What is your favorite souvenir from a trip? A decorated mug to start your mornings off right? A bag of Asian spices from the local market near your hotel? After spending three days at Disneyland with my family, I bought several items to remember our trip by (like a Route 66 spoon!). But the most valuable souvenir?
Realizing how much celiac disease has taught me about traveling.
Because, while traveling with food allergies or celiac disease isn't a walk in the (Disneyland) park, it teaches you five lessons that every traveler should know.
1. Plan ahead - but not too much.
When you are traveling with some kind of limitation, whether it's dietary needs, time, money or mobility, it's easy to become addicted to your itinerary. After all, if you can schedule a day full of museums, food, fitness classes, movies and local sightseeing - all without leaving your computer chair - why not?
Simply put: because plans don't always occur like you anticipate. Maybe you saved money by booking tours in advance, but what if you underestimate the jet lag and sleep through your appointment? Or, in my case, I remember planning in detail the gluten free restaurants we could eat at in Disney World. But, when my choice had an hour wait, or didn't sound appealing on that particular day, my family and I were out of luck! Cue family drama.
This time, when we traveled to Disneyland, I did some light research. I noted a handful of restaurants that offered gluten free food and food that the rest of my family would enjoy. My mom and I also packed some food for lunches (so we only dined out for dinner) and extra food in case a restaurant didn't work out. Instead of planning out the exact rides/parks/times of each day, we made a game plan each morning and went with the flow.
In the end, we had a fantastic vacation - food definitely included - and we all felt much less stressed this time around!
2. Food is part of the experience, so embrace it!
Speaking of food, don't forget to enjoy local eats. As two great recent posts by Sweat Like A Pig explain, trying foods from different cultures and locations can form some of the sweetest (or most savory 😉 ) travel memories. Don't let your food allergies, weight concerns or celiac disease steal that experience away.
Food was definitely one of the highlights in my Disneyland trip (as those who follow me on Instagram know!). As I'll share later this week, I not only found celiac safe meals, but also the tastiest restaurant meals I've eaten since my diagnosis. Part of the Disney magic really was walking into a Mexican restaurant and realizing I can eat the chips and salsa instead of only watching my family devour the bowl. I felt normal - and truly immersed in the full "travel" experience.
|As I shared earlier!|
True, making food a safe and delicious experience while traveling takes some planning - but the memories (and satisfied bellies) are totally worth it. Especially if you enjoy a dish - like my veggie enchiladas from Tortilla Jo's - that you can't get easily at home!
3. Expect the worst to have the best time.
You've probably dreamt of this vacation or traveling opportunity for weeks, months or even years. You've done the research, you've drooled over the local food and you're ready for the time of your life! Just don't let high expectations rob you of an imperfect, but still fun time.
How to travel with a realistic perspective? Look up tourist statistics to see how busy your destination will likely be, prepare (mentally and otherwise) for worst case scenarios like stolen wallets or missed flights and make a bucket list of the activities that will make or break your trip.
When it came to Disneyland, my family and I expected chaos. It's summer. It's near graduation. And death by strollers is a real possibility. By starting our trip with the expectation that lines would be long and restaurants could be crazy, we were pleasantly surprised when we found rides with 30 minute wait times or less and enjoyed two fabulous gluten free meals.
We also set a realistic itinerary: we only wanted to hit a handful of our favorite rides, would eat at odd hours (dinner around 3:30) and would escape to the hotel during peek park times. In the end, not doing everything and having low expectations turned our trip into one of the best Disney adventures yet!
4. Do what you love, not what others say you should.
Need more help creating your ideal itinerary? Besides narrowing down a few activities you must do, make sure you're doing what you want instead of what others suggest. Sure, seeing Niagara Falls is probably an amazing experience. Sure, most sites probably recommend stopping by if you're in the area. But if you live near waterfalls and know Niagara Falls will be packed, is that activity really worthy of your bucket list?
The bottom line is to follow your own interests when traveling. For a foodie, maybe eating at four restaurants a day is the dream. For an athlete, the perfect trip could include climbing a mountain and skiing down it afterward. My family and I certainly didn't hit all of the "must see" rides and locations in Disneyland - but we left with no regrets.
Happiness is an intensely personal decision and condition. To find happiness while traveling, your chosen activities should be equally personal and unique.
5. Realize that you'll learn something with every travel experience - and look forward to finding out what!
Whether you've traveled all over the world or barely left your house, traveling teaches you something. Before my celiac diagnosis, it taught me the value of family time, spontaneity and adventure. Now, it confirms the same lessons - along with an emphasis on planning and individuality.
This last trip to Disneyland certainly went smoother than any other post-celiac traveling experience. We had food, but found local choices at Disney. We were prepared, but not overly paranoid. Yet, I know that my two-week trip to Houston in a few weeks from now will school me once again. I'll forget something, bring too much of something else or stress over some aspect of traveling that doesn't even matter in the long run.
Rather than that unknown lesson scaring me like it used to, though, I'm excited. I'm excited for surprises, changes in schedule and unexpected challenges. I'm ready to see what knowledge I'll bring back from Texas to use on future trips. And I'm ready to grow, not only as a traveler, but also as a person.
Because these lessons from celiac disease extend to more than just traveling. They apply to the biggest journey possible: life.
So the next time you're discouraged about not finding the perfect momento of your trip, smile and remember: you're bringing back more than a necklace made in China but bought in England. You're bringing back lessons that can make each future trip just a little bit easier, a little bit more enjoyable and a lot more rewarding.
What has celiac disease taught you about traveling? Any traveling tips or life lessons? Comment below!