I'm often asked about best destinations for gluten free travelers. In fact, just yesterday, I responded to someone's inquiry about finding a GF-friendly all-inclusive resort in a warm climate. It used to be that answering these questions was difficult...or at least, it was a short answer! Now, however, our family's own Bucket List of where we want to travel is incredibly long. That's because, from a gluten free perspective, we now can travel safely to so many places. The choices are almost endless. So whatever your type of travel, I have recommendations for you.
1.) Favorite stand-by: All-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean or Mexico have been forever popular with travelers. It probably has something to do with the warm climate, endless food, and no worries about being nickeled-and-dimed for everything you eat, drink, or do. We get a good number of reviews coming in for resorts on our website, and one that recently stands out is Dreams Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. In fact, after getting back-to-back favorable reviews from families that spent the holidays there last year, we decided to showcase this resort on our Featured Review page back in February. I always recommend calling Lesley Hayden-Hock first, however. She is a GF travel specialist whose forte is pairing clients with the perfect resort (many of which are all-inclusive) in the Caribbean or Mexico. There are quite a few to choose from, and each has its own unique personality. Some are more kid-friendly, others have more gourmet food, while still others offer the best activities. It's mind-boggling how many options there are. But even resorts that are safe from a GF perspective don't always advertise themselves as "gluten free friendly." So it's really important to work with someone who knows the ins and outs of all the resorts -- and who will "have your back" in terms of getting your special GF treatment (and great deals, too!). Lesley is with Travel Leaders and can be reached at 800-487-6110, or you can email her at [email protected] (Note: As with most travel agents, there is no fee for Lesley's services.)
2.) The Inn on Randolph: Are you a lover of wine? Then you'll enjoy savoring the beauty and bounty of Napa Valley at this exquisite gem in the heart of Napa, CA. You'll be completely food-safe, since this top-rated and recently renovated B&B is 100% gluten free. When you're not dining at the gorgeous inn, there are many GF-friendly restaurants right within walking distance. Best of all, they're currently running a "Harvest Special" for the Fall, an exciting time to be in the wine country.
3.) Costa Rica: This has become an increasily popular destination, and it's no wonder. The beauty, hospitality of the locals, and fresh food make it a vacationer's dream. (It also makes it easy to stay gluten free here, as much of what they typically eat in Costa Rica is naturally GF.) I'd recommend two options in Costa Rica...if you're into yoga, scuba diving, or snorkeling, check out Anamaya Resort. It's a 100% gluten free resort, and it makes a great getaway for adults. I wrote a Blog post about Anamaya earlier in the year. If you're looking to specifically tailor a trip to your own interests, you can also call Ellen Morse from Gluten Free Travel-Us. Gluten free herself for decades, she also has 20+ years of experience in the travel industry. She customizes itineraries virtually anywhere in the world, even to places previously challenging for GF travelers. Ellen can make virtually any trip happen for you! Check out her suggested itinerary for Costa Rica...and keep in mind this is not a group tour. It can be done at any time of your choosing and tailored to your tastes and budget. If other Latin American destinations appeal to you, Ellen also has suggested itineraries for Peru (including Machu Picchu), Chile, and Ecuador and the Galapagos.
4.) A Cruise: You've probably heard me suggesting cruises before, and that's because most cruise lines have really advanced on the gluten free learning curve. Plus, there's something for everyone. No matter what your budget or preferences for cruising, there's a ship for you! Whether you're an older couple who prefers a serene experience and gourmet food or a family with kids who like the WOW! factor of the bigger ships, you have so many choices these days. Again, I recommend working with a travel agent like Lesley Hayden-Hock from Travel Leaders, who is a cruise specialist AND understands the requirements and concerns of her gluten free clients. She booked a cruise for our own family over Christmas in 2015, and she helped us save money, secure a great stateroom, and note our GF needs with the ship. Call her at 800-487-6110 or email her at [email protected]. She will listen to your travel requests and find a perfect match (and best of all, there's no fee to use her services).
5.) Disney: This was the original "gold standard" for gluten free travel. Even before gluten free was a household term, Disney resorts, parks, and cruises told gluten free travelers: "Be Our Guest." We've traveled to Disney World in Orlando twice, Disneyland in Anaheim once, and on the Disney Wonder cruise ship way back in 2007. Each experience left us feeling super-safe when it came to the food and how it was prepared. In fact, our first trip to Disney World (in 2006) was our first big trip we took as a family after our younger son was diagnosed with Celiac in 2005. It was amazing to travel without having to pack any of our own food! My best advice if heading to Disney World and the various parks: Stay "on campus" at a Disney property so you can sign up for the Disney "meal plan." You'll want to eat at their restaurants anyway, for convenience and GF safety, and this will save you big bucks over paying for things a la carte. The meal plan includes one sit-down meal, one counter service meal, and one "snack" (could be a lite breakfast) each day. Be sure to check out the Special Dietary Needs page on Disney's website.
6.) Italy: This happens to be my own personal favorite place on the planet...AND we were fortunate enough to travel there last summer. In fact, we had such a good time and had so much GF advice to share that I wrote an e-book called Gluten-Free in ITALY: Your Worry-Free & Gluten-Free Travel Guide to Italy. If you're considering a trip here in the near or distant future, it's a great place to start your research. In fact, you won't need to do much research beyond what's laid out in this book, at least if you're visiting Rome, Florence, or Venice, which are the cities where we stayed. It's a very gluten-free friendly country, since excluding anyone from the table almost offends their sense of national identity! Perfecting the art of wonderful gluten free pasta and pizza is something many restaurants strive for. You'll learn about the best places to dine near all the tourists sites in each city, and you'll get other invaluable advice about accommodations, getting around, tours and excursions, and saving money.
7.) London: For a city that hadn't been noted for its dining scene up until the last decade or so, London restaurants have done a fabulous job stepping up their game for all diners, and certainly those of us searching for high-quality gluten free meals. Our family traveled here as well, and even found places to enjoy traditional English high tea service, complete with gluten free sandwiches, pastries, and scones! Like my book about Italy, Gluten-Free in LONDON: Your Worry-Free & Gluten-Free Travel Guide (also available on Amazon), is a great primer for anyone considering a trip to this amazingly diverse and historically fascinating city. The advice I lay out in the book, whether on the subject of dining, touring, or getting around on the "tube" will save you dozens of hours of your own planning. The numerous dining suggestions are all plotted on a map, showing proximity to the popular tourist sites, so you you can even use the book as a day-by-day itinerary.
8.) European Gems: If you've already explored some of the more popular European cities like London, Paris, Rome, Florence, and Venice, why not consider one of the more up-and-coming destinations for seasoned travelers? Prague, Croatia, and Iceland have all been "discovered" by travelers looking for something new. Each has its own charms, and each destination is now doable from a gluten free perspective, thanks to Ellen Morse, who I mentioned above when discussing Costa Rica. She has worked with her contacts "on the ground" in each of these places to vet hotels and restaurants for her gluten free clients. Now GF travelers can enjoy the beauty, history, and adventure of these three places while staying safely gluten free! Ellen can be reached by phone at 312-337-9235 or email at [email protected].
9.) Asia Highlights: Speaking of destinations that were previously challenging for gluten free travelers, Japan, China, and India topped the list. While they are all popular travel spots, finding chefs who understand what a gluten free diet is -- and how to avoid cross contamination in preparation of GF meals -- was almost impossible until recently. Again, enter Ellen Morse, who has worked with her long-time contacts in each of these three destinations to make them accessible for not only her "regular" clients, but her gluten free clients as well. So if visiting the Great Wall, Japanese gardens, and the Taj Mahal have ever seemed like an unattainable "pipe dream" for you, this is your new reality! The hotels she recommends for staying (and doing most of your dining) have been carefully vetted for safety. Give her a call to explore your options for any of her customizable itineraries to these Asian wonders -- or any other places you desire to travel.
10.) South Africa Safari: I thought I'd save the most unbelievable destination for last. Yes, gluten free travelers can actually take a safari in Africa and not worry about how they'll stick to their gluten free diet! Ellen Morse unveiled a gluten free itinerary for South Africa back in February, so add this to your own personal Bucket List if you've ever dreamed of visiting Cape Town and then going on safari to see the "big five" animals in their natural setting. Obviously, a once-in-a-lifetime trip like this doesn't come cheap, but it may be the big splurge you're looking for.
Honestly, there really aren't many places that aren't accessible to gluten free travelers these days. You can find safe places to eat in any big city (and even some tiny towns) in the U.S. and around the world by doing a search for reviews on this page of GlutenFreeTravelSite. And don't be afraid to use any of the travel specialists mentioned above when planning more exotic trips which involve other countries, ethnic foods, and off-the-beaten-path excursions. There are plenty of people whose passion is serving the gluten free community, and in most cases, working with them not only costs you nothing above the price of your trip...but it can save you money AND tons of time! Feel free to email me if you have any questions about specific destinations or the travel professionals or companies I've mentioned. Safe gluten free travels to you!