I packed my rucksack, set off into the world and hoped for the best. Being coeliac and vegetarian it isn't always easy to be spontaneous when it comes to organising food but that's no reason to feel held back. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition which requires a strict gluten-free diet for life to manage.
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 many 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 when I stopped viewing myself as a pain that would have to persuade people into having 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'd be a valuable addition to the team and can feel confident about asking for my needs to be met.
Gluten isn't the easiest thing to avoid when travelling but no one needs to let that put them off. It's not as restricting as it sounds, and it's actually led me to some pretty cool places. So, here are five reasons why coeliac travel is awesome:
• It acts as a good filter when finding hosts. I've heard of some 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 good hosts, and people who are already gluten free or vegetarian will understand 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 muffins for the guests. They went down a treat and for once, I wasn't the odd one out eating the "weird cakes"!
• 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 mere cookie.
• You get a lot of practice in being assertive and looking after your needs. This is a good way to learn a new language. I discovered that I 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. I lost all that awkward British politeness and adopted the frank French directness.
• 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 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 wouldn't 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 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.
Travelling as a coeliac doesn't have to be a burden, in fact it's a pleasure.
You can follow Jasmine's gluten free travels at Coeliac On The Road.
Photos of Helmut Newcake, a gluten free patisserie in Paris.