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A Coeliac Abroad

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A Coeliac Abroad - The Traveller's Guide By #ljojlo

I am a big foody! I love trying new food and I LOVE eating good food. Coeliac disease is an incurable autoimmune disease where ‘the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage. The only treatment is a strictly gluten-free diet and considering my personal symptoms include; vomiting, nausea, painful stomach cramps and skin rashes I was only too eager to begin my new food plan. However, I still wanted to travel. So here are some of my tips about being a coeliac abroad.

A Coeliac Abroad - The Traveller's Guide By #ljojlo

 Breakfast in Lombok, Bali, specially made for me every morning

Translations: When planning my three overseas trips (two of which were non-English speaking countries) I was very concerned about what I would eat or even if I would eat. Japan was the first country I visited post-diagnosis. I was not well prepared for this trip. The night before flying out I had forgotten to find a translation to help explain what food I could eat. This was going to be an issue. Online I found a Japanese translation of a description of my condition and how to prepare foods I can eat (you could easily find similar things for other allergies). Coeliac Australia provides a translation in most languages.

Know where to find the allergen: Something to consider when travelling overseas with a food allergy is the types of foods they eat, do they even have similar allergies, where you are going and what types of food can you find it hidden. One thing I did know is the Japanese love soy sauce. Soy sauce has gluten. So every time I spoke to a waiter/waitress I said a few times no soy sauce. One of the best things that discovered in Japan was that in the group we were travelling with was another Coeliac. She taught me one very important rule; you can take food with you. This angel even shared hers with me… trust me a Coeliac sharing gluten-free food is a BIG deal! She had brought gluten free soy sauce and a mayonnaise. This might not sound like much to a normal person but to a Coeliac, condiments are the devils hiding place. When you get a bowl of plain rice and boiled beef you relish the simple gluten-free soy sauce and mayonnaise.

The next country was New Zealand and 10 months later and I was a little bit wiser with my snack bars and tomato sauce in tow. A translation wasn’t required but I landed in Christchurch still a little bit nervous. Before leaving I did find out that New Zealand had their own Coeliac society and it was a commonly known condition. I regularly found food and rarely got the ’oh your on that fashionable gluten-free diet, clearly not a real allergy’ look, so, all in all, I was quite pleased. I lasted nearly the whole trip without an episode until the very last night where I had painful stomach cramps, vomiting and nausea in which I spent the whole last evening lying on the bed crying with a wet flannel on my head. I still cannot pinpoint what it was that I ate, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.

A Coeliac Abroad - The Traveller's Guide By #ljojlo

At least coconuts are gluten-free

Special Jodie: Lastly I visited Indonesia, more specifically Bali and Lombok. The fact that these are third world countries made me question the capacity for cooks to understand the concept of gluten free and cross-contamination. I didn’t eat anything I didn’t bring with me for most of the first day but I sat down with the manager at the villa we stayed at. I showed him my translation sheet and he called the cook. They were so sweet. The manager introduced me to the cook by saying, ‘This is a very beautiful and special girl,” the little flirt! We talked for a few minutes, I tried to explain cross-contamination and made it clear no bread and nothing deep fried (if anything that contains gluten has been cooked in that oil it is no longer gluten-free). The first meal came with chips… Richard, a friend that travelled with us, enjoyed my steak that night. By the end of the trip, I was very pleased with my many meals, I only had to skip a few meals, I was able to order from the villa kitchen and just say ‘special for Jodie’ and they knew what I meant and I did not get sick once. If I did not like the look of a place I only got boiled rice.

There are a few things I have learnt while travelling with a food allergy;

  1. Most people want to help you; talk to people, ask questions and l let them ask questions.
  2. If you don’t trust it don’t eat it.
  3. Sometimes it is just as hard to find food in my own country, so don’t let your allergy stop you.

I will never, not travel anywhere because I am worried about what I’ll eat. The holiday only lasts a short time and I might only eat a bowl of rice now but the overall experience is worth it!

Written by Lauren’s good friend Jodie in support of helping people with an issue with gluten to be a Coeliac Abroad. 
Looking for other articles based on Health and Travel? Check these out below:
Ever wondered what it is like for a Vegetarian in Lombok? Check out an article from Shatara Travel on Lombok & Gili Trawangan As A Vegetarian