having a kitchenette or basic kitchen equipment can allow you to safely prepare gluten-free options for your child to eat.
  • Bring your own food. Pack non-perishable foods, such as gluten-free bars, trail mix, chips, instant gluten-free oatmeal packages and cereals, or simple snack foods such as hummus and veggie sticks, fruit, cheese and nuts to ensure your child has gluten-free options while travelling. If you are flying or crossing borders, ask your health-care team for a signed doctor's note outlining your child's celiac disease diagnosis and medical need for gluten-free foods. This document may be helpful at customs.
  • Research your destination and food options. Look up grocery stores or farmers' markets in the area you will be staying in. If travelling in Canada, reach out to the local Celiac Canada Chapters and ask for food and restaurant recommendations. For food and restaurant recommendations in other countries, follow gluten-free bloggers on social media.
  • Learn the words for "celiac disease" and "gluten-free" in the language of the country you are visiting.
  • Research labelling requirements in the country your family is travelling to. Some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, the USA and countries in the European Union, have clear regulations regarding gluten and food labels, while other countries may not.
  • Stick to products you know are gluten-free or foods that are naturally gluten-free.
  • Download or print translated celiac restaurant cards that you can show when eating out to explain your child's gluten-free diet needs in another language. Celiactravel.com offers free downloadable gluten-free restaurant cards in 63 languages.
  • Pack comfort items, medications or remedies in case your child is exposed to gluten. Despite careful planning and considerations, sometimes accidental gluten exposure can happen. Prepare for those "worst-case scenarios" by making sure your child has what they need to feel comfortable away from home.

At your destination

When you have successfully planned your family trip and finally reached your destination, the rest of your trip may feel like a breeze! Of course, it is important to stay vigilant to avoid accidental gluten exposure. Here are some tips:

  • Regardless of the destination, following the tips outlined in the article, How to communicate about celiac disease when you eat out is a good start. Encourage your child to ask clarifying questions about menu items and clearly communicate the importance of making their meal gluten-free.
  • If you are vacationing at a resort or on a cruise ship, meet with the chef or kitchen staff to re-affirm that gluten-free options will be available. It may be helpful to provide the kitchen staff with a translated celiac restaurant card in the country's native language.
  • When possible, eat at sit-down restaurants so that you and your family can take the time to clearly communicate your child's gluten-free needs to wait staff and choose safe menu options.
  • Avoid using buffets as they can be high-risk spots for gluten cross-contact. Foods may come in contact with gluten-containing food or utensils that have touched gluten-containing food. If you must use a buffet, try arriving at the beginning of the meal service, and speak with the chef to review gluten-free options.

Destination considerations

It will be easier to find gluten-free options in some countries than others. Countries in Africa and Asia can sometimes be difficult to navigate due to the lack of awareness and low rates of celiac disease, as well as wide use of gluten-containing foods such as soy sauce.

Eating fresh and simple dishes with naturally gluten-free foods, such as vegetables, fruit, seafood, meat, rice and beans, rather than processed foods, can help you avoid gluten.

Do not let your strict gluten-free diet stop your family from going where you want! With careful planning and research, it is possible to have a smooth gluten-free trip.

Last updated: July 14th 2023