Over the years I’ve tried a variety of ‘language cards’ as a way to better manage the language barriers while travelling. These little paper cards can be a life savour when trying to communicate your food needs. I’ve tried long and short format, digital vs paper, used paid and free cards, etc. I’ve tried them all, and have some thoughts I want to share on which are the most effective for gluten free travel.
The short answer is that the best language card format depends on where you are travelling to and how. If you are staying close to home, an app might work because you would have easy access to lots of different languages. If you are staying somewhere for an extended period and will be eating in quite a few of the same places, long format cards work well so servers have a more in-depth knowledge of your needs. For international travel, I prefer short format with icons.
Overall, my preference is to use paper cards rather than digital. It’s nice for servers to be able to take the card back to the kitchen to show a chef (you don’t want someone running off with your iPad!) plus digital devices aren’t as reliable, needing to keep charged or have WiFi. A simple paper language card can be thrown in your wallet so you always have it with you.
A few tips for choosing the right card:
- Make sure it’s always with you and make a few extra copies (give one to your travel partner) In case it gets lost or a server forgets to return it
- Make sure it has large text. You don’t want to run into a situation where your server can’t read it because the text is too small
- Make sure the card emphasizes that you will get extremely ill and need their help. This is much more effective than trying to explain that you have a disease. Just focus on the basics and ask for help.
- Take into consideration the reading and general knowledge level of the country you are going to.
- Cards should be relative to local cusine, for example, if you are in Asia the card needs to mention that you cannot have soy sauce
- Being several in different languages, in case you want to go for different cuisine or cross borders
- Tip your servers! I can’t emphasize this enough, but if someone goes out of their way to help you, and you have a great meal, please tip
Here are a few of the more popular food allergy cards available:
Simple and free, and one of the most popular, longest running gluten free language cards. They are always adding new ones, so have an extensive library of languages. I personally thank them for all the help they have given me over the years. The format could be better, however, as they can be difficult to print the right size.
Great language cards, researched and created by a Celiac who loves to travel. Jodi has a selection of cards and a great gluten free travel blog you should check out.
Free cards but I find these to be a little long/complicated. For a longer, fixed location stay these will be useful, but not as much for on-the-go.
Another long format card that comes laminated, so they hold up. They also reiterate the same message in english on the back so you know what they are reading. You can buy a package with a variety of languages.
Good option for harder to find languages or combined allergies. Short and simple, but can get expensive if you need several and no offer of mixed packs.
Pay cards in a variety of languages. Quite a simple format, which is more point form.
Other language cards that I haven’t tried yet: