8 Helpful Tips for Traveling Europe with a Gluten Allergy

8 Helpful Tips for Traveling Europe with a Gluten Allergy

Traveling Europe with a gluten allergy does not have to be a daunting task. It just takes a little bit of extra planning and preparation beforehand. As an avid traveler, my first thought of traveling with a Gluten allergy was “omg, I’m not going to be able to travel and enjoy all the amazing foods that I love experiencing”. But I soon learned that it IS possible. It’s difficult, I’m not going to lie. But I think I figured out the system and I wanted to share some of my tips for all those who might avoid traveling out of fear of food allergies (not just gluten).

How I Noticed Signs of Gluten Intolerance

To make a long story short, about 2 years ago I developed a whole list of mysterious medical symptoms. I started having extreme joint pains, headaches, blurry vision, muscle cramping, fatigue, and sharp tingling and burning sensations in my hands, arms and legs. I live a pretty healthy lifestyle, working out since I was 15 and eating “right”, so this came out of nowhere for me.

It was a long 6 months straight of going to endless doctors appointment and undergoing just about every medical test and blood test in the book. I became depressed as I though I must be dying or something (I’m already a hypochondriac so this just made it a thousand time worse).

After spending $5000 out of my pocket, on top of my $300 monthly premium (thanks to our awesome US healthcare system), one doctor suggested an elimination diet (from gluten).

Fast forward 2 months later, after religiously restricting gluten from my diet, low and behold, the symptoms went away completely! Gluten, you bastard! I never underwent all the Celiac tests, so I’m not exactly sure if I have it (although it does run in my family). At that point I didn’t need to, I knew 100% that Gluten was the culprit. Fast forward 2 years, and I have never felt healthier!

I wanted to share some tips (through trial and error) and how I get by traveling Europe with a gluten allergy. It doesn’t have to be stressful if you’re fully prepared.

8  Helpful Tips for Traveling Europe with a Gluten allergy (or any food allergy for that matter):

1. Pack Snacks

If you have any friends with food allergies, you will soon realize that they ALWAYS carry snacks on them. Zip-lock bags are your friends. I never get on a flight without packing a few bags of goodies beforehand. My favourite in-flight snacks are rice cakes, gluten-free crackers, bananas, and cereal. Sometimes I bring peanut butter but it often gets confiscated, especially in US airports. However, it has gotten through security in several European airports, so it all depends. But a good rule of thumb is, stick to solids only. Sorry, that Nutella just won’t cut it!

2. Request special airline meals AT LEAST 24 HOURS in advance

This one is tricky and will only work on longer flights. Most European budget airlines don’t have this option at all, so be aware (or if they do, it will cost you an arm and a leg). For most intercontinental flights, CALL the airline AT LEAST 24 hours before your flight to make your requests. Ive made the mistake of requesting it online while I was signed into my United Mileage account. Unfortunately they didn’t get the memo and I was left without ANY food on an 8 hour flight. This has happened to me 3 TIMES! Although, the other 2 times I was given the first class meal, so I wasn’t complaining.

3. Stock up Locally

Gluten-free/Bio section in DM

Gluten-free/Bio section in DM

The first thing I do when I go to a new place is go to the local farmer’s market for fresh produce. It’s also a great way to help the local economy! I also look around for a DM (Drogerie Markt), they are located all over Europe. DM is a German based retail store that sells cosmetics, household items, travel size toiletries (bingo!), and bio and gluten-free snacks. DM is my go-to spot and I’m obsessed!

4. Gluten-free Restaurant Card (GAME CHANGER)

Croatian gluten-free restaurant card

Croatian gluten-free restaurant card

Discovering the gluten-free restaurant card was a complete game changer for me! It’s basically a nice, neat print out card for Celiacs to give to your waiter so they know what you can and cannot eat. It’s available in 54 languages and honestly has been a life-saver for me. Click here to find your desired language.

5. Learn the Lingo

In the event you misplace your gluten-free restaurant card, it’s smart to learn a few words in the local language regarding your allergy. If there is one phrase I make sure I remember, it’s how to say “gluten-free”.

Here are a few useful ones to remember:
Italian: Senza Glutine
Croatian: Bez Glutena
German: Gluten-frei
Spanish: Sin-Gluten
French: Sans Gluten

6. Cook your Meals

This is where Airbnb comes in! One of the main reasons I love Aribnb is that you can often cook all your meals, not only making it easier for those with food allergies, but saving you extra money by avoiding dining out.

Super quick meal I whipped up in Italy, with fresh spices from the host's balcony :)

Super quick meal I whipped up in Italy, with fresh spices from the host’s balcony 🙂

If I’m staying in a hotel with a mini fridge, I make sure to stock it up with salami, cheese, fruit, and smoked salmon. Even with no kitchen, there are ways to dine in and I definitely take advantage of them!

7. Gluten-Free Apps

Apps are an easy way to find gluten-free options while you’re traveling and I use them heavily! Three of my favorites are:

Find Me GF-allows you to search gluten-free restaurants and stores based on your location.

Mangiare SG-basically the same thing as Find Me GF but specific to Italy.

Google Translate-there is a feature where you can scan a whole group of words for translation (only available in a few language). I use this a lot translating ingredients on a package. Genius!

8. Visit the Pharmacy

Yes, you heard that right. In some countries, specifically Italy and Croatia, the government awards a stipend to those suffering from Celiac. For this reason, most pharmacies are stocked up on gluten-free items to accommodate these prescription holders. When all else fails and you’re having no luck finding GF snacks, look for the big green pharmacy sign. 

Worrying about food should not be on your mind when traveling Europe with a gluten allergy, there are so many amazing experiences to be had! You just need to be smart, change some habits, and be better prepared. It’s not the easiest thing, but once you get the hang of it you can get out there and explore with a better piece of mind, and not to mention a healthier overall well-being.

Do you have any more helpful tips to add for traveling with a food allergy? PLEASE SHARE! I’m always open to new suggestions! 🙂

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Traveling Europe with Gluten Allergy