This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gluten-Free in Trondheim, Norway (Part 2: Packing)

See my Gluten-Free Travel page for the whole series. 

Part 2:  Packing

This is the minimum, and typical kitchen you'll find in any single-occupancy, non-luxury space. 

It is two burners, a sink, and a mini-fridge in the cupboard beneath the burners. Our's is a fancy newer model and I get a luxurious whole foot of counter-space. Unless you see it in the photos or it is specifically listed, don't assume that the space includes an oven, a microwave, a freezer, a dishwasher, or any other appliance. Plan on working with this much space.

"furnished with kitchen" may mean a range of things.  In one apartment, it was plasticware and paper plates, a worn teflon frying pan, a semi-melted spatula, a bunch of coffee cups, and an espresso maker (Norway is one of the largest coffee consumers in the world).  In another apartment it was a full set of dishes, pots, pans, and utensils (but, oddly enough, no spatula). 

The two most expensive things we invested in new when we arrived were a good sharp knife, and a stainless steel frying pan with a lid (both from Ikea, for around $30 total).

You might want to find room in your checked luggage to bring a few essentials along. All the frying pans we've encountered in the shared spaces have been very worn teflon, and gluten-particles can easily hide in the cuts and scratches to contaminate our food. A deep sautee pan like this one can double as a pot for soups, sauces, and rice, or you could throw in an additional small pot to cook rice at the same time as a stir-fry.  A can opener and a nylon spatula are good additions, as both tend to be difficult to decontaminate.  We found cleanable things like drinking glasses, tableware, etc. at a local thrift shop (Fretex is the Norwegian Salvation Army and have a store on Fjordgata in the city center). 

If you can afford it, investing in a set of backpacking kitchen tools (pots, pans, eating utensils, etc.) would eliminate your dependence on whatever your hosts have stocked. They'd also be nice and compact and lightweight for travel.   

As room permits, I would advise packing the following, in order of priority, to prevent gluten-contamination and to be ready to cook right away on arrival:

1. frying pan
2. dishcloths x2
3. dish towels x2
4. hotpad
5. sharp knife
6. can opener
7. spatula
8. pot with lid
9. scrubber for pot and pan

If you have tons of space, you could throw in things like a rice cooker, but remember that you have to haul it around a lot. Gluten-free flour mixes are plentiful here, but if you really depend on something specific (like tapioca flour) then bring it in your checked luggage.  Remember, though, that you might not have an oven.

If you plan to try and maintain your own dishes in a shared kitchen, add a plastic tote with a lid to the list.  This should take up minimal space, as you can pack clothes and other things into it and around it inside your suitcase. If you plan to simply pre-wash shared dishes, skip the tote.  Your own dishclothes are especially necessary in a shared kitchen, where the provided ones will be full of crumbs. 

If packing pots and pans sounds dubious, know that you can save a lot of space on clothes.  Since so few people have clothes dryers, clothes are often worn several times before washing, and then air-dried on racks or lines. The general low humidity means that most clothes dry within 24 hours even in rainy weather.  I discovered that I had packed ten or twelve outfits when three would have been plenty; even for four months!

Casual dress is the norm, and you'll see people out at restaurants in jeans, hiking boots and windbreakers on a regular basis.  If you are travelling in summer, expect weather similiar to the Pacific Northwest, and bring a light sweater and jacket to layer for cool evenings, a pair of shorts, a pair of jeans (two if staying more than three days), and a few tee-shirts. In fall or winter, skip the shorts and add a second, heavier sweater and a coat, scarf, hat, and gloves.  Winter gear is easily available here, and high quality.


After a cross-continental flight on Delta where I discovered by accident that the fancy handsoap on the plane was designed to leave a layer of wheat gluten on the skin as a moisturizer, we travel with our own hand soap.  Softsoap makes a travel-size body wash that works well and is available at most pharmacies and grocery stores in the travel section. 

Also note that airlines rarely clean the surfaces between flights, and serve lots of gluten.  Wet wipes, even baby wipes, will help you decontaminate your seat area (tray table, screen controls, etc.).

About a week before your flight, call the airline to confirm that you have requested a gluten-free meal.  You'll be spending a minimum of 12 hours in airports and planes, so make sure the airline is doing some of the work to feed you.  If you have multiple dietary restrictions, you might be on your own.

You'll want to bring snacks.  Remember that you won't be able to bring any liquids over 3 ounces into the terminal, so don't count on smoothies.  You can, however, bring an empty water bottle or thermos to fill at the drinking fountains once you're past security.  Otherwise expect to pay $3.00-$5.00 for bottled drinks.  There are sometimes restrictions on air travel with whole fresh fruits, so it's best to avoid them.  Bring sturdy, filling things like granola bars, dried fruit, carrot sticks, and gluten-free beef jerky and pretzels, and enough to feed you for 24 hours if necessary.  This accounts for unexpected weather delays, as well as the fact that you won't want to immediately go grocery shopping after a 12 hour flight. 

Suggested list for carry-on packing:

1.  handsoap
2.  hand sanitizer
3.  wet wipes
4.  empty water container (fill before getting on the plane)
5.  gluten-free snacks for 24 hours
6.  earbuds
7.  European plug adaptors and step-down converters for phones chargers and laptops (hard to find here, but Radio Shack and Best Buy have them in the U.S.)
8.  Any medication you will need for the trip, in original prescription bottles with your name
9.  OTC pain pills
10.  Anti-diarrhea and antacid meds.

Next up: Your First Day in Trondheim

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