Sunday, February 1, 2015

Have Blogged, Will Travel: Tips, Tricks, & Trials of Traveling with Health in Mind

Traveling to places is a magical, if not a daunting, ecstatic, manic, uncertain, irritable, and life changing experience. It is never the same experience twice. Every airport, dock, train station, bus, taxi, or road trip is a journey to Elsewhere, somewhere not Here.

With stricter regulations, mostly at airports, with what you can pack, how much you can pack, and what will pass through customs, many of the well-seasoned travelers have a System of making traveling as stress-free as possible. They have it down to a science, and they know exactly what to do in the security line.

I mention this because, what with leaving in ten days to Rome, I was inspired to share what I do to make traveling less hectic and easier to manage my food and health concerns. Since I’ve never talked about being in transit with additional things to consider, mainly food and medication, I thought it would be fun to do.

I know that you typically have a lot more say and control when you are taking the train/bus or doing a road trip, mostly because you are usually only limited to space, and the train/bus stations don’t have the security that most airports utilize. In this case, I’m going to mostly focus on air travel.

Eating gluten free while traveling isn’t as hard as it used to be. Many airlines actually have a number of meals to choose from, whether it’s gluten free, low sugar, Kosher, Halal, vegetarian, vegan, and more. But these are usually reserved for longer flights, where you are essentially up in the air for over eight hours. When you are purchasing your ticket, make sure to check if what you can/will eat is an option. If not, you’ll have to get creative, but we’ll get to that later.

After purchasing your ticket, make an itinerary that includes the time you are traveling and where. This is also a fun time to take a look at the local restaurants and seeing whether they already have gluten free options on their menu, or if they can make their dishes gluten free. That way, you're not stuck eating snacks as meals.

If, for instance, you are not simply leaving for holiday, but are living abroad for a time, aside from packing clothes, toiletries, and gadgets, there is a matter of medication to consider.

My living in Malta was the first time I’ve had to travel with prescribed medication. Sure, I’d packed some of the typical stuff when I lived in Sweden: aspirin, Vitamin D, and ibuprofen (for cramps). But it isn’t hard to find additional supplements that do not require a prescription, either at the local pharmacy or online. 

Almost four years after my diagnosis I have taken Armour Thyroid. Since I was going to be gone for a year, I needed to find out how I could take a year’s worth of doses with me. I learned that I had to do what is called a vacation override, in which my insurance company approved to have all my medication for the year given to me and paid for at one time. Our pharmacy was really great about it (thank you, Anita!), and all I needed to do was send proof that I was leaving the country to my insurance provider. It’s apparently a lot easier if you’re traveling within the United States to another state: all you have to do is transfer your prescription to the nearest pharmacy.

My rule of thumb is to carry my prescriptions on my person, either in my carry-on or backpack, and pack the supplements in my bulky luggage.

Now that you have your itinerary and medication sorted, let’s focus on keeping you healthy while in transit. Along with taking your medicine at the right time, always have a stock of foodstuff in your carry-on even if you are able to eat something on the plane. I usually find the meals that are on the plane to not be particularly filling, and sometimes there will be foodstuffs in said meal that I still cannot eat (whether it’s soy or sugar or both). Either way, keeping the hangry (yes, it's a thing) feeling away is a big part to making travel stress free (at least for me).

Traveling by train through Rome

Alas, there are some foods that will not get through security. One of my favorite food moments to talk about was the time Mama Dazz and I were leaving for Malta. She had packed yellow Chedder cheese squares, which apparently, according to the TSA agent, looked like bombs. Our food bag (indeed, one carry-on bag was specifically for food) was searched solely for that reason, but we were able to bring Wisconsin’s finest through.

Liquid and gel items are not allowed through security past 3.4 oz (96 g/100 ml), and you can find glass or plastic containers that adhere to traveling standards quite easily. But honestly, I wouldn’t bother with liquids, be they vinegar or oils, for eating purposes. I’d be too worried about the mess.

As you know, I’m big on peanut butter. I practically cried with joy when the health food store in Valletta sold tubs of it without any additives. But instead of just putting it in a 3.4 oz jar, I remove the middleman of having to use utensils and just applying it directly to the food I want to eat it with.

For food, it is really easy to eat one food group over the others while travelling, so what I do is pack as much variety as possible. Here are a few things I recommend:
  • Waffles or pancakes, since they are easily handled and can be made into sandwiches
  • Crackers
  • Sliced cheeses and deli meats
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Sliced apples and other easy-to-carry fruits
  • Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or granola
  • Crunchy veggies, such as carrot, celery, bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes
  • Hummus, as per regulation (can be spread on crackers/bread/bagels beforehand)
  • Individually wrapped chocolates (I can rarely find chocolate I can eat, so I view it as an indulgence when I can.)
  • Your favorite tea bags (for when you have hot water but want a sense of comfort)
  • Travel utensils, such as bamboo or BPA-free plastic 

Try to either eat the refrigerated foods early on in the travels or keep them in a temperature-regulated lunchbox. If possible, and to lessen your stress going through security, keep everything in clear packaging, whether they be glass jars or plastic bags/containers. Also, focus mostly on protein and fat. You’re not going to feel sated simply eating celery or rice crackers for eight or more hours if that’s all you can eat.

It’s always better to have more food than you expect to eat, because then you have snacks throughout your travels. I have a tendency to underpack food when traveling for long distances, so be aware of how much you’re actually traveling, whether it’s on the plane or waiting for the connecting flight, and it certainly helps during those long delays.

As soon and as often as you can, drink water. They tend to be expensive in the terminals, but you can also buy the bigger bottles to keep with you. If you do not want to buy the bottles again and again, you can get a reusable water bottle that purifies water from the fountain or the sink (preferably the fountain, since it’s geared to human consumption). Another important aspect of hydration is for your skin. Traveling dries my skin out terribly, and so I always have apple cider vinegar in a spritz bottle, a small jar for coconut oil, and lip balm.

Perhaps it’s a common practice, but I also pack extra clothing in my carry-on, mostly soft pants, a scarf, a pair of socks, and a warm hoodie just in case I want to change into something warmer and more comfortable, or a change of clothes to help feel refreshed. I also tend to bring my journal and something to read, perhaps my sketchbook. And I always have my camera.

Finally, I try to remain mindful and calm. Security and running to and from terminals at an awkward sprint can be panic inducing, but I know that I planned for everything that I can control, and for the things I can’t I at least have things to settle my stomach and mind. I am also more willing to ask for help while traveling, and more often than not the people, also traveling or native, are willing to lend a hand in pointing you to the right direction.

But yes, I get to go through this again very soon, and I am beyond ecstatic to return to Rome, where there’s espresso, regional cheeses and wines and, of course, CK.

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