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Top 3 Tips For Planning A Gluten Free City Break

Updated on March 31, 2016
stereomike83 profile image

Mike's wife was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease in 2006 and since then they have embraced a gluten-free lifestyle at home and on travels.

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Planning a Weekend Away Gluten Free

Since the emergence of low cost airlines, weekends away have become a more and more regular occurrence for many of us. In Europe, within 2hrs you can be in Rome/Milan/Barcelona or anywhere else that takes your fancy for a relatively cheap cost. However, when you are travelling on a Gluten Free diet, you may have to put a little more planning in to ensuring that you have a great time as no-one wants to fall ill when overseas. As I work in the travel industry, my wife and I have taken several of these short trips and I hope to be able to share some of our top tips to make your trip a good one!

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Step 1: The Hotel

Where Do You Want To Stay?

Generally speaking, once you have chosen your destination and got your flights booked, the next thing you are most likely to think about is a hotel. Hotels obviously come in many shapes and sizes and to be honest, even with Gluten Free requirements at the back of my mind, price and location will always be high on my list of factors in deciding. That's not to say that there aren't some hotels and chains better than others.

From a Gluten free perspective you are most likely to come in to contact with food at breakfast so have a look online and see if any hotels jump out as being good for your needs. My personal check-list is:

  • Check my own website Travel Gluten Free to see if anyone else has submitted a review of a good hotel where we are heading
  • Check an online travel website like TripAdvisor or Virtual Tourist for suggestions
  • If all else fails search on Google for "Gluten Free Hotels In XXXXXX" or browse the hotels at a site such as laterooms.com or booking.com for high quality hotels that might be able to cater.

Once you have decided on your hotel, either having found one listed online or not, comes what I believe to be the most important thing. SEND THE HOTEL AN EMAIL!

Most hotels will attempt to be accommodating but usually it helps to give them plenty of forewarning, even if you are planning on staying at a large chain they may not stock GF food as standard. At this point I would love to say you were home free but unfortunately, even with forewarning, not all hotels will get it right. We have been served "Gluten Free" breakfasts that literally saw the waiter pull the toast off the side or a point in the direction of the fruit so you may still want to pack some provisions which we'll cover in the next step!

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Step 2: What To Take With You

Back Up Provisions

If you are like us then most city breaks don't last more than a couple of days and with charges on many airlines you will probably only be wanting to take hand luggage. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't consider taking provisions with you. At the end of the day, the last thing you want to be doing on arrival is looking around for a store that stocks gluten free provisions.

Obviously exactly what you pack is up to personal preference but for us we will never go away without a couple of packets of Gluten Free crispbreads and some biscuits. If the hotel doesn't provide a good gluten free breakfast then you need to be sure you get something to eat. Likewise, most short haul flights have limited gluten free items that you can purchase so you may want something to eat then as well. The first time we travelled we took an entire bag of snacks with us which in hindsight was a bit of overkill but it did show us what we did/didn't use!

The other thing that you MUST ensure you have in your bag in my opinion is a means to translate your needs when in restaurants. You could go for a normal phrasebook (and you may want to for the general "Where is the Train Station?" type phrases). However, of much greater benefit are specific translation cards that can be given straight to your server explaining your requirements. From my experience the best options for these cards are either www.dietarycard.com who sell plastic credit card sized cards that you can keep in your wallet. They offer 17 major languages at this time and you can (like we did) buy packs that include several languages. The other key resource is www.celiactravel.com. Their cards are free for you to print off and they have a much wider range of languages (currently 54). Between the two resources we have always had something useful and we wouldn't go away without them.

Toastabags Reusable Non-Stick  Sandwich/Snack "In Toaster" Grilling Bags, 2 Pack
Toastabags Reusable Non-Stick Sandwich/Snack "In Toaster" Grilling Bags, 2 Pack

The other item you should, in my opinion, NEVER go on your travels without are re-usable toaster bags. I have seen toasters referred to as "Ground Zero for Cross Contamination" but if you simply use the bags below, you massively reduce the risk at breakfast, no matter where you are staying!

 
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Step 3: Eating Out

Where Can I Eat?

Once you arrive in your city break location, if like me, you are likely to want to eat out. However, this thought can send a chill to the spine if you don't speak the local language and you need to follow a Gluten Free diet.

If you are lucky then you may find yourselves in a location with a 100% Gluten Free Restaurants which I have outlined in another hub. However, even if there isn't a location that is 100% GF, a bit of forward planning could make your life easier. Let's be honest, you would probably plan which sights you want to visit so why shouldn't you plan your meals?

Travel Gluten Free lists many Gluten Free restaurant suggestions and for me, that will still be the starting point of where to look. However, my next step would be on to Google, primarily to look for bloggers who have written about where they have visited. Sites like TripAdvisor can be helpful but I find there is a real benefit to leaving comments on a blog and getting extra information from a real person that is slightly harder to do elsewhere. I have often discussed possible locations with bloggers and on one occasion we found the people on the table next to us had had similar discussions with the same blogger. Having an idea of where you are going to eat before you go is very useful.

Unfortunately, even if you spend hours researching your location, you may still find yourself with no idea where to go. This was the case when my wife and I visited Brussels a few years ago and was the inspiration for setting up Travel Gluten Free. So in this case what do you do? This is where the forward planning comes in! Armed with you translation cards find a nice looking restaurant and hand them over. It's difficult to put in to words exactly how you will know, but from my experience you can almost immediately get an idea as to whether or not the restaurant understands your needs or is just paying lip service. At the end of the day it is your health at stake so if you have any doubts at all WALK AWAY! We were in Athens once and although my best friend spoke Greek and most of the restaurants sold similar dishes, it was only at the third attempt when we felt the waiter understood what was on the card and given we had no ill effects, I think we called it right!

Finally, in this modern day and age where everyone has a smartphone or tablet, look out for apps you can download and take with you. If you have the ability to pop out your phone and find a good restaurant just around the corner then it could make life a lot easier, even if that location is a chain type restaurant.

What Next?

The most important thing to worry about when you are travelling is to have a good trip! Being Gluten Free can make a trip a little harder but that is no reason not to explore the world. However, if you get home from your trip and you have had a good experience at a specific restaurant or hotel, please, whatever you do, DON'T KEEP IT TO YOURSELF!!

If you struggled to find suggestions for Gluten Free locations in advance then just think, other Gluten Free travellers are likely to have the same issue. If you have a blog, shout about the service and let people know where it is. Put links on sites such as TripAdvisor and I would always love to hear about these experiences to share them with the world!

Do you have any specific travel tips for travelling on a Gluten Free diet? If so please share them here to help not only me but all other hub visitors!

© 2013 stereomike83

Leave Your Comments - Do You Have Any Top Travel Tips?

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    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Very interesting topic.