One of our biggest concerns before we set out to travel was our health.
Both Rob and I had pre-existing conditions that we needed to manage while we were on the road. Rob has a knee injury stemming from a sports injury, we think anyway. He takes over the counter medication to manage any flare ups. My issue was initially diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis 8 years ago.
I suffered swelling and severe joint pain until I found the right combination of prescription drugs to relieve both symptoms. In my case we knew we would have to bring prescription medication and prepare to get refills on the road.
About 2 years before we were to set out on this travel adventure I changed my diet in an effort to try and lessen the amount of drugs I was taking. A friend had suggested cutting certain things from diet could relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. I thought it was worth a try so I made the changes. And something happened I never imagined would.
My symptoms started to disappear and in 8 weeks I managed to get off all three immune suppressing drugs I was on and still be pain and swelling free. The thing that made the difference for me was cutting out all wheat and gluten from my diet.
My swelling and pain was caused by a gluten allergy.
When I stopped eating all foods containing wheat and gluten it totally improved my health and my life. I managed to stay symptom and drug free for 6 months. That was until I ate (a lot of) something with gluten in it. I took a stupid risk to test my gluten allergy sensitivity and by doing so my joints paid the price.
My swelling and pain returned, not as bad as before but I needed a low dose of medication to keep moving. What I learned from my little experiment was I am very sensitive to what I think is an allergy to wheat and gluten. So being very careful with what I ate I almost got off all meds (3 milligrams of prednisone) again just before we left.
Knowing I have a severe gluten allergy made me quite nervous traveling to a country where I am not familiar with common cooking ingredients let alone the language spoken. I have had a few setbacks so far in Colombia but none as bad as my experiment a year ago, thankfully. Having this gluten allergy has made me more aware of how challenging and intimidating it can be to protect oneself from a reaction while traveling. Here are some things I am doing to avoid eating the wrong foods and still enjoy local cuisine:
- I have a list of all names (in Spanish) for wheat and glutinous ingredients that I carry with me at all times. I use it in grocery stores and show it to my server in restaurants to ensure I buy or order food that is safe. I also have “I have a severe wheat and gluten allergy” and “Does this have wheat or gluten in it?” written on a pad in Spanish to show when ordering food.
- Learn common local recipes. I researched ingredients and cooking techniques for commonly found Colombian specialties. I also carry names for those dishes when we eat out to find them on a menu easily. I have written specifically that I have a severe allergy to gluten and wheat and with that I always show my list for glutinous ingredients to be extra careful.
- When in doubt I always opt for single ingredient foods like white rice, fruit, vegetables, eggs and beans are some examples. White rice, avocado and fried plantains have been my go to meal here in Colombia if I am not confident other foods are gluten or wheat free.
- When it’s a travel day or a day away from a kitchen we can prepare food in I always carry gluten free food and snacks for myself just in case. We always opt for accommodation with access to a kitchen to save on eating out and make it safer for me to eat as well.
Should I have a severe reaction I had my Doctor provide me with my latest test results and an overview of my inflammation history before we left. I also became a member of IAMAT, a non-profit organization that gives us access to an international network of Doctors. Being a member gives us a reference to find medical help and access to English speaking Doctors wherever we may be in the world.
I feel better knowing we have the information we would need to find good Medical help. I also made sure I had enough back up medication to help if I don’t have access to a Doctor for a while. Having an allergy to gluten can make enjoying one of the best parts of travel, experiencing the food, a lot more challenging. With proper preparation before traveling and ensuring you are armed with the information needed to protect yourself when exploring a new place you can enjoy local specialties and avoid a reaction to.