You’ve seen it in the photos – that one piece of luggage that’s not a backpack. It’s the piece that bumps us from being the lightweight travelers who bring only carry-ons to that other category who checks their luggage.
There’s a funny sort of competition among world travelers to do it with as little as possible. The lightweight luggage goal comes with good reason – schlepping suitcases across ancient cobblestone roads sucks, and those quaint centuries old buildings don’t come with elevators. And if you’re moving about often, packing and unpacking often is easier with less to pack up. And not waiting at the luggage carousel is awesome. And if you don’t check bags, you’re never going to wait at the carousel for a lost bag. And so on.
When Jordan and I went to Thailand, packing light was easy: shorts and bathing suits take up little space. Even when we traveled Europe for three months in 2007, we were able to take do it with only one backpack and one day pack each. Considering it was winter (and winter clothes are bulky compared with beachwear), we were pleased with our packing.
But this time around we’ve done even better. For three people traveling for three months we’ve brought relatively little. We have three backpacks and three daypacks. In those we’ve got clothing for multiple climates, toiletries, a child bike seat, an inflatable car booster seat, homeschooling materials, laptop computers, a few tiny toys for Zevin and of, course, his bunny.
And then there’s the little black bag. Yep, that baby puts us over our carry-on limit, but it’s the second most essential item we have (the first is a small toiletries bags with medications and supplements). It’s our travel kitchen. Because of my celiac disease I have to avoid cross-contamination with gluten, so I bring a few basic pieces of kitchen equipment. To deal with Zevin’s multitude of food allergies and sensitivities we brought some foods that would be hard to get abroad. His food choices are very limited and I find it challenging to feed him at home, where I know the stores and products and can read the ingredients on packages.
I wondered what products would be available overseas and was concerned that the language barriers we’d encounter would make understanding ingredient lists mind boggling, so I did a lot of research stateside to get a sense of what we’d be able to buy overseas.
Turns out Spain is second in the world for being aware of celiac disease, so dining out and buying groceries that are gluten-free wouldn’t be hard. Italy also has a great reputation as being pretty easy for celiacs, France less so. Berlin is pretty gluten-free friendly, but the rest of Germany could prove challenging. Amsterdam also seems good for celiacs. Portugal and Morocco aren’t very aware of celiac disease and are very tricky for gluten free travelers. Overall it sounded like I could happily and safely make my way through those countries. And by staying in places that have kitchens I could easily prepare safe and tasty food when eating out proves too difficult.
But it’s another story for Zevin. He can’t have gluten, corn, soy, salycilates, food colors/dyes or flavorings. His consumption of potato, eggs and dairy must be very limited. Oh, and so must the amines and tyramines and gums and preservatives. That doesn’t leave a lot to choose from. And from all that research I did, it turns out that, although gluten free products are available to buy, the majority contain corn or potato as their main ingredient – corn/potato flour, corn meal, corn/potato starch.
Ack, what would we feed Zevin if nearly everything was off limits? Well, we did what any crazy, travel loving family does – we packed a few pieces of clothing for each of us…and an entire suitcase full of food and kitchen equipment. And yes, it’s a good thing we did: finding safe foods for Zevin has been tough. Waiting at that baggage carousel for the one checked bag was worth its weight in crackers.
Wondering about the contents of that black bag? Here’s what I packed:
- Small, collapsible colander (gluten from pasta can bind to our hosts’ colanders)
- Mesh produce bags with drawstrings (these double as nut milk bags)
- Pot with lid (handle folds for saving space)
- Pan (handle folds or can remove)
- 2 large cutting boards (thin, flexible)
- 1 small cutting board
- Parchment paper (unbleached, take out of box & put a rubber band around the roll)
- Rubbermaid containers*
- 2 soft sided coolers* (one small, one large)
- 2 ice packs*
- 1 set OXO non-leaking small containers (2 2-ounce, 2 4-ounce)
- 3 sets travel sized metal utensils (lightweight)
- Ziplocks (snack, quart and gallon sized)
* these are part of the Rubbermaid Bloc set. Lightweight, durable
- 8 packs pre-made homemade dry pancake mix for Zevin
- 4 pkgs rice crackers (2 types)
- 3 bags granola for Zevin
- 1 pkg granola for me (no grains)
- 1 pkg quinoa
- 2 pkgs pasta (1 spaghetti, 1 fussili)
- 5 pkgs Flax 4 Life muffins (our convenience food)
- 1 bag raw cashews (to make cashew milk)
- 1 bag roasted macademia nuts
- 1 bag dried mango
- 3 cinnamon rolls from our favorite GF Seattle bakery, NuFlours