I was diagnosed with celiac disease (an autoimmune disease of the small intestines) when I was 17 years old. I was in high school at the time - grade 12, 2006 - and in those days “celiac disease” and a“gluten free” diet was unheard of. It was really difficult for me to figure out my health issues because of the lack of awareness, my age, and the fact that none of my friends really understood what I was going through. I often felt very alone. However, like anything else in life, you have to rise to the occasion and with the support of some very caring and compassionate people in my life, I slowly got the hang of this new diet and lifestyle (shout out to the Hutton family in particular).
By the time I was 18 years old I had begun to master the art of cooking gluten free. It was expensive, time consuming, and not always delicious - but at least my hair was no longer falling out, my skin stopped hurting, and I could think clearly again without the heavy brain fog weighing me down. It had been my dream since I was 13 years old to backpack through Europe so as soon as I had graduated from high school I took off and bought a one way ticket without any notion of when I would return - essentially I was forced to come home when my funds ran out after 8 months of hostel living.
My passion for travel, Europe, and all things gluten free has only grown since the days of my teenage years and backpacking adventures. We are fortunate enough in Canada and the United States to now have a better understanding of what celiac disease is and the gluten free options have exploded! The struggles I once had before gluten free became a trend have long since passed. In Canada the grocery stores are lined with gluten free, dairy free, nut free, vegan, alternative this and alternative that food options… It is amazing to see how far we have come in the last 11 years since my diagnosis and I feel very blessed to have learnt many delicious recipes along the way. However, for those of you with celiac disease or who follow a strict gluten free diet, traveling to foreign countries where you don’t speak the language, can’t translate the ingredients at the grocery store, don’t have a kitchen to cook your own food, or are even unsure if they are familiar with what gluten is - it can be very scary. Despite my diagnosis in 2006, I have not let it stop me from traveling the world. From Italy to France to England, Scotland, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Iceland, Austria, Germany, Costa Rica, the US, Turks and Ciacos, India, Colombia, the Netherlands, and even Kenya - I have always made gluten free work for me. Not every country understands what it means to eat gluten free, but often times a little research and preparation can go a long way. I won't deny that this has been one heck of a learning curve for me and there is risk with every meal you don’t make by hand yourself - but I won’t, I CAN’T, let the fear of being “glutened” slow me down. Traveling with an autoimmune disease is possible and often times it has introduced me to off the grid delicious restaurants that the typical tourist would miss out on.
Here are my top 5 tips on successfully eating/drinking your way around the world GLUTEN FREE!
1- Carry a little card in your wallet at all times that has pre translated version of something along the lines of: “I am looking for something to eat that is gluten free - I have celiac disease.” Also, learn how to say "Gluten Free" in their language: French: Sans Gluten, Italian: Senza Glutine, German: Gluten Frei, Icelandic: Glútenfrítt, etc... OR Download a translator app on your smart phone that can be used offline so when you go to the grocery store you can look up all of the ingredients. This was most helpful for me in Iceland!
2- Stay at/rent an AirBnB that has a kitchen so that you can cook your own food. I always feel more confident when I have the control to cook my own food and ensure its safe from contamination.
3- Fruit Fruit Fruit is always a safe option! If all else fails, go to a local supermarket and buy yourself some fruit! There are so many different varieties of fruit around the world that it is fun trying new things and you will get all the nutrients you need from fruit!
4- Before you depart for your vacation, Google some gluten free restaurants and get their address ahead of time. That way you are prepared with some safe restaurant options upon arrival.
5- Pack your own snacks! This little trick helped me get through some tricky times in both India and Kenya where celiac disease doesn't really exist! I loved my dried fruit and nut bars!
The world is your gluten free oyster ;) Don’t let your dietary needs slow you down. Do your research, prepare yourself, and enjoy the adventure!
- Sending love & light xxx
Facebook: @ Lisa Marie Holmes
Twitter: @lisa_m_holmes - going to have to change that name soon!