Hostelling is a popular way to see the world inexpensively. By staying in shared accommodation and having access to useful self-catering amenities, like a kitchen, to prepare meals, you can meet other traveller and save on dining costs. Having the ability to make some of your own meals is really helpful if you are a Celiac or someone who suffers from food intolerances, and can make a trip to certain not-so-gluten-free-friendly areas much easier, but special care must be taken in these shared environments. Shared kitchen areas can be unclean, and hostels typically serve bread, cereals and pastries for breakfast. Not only are these items not gluten free friendly, but they also greatly increase the risk of gluten cross-contamination due to crumbs and contaminated toasters and cooking surfaces.
Some to keep your hosteling adventure gluten free:
I always recommend bringing a Tupperware container of your own to store left-overs and take-away, as well as a set of cutlery for on-the-go eating. You can pick up a ’spork’ to keep in your bag easily from Amazon or most camping/outdoors stores. A travel mug is also helpful for beverages, as are cloth shopping bags for buying groceries with less plastic waste. Make sure to pack a few plastic or reusable sandwich bags, and possibly a few pieces of tin foil to cook or line cooking surfaces with. Another great thing to bring is ‘toaster bags’, which I will discuss further down.
Food to bring
I always start a trip by bringing a pack of bagels (they travel better than bread), selection of gluten free bars (about 1 per day) and some instant porridge. These items will get you by for a little while, giving you time to safely source other food. These items are also hard to find in smaller cities and travel well.
If there are spices or sauces you love to cook with, bring those too. It’s possible to get individual packets of soy sauce or camping style multi-spice shakers that may be helpful to flavour meals. Don’t take risks with hostel provided spices, as spice jars may be refilled with unknown contents and jam/butter may be contaminated with crumbs.
Carefully wash every utensil, dish or pot/pan before using. Sometimes washing standards in hostels can be lacking, thoroughly clean cooking tools, and surfaces. Be mindful of cutting boards too. If cleaning doesn’t seem enough, try covering surfaces with wax paper or tin foil.
Also try to avoid plastic or porous material bowls and plates, opt for porcelain or glassware.
Avoid the toaster!
I know many gluten intolerant people who think they can brush the inside of the toaster free from crumbs. Don’t do this! Instead, use tin foil on a baking sheet and toast bread in the oven on broil. Bread will toast very quickly, so watch it carefully. You can also use tin foil to line lay-down style toaster ovens,
You can also consider purchasing a few reusable toaster bags to keep your toast protected in a not-so-safe toaster. These mesh bags are typically marketed for making grilled cheese sandwiches, but can also help protect your bread when using contaminated toasters. It’s not 100% risk-free, but if you have to use a contaminated toaster, then at least it helps to add another layer of protection. I really like using these when staying in Bed & Breakfasts.
Self-catering is a great option to save money, and prepare meals with food intolerances in mind. Often hostels have shared or free food items, which can help with supplementing or flavouring meals, but be careful of the following: butter, peanut butter, jams/jellies (can have breadcrumbs), balsamic vinegar (not all are GF), any non-squeeze condiment) or condiments not in the original bottle.
Great food items for self-catering my gluten/dairy/egg free diet include; individual portion guacamole packs, individual hummus packs, sandwich meat (there are many gluten free varieties available now), dairy alternative coffee creamer, fruit, veggies, corn chips, rice, lentils and meat.