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How to Travel with Celiac Disease

An experienced traveler with celiac shares 10 tips learned from her experience traveling abroad.

Celiac disease, like type 1 diabetes, is an autoimmune disorder caused by the body’s reaction to gluten. People with type 1 diabetes are more prone to other autoimmune disorders than the average population, and the incidence of celiac disease in those with type 1 diabetes is between three percent and eight percent.

While I do not have type 1 diabetes, I have what is referred to as multiple autoimmune syndrome. In my case, that means I have three autoimmune diseases: psoriasis, vitiligo, and celiac disease. The other two autoimmune diseases may be more visible, but celiac has had the most impact on my life – it completely changed the way I eat…and I love to eat.

I also love to travel. When I was first diagnosed, I was heartbroken to think that I would have to miss out on local cuisines due to my illness. Since then, however, I have learned some travel rules to help me sample local food while managing celiac. I have visited Cambodia, Singapore, Vienna, Switzerland, Germany, Jamaica, and many more countries with confidence, and indulged my adventurous taste buds at each stop along the way.

From my experience, here are 10 tips for traveling with celiac:

1. Print out an allergen translation card in the local language. You can find one in many languages at http://www.celiactravel.com/cards/.

2. Learn how to state your allergy in the local language. Check YouTube for pronunciation help.

3. Ask for a gluten-free meal on your flight, and hold the airline accountable for providing it. If they fail to do so, you have every right to ask for compensation or a voucher. (My sister was once provided with five bananas as her “meal” for a 12-hour flight; after a complaint, she was bumped to Business Class.)

4. Hit the grocery store. Stock up on whatever you can keep fresh in your hotel or hostel, and ask the staff if a fridge can be provided to you. Many of the larger hotels are required to provide one to you as someone with an autoimmune disease.

5. Check out local restaurants on an online gluten-free site like www.findmeglutenfree.com.

6. Pack your own snacks. I always travel with enough trail mix and protein bars from home to snack on each day.

7. Find out what staple foods are safe. That can be surprisingly easy in countries that use a lot of rice, legumes, tapioca, or corn. Learn how to order them and order them often.

8. Ask a local. They can help you navigate the subtle vagaries of local language and the local markets. For example, wheat-free soy sauce is not always called tamari sauce.

9. Check out the local gluten-free brands. Even gluten-loving Italy is home to many amazing celiac-friendly products; that’s because their government mandates celiac testing, as well as gluten-free options in all government-owned buildings.

10. Bring wet wipes and spare underwear. You’re a human and you make mistakes. Anyone who has had celiac has been there.

People with celiac disease learn from people with celiac disease. If you have tips on travel with celiac, or travel with type 1 diabetes, please leave a comment below.


Happy travels!




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