Worth It? Or Not!

So this post isn’t exactly celiac related, but since this IS a celiac travel blog, I thought I’d indulge. I’ve learned through experience and plenty of mistakes what’s worth my time and money during a trip, and what it’s best to avoid. I’ve compiled my all-time favorites of what’s worth it, and what’s not to share with all of you. Here’s to making the best memories out of your next big vacation!!

Worth It:

  1. The extra cost to fly direct. There is nothing worse than getting stuck en route to your vacation and losing out on a day of sightseeing or more. It may seem like a big difference when you’re pricing out tickets, but in the end wouldn’t you rather get that vacation started as soon as possible? Obviously sometimes layovers are unavoidable, but if you can help it, fly direct! If you’re really looking to save a buck, book that cost-saving connection on your flight home.
  2. Good luggage. If you’re only traveling once a year, or rarely book air travel, this one doesn’t really apply to you. I’ve taken planes, trains and automobiles in 20 countries across 6 continents and I’ve watched three sets of luggage fall apart on me thanks to the “care” of baggage handlers. Of course, as luck would have it, it never happens as I’m traveling back home. If you’re frequently flying please invest in good luggage!! You won’t regret it.
  3. Loyalty pays. Usually you can get your choice of flights within a reasonable range, and saving $20 bucks by using that random airline might seem like a steal. But here’s the thing, I’ve been loyal to the same airline for about 5 years now…I have status, my seats get upgraded for free, I never pay for luggage (for me or my hubby!), and I jump to the priority security screening lines. The overhead costs and time it saves me on each trip is totally worth that $20 extra for the ticket.
  4. In-flight entertainment. As a kid, the time I had to wait before a big event (birthday parties, play dates, grandparents arrival, etc.) was measured in how many episodes of Mickey Mouse Club I could watch before it was finally time. That concept isn’t lost on adults, if you’re sitting in your seat with nothing to do the flight will last forever. I know there are people out there that would rather curl up with a book, but I can’t concentrate that long when my arrival is 6, 5, 4 hours away. The $5 airlines sometimes charge for access to movies, on-demand television or movies is totally worth the distraction to make your arrival seem faster.
  5. Planning out a draft itinerary in advance. I’m not saying you need to block out every last minute of your trip, but if you know what you want to see and accomplish on your trip, you’re a lot more likely to get it done. Think about the major sites you want to visit, how you plan to get there, and about how long it will take to see if you can fit it all in. If you have to forgo something later so you can take advantage of another opportunity at least you’ll know where your priorities are.
  6. Taking advantage of local guides. No one knows the city better than its inhabitants. I’ll never forget the trip to Berlin where I was introduced to “walking tours”. The concept was great, local 20-somethings gave you a tour of the city (at 4 hours it was no slouch tour) and you paid what you felt was appropriate at the end. Our tour guide was not a Berlin native, but had become so enraptured by the city that he decided to stay and be a tour guide. His passion for the city was passed on to each and every one of us, and we learned so much more than if we’d been on our own.
  7. Documenting your travels. One of the easiest ways to do this is through post cards. Pick up a few with pictures of your favorite sites, writing down your memories of the trip. You can save these as mementos of your travels, or send them to yourself for a nice surprise when you get home. Either way, there will be a day when you want to reflect on your trip, and what better way to do that than through reading your own words.

NOT Worth It:

  1. High-end hotels. So you saved up for months to finally hit up that coveted location. You want to see the sights, experience the culture, and overall have a blast. Are you really going to do all of that from your hotel room? Do you honestly need a 24 hour concierge and room service? Sure, I get paying for safety, and there *are* exceptions for special occasions (see my honeymoon post about Bora Bora), but on most vacations your best investment is on a room with your absolute must haves (private bath, double bed, linens provided) in a great location!
  2. Chain restaurants. My absolute biggest pet peeve!!! I did not travel 2,000 miles to try McDonald’s, Burger King, Hard Rock Cafe, or anything else I can get back home. Yes, my younger self was guilty of this all the time, but I’ve learned from my mistakes. The more publicized and highly rated a restaurant is, the more commercialized and higher you’ll pay for your food. Get out of your comfort zone and find a local hole in the wall!
  3. Skipping over places that don’t speak your language. I get a lot of people that disagree with me on this one, but hear me out. You’ll get a much better experience wandering through a little shop or restaurant where the owners can’t speak your native tongue than searching out a “big box” that can. Part of immersing yourself in a foreign culture is gaining understanding, that doesn’t always have to be verbal!! I have the fondest memories struggling through conversations trying to buy a pair of shoes in Italy, ordering dinner from a local restaurant in Ukraine, and bartering without ever saying a word. Trust me, the story you’ll come home with is worth the struggle.
  4. Sleeping in. Here’s a simple one for you…just don’t do it! Your bed will be there when you get home, if you get 8 hours of sleep every night while you’re away you will have slept through one third of your vacation. I know, I know, you took a vacation to rest from your normal schedule, but you didn’t pay hundreds or even thousands to lie in bed! Get out there and take advantage of your surroundings. My entire semester abroad in college we stayed out until 3 or 4 and somehow managed to get up early the next morning to go sightseeing. I don’t know how we did it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  5. Over-packing. This is a skill I’ve honed through the years. If you don’t use it every day, chances are slim you’ll need it while you’re away. Clothes can be washed, and aside from medications, you can buy just about anything you forget when you get there. Don’t try to become a human pack mule, you’ll have to lug that extra weight wherever you go. Cut it down to the necessities and leave room so you can bring home extras.
  6. Bringing back souvenirs for your 10 best friends. This is the one you only realize after spending tons of money on cheap tchotchkes that eventually will be thrown out. That shot glass, t-shirt, or whatever you were contemplating will take up valuable space in your luggage and usually isn’t really appreciated by everyone when you’re buying in bulk. However, if something you come across strikingly reminds you of a good friend and you think they’d appreciate it, then absolutely go for it. But steer clear of the souvenir shops filled with mass produced trinkets!

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) – Honeymoon Part 2

After spending about a week in Bora Bora, my husband and I flew back to the main island of Tahiti for our next adventure.  Like I said in the first honeymoon post, we decided to make it a bucket list trip, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) was near the top of the list.  Truthfully, this wasn’t our initial plan.  After telling some friends about our Bora Bora plans, they brought up extending our trip since we’d already have flown halfway around the world to get to Bora Bora.  What an incredible idea!!  We looked at a few maps later that night and realized that Rapa Nui was surprisingly close to Bora Bora.  Not only that, but there is a direct flight from Tahiti to Rapa Nui, albeit only once a week.  We could make it work!

We struggled initially in the planning stages, there aren’t many sites that have a lot to offer about planning to visit Rapa Nui.  We ran into some challenges finding a travel agent that could help us as well.  It turns out, not many people actually make it to Rapa Nui each year.  The entire island is approximately the size of Washington, D.C., and though tourism is their number one economic provider, there aren’t a ton of places to stay either.  Thankfully, we were finally put in touch with a great travel agent that locked down our travel, hotel, and excursions within a week of first speaking with us.  I’m not sure we could have pulled this trip off without her!

Having learned a few lessons in Bora Bora, I felt a little better prepared when we touched down in Rapa Nui.  Although the flight was a red eye, LAN Chile really took care of me and had prepared gluten free meals and snacks each time they served food to the other passengers.  This may not seem like such a big deal, but I frequently have to ask for a gluten free snack on international flights.  While airlines are great about getting gluten free meals, they tend to forget about the snacks.  When we arrived at our hotel, the Altiplanico, we were armed with a Spanish pocket dictionary (I suggest the Berlitz Phrase Book & Dictionary for any language) which informed me that my key phrase of the week would be “sin glooten.”  Thanks to our travel agent, the hotel had already been made aware of my dietary needs, and they were prepared to help me order from their menu.

To my delight, Rapa Nui restaurants were full of fresh fish dishes based on their catch of the day.  The locals were incredibly friendly people, that were very happy to work with our struggling Spanish, and understood what “sin glooten” meant!  Thankfully, I never once felt as though I’d been even the slightest bit cross-contaminated.  While we were there, we visited two restaurants more than once because we truly enjoyed their food and surroundings so much.  Although I can’t remember exactly what each of the meals were, I can share with you my thoughts on the restaurants, and a few pictures of my favorite meals from our trip.

Catch of the day from the Altiplanico hotel with mushroom risotto

Catch of the day from the Altiplanico hotel with mushroom risotto


Fresh ceviche, served in a conch shell with a side of rice

Kuki Varua:  This restaurant was located just on the edge of the water in Hanga Roa.  The location was great for people watching, sunsets, and enjoying the island mentality.  We found ourselves here a few times, each visit staying for a longer period of time, and drinking in our surroundings.  Great for their catch of the day offerings and surprising local side dishes (green mashed potatoes and purple potato chips!), I enjoyed every single bite at the Kuki Varua.

Tuna and Mashed Potatoes

Seared and salted tuna with green mashed potatoes (Kuki Varua)

Catch of the Day

Same meal, different day…yes it was that good! (Kuki Varua)

Hetu’u Restaurant:  We stumbled upon this gem while we were walking through the downtown area (Hanga Roa).  The service was very quick, and though they did not have many tables, they certainly seemed to be a more popular spot.  The menu was incredibly diverse, and thankfully included pictures which helped with the language barrier.  The restaurant also had a nice sized wine cellar, which I have to say really drew me in!

Fish in Peanut Sauce

White fish in peanut sauce with a side of potato chips (Hetu’u)

Fish in Caper Sauce

White fish in caper sauce, side of potato chips (Hetu’u)

Bora Bora – Honeymoon part 1

While my husband and I were planning a vacation years ago, we decided to build a “bucket list” of places we’ve always wanted to visit.  The list started as a very rough list in my phone, and has grown to a live document organized by region of the world.  Back then when Bora Bora was mentioned, we decided that it was such an incredible and extravagant destination that it had to be either our honeymoon, or a major anniversary celebration.  Fast forward a few more years, and there we were planning the honeymoon of a lifetime!

This trip was a huge step for me in learning to manage my celiac disease.  Prior to our honeymoon I’d been to fifteen foreign countries, but my last trip had been only months before the celiac diagnosis.  As I learned to live with the limitations and adjustments, I had completely stopped traveling!  I set out trying to figure out how to tackle our trip, and what I need to take care of before we left.  We were planning to stay at the Hilton Bora Bora, and from what I could tell on their website, the restaurants on the property would be first class.

When it came time to pack up our suitcases, I decided to bring with me enough LÄRABARS to have one per day.  I’m not sure how everyone else does when they get hungry, but if I can’t eat as soon as hunger hits, we’re all in trouble!!  I tend to get very nauseous, a little cranky, and very quickly lose my appetite to the point that I really can’t eat.  I’ve always blamed my reaction to hunger on the fact that I no longer have a gallbladder, but let’s be honest, I’m no doctor and I don’t know the true reasoning behind it.  The LÄRABARS gave us the confidence to know that wherever we were, I had something I could eat immediately if need be!

Please let me stress before you read this next part, Bora Bora was an absolutely incredible trip, and I truly had the time of my life!  Once we arrived, we quickly learned what appears to be many restaurants on the hotel’s website is in reality only two.  One very expensive restaurant, and a more “reasonably” priced grill style restaurant.  Here’s a basic synopsis of how each of our meals turned out:

Breakfast: The Hilton truly had a five star experience for breakfast.  There was an entire room filled with fresh fruits, in addition to an omelet station (I ignored everything else).  Because none of the ingredients in the omelet station had gluten in them, I was able to have one every morning without thinking about cross-contamination in the pans.  Of course I always started the day with a nice variety of tropical fruits as well 🙂  Once the hotel found out I could not have gluten, they went out of their way to track down gluten free breads in town, which were promptly brought to our table each morning!

Lunch/Dinner: These meals were more of a challenge for me.  The menu for the grill restaurant had the following sections: starters/salads, sandwiches, bruschetta, pizza, pasta, burgers, fish, meat, and dessert.  You can see where I started to have a problem.  The bruschetta, pizza and pastas were out, leaving me with salads (without the croutons), burgers (without the bun), fish or meat.  On top of that, they only had three fish options, fish of the day in vanilla sauce, fish’n’chips (yikes!), or a fish plate to share which had both tempura and soy sauce in the description!!  Needless to say I was getting an overload of protein, with too much vanilla sauce and very little variety.

Stuffed tuna dinner at the upscale resort restaurant.

Stuffed tuna dinner at the upscale resort restaurant.

The biggest surprise hit of that week was our excursion outside of the resort to get dinner.  We had heard other honeymooners rave about Bloody Mary’s, so we had the concierge book us a reservation near the end of our trip.  Dinner that night was beyond anything we’d imagined!!  Walking in, we were brought to an open ice display of raw food (check it out here!) which was our menu for the evening.  The servers quickly addressed my gluten concerns, pointing out exactly which appetizers and meals I could not have.  We ordered our food on the spot, and were escorted to a private table where we enjoyed kicking off our sandals to feel the sand floor beneath our feet!  I wish I could remember exactly what we ate, but hopefully you’ll enjoy this fun picture instead 🙂
Bloody Mary's Menu

Getting to choose our dinner from a raw bar of options!

Overall it was an incredible experience! Here were my major takeaways from the trip…I had to start somewhere right?

Lesson #1: People in the tourism industry are usually very eager to please their guests, let them know ahead of your trip that you require special dietary needs so they have plenty of time to research and prepare!

Lesson #2: Resort is not a synonym for “easy access to anything you need,” if it took you 10+ hours to fly there, chances are it takes just as long, if not longer, to get typical deliveries of goods there as well.  This especially is important to remember when telling the resort about food allergies (back to lesson #1, I should have warned them ahead of time).

Lesson #3: When you pack gluten free snacks in your bag, don’t forget to transfer them into whatever you’re carrying for the day!  They won’t do you any good back in your room 😦