When I decided to pack my rucksack and set off into the world, being a coeliac and vegetarian, I had some apprehensions about how easy it would be to find food I could eat. I joined up to three different sites where members travel by staying with host families/communities and work for them in return for food and board. There are some incredibly inspiring projects on all three of the sites, WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), Helpx and Workaway. At first I sent endless pleading emails to potential hosts, practically begging people to take me and apologising profusely for being a difficult guest when it came to food.
But then, when I stopped viewing myself as a pain that would have to persuade people into inviting me to stay, and chilled out about the whole diet thing, I found myself naturally drawn towards places that were either already gluten free and vegetarian or happy to adjust. I realised that I have something valuable to offer to these different projects and that I’m worth being taking care of and can therefore feel confident about asking for my needs to be met.
So, as a reminder to my future self in case of another scenario where she gets her knickers in a twist about being able to do the things she wants to, and as a testament for other coeliacs who may want to go travelling but feel held back, I’ve compiled a list of the best of coeliac workaway:
- It acts as a really good filter when it comes to finding hosts. I’ve heard of some pretty awful experiences where people work their butts off just to be fed with copious amounts of bread every day and not much else. When someone agrees to live with you and your coeliac (or vegetarianism), they are either already aligned with similar values and follow a similar lifestyle or are happy to be flexible in order to fit you in. This is a win:win because people who are willing to adapt to welcome you are inevitably going to be really nice people, and people who are already gluten free or vegetarian will empathise with your needs.
- You get the opportunity to cook and/or learn gluten free recipes, sharing food with people from around the world and feeling positive about eating without gluten. I worked at a bed and breakfast and made GF vegan cakes for the guests, they went down a treat and when I stayed with an eco-community, they taught me some delicious recipes using buckwheat flour.
- The excitement felt when finding gluten free food on the road simply can’t be matched by anything. Seriously, who gets to be that ecstatic about food? When I found GF cookies to pack with me on a hike in the mountains, I was smiling for hours, before being gluten free I never reacted like that to a cookie!
- You get a lot of practice in being assertive and looking after your needs. What’s more, if learning a new language; this is a great way to learn to express yourself using a whole different framework. I discovered that I actually find it much easier to say something as simple as “please don’t use the same cooking utensil for gluten meals and my GF meals, I could get sick” in French than in English. It was like discovering a different side to me.
- A lot of the projects are centred on sustainability, healthy living and permaculture, which all fit in perfectly with recovering from illness and living gluten free.
- Independance. You always have to be prepared to do your own thing and make sure there is something you can eat if everyone else is eating gluten. Being able to rely on yourself is a good feeling.
- Being a coeliac guest can feel like you’re the odd one out, or being “difficult” but I’ve stayed with so many different people now and been welcomed into all kinds of different households and have always felt valued and looked after. In fact, you get to see the kindest sides of people as everyone chips in to make sure you’re safe and healthy. I have been so touched by the efforts people go to make me feel included and taken care of.
Of course, it’s not always plain sailing. There have been times where I’ve found it really difficult and simply exhausting having to explain over and over again why a crumb can be dangerous and how no, I really can’t just have a little try of the pie. But all in all, it’s been a really positive experience, and I actually don’t think I would have appreciated the whole experience as much if I wasn’t travelling as a coeliac.
In fact, I’m so grateful to be here at all, there was a time before diagnosis that I thought I wouldn’t ever feel well enough to be able to globe trot solo. This is why it is so important for people with any of the symptoms to be tested, to enable them to live life to the full without being held back by illness. You can see the list of symptoms here: https://www.coeliac.org.uk/coeliac-disease/about-coeliac-disease-and-dermatitis-herpetiformis/symptoms/.
I’m signing out now to go and make myself a delicious gluten free picnic to eat in front of the Indian ocean in Réunion Island. Here’s some photos of the best of my last 4 months of travel: