Many of you may have followed us over the years and remember that each January we announce the winner of our "World's Most Celiac-Friendly Destination" contest. Started in 2008, the year we launched GlutenFreeTravelSite, it was a way for us to showcase locations where gluten-free friendly restaurants were plentiful and awareness and training of restauranteurs was strong.
Each year, the winning location was picked based on how many user-submitted gluten free dining reviews had been submitted to GlutenFreeTravelSite for that location over the previous year.
Past winners included New York (2008), Florida (2009), the Washington DC Metro area (2010), California (2011), Pennsylvania (2012), and a reprise by California (2013). When sitting down to evaluate this past year's (2014) reviews last month, I realized something significant.
Gluten free awareness and restaurants that can safely prepare gluten free meals has transcended any particular location. Throughout the United States and many parts of the world, gluten free is now a household term. While there are still some restaurants clearly hopping on the gluten free "bandwagon" simply to leverage what they see as a "trend," there are plenty of restaurants that have properly educated themselves and trained their staff on the nuances of preparing safe gluten free meals for patrons that require them due to Celiac or gluten sensitivity.
It has taken quite a few years to get to this point (ask someone who was diagnosed with Celiac a decade or two ago!), and there is still work to be done (especially now that the diet is so popular with people following it by choice). But I think we can all agree that, with a bit of research on sites like GlutenFreeTravelSite and useful blogs, safe spots for gluten free dining can be found in almost every corner of the United States. In fact, it always excites me when we receive reviews of dedicated gluten free bakeries, markets, or cafes in small towns in the heartland of America. But I guess it shouldn't really come as a surprise…since Celiacs are everywhere (not just big cities!). And it's often entrepreneurial Celiacs who start these businesses out of necessity (maybe there was no place else to find favorite gluten free brands or a freshly-baked gluten free muffin or GF artisan sandwich).
Overseas, there are certainly some countries that are particularly hospitable to gluten free travelers…Ireland, Italy, England, Australia, and New Zealand are a few that come to mind. But again, you never know where you might be able to vacation these days. We've even received reviews of safaris in Africa!
So we decided that perhaps this year, instead of focusing on one particular place, we should celebrate ALL the gluten free friendly destinations available to us. No matter what town or city you visit -- for business or pleasure -- you're sure to find at least a few safe dining options. And if you're looking for a vacation destination, you can certainly consider any of our previous annual winners. But you may also want to think about an international city (I'm partial to London and just wrote an e-book on the subject), a GF-friendly resort in Hawaii, all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, or even a cruise.
Since I know first-hand how overwhelming it can be to plan any trip -- and even more complicated when you're gluten free -- I want to recommend a travel agent our family has personally used to book everything from a Caribbean all-inclusive to a week at a top ski destination to a Holiday vacation to London. Her name is Lesley Hayden, and she works at Travel Leaders' Framingham, Massachusetts office (no worries if you don't live anywhere near there…she helps clients all over the country).
Lesley has established close working relationships with many hotels, resorts, cruise lines -- and the Disney properties -- that take good care of all her gluten free clients. And most of the time, she ends up saving her clients money -- even over the rates they find online. She found our family a better rate at a London hotel than we would've gotten on our own, and she saved us hundreds of dollars on lift tickets on our ski trip a couple years ago.
So don't make any more excuses…seize the day and treat yourself to a long-awaited vacation. If you do some research and utilize resources like Lesley, you'll be able to "take a vacation from worry" without endless hours of planning. Lesley can be reached at 800-487-6110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.