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Alice’s Tips for Traveling with Celiac Disease

July 12, 2021

Person staring out an airport window

In this article Beyond Celiac CEO Alice Bast shares her top tips for traveling safely with celiac disease. She believes it’s important to continue living as “normal” a life as possible after a celiac disease diagnosis. That includes travel.

Travel can be nerve-wracking on multiple levels: coordinating schedules, taking time off, creating an itinerary, and paying for the many accommodations and excursions. For those of us with celiac disease, we also struggle to find restaurants that serve truly gluten-free food, stuff suitcases with snacks rather than clothes, and, unfortunately, may spend a portion of our vacation in the bathroom and bed, suffering from gluten exposure. 

A vacation is a time to experience new places, new cultures, and new people. It’s a time to relax. It should be a break from stress and routine, but sometimes that day-to-day routine is what helps people with celiac disease feel comfortable and in control: overseeing what food is bought, how it is prepared, and how it is served. That loss of control can bring about feelings of anxiety—not exactly a fun break. In some ways, vacations highlight our differences even more. We may feel judged by restaurant staff and locals, or even those relatives we might not see too often. The idea of vacationing again reminds me that we are never truly free from celiac disease. 

But it’s important for those of us with celiac disease to not allow the diet to intimidate us into staying home. I will not allow this disease to shackle me anymore than it needs to, and I encourage you to do the same. To help, here are some of my tips for staying healthy and sane when taking a trip: 

  1. Research the destination, culture, and food extensively beforehand. What sort of food do the locals normally eat, and does it contain gluten? Are there any dedicated gluten-free restaurants? It might be a good idea to get lodgings near those restaurants. Are there any language or cultural differences that would make asking for accommodations especially challenging? All things to consider. 
  2. Enlist an ally, if you can. If you’re visiting someone, ask them to try out restaurants before you go, or ask them to translate for you when at a restaurant. If you’re traveling with someone, ask them to remind you to double-check that your food is gluten-free.
  3. When you arrive at the destination, scope out the nearest grocery store. What products do they have that you can eat in case there are no gluten-free restaurants open? At the very least fruits and vegetables are internationally gluten-free. 
  4. Focus on the fun. It’s supposed to be a vacation, not an exercise in pain! Soak up the sun, see the nightlife, go hiking and investigate small, local stores. Eating is only part of the adventure.
  5. Plan for contingencies. Worst case scenario is you can’t find any gluten-free food or you get glutened. Be sure to pack a few filling gluten-free snacks (in your carry-on and checked luggage) and anything you rely on to feel better in case digestive disaster strikes. 
  6. Don’t beat yourself up. Not every trip will go perfectly, even without an autoimmune disease. Take your mistakes in stride and use them to improve your next trip. 

I do not pretend to have trip-taking down to a science. As much as I plan, things happen that are out of my control. But life is worth living, and traveling is part of what enriches the human experience. Yes, I may have the occasional negative experience, but I believe it’s better to try than to stay home for the rest of my life. 

At Beyond Celiac, we envision a future free from the burden of celiac disease. With our strategic science plan and shrewd partnerships, Beyond Celiac is already making strides toward that new world: one where those with celiac disease can travel freely, be spontaneous, and eat without fear—a world Beyond Celiac.

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