When I started writing this article, all I could think about was my bloated belly and being on my third day of diarrhea.
Little did I know that the diarrhea would last 10 days, and complement a side order of bloating, brain fog, and nausea, with a dash of pissing off my IBS for over a month after exposure. If you are someone reading this that doesn’t have an allergy or sensitivity, know that it’s not a joke and it’s more than just a few hours of discomfort. For some of us it lasts for weeks – my symptoms lasted for a total of 5 weeks until I started feeling somewhat normal.
How it all unraveled, and what I learned.
This Christmas holiday my husband and I decided to abandon the traditional American Christmas and have a siesta instead. We went to Mexico for a week of relaxation and rejuvenation. We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb thanks to Tim and Donna.
We spent Christmas on beautiful beaches, surfed, ate fresh fish every day, and consumed an abundance of chips, salsa, and guacamole – it was delightful!
One night we decided to venture out to a more fancy-schmancy restaurant. You could tell this was a draw for tourists because we were surrounded by a bunch of non-locals, drinking our bottled water by candlelight. It was a completely different vibe than the local restaurant down the street.
Our waiter was very friendly, and I could tell he was one of two on staff that night (I see everything – it’s like a sickness, really). I mentioned having an allergy to gluten and asked if the meal I was ordering was safe. He said he would check. After a few more moments of sipping my bottled water he returned with a yes, my choice actually did contain gluten; he recommended getting the catch of the day and roasted veggies. Delighted that he had the thoughtfulness to take care of it and come back with a safe recommendation, I happily said, “Sure!”. While traveling, I’m thrilled to even be able to eat out, so any tips on what to order are always welcome.
Right as he was leaving I decided to throw in a last-minute appetizer. I ordered the black bean soup – thinking that it would be safe since we just had this in-depth conversation about what I could eat.
That was my big mistake: Never assume someone will remember your food preferences. Ask every time even if you think you’re being annoying.
In my head, I was so excited — finally someone gets it!! He speaks my language!! I can have a nice warm meal with my husband.
Our delicious black bean soup came out beautifully decorated, and after taking my first bite I realized that it wasn’t just sautéed onions on top…it also had tiny little breadcrumbs. The moment I noticed this – right after I took my first bite – I was furious; but I was more frustrated with myself. I knew better, and I always double-check my order when I’m out. Knowing I was hypnotized by the beautiful music and soft candlelight, and it was an honest mistake on our waiter’s part, I politely asked for a new bowl of soup without the fancy topping.
We finished the rest of the meal, and it was lovely — that is, until I spent the next 24 hours curled in a little ball of discomfort. I am so grateful husband is supportive; it’s not always easy to plan date nights out, and going over to someone’s house for dinner often means rolling out the checklist of items I can’t consume, gluten being the big one. Being in partnership with someone that has a limitation isn’t easy (stay tuned for my next blog around living with someone that doesn’t eat the same way as you – it’s quite the adventure, let me tell you).
Luckily (if you can call it that), I didn’t make a second mistake after being exposed to gluten. I’ve been through this before, and I was prepared. This is why I decided it’s time for me to write the article I’ve been trying to google search since I made the commitment to be gluten free 10+ years ago. There are some great resources out there, but I learned the most from my own personal experience over the last 8 yrs of traveling, mostly through trial and error.
I’m writing down everything I know about traveling with food allergies (sensitive tummies) to create a list I can use the next time I go somewhere; I refuse to let my body limit my life experience, and I want to support others who also struggle with having sensitive body.
Preparing for a trip can sometimes take me weeks. I plan out most of my meals, pack a water filter, and pack all my gear that might be needed “if” anything were to happen. Even when I try my hardest, my body has such a hard time while traveling. So, I’m going to disclose all my nerdy checklist items for you below.
The number one thing to remember is to research ahead of time where you can eat. If you are traveling for a conference, staying at a resort, or at an Airbnb, locate the nearest grocery store and local restaurants where you might be able to eat. That way you know what your options are ahead of time. Yes, it will take a little time to set this up, but knowing where your next meal is coming from when you’re on vacation and just want to rest will feel like a blessing. Your hungry (or hangry!) self will thank you for taking the time to do a little leg work in the beginning. Don’t be deceived by willpower –– it doesn’t exist. This is why it’s recommend not to go shopping when you’re hungry; you’ll buy more than you need and make choices based on low blood sugar. Just say no and plan ahead.
It can feel so frustrating trying to pick a restaurant to eat at for every meal when I’m on vacation because it can (sometimes) feel like a part-time job taking care of myself. But getting exposed to fill-in-the-blank is so much worse then taking a little extra time to create a plan ahead of time…or you might end up eating mashed potatoes and green beans every day for 5 days. (Yes, it’s a true story –– I went to a remote conference where there was nothing close by and I seriously couldn’t eat anything but mashed potatoes, green beans, and my packages of oatmeal I brought for the whole conference. Oh the memories…)
There are many times when I first started committing to being gluten free where I felt like I was on the water cleanse while traveling. Some of you might not relate, but not eating sometimes is easier than trying to eat something that I know I will pay for later. Try going to the south or midwest and visiting a small town where everything is fried –– the struggle is real, folks!
There are multiple ways to obtain food while away from home. If you are traveling domestically and know you’re going to be close to a metropolitan area, there are tons of ways to get a few food resources.
In a hotel or resort, know that Amazon Fresh or Instacart will deliver to hotels. There is also Uber Eats and so many other on-the-go takeout places that will deliver a healthy $17 (or less) salad to your conference/hotel room. Trust me, spending that money is so worth it to avoid having an upset or angry tummy because you were hungry and ate something that will disagree with you.
If you love traveling, like me, you may sometimes end up in a really remote area, or travel abroad to a village tucked away from the hustle bustle. This is great for your mental health, but it can put a strain on food options – this is why I research.
If there are limited options, and you want to be active without letting your sensitive tummy limit your fun, you will need to pack your food. Yes, packing enough high-caloric intake foods to sustain activity might be a pain, but if you are in a situation where you can’t eat something, at least you have your go-to bar, peanut butter packet, instant oatmeal, and/or many other delicious items to fuel your body so your blood sugar can remain stabilized.
Food prep summarized
Where to shop:
- Local grocery stores
- Mini marts
- Grocery delivery: Amazon Fresh or Instacart
- Food delivery: Ubereats, Grubhub, Eat24 etc..
List of my favorite foods to pack while traveling:
- Instant, gluten free oatmeal
- Single packets of almond butter (or any nut butter)
- Your favorite go-to bar: I love Macro bars, epis bars, and Rx bars
- Dried fruit
- Trail mix or nuts
- Jerky (beef, buffalo, you name it)
- Canned items (soup, dolmas, sardines)
- Gluten free rice ramen
- Complete shakes — vegan-based powdered shake mix
- Complete bars –similar to the shakes but in bar form
- If you live near a specialty store, they have yummy high quality ramen packets that are gluten- and gmo-free
Also pay attention to the water:
- Only drink from bottled water, even if you’re just skipping over a few states. You’d be surprised how a different water source can disrupt your digestion.
- Or, bring a filter; Vitality Straw is similar to the one I use
If you are adventurous and want to go to restaurant…
- Yelp is a great resource
- Find me Gluten Free shows you where gluten-friendly restaurants are available
- If you’re at a hotel or Airbnb, ask your concierge or host for recommendations
- Ask your server for recommendations
- Call ahead
If you are in an area more limited in its resources, you can consult with your server; but honestly, I prefer calling ahead so that the chef can make something special. I’ve had many restaurants be more than happy to steam vegetables, grill some chicken, and put it over a plain bed of rice, and it was the most amazing meal I ever had while traveling. I’ve also had chefs make a little tapas plate full of items they knew I could eat. Don’t be afraid to make requests for people to accommodate you; if you’re understanding and grateful, and mention that it’s a serious allergy, they’re often happy to help.
What to use if you get exposed
Let’s say the worse case scenario happens, and you get exposed. First, remember you can call your doctor or a nearby hospital. Your sensitivity or allergy may be more severe than mine and I wouldn’t want you to miss the opportunity of getting professional help. I am not a doctor and your exposure might be more life threatening than mine. Always take care of yourself.
I always have on hand a few samples of these to help move the exposure along:
- Binders: chlorella, black charcoal, zeolite.
- Smooth move: this is my go-to if I get backed up from the time change, change in routine, or the stress from flying.
- Slippery elm is a great to help move things along – this one a friend recommended.
- Load up on a good probiotic – although traveling with one may be hard since most quality products need refrigeration.
- Eat foods that naturally help promote digestion, like bitter greens, bitters you use for cocktails, and/or fermented foods, if they don’t upset your tummy more.
- Settle your tummy with: ginger, peppermint, and camomile teas.
- Digestive enzymes: papaya is my preference, there are many others available at your local co-op and pharmacy.
Cleaning up the aftermath
When you get home, if you’re still suffering make an appointment with your local ND, MD, acupuncturist, etc…
My schedule when I return is:
- See my fabulous ND.
- Make a hydrocolonic appt. If you are in Seattle, the Tummy Temple is great.
- Get lots of rest; your body is working hard to recover.
Remember it’s Temporary
Practice forgiveness – whether it’s with the waiter in Mexico or with yourself. Know that these things can happen, and if they do, it’s just another learning experience. I hope this article brought you some helpful tips so that you can travel next time with more comfort and ease.