Wednesday, 20 June 2012

My Top Tips for Travelling Gluten & Dairy Free

Before every exciting journey, my adventures always begin with a good deal of preparation - to bring peace of mind and comfort so that I can really settle in and soak in what is to come...  It's not glamorous and it does take a bit of time - but I promise that all of the effort is worth it.

As a person with a sensitive tummy who loves to enjoy the world - I've realised that I just have to make peace with the fact that there'll be moments when I will either be very disappointed or absolutely terrified by some of the food that is put in front of me.  But these moments are fleeting when there is so much to see and do - and there are ways to avoid it.

So I really wanted to share how I prepare and cope with travelling - because I know that it's helped me enormously to read about how other people do it and I hope it can help some of you too.

I would love to have your comments with any advice you might have - it's always great to build on suggestions and I can learn something too!

So here are my top tips for travelling on a sensitive tummy...  the objective here is the avoid getting sick and wasting time in the bathroom in a foreign country!

1) Research
This is probably extremely obvious but explore your options on the internet - depending on the place you're visiting you're bound to find some suggestions of places to go and visit.  This can include  places to eat as well as sympathetic places to stay.

2) Get a language card that explains your dietary requirements
If you're visiting a country where you can't speak the language - a language card that explains your dietary requirements will be invaluable.  If you're a coeliac you can obtain these from the Coeliac Society and often they will also provide you with the contact for the relevant support network in the country you are visiting as well as tips.

3) If you're going to a country with a foreign language - learn a tiny bit before you go
Even though you might be armed with your language card - learning a little bit of the language of the country you are visiting is not only a mark of respect but it will make the people you are putting your faith into more willing to help you get the right food into your tummy.  Add to this a big smile and flexibility and you have a winning strategy to getting a lovely, safe meal with no yucky consequences. 

4) Contact the place you'll be staying at and let them know
It's always a good idea to give the place you're staying a heads up on what your dietary requirements are. This means that when you arrive they have the opportunity to prepare.  For example, in Paris I was the only person in the hotel who had coeliac disease and they made sure to purchase gluten free bread for my arrival - it was such a beautiful surprise!

How I feel when I get gluten free bread
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5) What to pack 
Any sensitive tummy that has traveled before will probably already know that your suitcase will have more food than clothes in it. 

When I'm packing for a trip and 2/3 of my suitcase is filled with food
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I not only pack food - and here is one of my best tips ... I pack a small rice cooker.  Since I thought of this I've never had to deny myself a hot meal.  You can add vegetables, meat, herbs and spices to the rice (these are readily available wherever you go) and before you know it you have a comforting, safe hot meal.  I also pack a small cutting board and knife.  Don't forget to bring an international adaptor plug.

Another good item to pack are toastabags - these are perfect to avoid cross contamination - so you can ask your hotel to toast your bread and you will be safe in the knowledge that it won't make you feel queasy.  I once tried to also pack my own toaster and it got completely wrecked in my suitcase.  So now I only have to worry about safely packing my rice cooker (with multiple clothes cushioning it) and it's proved to be a winner for me personally.

Another idea are sandwich bags - if you bring a loaf of pre-cut bread or a package of rolls - you can keep them fresh once you open the packaging by separating them into sandwich bags - then you don't have to contend with stale bread as your holiday continues.

Tummy soothing medication is another item I am never without - if I've been poisoned these standbys have been invaluable.

3) Getting on the plane - order a special meal before you go and then keep your fingers crossed! And always pack food for the plane just in case!

When I remember to bring a gluten free snack on the plane
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Often the airlines will offer a special meal option but because I have multiple issues (gluten and dairy) they only offer one or the other but not both.  So I always order a gluten free meal and hope for the best.  It depends on the airline, even which direction you are heading ... some are fantastic whilst some just make my stomach churn (do they realise that we have tastebuds??!).

If you have lactose intolerance - pack some lacteeze (a product that helps you digest dairy).  For me - I still have symptoms if I eat a certain amount of lactose even if I take lacteeze (and it doesn't have to be much) - but I still take it as a precautionary measure. There is nothing like a bit of peace of mind when you're not completely sure.

I'll avoid gluten free bread if there is no ingredients list to check for dairy (I'd rather avoid than get sick - and there is nothing worse than having tummy troubles on the plane...) but if I get a hot meal (like rice with chicken or grilled beef with veggies) that looks & smells safe I will take the gamble.

If my companion Mr Lulu is with me I will get him to taste it for me first and see if he can detect a taste of butter or dairy.  If he gives me the go ahead I have peace of mind before I leap in.  So if you have a tummy of steel on hand it can save you a bit of grief - and this goes for the entire journey. 

But on the off chance that your meal is just too scary to contemplate eating - here are some food ideas that I always take along with me just in case... 

My own bread – I baked scones this time and also took some Schar bread rolls (they hold up well in their packaging when bashed around in the overhead locker!)
Jam, Honey or Avocado – These are my options for spreading on my bread or scones, none of them require refrigeration and it saves me from choking on dry bread!
Cucumber - Why a cucumber?  Because it doesn't need peeling or any preparation and is beautifully refreshing. Just wash, pack in a sandwich bag and off you go!
A can of salmon, tuna or fish that can be opened without an opener – I once packed a can of salmon that I couldn't open which was a silly mistake! This is nice with the bread, avocado and cucumber.
Snacks – Don't forget to bring some fun food or you won't feel like you're on holiday!  Whatever rocks your boat - I don't think anyone would need any suggestions here.

I'm often more strict with myself on the way to my destination because I want to get my adventure off to a great start - so I will always pack my own safe meal.

5) Lastly - stay positive and enjoy yourself!
I often have to remind myself not to be scared and to stay positive - there are tonnes of bad stories out there and I've sadly been in some of them.  There are sometimes misunderstandings or just a complete lack of care or some people think you're completely making it up and want to test your tummy out to see if you're telling the truth (yes this has really happened).

I've learnt that if it feels dodgy it probably is... I've learnt to listen to my instinct and and not take the risk.  The bottom line is - if you don't feel safe eating what's in front of you - you have every right not to and there is no shame in that.

But by and large - people are generally very accommodating and if you stay positive - some of your best meals will be just around the corner!

So these are my ideas that have kept me in good form when on my adventures - next up... Bonjour Paris!!!

Lots of love xx
Miss Lulu xx

PS. Thank you to for the animations I've added - they never fail to cheer me up!

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