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Friday, June 19, 2015

16 Tips for Traveling Gluten Free on a Budget - Part 1

When I first discovered I was gluten intolerant, back in early 2009, I was terrified I'd have problems traveling. I love to travel and see new places and try new foods, and gluten issues are not conducive to that. 

However, since then I've driven back and forth across North America in a U-Haul twice (through the US once and across Canada the second time), traveled to Europe three times, driven around the eastern provinces of Canada, and been to Mexico twice.  

In the last five years I've stayed in about 40 different hotels.

In the past 3 months I've spent at least 60 days traveling and living away from my home.

My husband and I are not wealthy by any means, but we do know a thing or two about traveling on the cheap! In the next few weeks I'll be sharing my reviews of eating gluten free in various European countries, but I thought I'd kick off the series with some tips on traveling gluten free on a budget, and traveling on a budget in general. 

1. Pack rice cakes and snacks 
This one’s obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to bring along some GF snack bars, bread, crackers, etc. in case you can’t find a good source of carbs. I recently posted a recipe for Gluten Free, Vegan Snack Bars that I regularly take with me when I travel.

2. Self-cater and have picnics when possible  

Look for a GF section in local supermarkets, or ask at your hotel is they know where you can find a shop with gluten free goods. I’ve found fantastic GF breads and baked goods in markets in Italy, Greece, the UK, and France in the recent past. Going to a market and getting some bread, cheese, and fruit can save dozens of dollars a day for lunches, breakfasts, and even dinners. A picnic on the steps of a medieval church in Paris or Rome on a beautiful day can be more memorable than any restaurant.

3. Book hotels with breakfasts included 

Sites like will allow you to search for hotels that include breakfast in the price. In places like Greece and Italy the hotel breakfasts are fantastic, and include eggs, yogurt, fruit, and other gluten free items. Don’t pay extra for breakfast, unless you know there will be GF options.

4. Ask for gluten free breakfast options on booking 

I’ve found some non-chain hotels to be extremely accommodating when I’ve asked for GF breakfast options. In several privately owned small hotels the owners have gone out of their way to procure GF bread, or make me omelettes, etc. I've even had a couple of hotel owners in Europe Google gluten free because they weren't sure what it was, then went out of their way to make it happen. You'd be surprised what people will do if you ask very, very nicely.

5. Look for hotel rooms with kitchenettes or shared kitchens

Cooking your own breakfasts, lunches, and dinners is a great, cost-effective way to travel. Eat in for breakfast and lunch and then go out and experience the food culture for dinner. Hostels also often have shared kitchens with fridges and stoves you can use. They may also offer cheap tours, and lots of advice on traveling on a budget!

6. Check out Air B&B 

If you’re staying somewhere for a few days many apartments on are fully furnished with full kitchens, and can be cheaper than hotels.

7. Make Earl Grey polenta in a tea cup

I realize this will sound crazy, but it works in a pinch if you're desperate and in need to sustenance. One time when we were in Venice we discovered that most restaurants and hotels weren't open on Sunday for lunch. We were starving in our hotel. I had organic cornmeal in my bag that I was planning to bring home to a friend as a gift. Our hotel room had a coffee maker and tea bags. I boiled some water, stuck a tea bag in it, then mixed it with a few spoon fulls of cornmeal and a sugar packet. We ate Earl Grey polenta / cornmeal mush and it was actually quite good

8. Learn some of the language 

I know a lot of people feel they don’t have the time or ability to learn another language, particularly for a trip of only a week or two. However, I have found just taking the time to learn some of the basics of the language of the country you are traveling to can help immeasurably. Taxi drivers, waiters, hotel workers, all will be more willing and able to help you if you’ve made some small effort to learn to say thank you and to order at a restaurant in their language. If you have learned to tell them you’re gluten intolerant or celiac, all the better.

I’ve found the basic Pimsleur sets to be very helpful for this. For about $30 you can learn to speak and understand some simple phrases. Currently, I can ask for directions, the bathroom, and taxi fare in Greek, Italian, French, Arabic, and Spanish. This alone can open doors for conversation with people and can give you a more intimate traveling experience by getting to know the locals. And FYI, I've found restaurant owners to be very generous if you can speak a bit of the language and engage in conversation (and by that I mean free deserts and drinks may be yours if you make the effort).

9. Print out gluten free travel cards 

I’ve shrunk down and printed the gluten free travel cards from I hand them over to waiters with a hopeful, sheepish look and smile like I’m super apologetic and ask them if they can help me. They’re usually very good about it. Just be polite, not demanding.

10. Book well ahead 

Books flights and hotels months in advance, if possible. We booked our flights for our recent Europe 6 months in advance. Four months later those same flights would have cost us $1,000 more. We also booked our hotels three months ahead, and saved several hundred dollars along with being able to choose our location.

11. Travel off-season 

Hotels, flights, and sometimes even attractions are cheaper outside of peak tourist season. Spring or fall is often a great time to visit Europe, it's not as hot and there are far fewer tourists to fight to see the sights. I've been in Greece and Italy both during the summer and off-season. I definitely prefer off-season.

12. Get a travel book 

Sometimes you have to spend a little money to save a little money (and time). The Lonely Planet series is one of my go-tos. I have them for Italy, Greece, Paris, Egypt, Syria, and the Canadian Maritimes. They can help you pick safe, affordable neighbourhoods and hotels to stay in, as well as restaurants, sights, and itinerary.

13. Second-class trains are cheaper   

They can be quite decent and just as fast as first-class.

14. Buses are even cheaper than trains 

Although they’re not always for unseasoned travelers who aren’t in a travel group or don't speak any of the language (depending on the country you're in, some city bus drivers might not speak English). I’ve had some crazy experiences on buses Europe and the Middle East. They make for great stories but it’s possible I’m getting too old to experience some of those things again…That said, if you're up for the adventure, they can be a very cheap way to get around, especially to more obscure (and cheaper!) locales.

15. Avoid paying by credit card   

Exchange rates aren’t always favorable. Carry cash in a safe place on your person, or use bank machines to withdraw larger amounts (there will still be an exchange rate loss, though).

16. Don’t over-tip 

In North America we tend to tip between 10-20% of the bill. In Europe and many other parts of the world restaurant bills include a “service charge” which is like a tip. Ask at your hotel, or ask locals, what they recommend. It’s usually somewhere around 1 or 2 Euros in much of the E.U.  

Next week I'll post Part 2 of my Traveling Gluten Free in Europe series (the Greece edition)! 

Do you have any tips for traveling gluten free or on a budget?  

Have you seen my gluten free pasta book  Recipes for Unusual Gluten Free Pasta: Pierogis, Dumplings, Desserts and More! ? Get yourself a copy and start making GF won tons, pierogis, dumplings, and orzo today :)


This post was shared on the following great link parties: Waste Not Want Not WednesdayAllergy Free Wednesday, Fat Tuesday, Plant Based Potluck Party, Hearth and Soul,


  1. Hi Danielle,
    These travel tips are so helpful. I love to travel and as a vegan I have had to find ways to accommodate my dietary prefernces while traveling as well. I usually pack a survival kit of tea, stevia, nuts, dried fruit, cereal, hemp milk and instant healthy soup packets and shop for fresh produce at local markets and shops. I always try to stay in a hotel with a kitchenette. Thank you so much for sharing 16 Tips for Traveling Gluten Free on a Budget at the Plant-Based Potluck Party Link Up. I appreciate it and I’m pinning and sharing.

    1. I hear ya! Because of my allergies I've had to expand my diet (I was vegetarian for many years) in order to be able to eat more variety, and now have a bit of poultry and seafood once in awhile, but even avoiding red meat (and then GF on top of that) makes it hard when traveling in some places. My favorite is always when people say "Oh it's vegetarian. There's only a little bit of pork and some beef stock." 0_o

  2. You have shared some excellent travel tips here, Danielle! It must be very challenging travelling when you follow a special diet and I know your tips will really help so many people! Sharing this post :-) Thank you for being a part of the Hearth and Soul hop.

    1. Thanks for sharing, April. Yes traveling can be a challenge, but I was thrilled this last trip to Europe to find so many grocery stores and restaurants with great options! Awareness is growing around the world :)


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