Staying Gluten-Free in Hotels

Survival Tips for Celiac Travelers

Nancy Lapid

The first few times I stayed in hotels as a celiac on a gluten-free diet, I was always hungry. I think I lost weight on every trip I took for the first year until I learned how to take better care of myself on the road. Elsewhere on this site, I've explained how to plan for eating on airplanes. Below are some tips for a pleasant hotel stay.

Try to Stay in a Hotel Room with Cooking Facilities

If money is no object, then you can continue to visit your favorite five-star hotels and have the chefs and kitchen staff cater to your every need.

If, like most of us, you're on a budget, you'll be more comfortable if you have access to kitchen facilities while you're away from home.

Try to find an all-suite hotel
Accommodations in suite hotels usually include a refrigerator, a microwave, and possibly a stovetop that will allow you to prepare food for yourself. Also, it will be easier to store any food you bring with you or buy locally.

Bring food from home
Bring a supply of gluten-free crackers, cookies, soup base, candies -- whatever you like to munch on or that's easy to prepare. Be sure to bring enough to last through your trip home. Don't assume you'll be able to buy gluten-free favorites on your trip.

Try to stay somewhere with easy access to a grocery store
If you're close to a grocery store, you can easily replenish your supplies of fruits, vegetables, plain yogurt, and other fresh snacks. Some of the all-suite hotels will actually go shopping for you.

If you use this service for anything other than fresh food, however, don't forget that you'll have to provide an extremely specific shopping list with brand names, because the hotel's shoppers won't read labels for you.

Bring along reusable toaster bags
If you're staying in a hotel that provides a free breakfast buffet, you'll probably have access to a toaster.

Several companies manufacture heavy-duty reusable toaster bags that let you toast gluten-free bread in the hotel toaster without fear of cross contamination. Toaster bag brand names include the following:

  • Toast It Reusable Toaster Bags
  • Toastabags
  • Kitchen Craft Non-Stick Reusable Toaster Bags

Bring some of your own baking pans
Some resorts offer units with full kitchens. If you bring your own baking pans and some gluten-free muffin or bread mixes, you can enjoy fresh baked goods even while you're away from home. Measure out the dry ingredients at home before your trip and pack them in sealed plastic bags. Supermarkets now sell flexible silicone and disposable baking pans, which are easier to pack than regular metal ones.

No Kitchen in Your Hotel Room?

Explain your needs to the hotel's dining staff.
Most hotel chefs are willing to modify the items on their menus. Often they will even prepare foods for you that are not listed on the menu at all, as long as they have the supplies in their kitchen. Don't hesitate to ask for special treatment. Hotels are in the business of accommodating their guests.

Consider faxing a note and a restaurant card to the hotel's chef in advance.
This is important advice for everyone, but it's crucial if your hotel will be in a country where you don't speak the language.

Restaurant cards contain descriptions of the gluten-free diet in a variety of languages. They are included in several books and sold by a variety of vendors. You can hand them out to restaurant staffs to help explain the gluten-free diet. If you will be traveling on business to eastern Asia, consider faxing a restaurant card (with a letter, of course) in advance to your local hosts as well. (Celiac disease is virtually unheard of in some parts of eastern Asia, so a written description in the local language will be very important.)

Ask for a room with a refrigerator
If you're staying in a regular guest room with no kitchen facilities, ask if the hotel will put a small refrigerator in your room.

Many will do this if you ask.

Consider these ideas for inexpensive restaurant breakfasts:

  • Bring sealed bags of gluten-free cereal, and add milk and fruit from the restaurant.
  • Bring your own rice cakes or granola bars, and ask the restaurant for cheese, fruit, or for individual servings of cream cheese.

Seek Help from a Gluten-Free Travel Specialist

Finally, if you're going on vacation, don't overlook the option of traveling on an organized gluten-free tour. One of the best-known organizers of such tours is Bob & Ruth's Gluten-Free Dining & Travel Club.

Share Your Travel Tips

The best way to make travel easier for all of us is to share our resources and experiences. Have any good or bad ones to tell, or any suggestions of your own? 

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