I’m Jem - lifelong athlete (ballerina turned triathlete turned distance runner - yes really, and it’s a story for another blog!) travel lover….AND coeliac
I’m writing this from somewhere up in the sky over Central America after a month long hiatus in Costa Rica.
I love to travel. In fact, I now spend much more of life living out of a rucksack than staying in a spot I call home…
I strongly believe that you can travel and SHOULD travel, living full out in the new places and experiencing the full on local life EVEN IF you have considerations for your health or diet…
BUT as a coeliac, it’s not always as easy as picking the best deal on skyscanner and packing a bag.
I mean you could try… (last autumn I rocked up with my hand luggage to a tiny Austrian town… only to find that I would be munching on sardines, Milk and carrot sticks for a week since there was literally NOTHING else GF available from the one open gas station!! Hungggrrrryyy!!!)…
But I don’t recommend it.
You CAN have the best time wherever you go…. Provided you plan ahead. In this blog I’m sharing the fundamentals:
When planning a backpacking trip, I want get the fullest local emersion I can. So yes, part of choosing my country of choice is a little research on the traditional munchies. Do a google. See what’s the traditional ingredients (esp important if you are traveling ‘off grid’ or in the countryside where you’re unlikely to have much choice or western options.
Costa Rica was quite the adventure. Good weather. Good people. Amazing vistas. Beaches for days. Jungles like no others AND a local diet based on Platains (big savoury bananas), rice and maize/corn. Winner!!
In fact, Costa Rica has surprised me on the cuisine front. (I do admit, not the most flavoursome - you need to head to Columbia or Puru for the riches flavours!) but in the sense that I have been able to ‘enjoy local’ with no glutenating. (Not as easy as it sounds!)
“Galla pinto” or rice and beans with plantain as well as “Pollo y Arroz” chicken rice are pretty much available everywhere.
In Europe I might need to be more careful of what they might cook the beans in ora sauce, but here it literally was rice. Beans. (Often unflavoured!) so all good. Well, almost…
waiter rushes by after confirming with the chef, just as I took a bite of the tortilla infant of me….
The one ubiquitous item (literally with every dish it seemed) was the one that gave me a fright or two… Traditionally made with corn flour (GF) in Costa Rica - occasionally in the touristy spots, the Mexican neighbour influence slipped in with a wheat flour. (As per this case.)
Now, I always quiz the waiter twice- once on ordering, once when they deliver the food. But it’s a good idea to get the chef to answer too (to avoid situs like the above!) Sometimes I actually get the chef to show me the dish (or take a ‘fly by’ around the restaurant to see first time around before I ordered I knew what I was in for!)
Ok, you may feel like a muppet, but with a holiday spent in the bathroom as an alternative… Looking a muppet is worth it!! Also - health comes first. If you are traveling with people, just explain the situ and the fact that it’s a seriously important consideration for you. People understand. (If they don’t, find new people to travel with!)
Get a list on your phone of all the possible words for wheat, gluten (or whatever you need to avoid!)
Luckily for me espanol is a language I speak. So South/Central America was an easy choice. But there are also apps you can get on your phone that can translate the common allergy foods for you specifically. (And obv google translate - but ensure you get the OFFLINE version too!!)
Learn the phrase/ write a note with “Is this gluten free/wheat free/no gluten/ I am coeliac” is a good idea.
As I found, sometimes people won’t know what actually contains gluten (which is still something that is mind boggling to me when people ask if potato contains gluten…) so learn a few useful stock phrases to explain things like flour/bread crumbs/barley etc you must watch for.
When in Europe allergens are usually bolded or underlined. Some countries don’t have the same regulations. Sadly, you can’t get too complacent with the packet reading! Food without a packet is another question. It’s a case of judgement here.
Chances are you aren’t the first traveler with special considerations in the food department. The internet is a wonderful thing and can point you in the right direction for where to eat out that’s GF certified/ safe (enough) for a visit.
Talking to Claire and the 4thD team is a no brainer too! They are all well travelled, and may have even been to your destination! If not they will be able to advise. An amazing resource (and btw Claire is a legendary airport food planner!)
Depending on where you are traveling too and your weight availability you can consider taking a few bits. One of my top hacks is taking meal replacement shakes.
Surprisingly you can find a product called ‘Ensure’ (A nutrition supplement/food replacement- usually by prescription in Europe) in every little store in Costa Rica, which was a life saver on a few occasions! Looking for a few sachets of meal replacement can also be a light, handy and refrigerator free life saver. (Claire can help you out on good options- but even MyProtein or Huel would do!)
Depending on your style, you can also look at camper’s or climber dehydrated food packs if you think your destination will be totally impossible.
Another great option is Uncle Bens style microwave rice (tip - you can eat them raw) and sardines. A easy to pack (good shapes!), light weight, refrigerator-free, cook-free option.
Immodium, Dirolite and Senna are your friend ;)
Here are a few of my favourite snaps from the trip! Best part, mangos off the trees- not pictured as usually gone (or stolen by monkeys, yes REALLY!!) before I got the chance!
If you are planning a trip and have an intolerance, don’t let it stop you! But do take these 5 steps into consideration and you’ll be just fine.
If you want any more tips and tricks (or simply moral support as an ‘intolerant traveler’ then reach out tome IG @jemcoooper or via 4thD! Happy travels