The window of a little market in Enniskerry, Ireland. © Melissa Palomo
I love traveling. A lot. I love new cultures, meeting new people, buying tchotchke crap for my friends and family back home, and trying new food. Enter sad face here. I love food. And I love it even more when it’s labeled in another language and you have no idea what it really is that you’re eating. So when I was first diagnosed I kind of freaked out – thinking “OMG I can’t ever travel again! What the hell will I eat? I am going to cryyyyyyyy because this suckkkkks.” (Cue the mourning period all over again.)
I realized after a little research that I was being ridiculous. (Wouldn’t be the first time that has ever happened.) Sure, traveling with Celiac disease was going to take a little more planning, but it wasn’t going to be impossible. We ended up booking our first international trip to Ireland – a country that is known to have a higher instance of peeps with gluten sensitivity – and went in March 2010, nearly a year after my diagnosis. It was amazing. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton a bit outside of Dublin in a little town called Enniskerry (thank you TravelZoo for the killer deals! I couldn’t have done it without ya!)
I screwed up big time, though – in my excitement of the fact that I could find so many “gluten free” items – I didn’t stop to think about cross contamination. So, I ended up getting sick. The entire last day we were there I had to sleep. So my tip to you? 1 - plan your “must sees” for the first few days if you’re a GF traveler – just in case you are too worn out by the end. I had to miss our big castle trip to sleep. What a bummer. 2 - don’t get lazy and assume that even gluten friendly Ireland can handle ya. I was fooled by the amazing sight of gluten free brownies in Starbucks! Starbucks. Now Starbucks is like my holy land – so seeing GF brownies in the case literally made me cry tears of joy. I probably looked like just another stupid American but to me the sight was glorious and I didn’t care who knew it. (Please note – if you’re reading this Starbucks, I’d really like you to please address the issue of ingredients lists for your drinks. Thanks.) 3 - Have a backup plan. This may seem like common sense – but I learned I need to carry things from snacks to protein shakes to “just add water” meals with me when I travel. Ok, yes, I could sulk and whine that I don’t get to eat everything I *want* to – but eff it, I’ll gladly eat a snack pack of almonds or add some water to my cup o’ gluten free somethin’ or another to travel through Ireland or Amsterdam or Thailand. Because that’s just way cooler to me than staying at home eating in my own home.
On our way home, we flew Delta from Dublin and connected at Chicago O’Hare before coming home to LAX. I had requested a gluten free meal on the plane for both there and back, and had been pleasantly surprised going to Ireland. The way home, however, left me greatly peeved.
Yes, I went back in my twitter feed from nearly 2 years ago and found this. They had marked my meal as GF, but it was NOT GF. But hey, good thing I came prepared and had my own bread from Ireland still in tow, I could have some fruit and bread! So the flight attendant brought me some fruit. With crackers on the plate. UGH – ok, I can deal with that and eat around it. But then, when I asked her for some butter? She handed it to me. And then took it right back. In her most condescending southern accent, she proceeded to tell me “I’m sorry, m’aam, but I fear this here butter might hurt you. I could lose my job if you decide to sue the airlines.” Lady – if I had even thought about suing it would have been over the sandwich. And cookies. And crackers. NOT over the freaking gluten free butter that won’t hurt me. (Please note I wouldn’t sue – even over those things. I would, however, tweet and hold a grudge and blog about these things two years later.)
What that experience made me realize was not only what I mentioned above, about coming with a back up plan (yup, I bring my own salads and things for the plane rides now, just in case) but that the general population is stupid. Ok, I can’t entirely fault the flight attendant for being an overzealous butter hoarder, but I realized you just can’t expect anyone else to get it. You can try – as nicely as you want – you could throw a gluten free cookbook at them – but it doesn’t mean they will get it. Ultimately you have to take your diet and your health into your own hands and not expect anyone else to “get it”. Be proactive. Do your research. Pack your snacks. Even if you’re tired of protein shakes. Bring a bottle of pepto bismol or 4 if you need it. Because, for me, it’s better than not traveling at all. But don’t get mad at the idiots along the way – I’ve done that and it did me no good. Because let’s face it – before your own GF journey, you might have been a butter hoarder, too.