Do you ever find yourself sitting at your desk, daydreaming about an adventure in a faraway land?
I know I do. Often.
Having celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten can make it hard to imagine that daydream becoming a reality.
With a little planning and preparation, you can travel anywhere in the world 100% gluten free.
Sometimes food is a big part of the culture and experience— like in Rome. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. You can’t go to Rome without eating your fill of gluten-free pizza and pasta. In other places, the food plays a smaller role in the experience. It’s more about the spectacular landscapes, natural beauty or cultural experiences.
Some places are better for people new to gluten-free travel, with no language barrier and good understanding of gluten free foods. Some are a tad more adventurous, and are better for gluten free travelers with a little bit of experience navigating unfamiliar places gluten free.
Here are seven unforgettable gluten free travel experiences – four for novices, three for gluten free travel veterans – to inspire you to get out and explore the world.
I’ve traveled gluten free to all seven places since my celiac disease diagnosis ten years ago. With a little planning and preparation, you can too.
For those new to living gluten free
Rome, and Italy as a whole, is remarkably celiac-friendly, which is surprising considering it is the world capital of pizza and pasta.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re expecting a gluten-free menu that consists of a tiny piece of boiled chicken and a side of steamed broccoli, while the rest of the restaurant is eating delicious looking pasta and pizza.
Rome is a perfect destination for newly diagnosed celiacs because of their inclusiveness.
There are many restaurants that have separate gluten-free menus and preparation areas to ensure that those of us avoiding gluten can experience Italian cuisine safely.
When in Rome, you’re going to want pasta. Pizza. Gelato. Pastries. All gluten free. Lucky for you, you’ll be able to find it all, and more.
Here’s where to find some of the best gluten free eats in Rome.
If you want gelato, look no further than Gelateria Fatamorgana and their gluten free gelato and cones. Grom is another great 100% gluten free gelato option, with locations throughout Italy.Last, but certainly not least, is La Pasticciera, a dedicated gluten free bakery near Termini Station. Croissants. Sandwiches on homemade focaccia. This should be your first stop if you arrive in Rome by train.
Portland is at the top of the list of the most celiac-friendly cities in America. Remember when I said that some experiences are all about the gluten free food, and some are more about the cultural experience?
Portland is ALL about the food.
That’s why it’s a perfect stop for newly diagnosed celiacs— it shows you that gluten free food can be delicious and easy to find, depending on where you look.
I’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease for ten years, and I still light up when I walk into a dedicated gluten-free restaurant where I can order anything on the menu. Portland has at least five of them.
Here are the highlights that you need to hit on a trip to Portland.
- 100% gluten free beer and pub food at Groundbreaker Brewing.
- Gluten Free Cider on tap and corn dogs at Schilling Cider.
- All of the gluten free bakeries: New Cascadia Traditional, Petunia’s Pies and Pastries, and Gluten Free Gem.
Don’t forget to get outside the city and explore the Columbia River Gorge. Multnomah Falls is a perfect half day trip – hike up to the top of the falls for a great morning activity before an afternoon of gluten free eating.
New York City
I recently had a debate about the best city for gluten-free eats in the United States. It comes down to two cities for me, New York City and Portland.
New York City is a great destination for people new to eating gluten free because it has a perfect balance of things to do and see, like the Empire State Building or a Broadway show, and great celiac-safe gluten free food.
First, see a Broadway show. Whether it’s Wicked or the Lion King, there’s nothing like getting dressed up, going to a nice gluten free dinner (more on that in a second), and then going to a show.
Second, eat some world-class gluten free food. You’ll find Italian food at Senza Gluten or Bistango. Senza Gluten is a 100% gluten free Italian restaurant with two locations on the same block. Bistango is not 100% gluten free, but has protocols in place to manage cross-contamination and serve celiacs safely. Or maybe you’re in the mood for Brazilian tapioca crepes from TAP NYC. Craving chicken and waffles? Check out Friedman’s, which has multiple locations around the city.
Last, take a stroll through Central Park. Explore the corners of the park, stop at the Met or the American Museum of Natural History. Take your time and make a morning of it. Stop at one of the bakeries mentioned above before or after. Or both.
With tons of gluten free food options and a plethora of things to do and see, NYC is a perfect place for newly gluten free folks to explore.
A trip to Australia is partly about the food, and mostly about the experiences and beautiful landscapes.
When you’re in Australia, there are four experiences you need to have that have nothing to do with food.
First, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I recommend heading up to Cape Tribulation, north of Cairns, and doing a trip from there. It’s less crowded, and the reef was infinitely more vibrant than going on a huge boat just off the coast near Cairns. Sea turtles and clown fish everywhere!
Second, drive the Great Ocean Road. Just outside of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road leads you to the 12 Apostles. There’s no longer 12, but they don’t want to change the name everytime one of them crumbles. It’s a beautiful drive and is worth a full day of your time. Melbourne is also a fantastic destination for gluten free food and fancy coffee, if you’re into that.
Third, visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane and hold a Koala and feed some kangaroos. Enough said.
Fourth, either do an overnight boat trip in the Whitsundays, or an overnight 4WD trip on Fraser Island. Both have white sand beaches and not a soul in sight. Or, at least, very few souls in sight.
On a two week trip, you’ll want to hit Sydney, Melbourne, and Cairns at the very least.
Strict food labeling laws and no language barrier mean it’s relatively easy to navigate restaurants and grocery stores to find gluten free options.
Melbourne is the food highlight for gluten free travelers – don’t miss Mao Please for gluten free Chinese food, Seedling cafe for a 100% gluten free Australian brekkie, and Spudbar for a quick fast-casual bite.
The combination of stunning natural beauty and relative ease of navigating gluten free make Australia a perfect first International travel destination for people new to living gluten free.
Three Adventurous Trips for Gluten Free Veterans
A Safari in Tanzania
When you think about a safari, something that looks like Tanzania is probably what pops into your mind.
Scouring the plains of the Serengeti for prides of lions, searching rhinos in the Ngorogoro Crater, and marveling at the elephants of Tarangire.
It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
My mom has been talking about going on a safari since before I can remember, and in 2018 I had the opportunity to help her make that dream come true. We did an 8 day safari in Tanzania and saw elephant parades, lounging lions, and even the Great Migration with thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara River.
It was incredible.
Tanzania is also the most difficult time I’ve had eating gluten free abroad.
If you’re on a safari, you’ll have a guide. They will be your best advocate for making sure you get gluten free food.
Be warned that eating gluten free is not common in Tanzania. You’ll want to print out a gluten free translation card in Swahili to help you communicate what you can and cannot eat, and you’ll be fine. Don’t let gluten be the reason you avoid taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Tanzania.
Chile & Torres Del Paine National Park
Chile is all about the natural beauty and cultural experience.
Luckily, it’s not too hard to eat gluten free, but you’ll want to be prepared to cook for yourself in some cases.
The W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park is one of the highlights of Chile, if not the world, with its captivating blue lakes and towering craggly peaks. It will take you five days to do the trek itself, plus another two days for travel on either side. You can camp, or stay in the “refugios” which are basically small mountain hostels in the National Park. Book early, because they limit the number of people in the park, and the refugios are especially competitive.
You won’t find too many gluten-free options at the catered dinners at refugios.
Rent a camp stove in town, grab some groceries, and bring some backpacking meals and trail snacks with you from the home to make it easy on yourself.
With your remaining time, you’ll want to explore Santiago and Valparaiso. Chile is a wine-producing country, so you can do some wine tasting just outside of Santiago in the Maipo Valley. The free walking tour in both cities is also a must-do to get a lay of the land and insight into Chile’s rich history.
Germany’s Christmas Markets
Germans love their bread and beer.
Not a promising start for someone who can enjoy neither in most scenarios.
When I started researching a trip to Germany in December to see the Christmas Markets, I realized that I might not be eating out too often.
You’ll find gluten free options in the big cities, but they are few and far between, and they often don’t know how to manage cross-contamination.
That being said, you’ll find plenty of accommodations with a kitchen, like Airbnb’s or hostels. Grocery stores are easy to navigate, have plenty of gluten free options (look for Schar), and the gluten free labeling laws are strict. Put those two things together and you have a path towards exploring Germany 100% gluten free. You’ll save money too by cooking for yourself, which is an added bonus.
The Christmas Markets are magical.
In cities across Germany, you’ll find Germans and tourists alike willingly subjecting themselves to frigid weather to celebrate with friends, family, and strangers by drinking mulled wine and shopping for Christmas-themed trinkets. You won’t find too many gluten free options to eat, though the mulled wine called “gluhwein” is gluten free whenever I asked, but you can still have the experience.
Munich and Berlin were great, but the highlight was the Nuremberg Christmas Market – the largest one in the country. You’ll walk past hundreds of stalls, with the smell of mulled wine and bratwurst wafting through the air. Lit by hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights and filling most of the city center, it is quite the spectacle.
Germans do Christmas right, and it’s a perfect place to spend the holidays with family or friends. You won’t find too many celiac-friendly restaurants, but it is easy enough to find gluten free groceries and cook for yourself.
Whether you’ve been living gluten free for a decade or you are newly diagnosed, you can make your travel dreams come true.
With a little bit of planning and preparation up front, you can travel gluten free around in the world and back.
Living gluten free shouldn’t mean compromising on life’s experiences. Don’t let gluten get in the way of making your daydreams about traveling to new and exciting places become a reality.