Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: the Dominican Republic

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Last week my fructose-challenged friend Megan braved the Dominican Republic and very kindly wrote a post about her trip!  Here it is:

“Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption” are perhaps the four scariest words in the English language.  At least they are for me. Which is ironic, because I used to be (am?) quite the traveler. Over the last decade I’ve managed to backpack through Europe and South-East Asia, live and work in Japan and the Philippines, and take a backpacking honeymoon adventure in Argentina. This was my “before” life. Now I’m nervous to walk to the supermarket for fear that they won’t have a bathroom…which is ridiculous, as logically I know all supermarkets have bathrooms, but if you have FM you completely understand the anxiety that comes with it.

I was diagnosed with FM in October 2013 and six months later I’m still trying to figure out how to live with it. I’m still doing the doctor merry-go-round, and while things have improved, I have a long way to go. Prior to my diagnosis, my cousin and I had planned a spring break trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. At the time, it seemed like a welcome vacation; after the diagnosis, it became something to worry over. I was so concerned about what I would eat and if I’d be sick the entire trip. After talking to Paige about some of these worries, she invited me to blog about my first international traveling experience with FM. A big thanks to Paige for sharing No Sugarless Gum with me!

First of all, I SURVIVED! I did not need to worry half as much as I did. Since this trip wasn’t as “active” as my past travels, and I basically spent a week bronzing on the beach, I thought I’d share with you the highlights, some advice, and a few things I learned during my first trip with FM:

•    Traveling with FM is like traveling with a tiny, horrible, crazy little monster that you can’t escape. You can’t ever forget it’s there and you have to constantly contemplate each food choice and its consequence. While it would have been awesome to drink margaritas on the beach all day and eat all the delicious looking desserts in the buffet, this would not have pleased the FM monster. So while it’s hard to pass up all the treats, do it. It’s for the best and you’ll enjoy your vacation more.
•    Pack snacks!  I left with a bag of potato chips and a Tupperware of dextrose muffins. This did not last very long. Flying from Minneapolis to the Dominican takes 6 hours, and that’s just the time spent in the air. Factor in airport waiting time and the time it takes to get to the hotel and you’ve basically spent a day traveling with nothing to eat. Also, I should have brought more snacks for the week that I was in the Dominican. About halfway through the trip my dextrose muffins started growing mold (if I was smarter I’d have refrigerated them!) so I had to buy peanuts at the resort grocery store. Seven bags of peanuts and TWENTY dollars later I had snacks for the remaining vacation time and my return flight. However, if you’re extremely unlucky, like me, you’ll be flying with a man who has severe peanut allergies and you won’t be able to consume your $3.00 bag of peanuts. Lesson here…pack a lot of snacks, some being peanut-free.
•    You will get fructosed. Even though I tried really hard to make good food choices I did get fructosed a couple of times. I think it’s just best to accept that it will happen and not to worry about it, because that will only make it worse. My doctors at Mayo told me that stress can highly exacerbate FM symptoms so if you get fructosed on vacation, just ride it out and try not to let it bother you.
•    Prepare for language barriers. Since I had never done the all-inclusive kind of traveling before I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought a lot of the staff at the resort would speak English, however, that was not the case. Thankfully, I speak passable Spanish, and so I found myself explaining to every waiter I had on the trip, “I have mucho food allergies! Please make this chicken with no sauce, no onion, no garlic. Nothing. Plain. Very important. Thank you.” (Imagine that dialogue in my bad Spanish.) Miraculously, this seemed to work. Had I been somewhere that I could not speak the language, I would have made a card before leaving (using an online translator or a fluent friend) to explain my issues and ask for plain food. Also, I think saying you have an allergy (even though we all know FM is not an allergy) is more effective than trying to actually explain FM. The word “allergy” seems to make people take notice.
•    Find something that works and stick to it. I am not a buffet person. Before this trip, I had never eaten at a buffet. However, I got lucky because the resort we were at had a “healthy section” at the buffet, as well as a gluten free section! This meant all the food was completely plain, unseasoned and gluten free! Bingo! While it was boring to eat plain chicken and white rice all week, I knew it was safe and I knew it would work for me. My cousin and I ended up eating at the buffet most of the time so that I could continue to feel good on our trip. If our resort had these options I’m sure other resorts do as well. (Below is a typical buffet meal.)

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•    Consider your options. My cousin and I chose to do an all-inclusive trip because it was easy, and because we had planned the trip before my diagnosis. If you think all-inclusive is for you, I’m certain you can find available food options. Call ahead and ask resorts what they offer. I had a great trip but all-inclusive really isn’t my style. This left me thinking about how I can incorporate my “old” way of traveling with my “new” lifestyle. I’ve heard a lot about http://www.airbnb.com and I think this would be a great option for people with FM or any food allergies. By renting a home or apartment you would still have the option of a restaurant, but you could also cook a lot of your meals. I think I’m going to try this the next time I travel.

I was trying to think of some inspirational way to end this post but that’s not really my style. I’m more of a realist. So, the reality is this: I had a great vacation. I’m glad my cousin didn’t mind traveling with a fructard like me. I’m glad she didn’t mind eating at that mediocre buffet every day. Traveling with FM is possible; it just takes a little work and planning…and it’s not nearly as scary as you think.

7 thoughts on “Traveling with Fructose Malabsorption: the Dominican Republic

  1. Fabulous to hear about your experience traveling outside of the country! I have just started traveling within the USA again and have found that it can be done, however have not traveled overseas since my diagnosis. So glad to hear it can be done; thank you for sharing the experience.

    • Of course! I’m glad that I could help! It’s inspiring to hear you’ve been doing some traveling too. For future international travel, I think going to countries where there is more knowledge of fructose malabsorption, like Germany or Australia, would be really easy.
      –Megan

  2. This was just what I needed! Going away on hollidays in a couple of weeks and I’ve been really worried and even concidered not going. I don’t have a fructose malabsorbation(as I know of at least) but I struggle A LOT with my stomach and I follow the fodmap-diet. My main issue is that I can get sick/reaction to almost everything in bad periods(even if I follow fodmaps!) so that’s definitely a worry of mine. But I guess I could survive only eating chicken and rice for a week 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for sharing!!
    I’m big on having a card with me to take to restaurants. Even local ones I eat at. It’s easier for the waiter to just hand the card to the chef and not have to make sure he tells him everything…ect. too many people being told something…then something..ect.
    So the idea of having a card in another language would be a must for me! and I am in agreement, though some people do not like it….I say Allergy too. People in the kitchen pay more attention.
    And if possible I always try to eat where they offer Gluten free options because they are already trained to look for things, adding a few more things to look for isn’t odd for them.

    This is what I learned traveling from North Carolina To Arizona…Car Trip.

    and for a Car Trip…..make sure you know all the bath room breaks, and eat when you know you will have a break coming up close to bathrooms. : ) just in case.
    and have Lots of Snacks…..that too is a GREAT idea.
    of course, my snacks for a car trip was easier than for a plane trip, but it worked well.

    thanks again for sharing!!

    • I agree. I always try to bring more snacks than I need. I’ve given a card to a waiter before once and he said “whoa, this is a long list!” He thought it was a list of foods I couldn’t eat (even though I was quite clear…).

      –Paige

      • That’s when I ask to talk to the chef!
        i do try to go to restaurants on more off times….usually a bit early.
        that way they haven’t gotten all the ingredients everywhere, less likely to be cross contaminated. and they have time to listen to me.
        and I really try to see a menu before i go….I’m ready!

        when on the road, I used a GF app to find GF restaurants then looked at their menus on line, and decided if I could eat there. if not…I just supplemented my snackage.

        road trip time??

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