Traveling to a foreign country with limited or NO access to your favorite gluten free goodies, your celiac-safe kitchen and utensils — paired with the uncertainty of how your food is prepared — is a thing of the past. Even the potential language barrier can no longer keep you from catching the travel bug. Contrary to popular belief – you CAN travel overseas without fear if you have celiac disease.
As a celiac, life isn’t the simplest. From day-to-day, many of us (myself included) refrain from frequently eating out and being the social butterflies that we truly are. With concerns over cross-contamination and the anxiety attached to the thought of getting sick from a night out of the town with friends, many of us tell our loved ones – “maybe next time”.
I’ve spent my fair share of life sitting on the bench, watching others partake in all the fun, but that my friends is not a life worth living. We’re only here for a short time, so we have to make the most of it.
For me, traveling is always something I have wanted to do. I remember being in college and seeing friends and relatives travel across the globe – heck I even have a bad-ass friend who lives overseas making wine in New Zealand (love you Mah-Shnah).
I always envied them. Thinking, I hope someday I can do that – and pushed aside those aspirations to excel at school and work.
Well it worked. I got to where I wanted to be personally and professionally. Yet, there was still some hesitance. I was nervous about the food. Could I eat and have fun? Could I truly enjoy it?
Friends, it’s safe to say after my first (of hopefully many more) excursions across the globe – the answer was YES. You can have one hell of a good time. You can eat, drink, and be merry with the best of them. All it takes is a little preparation…
5 Tips For Traveling Abroad With Celiac Disease
1. Do your Research.
Think the United States has the best options for gluten-free folk? Think again. You would be surprised how many European and Asian countries have gluten free food options. In fact, more of their restaurants had allergy guides on their menus than I’ve encountered here in the US.
It is also important to look into the diet of the country you are looking to visit. Do they eat a lot of rice dishes like many asian countries? Are they very bread-based?
Spain is a great contender for those seeking adventure. Spaniards eat a lot of potatoes, seafood, and jamon.
Note though, that not every country may not be to “your” standards. But hey, they shouldn’t be – half the fun of traveling is embracing new cultures and ways of thinking.
Take Spain for example, like most Europeans, they start each day with coffee and a hunk of bread. They also eat on a different schedule than most people in the United States. They eat a quick, light breakfast, indulge in a huge lunch around 2, and don’t eat dinner until well after 8-9pm.
2. Learn the Language.
You by no means have to be fluent to travel. Learn the basics of the language of the country you plan to visit.
For celiacs, it’s important you learn some important phrases, like: “I have celiac disease.” ; “I can’t eat wheat, barley, rye, flour, etc.” ; “Is this homemade?” ; “Is this gluten-free?” ; “What ingredients are in this dish?” ; and “Is the meat fried?” Words like, “bread“, “gluten“, “grilled” ; “breaded” , etc.
It’s also smart of look up the names of popular celiac-friendly, traditional dishes before you go too. That way if you recognize it on the menu – you will know it more than likely is safe to eat.
3. Shop Like the Locals.
When you are traveling, know your accommodations. Does the hotel/hostel have a stove, microwave, or fridge to store food? If you do – lucky you! Take advantage of the fresh markets. Rise early and bargain with vendors to get the freshest cuts of meat and seasonal fruits and veggies.
Don’t forget to check out the supermarkets and convenience stores.
I only had a fridge in the last city I visited on my most recent trip. So you better believe I stored some perishable goods and water in that bad boy.
That said, you can still pick out produce like apples, bananas, oranges, and some fresh veggies that don’t need the fridge to stay intact. You can even find GF bread and crackers, nuts, seeds, and jerky if you get hungry for a little snack.
4. Pack A Snack.
To reiterate the last point, you by no means need to pack a lot (well except maybe on the way to the airport if you have a long set of flights). But you should always bring something just in case.
Let’s be real though – we are already pros at this. We have got this on lock. If you didn’t know me, you’d like I was a mother of 5 with the way I carry snacks on me. [Shoot, I usually bring a protein bar with me when I go out to the bars, because you never know.]
For me, I personally have issues with fiber and hydration, so I packed plenty of protein bars to have one per day on the trip. I also brought hydration tablets for the plane.
Actually, those bad boys actually were really handy, because in Spain, like most of Europe, water is not free. It’s considered more of a luxury, and not every city has the cleanest of drinking water, so I’d recommend you pack some on your next trip. I brought nuun tablets with me, and some crystal light mixes to make some of the “okay” tasting water more desireable.
5. Plan. Plan. Plan.
Now this should come as no surprise to all of you, but try and do some planning. Not necessarily the what you should eat and when, but more so as guidance. Something about looking into traditional dishes, favorite local stops, and the tips and trips of other bloggers puts you at ease. Seeing that it has been done by those with allergies puts you at ease. It also gets you excited for what’s to come!
That peace of mind goes a long way – even if you don’t take those recommendations to heart. Because trust me, you won’t.
As soon as you set foot in your destination, all of the plans and expectations you set will be forgotten. Just like that, I guarantee that you will get swept up in the beauty and novelty of it all — and just go with the flow.
Stay tuned for another post, next week, highlighting the top dishes you need to try if you visit ever plan to visit Spain. I will also note some of my favorite restaurants and ones to avoid. Until next time, or should I say — hasta luego!