Saturday, June 8, 2013

Preparing to Travel out of the Country with Celiac Disease

In May a few friends and I decided to take a spontaneous vacation.  At first we toyed with the idea of going to Mexico and taking a beach vacation but realized if we were willing to take a week off work we may as well go somewhere amazing.  After only 3 days of discussion we booked a trip to...GREECE!  Pretty crazy, we know.
            This was my first out-of-country trip since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2008 and let me be honest, it wasn’t easy.  While you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Greece who doesn’t at least know basic English, I found myself suffering from accidental “glutening” on more than one occasion (but that’s another blog post).
            If you plan to go out of the country anytime soon I have a few suggestions on how to make the trip a bit easier.  First off, the dining cards made from Triumph Dining was an absolute life saver!   The pack gives you a card for each type of food, explains your allergy in English and the local language, gives examples of local dishes that may contain gluten and local ingredients that may be okay.  I presented these cards to every restaurant I visited and it made the eating out process a bit less stressful.  I highly recommend getting a pack (or 2) for any vacation you take.  Second of all, make sure to bring plenty of snacks.  For our 8-day trip I packed a box of Glutino gluten free poptarts, gluten free crackers and about 10 nut/breakfast bars.  Everything was gone by day 7 and I wish I had packed a tad more.  In Detroit I found a product line called GoPicnic that provides small gluten-free packaged meals.  If I had known about these pre-trip, I would have taken about 5 with me.  They come in a variety of meals and are only about $4 a pop.
KLM Gluten Free Dinner
            When packing these snacks, make sure to bring a few in your carry on bag.  As I’ll cover in my next few blogs, airports are not the most accommodating when it comes to food allergies.  The good news however, is that the airlines are! Make sure to note your food allergy when booking your flight because all major airlines offer gluten-free meals.  On my KLM flight going to Amsterdam I was served a salad, fruit cup, gluten free bread roll and an entrĂ©e of grilled chicken with rice and steamed broccoli for dinner.  Breakfast was yogurt, fruit, a gluten free lemon tart and a veggie sandwich (a bit odd for breakfast, but it was food!)  The airline almost always serves special meals first, so I felt more confident there was no room for confusion.
            Now let’s talk about accommodations while over seas. When preparing to go out of the country, it may be worth it to try to rent an apartment instead of getting a hotel room.  This option may end up being cheaper and the best part is that you’d have access to a kitchen.  If you do choose to opt for a hotel, call ahead and to see if your room comes with a mini-fridge or kitchenette and if their restaurant can accommodate gluten free diets.  To my surprise, our hotel in Santorini actually included a stovetop! I wish I had called ahead because I would have loved to make some gluten free pasta.
            Finally, while we hate to think about it, let’s face it:  traveling out of the country can be difficult with Celiac Disease and you may end up accidentally eating gluten.  Nobody wants that, but hey it happens.  Prepare ahead of time by packing back-up medicines like Pepto, probiotics and Licorice tablets.  There’s also a great natural supplement called GlutenEase that I bring with me every time I eat out, even in the United States.  The supplement is supposed to help offset symptoms if you were to accidentally ingest gluten and is 100% natural.  All of these products can be found at your local grocery store or health store.
            Happy planning! :)