Celiac Disease: Eating while traveling with chronic illness

I LOVE FOOD, like Oprah loves bread. I also love bread but can’t eat most of it unless it’s gluten free.

If you missed my previous post I’ll catch you up real fast. I have Celiac Disease. It’s a chronic auto immune disorder that essentially means my body cannot properly process a protein found in most wheat products called gluten. If I am exposed to gluten I have symptoms that make it difficult to function in normal society, which let’s be honest was hard for me to do before finding out I had celiac because I am sort of a weirdo. Last week I discussed how I plan ahead with medication to help manage my symptoms while traveling. This week we’re going to discuss one of my favorite topics, EATING!

If you were to peruse my site you’d quickly see that my favorite meals are brunch and coffee… yes these are real meals, they are part of your basic millennial diet.

A common question I get asked when it comes to travel is “How do you eat?” The answer is; one bite at a time.

If you’re wondering how I find things to eat that fit my gluten free dietary restrictions while traveling keep reading.

The key is to plan ahead!

Planning meals while traveling starts with planning my stay. I love services like Vacasa, Airbnb, and VRBO, because I like to have a kitchen when I travel. Some people object to this, as many would rather stay in a hotel, which is fine, I love me some room service, but when it comes to Celiac and travel the easiest answer to managing your diet is “cook/ shop for yourself as much as you can!” This is also a great way to save money while traveling and an even better way to gain an authentic local experience while abroad.

When booking here are some things to share/ questions you should ask the host/ property manager, and or hotel staff.

  • I have Celiac Disease, which is why I am booking this room/ property, what amenities are available in the kitchen for me to use? **Tip, don’t use the toaster they don’t usually clean them, and you can bet other guests used it for toast, the regular kind.**
  • Is there a refrigerator in the unit? **If you elect to go the hotel rout most hotels rooms will have these, but check just in case!**
  • Is there a grocery store within walking distance from the unit?
  • Are there any specialty grocery stores nearby?
  • If its a hotel, or hostel ask: What are the breakfast options? **this will help you, if they serve yogurt or eggs as part of continental breakfast you’re golden and can save hassle & $$!**
  • If its a hotel and they have a restaurant etc: Can I have the contact of the head chef or restaurant manager? I have serious food allergies and want to talk with them about my options. (Technically Celiac is not a food allergy but trying to explain that when you eat gluten your body attacks itself is a lot harder than saying you’re allergic to gluten.)

This is IMPORTANT! You should NEVER assume the front desk person know’s the menu as well as the restaurant staff, and you should over exaggerate your condition as they will be less likely to blow you off or lie to you. If they think an incorrect answer could get them sued they will quadruple check everything. One of the downsides to gluten free eating being popularized is a lot of people think it’s a fad diet, and think you’re being dramatic unless you tell them your condition can basically kill you. It’s stupid, but it’s how society on the whole works. I find going straight to the chef is the best way to verify if your food is safe. Chefs/ restaurant owners are VERY knowledgeable and helpful because they do what they do because they love to bring people joy with food, and they don’t want to poison you. This tactic also works while eating out in general. Sometimes I get sweet perks and special treatment if I talk to a chef about my Celiac. It can be uncomfortable to point out your disease to a total stranger but you know what’s more uncomfortable? Getting diarrhea while on a tour of Edinburgh Castle.

I always plan for the first day of my trip to be a neighborhood exploration day. I find the closest coffee, pub and the closest grocer (in that order). And I do all my shopping for groceries.

I usually buy the following items while traveling to ensure I can eat and stay nourished on the journey.

  • Yogurt
  • Coffee beans/ tea
  • Milk/cream
  • Eggs
  • GF bread
  • Fruit
  • Deli meat
  • Mustard
  • Sliced cheese
  • Almonds or Cashews
  • Chicken
  • Veggies, leafy greens and root vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, butter
  • Chocolate
  • Ziplock bags

I have never been somewhere where these items were not available at the grocery store. Good news for us glutards is gluten free is a fad diet now (which I totally don’t understand, but am not mad about)! This has greatly increased our food options on a global scale! But honestly the only item on my food list that’s gluten free manufactured is the GF bread! I skip that half the time because I only use it for sandwiches. If I can’t find or don’t want to pay for GF bread I literally just put meat and cheese with some veggies like carrots in a ziplock throw it in my backpack and head out the door. It’s really no more hassle than you’d take on a given day before heading to work. I actually prefer it because when I pack a lunch I don’t have to stress.

A positive thing about traveling with Celiac is it’s allowed me to experience places such as local farmers markets! Open air markets are FANTASTIC for people with food allergies. Most big cities have some form of a farmers market. These are ideal because you can get fresh meat, fruits and vegetables, which make great snacks/ meals while traveling. Most times the proprietor of whatever stand your looking at actually made the food you’re buying or had a close personal relationship to the person who did. They will know more about what has gone into the process of making that cheese or salami because they had a hand in doing it! Not to mention shopping local in whatever city you’re in is usually more ethical and contributes more to the local economy than shopping at a big chain store. My dad and I spent the better part of a day tasting our way through Burrow Market in London and we had the BEST time. He will tell you it was one of the highlights of the trip and I could not agree more. Plus we didn’t have to buy lunch that day because we filled up on samples walking through the market! (Pics of dad/ Burrow Market!)

Sometimes you don’t want to cook for yourself on vacation. Sometimes you want to eat out and not fear that you’re trip will be de-railed by doing so. While I try to pack lunch, or eat simple for breakfast, I enjoy eating out! This is the most daunting while traveling especially in a foreign country. For this I resort to researching ahead of time, and asking locals for help. I find pubs are a great place to get information like this. While I don’t drink beer, I do enjoy a good cocktail, and Matthew drinks beer. Generally we eat in a pubs the first night in a new place because they’re usually open late and tend to be reliable as far as what’s available to eat/ drink. Most bar’s have French fries (which praise the lord are gluten free!) and burgers, so I just get something without a bun, sometimes they’ll surprise you and have a salad available. In the bigger cities they’ll usually have gluten free buns/ options. The real purpose of eating in a local pub is making friends and talking to locals. Your accent is typically a giveaway and will be a great ice breaker. Anytime a local stranger strikes up a conversation with me I try to ask them if they know of any local gluten free eateries. Most will, because most people know someone with Celiac or a gluten allergy and because it’s such a hassle to accommodate that friend/ person the names of restaurants/ street vendors and grocers that carry GF products stick in their mind.

Another fantastic resource is tour guides! I love to go on the cheap double decker city tours when I go to a new place, the bus driver almost always gives us a suggestion.

I use Yelp/ Trip advisor as a last resort. Most travel apps will have a “gluten free” filter on them for restaurants but that is often smoke and mirrors. Restaurants are not required to prove if they are Gluten free to post on these sites but they know if they do they will get more traffic. So sometimes their only gluten free option is a Caesar salad, hold the croutons. If I find something that looks fabulous on one of these review sites I will typically email or call them ahead of time to ask about their GF options.

That being said, my Google project Fi phone plan is essential to international travel and remaining GF. My data costs the same no matter where I am in the world, which as someone who needs to research food options on the fly is invaluable. It’s also WAY cheaper than getting a temporary international plan from carriers such as Verizon or AT&T and I don’t need to do anything special before I leave to make sure I can use my phone. Here’s a referral Link in case you’re curious! Matthew and I typically pay about $80 per month for both of our phones, call, text, data everything! (Note I do not get paid anything to share this link and this is not sponsored by Google, this is a friends and family link that I am able to share as a customer of Google project Fi.)

When it comes to traveling with Celiac you just have to be willing to put yourself out there and advocate for your health. Because your disability as a person with an autoimmune disorder is typically invisible you have to be willing to talk to people about it and raise awareness. I think that’s the hardest part honestly. I don’t like inconveniencing people. And let’s be honest, having an auto immune disorder IS an inconvenience. I used to hate being the annoying person who sends their plate back when the salad comes back with croutons after I told them to leave them off, or seeing a server roll their eyes when I ask if something is gluten free, but you need to remember that as long as you’re being kind and respectful it is not OK for people to treat you like that. And it IS OK for you to stand up for what is right for you. Most people will want to help, and offer you what they can by way of advice/ options. You just have to be willing to ask the questions, and you have to be willing to work with your disease and not against it. There’s a big beautiful world full of delicious gluten free food out there for you to consume! GO FIND IT!

Finally, if you’re looking for GF options in the Portland Metro you can feel free to drop a line here or email me! Stay tuned for next week when I discuss traveling with COPD!

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