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  • Daniel Cojanu

    Traveling Gluten-Free

    Daniel Cojanu
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Autumn 2011 Issue

    Image: CC--fdecomite
    Caption: Image: CC--fdecomite

    Celiac.com 07/27/2018 - As we all know, traveling either on driving vacations or internationally presents challenges to those of us with celiac disease.  We normally pack enormous amounts of baked goods and look somewhat silly as we travel.  I believe however that with a little research, we can now cut down on our extra “baggage”.

    When we travel in Michigan, the first thing I do is Google “gluten free groceries”.  With some luck, I usually find a local specialty market with some gluten free items.  This is followed by an email with specific requests such as bread, baked goods, etc.  The markets are more than willing to share this information, and I can pack my food supply accordingly.  

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    I then follow up with a Google search for “gluten free restaurants”.  Again, I normally get a few responses and I look at the menu section of their websites to verify the selection.

    I was very impressed with a recent trip to Marquette Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.  Since Marquette is in the very northern section of Michigan, I was worried about finding a gluten-free groceries, much less gluten-savvy restaurants.

    Was I in for a surprise!  They had bakeries, groceries (Marquette Food Co-op) as well as a number of excellent restaurants that had gluten free selections. I was in heaven. Besides being in one of the most beautiful cities in Michigan, I could actually go out and have a wonderful, gluten free dinner.  Be sure to check out the Lagniappe Cajun Grille, the Border Grill, Sweetwater Café and Aubrees Pizza. All have exceptional food.

    I was curious as to why the restaurants were so up to date on celiac disease so I asked at a local bar / grill.

    The answer is Northern Michigan University. It seems that cities with universities are more aware of the needs of folks who want to remain gluten free.  Some of the residents have made this choice either out of necessity after being diagnosed with celiac disease or as a healthy life choice. With this in mind, it may be beneficial when travelling to look for cities close to colleges and universities for groceries and restaurants.  

    Now let’s look at international travel.  Since retiring three years ago, my wife and I plan on one big trip every year. We usually alternate between cruises and land-based trips.  We have seen a dramatic increase in gluten free accommodations on board ship.  Our cruise line of choice has been Princess although I suspect other lines have similar menus. Princess gave me the next night’s menu so I could order in advance.  They would prepare what I wanted, gluten free.  As a bonus, the chef would prepare a surprise dessert every evening for me.  This is what keeps me coming back to Princess.

    We recently took a cruise to Norway and again, were curious about what kind of gluten free restaurants would be available in port.  I emailed the Norwegian Youth Celiac League and received a mountain of information.  I got bakeries, restaurants, alcoholic beverages with addresses and phone numbers so I could visit these places.  They were so helpful and made the trip that much more enjoyable.

    We had a funny experience on a trip to Peru a few years ago.  We had just returned from Machu Picchu and stopped at a local restaurant for a snack. I had ordered chips and guacamole and since there was so much corn farmed there, assumed they would have corn chips.  Wrong!!!  I received a plate of chips that resembled a fried, flour tortilla chip.  I gave the waiter my “I have celiac disease, please don’t make me sick “ card which he read and took to the restaurant owner.  He looked horrified and asked if I liked French fries. I indicated I like fries as long as precautions were taken.  He returned with a grin on his face along with a huge glob of guacamole with these enormous fries stuck in the glob.  Not wanting to offend our host, I ate the somewhat interesting mix and enjoyed every bite.

    Whenever traveling internationally, always carry a dozen or so of these cards to give to waiters. They are available free at celiactravel.com  in all languages.

    Most will go out of their way to accommodate your diet restrictions.  I think the implied message of these cards is that “If you feed me anything with gluten, I will get horribly sick on the floor and scare away your customers”. It has an enormous impact.

    My final thought is that allowing celiac disease to control your leisure time is not necessary.  A little research and a few emails can save you a tremendous amount of aggravation when planning a vacation.

    As more and more vacations destinations become aware of the needs of celiac patients, I believe traveling will become more enjoyable. One final note, always compliment the restaurant owner on having a gluten free menu. It will encourage both that establishment as well as others to follow suit.

    Bon Appetit!


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    As a celiac, I'm the one responsible to keep myself healthy.  This can be scary when away from home.  I try to be very, very careful.  If in doubt, I don't eat.  I do indeed travel with some food, though not all that I'll need on my trip, unless it's a very quick night or two away somewhere.  But my carry-on when traveling by air always includes a few safe protein bars and instant meals, as well some nuts and fruits.  I use my Triumph dining cards when necessary.  I also try to just stick to food that is already gluten free: fresh fruits and veggies, plain baked potato/grilled fish, etc.  I can do the fancy stuff for myself at home.  When traveling, I just need to be sure I can eat food that keeps me going.  If I get a chance to have something special, then it's all the more special.  One of the most amazing special things I ever had was in Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland.  They have a tea room there.  Tea rooms are very important in Ireland, as everyone has 'tea' in the afternoon---what a North American would call a snack.  They had safely made (I know because I asked all my questions) gluten-free bakewell slices.  These are sort of like North American "7-layer bars", if you've ever had those.  Wow.  Amazing.  So much more special if you basically never have a dessert in a restaurant.  And of course a good pot of tea to go with it.   So, enjoy yourself while traveling, but be careful and don't take any unnecessary risks with your food; it's not worth it.

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    The findmeglutenfree app provides user reviews and ratings on a wide range of restaurants and guidance on whether they're safe for celiacs. We've found some real gems when using this app near home and on the road. 

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    For me, Celiac Disease does control my leisure time, and I actually work in the travel industry.  I cannot leave my home without a cooler packed with enough food for the days I will be gone, which could be up to 4 days.  The reason, I have learned over the past 11 years that [non dedicated gluten free] restaurants are not at all safe for those with Celiac.  And sadly, the FDA does not have standards or guidelines in place like they have in the manufactured and packaged food industry.  Hands, surfaces, cookware, utensils and so on, will all get us sick.  And do not make the mistake that just because you do not have symptoms you've eaten a safe meal, there have been tons of discussions about no amount of gluten is safe for those with Celiac.  So, unless you're taking blood test or having an upper endoscopy preformed after eating out or taking a vacation, you will never know.

    I'd actually love to just jump on plane or cruise ship go somewhere without having to worry, but I cannot.  Since getting diagnosed I have lost count at how many times I was sick, followed by trying to solve the mystery of who, what when, where got me sick.  After I made the decision to stop eating out unless it is dedicated gluten-free, my health has improved exponentially.  

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