Most people love to travel – I certainly do. But finding vegan & gluten-free food can be difficult when I’m on the road.
Language barriers, unfamiliar brands & a carefree attitude can all make it feel like finding free-from food is too hard. I’ve made mistakes on more than one occasion, and ended up missing out on a few days of my holiday because I’m holed up in the bathroom.
As the summer holidays are coming up & it feels like everyone is about to jet off on their own travels, here are some tips on avoiding allergens when travelling:
Just a quick FYI: My intentions with this blog are to help people who eat vegan & gluten-free. This is not diet, health or nutrition advice. Go and see a qualified medical professional for that sh*t, take care of yourself, & see my full liability policy here.
On the topic of travel: I’m planning some trips later this year & into next year, and I thought about writing about them here on the blog. Would gluten-free & vegan guides to the cities or countries that I visit be useful? With a name like EatsLeeds, I sometimes worry about including non-local content on here. Let me know what you think in the comments!
7 tips for free-from travel
1. Go self-catering if you can
When booking travel, look into self-catering accomodation, in an AirB&B or similar.
Not only does it usually work out cheaper than a hotel, it also means that you can always prepare your own basic meals if you need to, which takes the pressure off finding the perfect place to eat out.
I also find AirB&B and the like make for a batter base to really explore a new city. Even if you’re only there for a few days, staying in self-catering accomodation gives you the chance to really feel like you ‘live’ there – they somehow feel less tourist-y than hotels. They give you more flexibility for exploring & adventure, too. You aren’t restricted to a specific breakfast time, or other rules of a hotel.
If you can’t go self-catering
Call or email the hotel in advance, to politely find out what your free-from options are. They may already serve plenty of food you can eat, or your query may prompt them to prepare something especially for you. Even if you only discover that their options are limited (or none-existant), at least you can arrive prepared with your own snacks.
If you already booked for half board, full board or all-inclusive before discovering that they serve nothing you can eat, it may be worth enquiring about switching down to B&B or room-only*.
*Full disclosure on this: I rarely book hotel
7. Bring snacks
Pack a few emergency rations in your suitcase.
A handful of your favourite cereal bars, a few pouches of ‘just add water’ porridge and even a pack of gluten-free wraps can usually be slipped into the most stuffed of suitcases, and give you something to rely on if you really, really, can’t find anything to eat.
Equally, if you find a shop that sells a snack you know is safe whilst out and about in your destination, stock up. It’s better to have stocked up in one shop and then find you didn’t need to, than to think you can always get more later & be stuck with nothing.
I usually make sure a few cereal bars are accessible in my hand-luggage (or my pockets) to eat on the plane as well (and try to save one for the return journey).
3. Check the airport and/or airline
I don’t know about you, but travelling makes me hungry (see above point about bringing snacks for the plane). Make sure to check out your options for the actual travelling part of your trip.
This may be less of an issue if you’re travelling shorthaul & depending on the time of day, but its still a good idea to check out the situation & be prepared.
Most airports have a list of the outlets they have inside. As many of these outlets are likely to be chains, it should be fairly easy to look up their menus online and see whether there is anything you can eat. Equally, try searching “XYZ Airport” + “vegan” or “XYZ Airport” + “gluten-free” to find tips & reviews from others.
Similarly, check the airline’s website for information about in-flight food. If you are flying longhaul, with a meal included in your ticket, contact the airline directly to find the best free-from option for you. Again, search for tips & reviews with “XYZ Airline” + “vegan” or “XYZ Airline” + “gluten-free”.
If you’re travelling by train, coach or boat, instead of by air, the principles are same – check the website of the station/port and of the line, then do a search to see what words of wisdom others have to say on the topic. You’ll likely be better off than if you’re flying. Trains, coaches, buses and ferry boats are generally much less strict about what you carry onboard with you. You can probably bring a whole packed meal from home, or from a nearby shop/food-to-go place.
This is even more true if you are travelling by car or by van: you have plenty of space to bring your own food. You may want to search for the best service stations to stop when you map out your route.
This isn’t strictly airline-related, but depending on the time you travel, you might arrive at your destination at a mealtime. That means you could find yourself hangry in an unfamiliar city, which is a recipe for disaster, even if you don’t have allergies & food restrictions. If you’re likely to need a meal when you first arrive, use the next few tips before you set off, to find somewhere convenient to grab a bite.
4. Find your grocery shop
Once you’ve landed, checked-in & settled down, find your nearest grocery shop. Most groceries carry naturally free-from ingredients, like fresh fruits & vegetables, rice, nuts, etc..
Particularly in Europe, many grocery shops even have a free-from section where you can find things like gluten-free bread or vegan cheese, too.
If there isn’t one obviously nearby, try searching Google Maps. In the app, there is a specific button to find ‘grocery stores near me’. If you are staying in a hotel, or somewhere where there is someone to greet you, you could always ask them twhere the nearest grocery store is.
5. Find somewhere to eat
Use Apps to find somewhere to eat
- TripAdvisor: Use TripAdvisor & other review sites to find places you can eat. On TripAdvisor, you can filter your search for places that offer vegan and/or gluten-free options, then search the reviews for those words, to find out whether anyone else has had an issue
- HappyCow: You can
se thaHappyCow app to find vegan places to eat & shop in most cities worldwide. It doesn’t filter by gluten-free (or other allergens), but narrowing it down so you only need to ask about one issue can really simplify things, especially if there is a language barrier.
- FindMeGlutenFree: This app
insimilar to HappyCow, but for gluten-free places. I’ve found it isn’t as extensive or as up-tp-dateas HappyCow, but it is a good placto start in your search for free-from food on holiday.
Once you’ve found somewhere that looks like a good bet on HappyCow or FindMeGlutenFree, you can cross-reference those apps against each other, to check whether a particular restaurant is listed in both. You could also check some of the reviews on TripAdvisor. If the service is poor, it might mean they’re unconcerned about customers, and may disregard allergen requests, or cross-contamination concerns.
Use advanced Google searches to find somewhere to eat
As well as using apps, you could also try searching Google for:
- “location” + “vegan”
- “location” + “gluten-free”
- “location” + “celiac”
Local city guides & bloggers often compile up-to-date lists of vegan or allergen-friendly restaurants on their sites*. These can be a great source of local insider-info, and could also lead you to other must-do activities and must-see attractions in your destination.
Once you’ve found a specific place to eat, use Google to search for reviews. As with cross-referencing apps against one another above, this is a good way to get an overall idea of the place you want to eat. Try:
- “restaurant” + “vegan”
- “restaurant” + “gluten-free”
- “restaurant” + “celiac”
- “restaurant” + “allergens”
- “restaurant” + “review”
You can also search for the restaurants’ website, where you might be able to download a menu. If you can’t easily find a menu and/or allergens list on a restaurant website, try searching “site:www.restaurantwebsite.com” + “menu” “allergens” “vegan” or “gluten-free” (or the local translations for these words).
*Myself included: check out my guide to eating vegan in Leeds, my guide to eating gluten-free in Leeds & my downloadable resource for all the places to get vegan & gluten-free food in Leeds in 2019.
Use social media to find somewhere to eat
Like the google searches above, searching for “location” + “keyword” on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook can also be a good way to find recommendationss.
You could also try specific hashtags on Twitter & Instagram. Many cities have communities of people with various food restrictions, so try searching things like #LocationVegans #VeganLocation #VegansOfLocation #GlutenFreeLocation #LocationCeliacs or #LocationCoeliacs. In a similar vein, try searching Facebook Groups for these communities, too.
6. Prepare for language barriers
If you’re going somewhere where the language is at all likely to be an issue for you,
You could also search Google on your phone for phrases like:
- “translate to [language]: vegan”
- “translate to [language]: gluten-free”
- “translate to [language]: coeliac”
- “translate to [language]: no meat”
- “translate to [language]: no dairy”
Then take a screenshot (so you are certain you have access to the translation available offline), to show waiters & shop assistants.
7. Protect yourself
I don’t have emergency-level reactions when I eat gluten or dairy. If you have a severe allergy, or are at all likely to have an acute reaction to to an allergen, make sure you have everything you might need in case of an emergency:
- Appropriate travel insurance
- Any medication you need (both ‘regular’ medication that you take daily and ’emergency’ medication, like an epi-pen for example, that you may need in the case of a reaction). Keep them to hand, and not in at the bottom of a suitcase, in checked baggage or back in your hotel room
- If you use one, a medical bracelet or similar (especially if you’re travelling alone)
Even if you won’t have a severe reaction, it is still important to take steps to protect yourself & steer clear of the allergens or foods you don’t eat.
Finding the free-from food you need, when you’re on holiday or out on the road can be difficult. It can kinda feel like hard work when you’re supposed to be relaxing on holiday. Especially if you’re new to eating gluten-free and/or vegan, it can be easy to let your guard down and give into cravings when you’re travelling.
Prepare yourself with knowledge about where you are going & staying. Always bring snacks, to save yourself from getting so hungry you just say ‘f*ck it’ and eat something you know will make you ill laer. If you don’t trust a server or a restaurant to give you the free-from food you need, and to avoid cross-contamination, don’t be afraid to leave and go somewhere else. And in case the worst does happen (assuming, of course, that ‘the worst’ will give you an upset stomach and a foggy head, not land you in hospital), make sure you stay hydrated & have plenty of toilet paper.