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How to Travel With Celiac Disease

Here is What You Need to Do to Enjoy a Gluten-Free Trip

by Mariana Lessmann


2019 is here. We all wrote down our TO DO lists or bucket lists for this year that had just begun. One of people’s most common New Year's Resolutions is traveling. Traveling the world, traveling the country, traveling the city, anything related to leaving your comfort zone and flying or driving to a place to enjoy the sight, enjoy and live. Who hasn't added that to their bucket list? For most people, traveling represents a distracting and relaxing activity, while for other people traveling is a reason to stress out and not want to actually do it. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2017 and 2018 was traveling more and I still can’t believe I did it. I actually accomplished one of many resolutions I had. I ended 2017 by traveling to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; San Jose, Costa Rica; and NY. And I started 2018 by traveling to Medellin, Colombia; San Jose, Costa Rica; NY; and visited my hometown Caracas.  

None of those things I would have made them by myself. I did them with my by then boyfriend, Matt. I know that most people prefer traveling with someone than doing it alone. Sometimes you feel better with the idea of having someone with you in case you have an emergency or just for having more fun. It may be more convenient that way but I have personally traveled alone most of the time and it has been an amazing experience. Having your own schedule and visiting the places you want to visit without someone complaining about it was definitely fun. But this time I traveled with a good company. For those who don’t know, my husband Matt is celiac. He is gluten intolerant, meaning he can’t eat wheat, rye or barley. Last year when we traveled together, food was always an issue. Well, actually it was not an issue, it was a PROBLEM. Since the first moment we started planning our trip, Matt’s food was already something to be concerned about. For me, it was exciting to think about visiting different cities and countries and try their gastronomy, but for him, it was stressful to think where was he gonna eat safely for as long as the trip would last. So based on my experience with Matt, we created these tips (or guide, how you would prefer to call it) for you to have it as a reference and to learn how to travel with celiac disease and actually enjoy your gluten-free trip. It should be a nice time to live and have fun. We are sure these tips will be useful and will help you achieve the goal of enjoying your trip. If you are traveling alone or with someone, or if you are planning a road trip or flying somewhere, try avoiding the typical mistakes celiacs (and celiacs' relatives) do when leaving home.  

1. Plan ahead

Going out somewhere requires some planning, making a road trip to another city requires more planning, and flying to another city requires more planning and organization. If you are celiac or have a family member who is it, requires even more and more careful planning and organization. For some people, planning is annoying because they like living the day, but for celiacs, it is an indispensable step in their lives. Leaving your kitchen means that someone else will have the responsibility of providing you with safe food, so make sure that wherever you go, and whoever is going to make your food, is aware of your gluten intolerance. Start planning ahead, search for cities that have gluten-free restaurants and that the food stores have the safe brands you need. Plan how your vacations are going to be. Will you be cooking your own meals? Will you be eating out a lot? Make sure you know the answers to all your questions before starting your trip. There are many ways to ensure safe eating while on the road, you just need to plan and not leave anything for the last minute. When Matt and I planned our first trip together, we chose the Dominican Republic not knowing anything about Punta Cana’s gastronomy, supermarket or restaurants. We didn’t research where to eat or where to buy food and that was a big mistake we made and that we now avoid wherever we go. 

2. Choose a safe destination

When planning your gluten-free trip, make sure you choose a destination where you can feel safe eating there.  

There are a lot of safe places where you can go for a vacation, but there are also unhealthy places for you to eat.  

If you plan ahead, you will be able to research about the destination you want to visit.  

Take into consideration if the city or town you are going to has food stores with safe gluten-free products and find out if local people know what celiac disease is.  

When Matt and I planned our first trip together to Punta Cana, we stayed at a resort for one week and 3 other weeks we stayed at Airbnb’s places.  

Matt made sure that the resort had gluten-free meals available, so when we arrived there, every time we went to their buffet or any of their restaurants, he would ask for his gluten-free options and the chef would whether make something for him or showed him the celiac safe options.  

We were surprised to find out that most places we went to in Punta Cana didn't know what celiac disease was.

3. Stay somewhere with a kitchen  

If you are planning to go for a vacation and you are staying at an Airbnb, make sure you get a place with a kitchen where you can cook your own meals, and if you stay at a hotel, make sure you get a fridge in your room so you can store your food. Nowadays people prefer staying at Airbnb because they can be more affordable than hotel rooms. But money is not the only thing to consider when planning a gluten-free trip, food is something very important as well. So try to choose a place that has a kitchen where you can cook, or at least try to book a hotel room with a fridge or microwave. When Matt and I went to Luxury Bahia Principe Resort in Punta Cana, we didn’t use the fridge so much, instead, we ate at their different restaurants for 7 days and guess what happened? Matt got sick most of the trip.  

4. Research food stores near you

When we travel or make a road trip, we barely have time for using our phones. We try to stay connected with our friends and family, but we try to focus on the main purpose of the trip: enjoy and have a good time.  

There is nothing worse than being in a city or country we don’t know, and not knowing where to go or what to do.  

Not everyone likes doing touristic activities, but most people like walking, getting to know the place they are visiting and knowing a little about its culture and gastronomy.  

If you have celiac disease, part of your traveling should be researching in advance for safe places or stores where you can actually go and buy your safe gluten-free food.  

When starting to plan your trip, make sure wherever you stay, you have a supermarket or any store nearby where you can go and buy your food for making your safe meals.  

When Matt and I stayed at an Airbnb in Punta Cana, we didn’t really research about supermarkets or stores in the area, and we had a hard time finding gluten-free food. Now, whenever we travel, we always search for the best food stores in town.

5. Research trustworthy restaurants

Cooking is not something everyone likes doing. We like going out once in a while to a nice restaurant and eat some delicious food.  

Sometimes we get tired of eating homemade food and we look to eat something that doesn’t come from our kitchen.  

If you are looking to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner at a restaurant, make sure when planning your gluten-free trip, that you research about places where they offer celiac safe dishes.  

I personally don’t trust restaurants where they are not sure about what gluten-free means. I prefer going to well-known restaurant chains that have menus for celiacs like P.F. Chang’s.  

When Matt and I went to Costa Rica, P.F. Chang’s was the restaurant that we visited every time we felt like not cooking. And when we stayed at the resort in Punta Cana, we ate at their restaurants but we made sure first that the chef was able to make gluten-free dishes.

6. Bring a lunchbox to the airport  

Yes, if you want to enjoy your gluten-free trip you need to think and plan ahead even about what you will at the airport.  

If you want to avoid that awkward moment when you arrive at the airport and you have to wait for hours before the plane leaves and you are starving but you don’t want to eat unhealthy fast foods, just bring with you a small lunchbox with some safe gluten-free snacks.  

Most airports have food courts with fast food that may be a threat to not only celiacs but anyone who is looking to eat to eat safely.  

So when going for a trip, don’t forget to take your lunchbox with delicious snacks. The last time Matt and I took a plane, we packed some arepas with cheese and turkey inside and we ate them at the airport while waiting for our flight.

7. Choose to eat ethnic food

Most Italian and American-style restaurants are heavy on gluten-based dishes. You often have the options to choose between burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, and pasta, but ethnic restaurants may offer safer alternatives for celiacs.  

Mexican, Japanese and Venezuelan cuisine, for example, offers a lot of naturally gluten-free options like corn-based tortillas, black beans, nachos, sushi, and corn-based arepas.  

Make those kinds of dishes your first options for eating, and avoid adding sauces or condiments to them.

8. Order simple food 

If you go to a restaurant while traveling, make simple dishes your first option. Go through the menu carefully and avoid ordering plates that contain typical hidden forms of gluten like sauces, fried or breaded food, gravies, high processed appetizers or food with lots of condiments. Try ordering the dishes that contain simple ingredients and fewer condiments and sauces added.  

9. Communicate

If you are celiac or have a food allergy, and you are traveling to a country where they don’t speak the same language that you do, make sure you know how to communicate with people there to let them know you have gluten intolerance or a food allergy. Memorize or write down what you need to communicate in case they don’t understand you.  

10. Pack snacks

Wherever you go, whether it’s a road trip, flying somewhere, or even if you just go out to a museum to know the city you are visiting, make sure you pack some Ziploc bags with safe snacks for you.  

When families go out with kids, they usually carry some snacks around in case their children get hungry. Well, the same thing with celiacs, pack some delicious gluten-free snacks so you can enjoy the trip and not get cranky because you are hungry.

So if you are celiac or if you are traveling with someone who has celiac disease, apply all these tips and I assure you will enjoy your gluten-free trip.

by Mariana Lessmann






LET'S MEET


We are Mariana Lessmann and Matt Ackerson.

Mariana graduated from Communications & Journalism in Caracas, Venezuela, and has over 10 years of experience as a writer. She has worked on Digital Marketing, and for over 10 prestigious Cable Television Channels aired in Latin America. Matt graduated from Cornell University in New York. He started his own company in 2010, and has been running it by himself since then. Matt is an expert in Marketing, Sales, and creating 6-Figure Funnels for online businesses.

Over the past year we decided to start a company together and created "Vookies", that later expanded and became "Be Breader". We have been helping celiacs around the world to optimize and improve their health by incorporating safe and delicious meals into their daily menus.

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