Gluten-free travels

The best thing to do when you or a travel companion are gluten-free is to plan ahead.  While you have a free internet connection at home, research gluten-free restaurants, write down their addresses, and keep them in your purse. That way, you can look forward to dining out, instead of sticking to basic foods, like grilled chicken and grilled vegetables. My favorite restaurants serve gluten-free pizzas, gluten-free dinner rolls, and rice pasta dishes, so you don’t feel deprived of the other diners entrée choices.  I also recommend printing out free dining cards ($5 donation recommended) at Celiac Travel’s website.  You hand these cards to the chef when you visit a restaurant, and the chef will know how to prepare your food.  The cards are available in many foreign languages for international travel.

For airplane snacks and exotic travel locations, I pack gluten-free bars, like Lara bars or Nicole’s nutty goodness bars.  Both bars are made from fruit and nuts, and are actually tasty! Lara bars makes an apple pie flavor that tastes yummy! Nicole’s nutty goodness bars are available in expresso, which tastes just like a chocolate chip granola bar and keeps quite well. They are both available at Whole Foods, and having a few bars on hand helps when you’re hungry on the airplane, or are in a place with limited snack options.  Sometimes, while eating meals with clients or business associates, I try to downplay my food allergies by asking for grilled chicken or fish cooked over aluminum foil.  This is a good way for gluten-free business travelers to avoid the cross-contamination issues that happen when gluten items have also been cooked on the grill.

Gluten-free travelers will be thrilled to know some Italian restaurants have gluten-free menus, since a small percentage of their population developed gluten allergies.  These days, as long as you plan ahead, gluten-free travel can be a fun and enjoyable!

~ Guest blogger, Ivy Haverkampf

Gluten-free travel websites:

German Coeliac Society
Italian Celiac Society

Ivy is the founder of and She loves helping fellow working women reach their career potential and can be found on Twitter at @FutGlobetrotter.

Retired couple discover homestays in India

My wife Mary and I made our first trip to India last September on a tour which included Agra, Jaipur and New Delhi, known as the Golden Triangle.

While we enjoyed the comfort and convenience of guided tours, we arrived in New Delhi early for two homestays to be able to connect with some of the people of India – not possible on standard tours.

We had read about a non-profit organization which serves as a clearing house for hosts who take pride in showing foreigners aspects of India that regular travelers don’t experience. Mahindra Homestays offers insights into the real India in homes located across the country in major cities as well as rural areas.

We selected a New Delhi B&B homestay with Chandrakant and Lakshmi Singh who’ve been hosting for more than two decades. Chandra wrote us: “I think we are going to enjoy your visit a lot. It may interest you to know that the village in which our housing estate has been developed is named after Lillian Carter and is called Carterpuri. She had stayed here as a Peace Corp worker in the 1960s and visited again during Carter’s presidency when the village was renamed in her honor!”

We arrived in New Delhi at the beginning of the Commonwealth Games, which attracts tens of thousands of participants and spectators. While Chandra was an official on the steering committee, he still found time to provide unique tours, including a personally guided stroll through the National Museum, the biggest Museum of India which holds more than two million works of exquisite art covering more than five thousand years of India’s cultural heritage.

A remarkable part of this tour was that we had this immense Museum to ourselves! We spent several hours there with Chandra on a Monday when the Museum is closed. But he does volunteer work there and had entry.  So we can definitely concur in the observation that “You would be hard pushed to find a more informed, articulate and animated guide than Chandra Kant and his tours are about getting a feel for the city rather than just trailing round monuments.” And Lakshmi is a wonderful cook who provided examples of some of the best local food.

Another homestay was with retired Indian Army Colonel Surindar Singh who provides free overnight hospitality through Servas. It’s a non-profit membership organization that “fosters understanding of cultural diversity through a global, person-to-person network promoting a more just and peaceful world”. (There are more than 700 hosts in India.) Rusty and I have stayed with more than 80 hosts around the world and are hosts in our Macon, Ga., home. I was on the board of US Servas and am now an interviewer.

Two decades ago, after I retired, Mary and I rented our house and traveled for more than three years, visiting many of the exchange students we hosted for 11 consecutive years. We agree with Miriam Beard: “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”

~ By guest blogger Richard (Dick) George

The vegetarian traveler

It’s not easy to be a vegetarian while on the road. I know that because my husband used to be a traveling consultant. 100% travel, eating out all the time, fly out on Monday mornings and return on Thursday nights, jet lag, one hotel room after another… it is a tough drill. If your client is based in San Francisco or Austin, you have no reason to worry, at least as far as food is concerned! But if your travel takes you to places as remote as Leon, IA or San Angelo, TX, then it won’t be as easy.

Fast Food is of no use…

  • McDonalds does not serve vegetarian burgers in the United States. It’s an interesting situation: you can get veggie burgers at McDonalds in India, UK, Berlin. Also, the fast food giant serves far better fare in those countries than it does in the USA. But isn’t the quality of food meant to be the same regardless of location? Or do local factors make a difference? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answers to those questions.
  • Subway is a great option (at least you have fresh vegetables to pick from), although I would steer clear of the vegetable patty. For one, most likely, it is not fresh and secondly, I am positive that egg is used as a binder.

 Thank God for protein bars…

  •  Stock up on Lara Bars! These fruit and nut bars contain just that: dried fruit and nuts. No additives, no proteins, no supplements, none of the *energy* ingredients – good old-fashioned fruit and nuts. Many a time, I will have one of these for breakfast and it tides me over until lunch.
  • Odwalla offers a good selection of fruit-vegetable juices. Odwalla’s Superfood may look (and feel) like the vilest green object you have encountered but it packs much energy and nutrients (and taste) into a small bottle. There are also other selections: Strawberry C Monster, Soy Vanilla Protein Shake, etc. As always, check the ingredient list and if you find any ingredient that makes you uncomfortable, look for other options.

Snacks to the rescue…

  • Fresh fruit may not suffice for lunch but it sure fills the tummy when hunger strikes at 3:30 pm.
  • Fruit yogurt is a filling snack especially when you add fresh/dried fruit to it. As always, check the ingredient list; some brands contain gelatin and a host of unpronounceable ingredients.

Looking for the lunch box…

  •  Finally, it may be worthwhile to pack yourself some couscous salad from home. Cook couscous as per directions, add some chopped peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, toasted pine nuts, drizzle a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and fresh/dried herbs, toss it all together. Tastes good when warm, and even better when cold!

 Happy Travels!

– By Guest blogger, Lakshmi Jagad. Laxshmi is a writer, photographer and social media consultant based in Atlanta. She writes about her encounters with food on her blog, The Rich Vegetarian.

One guy’s quest to flush away the world’s sanitation problems

It all started a couple years ago when I went on Wikipedia to search for international holidays, as I was very interested in learn about more than just the well-known ones like Halloween and Valentine’s Day. As I came across a holiday called World Toilet Day, I researched it and read about an agency called World Toilet Organization.

I was inspired by WTO’s cause, as it builds toilets in other countries, including Cambodia and Indonesia. The organization is located in Singapore and I made the decision that I wanted to establish a similar charity in America, as here in the United States, we aren’t used to the fact that a toilet is considered a luxury in many developing nations. So I thought about what kind of title I’d want to use and I decided that Flush Campaign would be very catchy. Then I chose to research the process of starting a nonprofit.

I found that starting a nonprofit takes a lot of money and paper work, and I wanted to find a solution that would allow me to bypass the bureaucracy of establishing one. So I learned about fiscal sponsorships, which involves sharing nonprofit status with groups that already have tax exempt status. My goal was to look for a compatible agency that would be willing to be a fiscal sponsor. But one of the things I realized was that it would be very difficult to get local support for such an initiative, as it would be very expensive to not only build all the toilets in various countries, but also do all the traveling to find locations in which these toilets would be built. For a cause like this, financial contributions would be one of the only ways to get involved, as it would be challenging to get volunteers and in-kind donations.

After reading about charities such as the Global Soap Project, which collects soap for refugee camps worldwide, as well as remembering about my past involvement in homeless shelters and acknowledging the need for personal hygiene items in such settings, I chose to broaden the scope. I came to the conclusion that I wanted the Flush Campaign to promote sanitation as whole and not just toilets. If you take a look here, you’ll see how the invention of toilet seats on bidets have helped make a difference in terms of hygiene within the home. Toilet seats are there for a reason, so everyone might as well use it to their advantage. It is pretty simple. Once you are done using the toilet, put the seat back down. When it comes to your health and hygiene, it is important to make this your top priority, as no illness is worth doing something as simple and placing the toilet seat down. In addition, I felt that it would be better to partner with already existing groups than to create a new one, inspired by Bill Gates focus on creating software for computers instead of developing the computers themselves). In other words, instead of starting a new organization that collects hygiene supplies for people in need, I decided to start an initiative that helps established nonprofits gain these items. Thus, the Flush Campaign was born. The Flush Campaign is a grassroots effort to advocate for organizations that locally and globally address the issue of sanitation and build healthier communities in the process.

The reason why I want to focus on hygiene items is because many illnesses and even deaths around the world, as well as locally, are due to poor hygiene. The goal would be to “flush way” the problems of poor sanitation in homeless shelters, refugee centers, and other types of nonprofits. Currently I have collected soap from Homewood Suites to give to the Global Soap Project, benefiting refugees in Uganda, Kenya, and Swaziland. Additionally, I have gathered shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and other similar products for the Task Force for the Homeless.

My plan is to emphasize on in-kind donations for similar charities, as in-kind giving has gone up during the recession. I don’t intend on collecting any products unless a specific charity request them and I base my work on the wish lists of these organizations. While my main focus will be global charities, I will also be emphasizing on local organizations.

~ By guest blogger Gaurav Bhatia, founder of the Flush Campaign

Touched by a Mongolian smile

On a trip to Ulan Bator, Mongolia, where I lived for three months, I spent my last day visiting Verbist Orphanage, in the countryside.  Mongolia is a one-city nation, with the vast surrounding land composed of the Gobi desert or barren land.  The extreme temperatures from their minus 40 degrees to 40 degrees Celsius, harbors a harsh environment for the few scraggly plants to try and persist despite the desert clime. It’s not an inviting place, yet I boarded the plane with my ticket in hand for a country few people have ever heard of or want to visit willingly.

volunteering in Mongolia

My travels have been my biggest learning experiences in my life.  They have taught me to be stronger, to adapt to unusual and uncomfortable circumstance, and to survive in some of the hardest situations I’ve dealt with physically and emotionally.  As an orphan given a second life with my parents’ gracious love from America, I was taken out of the scenario I was walking straight into.

volunteering in MongoliaThe children’s faces were confused at first, when my group arrived to the orphanage.  I had gone with a group of Mongolian students learning English.  One of the students had befriended me with her kind heart and shared interest in journalism.  She invited me on this excursion, and I jumped at the chance to visit an orphanage.

We boarded a bus that navigated the country terrain bravely to our destination.  Outside of the city, there are no paved roads in Mongolia.  There is nothing but open fields of nomadic families living off the land and their horses’ back. This is no terrain to take a public transportation bus through.

Upon arriving to the compound, we found the orphanage surrounded by a six foot wall decorated with colorful murals painted by previous visitors.  It was strange to see this compound in the middle of the dessert.  We had not encountered another living person or any sign of civilization for hours.  Our last gas stop to fuel up was more than two hours ago.  There were no buildings out this far from Ulan Bator.

It appeared like a mirage in the desert, but was firm to the touch when I reached for the gate handle.  Children, as young as five-years-old, were chopping wood with an axe by the entrance.  I winced in default as I stopped myself from taking the axe away from them.  This was their life; the way they had to live to survive.   They seemed unsure and scared of us – people from the city with our clean clothes and washed hands.  Many gesticulations later, the children were swarming us with warmth and laughter once the barrier was broken.  I had the toughest time since I couldn’t speak but a handful of words in Mongolian, most of which were nonsensical and useless in my current situation.

“San ban o.”  I said hello and smiled a lot to befriend the children, but they played with me with no inhibitions.  Two Belgium graduate students were spending a couple months living in a Ger in the orphanage compound.  They were teaching them English and writing their thesis on the orphanage; therefore, I gave the children a great outlet to use the handful of words they knew.  Most could say hello, but few were brave enough to venture more conversation.

We played basketball and random games they created on the spot.  We had brought toys and some books to give to them, which brought the biggest smile and a touch of civilization to their orphanage.  There was no electricity or running water.  Non-governmental organizations fund Verbist, just enough for the bare essentials.  I may never see their faces again or hear how their futures turn out, but I know they have touched my life.  Volunteering has a way of helping the volunteers out more than those they seek to help.  It is a gift to lend your hand and time to others, and it is always rewarded with gratitude and a memory you’ll always deeply cherish.

Read more of my trip to Verbist Orphanage.

~ By guest blogger Kate Greer