Advice sought: How do people travel for business with coeliac? Extensive business travel with several days out of home?

I am curious how do coeliacs survive on the road. Having to eat hotel breakfast and outside lunch and dinners? Any interesting coping mechanisms? I understand pre-cooking and pre-packing for a day or two, but how do you deal with travelling say for a week and not wanting to eat out? (even bringing that much pre-packed food would be an issue at airports, and most hotels will not provide microwaves etc.

I had been glutened in a range of restaurants in London (where I live) and in Europe (Greece, France) and I no longer try.

I am extremely reluctant to eat out because I believe that almost no restaurants can actually manage cross-contamination properly. And if you think about the necessary compliance with 20 parts per million, then it is a wonder that any restaurants manage at all...

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19 Replies

  • Hi Yossarian

    If it's a hotel somewhere in the UK, I have started taking a small budget microwave which I put in a big holdall on wheels. That way I can eat anything I want without fear of getting glutened.

    Maybe its a little extreme but its very effective!

    I used it recently at a retreat centre in Scotland. Each mealtime I disappeared to my room to heat up the food I had took with me. Once the food was hot I rejoined my friends/associates in the main dining room and ate my GF, DF, Soya free vegetarian meals using the available standard plates and cutlery. It was the only way I could have stayed there effectively because the centre had a complete ignorance about food intolerances.

    When abroad, I try not to stay anywhere that doesn't have self catering facilities; although to be fair this has only been for holiday purposes and not for business.

    I agree it's not always easy though...

  • Thank you. Please see my follow up below.

  • I take toastie bags away with me! Can then make toast safely with my own bread. Take my own dairy free milk too, have never had bed and breakfast bills reduced though!

  • I survive on tinned beans, vegetable and fruits. For Bf, I take my almond milk packed in 200ml portions and cereals or eat 3 pieces of fruits. I also take nuts with me.

  • Thank you. Please see my follow up below.

  • I have spent a few weeks in Spain on business recently and I didn't take any of my own food other than something for the journey. I found they undertand GF quite well and in the hotel I was even offered a GF breakfast instead of the usual buffet. That have GF bread toasted, a pastry and a bun..... Nice for a change. I usually stuck to the fruit and yoghurt on the buffet and maybe some eggs.

    I was with Spanish speaking colleagues for most me,ALS so they were able to explain to the staff and I never had a problem being looke after... In fact I find you seem to get special treatment.

    Stick the plan type foods like meat and veg and you can't go far wrong I find.

    Good luck on your travels.

  • Thank you. Please see my follow up below.

  • if away from home work or play i take emergency rations .box of cereals ,bread ,crackers.i also try to do some research on what shops are local ie if their are major shops like tesco,marks and spencers ,morrisons ,sainsburys,waitrose.these shops all have a gf section .the food where you go might be all right but ask the questions on cross contamination this is where they are likely to make mistakes even if they have some idea. i can not tell anyone who eats away from home always ask questions . i went away last week every one went for Chinese after asking the questions the way they cooked i could not any thing 200 yrds up the road their was a chip shop.although they did not do gf i found by asking the chips were cooked separate.ask the questions politely they never mind and usually get quite interested . hope this helps no one is going to poison on purpose ( they will end up with the mess ).

  • Bacon,mushroom tomatoes, all grilled, and fruit and youghurt

    All very heathly. Mind you if they dont have this im in trouble (like a stay in ca nterbury recently, AND the coffee was undrinkable) free breakfasts they quoted! Ha

  • Thank you. Please see my follow up below.

  • Inform the hotels in advance always helps and download a range of gluten free cards in different languages my partner did this when we went to Poland for his son's wedding this year and had no problems. The hotels buffet breakfast was extensive so I tended to go for scrambled eggs with ham and had a range of meat/cheese/fruit from the buffet. Otherwise we were fedd by her parents whom cooked from scratch with cornflour specifically for me

  • Thank you. Please see my follow up below.

  • Thanks for everyone's responses.

    The issue is that cross-contamination is extremely difficult to manage even with the best of intentions or an excellent awareness by the restaurant staff. Kitchen gets busy, things come across each other, there is no separate kitchen area for gluten free cooking. The standard is 20 parts per million, so even if e.g. the restaurant or the hotel washes the pan to create something without gluten as an ingredient, it is very likely that the sponge used to wash that pan had traces of gluten and your dish is contaminated. So ailsamary, windymillersue, ianwoowoo even if you ask nicely and in detail, and the staff knows about coeliac, it is difficult for me to be comfortable that they really managed to eliminate any residual gluten from the kitchen utensils.

    Of course there are exceptions and you can get lucky, but for me eating out as a coeliac, relying on discussion with staff and on awareness of the kitchen staff feels more like playing a Russian roulette - you will sometimes win, but every once in a while you will lose and the setback to your gut healing could be significant

    Even if you don't get an apparent reaction, the risk of damage to your body is high and you will not necessarily know about the damage (inflammation etc) - which will create problems down the road.

    I am more in agreement with Regalbirdy and Clairtje about staying completely safe. So I am looking for any ideas about these. Many thanks

  • Hi,

    I agree that eating GF in restaurants sometimes does feel like playing Russian roulette.

    However it is very difficult to get around the fact that eating together is often very socially important. It is hard to know when to make a fuss to try and get what you need or when it is easier just to pull something out of your handbag and eat that instead. There have been a number of occasions since diagnosis a year ago, when I have sat and watched the people around me eat a full meal and only had something like a pack of crisps. I have had to learn to try to accept that being with the people is more important than the food on offer, however unfair that is. You learn to cope - you have to!

    In my case, having several other food issues besides being GF, makes it rarely practical to ask any restaurant to cater for me.

    That said, I have decided to risk venturing into Pizza Express for a Christmas meal with friends. Pizza Express have put a lot of effort into trying to cater for Coeliacs and I am hoping I can survive the experience with my guts and sanity intact! I am extremely picky about where I choose to eat out but nothing ventured is nothing gained...

  • Thanks. Yes I agree that the social aspect is important. Separately from that I am trying to think about a practical aspects of business travel (sometimes the social aspect is relevant e.g. for meals with clients, but at other times it is not relevant - just feeding myself).

    Just FYI - if you are based in, or coming to London there are a couple of places that I trust and I am extremely vigilant:

    - Vozars in Brixton - claims to be 100% but I haven't tried yet

    - WAG bakery in Brixton (same venue)

    - Honest Burgers in soho - have GF buns and manage contamination well (the normal buns (with gluten) are essentially the only gluten ingredient and they use separate toasters)

    - Flatiron in soho (by accident not by design) - only sell steaks and chips. Only gluten in kitchen is one vegetable side dish so the risk is low.

  • I travel and eat out a lot for business and in my experience, whatever country you are in, the better the hotel or restaurant the more likely they are to accommodate GF safely with understanding and care. Sofitels are always brilliant, other good business chains more hit and miss. Always, always be really nice to the waiter (do that anyway!!!) and then ask if you can talk to the chef directly.

    For breakfasts, I either go for a full-on fry-up (obviously no sausage/hash brown/black pudding unless GF) or fill up with cold meats, egg, cheese and fruit. I have stopped taking my own bread everywhere because I've realised I feel better if I reduce the carbs anyway. Fuelling on protein and veg isn't everyone's cup of tea, I know, but it tends to be safer and I only very occasionally get glutened.

    I always carry 2 or 3 Nakd bars in my handbag but rarely have to resort to them.

    The worst is planes. It is NOT alright to give me a GF main meal and then I miss out on all the snacks (Qatar Airways I mean you!). If you're giving everyone else a wheat based snack, I don't want to (a) get nothing or (b) have some vile substitute. Just give me a blimmin' banana! Again it is often down to how much you're paying, and it's generally a lot better managed at the front of the plane than in economy. In economy, asking nicely doesn't always help, but "I booked it a month ago", "medical requirement" and threatening to faint with hunger will generally make some fresh pineapple magically appear from the galley :-)

  • Thanks for the info.

    If you don't mind me reciprocating, then I can recommend a fantastic little Italian restaurant in Worcester called Puccinis. Their GF knowledge and range of food was impressive. I haven't been back since I've been dairy and soya free but would certainly consider going there again. Booking is recommended - they are very popular. They are also frequented by the vegan community and we initially chose that restaurant because it could cope with me and my vegan friend (which is usually an impossible feat!)

  • I get the Barkat Maztso crackers as part of my prescription, and I put them in little containers, holding about five per shot. They seem to be almost nuclear-resistant in retaining their freshness, and are incredibly handy when travelling.

    I have to say, I think the cross-contamination risk is over-rated. I am ancient coeliac- 31 years diagnosed - and I am also incredibly sensitive - I can't even do gf oats - and I have never had a problem from cross-contamination. I realise that's not what the medical advice is, but it's my looong experience. I am also very healthy,according to the NHS, so I don't think that it's just me being ignorant to internal damage.

  • Hello , I make sure to speak to the manager . Ensure you make people understand the problem . They understand peanut anaphalyxis can cause death. You some times have to change the wording you use to stress your adverse reactions to gluten . Don't hold back . I travel and ensure EVERYONE knows . Don't go near Chinese food . But there's a great Chinese restaurant in Edinburgh ! Happy days

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