Take a Vacation from Worry
Advice for Safe Gluten-Free Travel
These days, I’d be hard-pressed to think of somewhere that wouldn’t be possible to travel while following a gluten-free diet. Be it to a popular amusement park, Caribbean resort, European city, or African safari, if you want to plan a trip there, there’s a gluten-free friendly way to do it!
It can be tempting to plan your vacation yourself (after all, who else will understand your gluten-free needs?), but rest assured there are now quite a few travel agents and companies that specialize in gluten-free travel planning. Lesley Hayden of Travel Leaders, Ellen Morse of Gluten Free Travel-Us, and Gina DiPrima of GF Journeys all have decades of experience in the travel world, with many years focusing on the needs of gluten-free clients. Each has their own specialty, but they can all help you book a trip that’s right for you. Options include following a suggested gluten-free itinerary to a specific destination (you pick your travel dates), planning a customized trip to a destination of your choosing, or joining a group tour geared to gluten-free travelers.
Speaking from experience, it’s nice to have this personal level of service and not to do all the legwork yourself. Many times these travel specialists can also help you find deals you wouldn’t otherwise learn about.
If you do have the time and desire to plan an entire trip yourself, there are many options depending on your travel preferences and budget.
Make It Feel Like Home
Staying in either a condo with a full kitchen or even a moderately priced hotel with a kitchenette gives you the flexibility to prepare many of your own meals while on vacation, which saves money. Just be sure to scout out a local grocery store where you can find your favorite gluten-free staples (or bring them with you from home). Our family has had good experiences with Marriott’s Residence Inn. Other similar properties with kitchens include Extended Stay, Homewood Suites, and Candlewood Suites. Some families even purchase timeshares, knowing they’ll always have a “home away from home” with a full kitchen when they travel, be it to a ski resort, beach, or international destination. We’ve used a family member’s timeshare for both a ski vacation and a trip to France. Having a full kitchen as well as multiple bedrooms made for a much more relaxing trip!
Choose a Gluten-Savvy Hotel
Even if you enjoy cooking, you may prefer to relax on your vacation and leave the cooking to someone else. Fortunately, more hotel chains are realizing it’s good business to cater to guests with special dietary requirements. You’ll now find formal gluten-free initiatives at Fairmont, Omni, Ritz Carlton, and Hyatt chains.
For meals out, do your research ahead of time to find the best places for gluten-free dining in the area you’ll be visiting. Our website, GlutenFreeTravelSite, and our free Dine Gluten Free mobile app enable you to search by area and read dining reviews submitted by other people following gluten-free diets. In addition to many wonderful independent restaurants at any given destination, there are now over 100 US-based restaurant chains that offer gluten-free menus. So whether you’re looking for family-friendly dining or something a bit more unique or elegant, you’re sure to find something appropriate.
Seek Out Gluten-Free Friendly Locations
Although gluten-free friendly restaurants can be found all over the country, big cities are your best bet if you’re looking for a range of choices, including independent restaurants and chains offering gluten-free menus. We’ve held an annual contest on GlutenFreeTravelSite for the past six years, in which we recognize one location as the “World’s Most Celiac Friendly Destination” based on the number of reviews it received on our site during the previous year. Past winners include New York City, Florida (for the many options on the Disney properties), the Washington DC Metro area, California (it’s won twice), and Pennsylvania (due to the large number of restaurants in Philadelphia trained by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and their GREAT Kitchens program).
Good options for international travel include Canada, England, Ireland, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand, which all have a good level of awareness about celiac disease. We’ve even received reviews of African safaris on GlutenFreeTravelSite, which is a great sign of how far the gluten-free community has come in advocating for our needs around the world! In addition to researching online, I always recommend contacting local celiac support groups in the area you’ll be visiting in advance of your trip. They are typically eager to help and can point you toward the best places for gluten-free dining.
Discover Gluten-Free “Gems” and Destinations Hosting Gluten-Free Weeks
Interested in traveling to Napa Valley to enjoy the weather, the wine, and nearby San Francisco? The Inn on Randolph, a top-rated and completely gluten-free B&B, sits right in the heart of Napa. The owner is gluten-free herself and will spoil you with a daily gluten-free breakfast and evening appetizers.
While not 100% gluten-free year-round, other destinations dedicate certain weeks to gluten-free guests. Arenas Del Mar, a top-rated resort in Costa Rica, will be hosting two separate gluten-free weeks for the celiac community in the fall of 2014, featuring highly-acclaimed US-based chefs. Jovial Foods, maker of a line of gluten-free pastas and other Italian specialties, often hosts week-long culinary getaways complete with hands-on glutenfree cooking classes at an 18th century villa in the heart of Tuscany.
Choose the Ease of a GF-Friendly All-Inclusive Resort
All-inclusive resorts certainly simplify things by allowing you to liaison with just one or two chefs throughout your visit as opposed to planning a week’s worth of meals at different restaurants all over town. More and more resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico are focusing on the needs of gluten-free travelers. To find the best fit for you, I’d recommend enlisting the guidance of a travel professional. Beaches, Sandals, and Club Med have good reputations for taking care of their gluten-free guests, but there are many other reliable high-service resorts to consider.
Learn to Love Cruisin’
Many US-based cruise lines don’t merely accommodate their gluten-free guests, but truly impress them. Our family took a cruise aboard the Disney Wonder over 6 years ago, and even back then, their attention to detail was impressive. In keeping with the high level of service guests enjoy at Disney parks and hotels, the staff on Disney ships creates a “magical” experience for guests following special diets. The chef on the Disney Wonder even made a huge gluten-free chocolate cake for our son and delivered it to our table with a plate of chocolate covered strawberries!
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines have worked with nutritionists and registered dietitians over the last several years to offer clearly marked gluten-free items on their daily menus. With all cruise lines, it’s recommended that you contact the company directly well in advance of your cruise to have them make a note of your dietary requirements. (Contact information for major cruise lines is listed on the Cruise page of GlutenFreeTravelSite, where you can also link to cruise reviews submitted by other gluten-free travelers.)
If You’ll Be Traveling By Air…
If you’re flying to your destination, find out whether a meal or snack will be served on your flight. Full hot meals are now typically reserved for international flights, but there are usually snacks and lighter meals available for purchase on domestic flights. We’ve generally had a good experience with the gluten-free meals we’ve requested for international flights in recent years, but it’s always wise to bring snacks just in case there’s an issue.
Take a minute to research what food is available at the airports you’ll be departing from, too. A company called OTG, an airport food and beverage operator with a presence in 10 North American airports, offers travelers a variety of over 40 gluten-free options in their CIBO Express stores, including kid-friendly snacks. In addition, almost all of their restaurants have gluten-free food and beer options.
No matter what your travel preferences and favored destinations, I hope you can see how many opportunities for a relaxing gluten-free vacation are yours for the taking. Honestly, the hardest part will be deciding which of the many gluten-free friendly travel options to choose!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Karen Broussard publishes glutenfreetravelsite.com and the free DINE GLUTEN FREE mobile app. Both contain thousands of GF dining and travel reviews from around the world. Karen is also the publisher of the Gluten Free Travel Blog and two e-books available on Amazon: Gluten-Free in London and Gluten-Free in Italy.