Travelling is expensive to begin with, but cooking your own meals is one way to cut the cost significantly.
One of the fastest ways to burn through a travel budget is by eating meals at restaurants. That’s why I am a firm believer in doing one’s own cooking while travelling, with the occasional special meal at a restaurant. Sure, it takes some of the lazy luxury out of traveling, but if it means I’ll save money and ultimately be able to take more trips, I’m willing to put in the extra work. Here are some pointers for making it as easy as possible.
Always find lodging that includes a kitchen.
This could be an apartment, house, or cottage rental, a suite-style hotel, or just a hotel room with a basic kitchenette. (I like Airbnb or Home Away From Home.) At the bare minimum, you need a fridge and an electric burner. The easiest for me and my family are furnished apartments where we don’t have to worry about bringing any kitchen tools. If it seems more expensive up front, keep in mind that it will pay for itself many times over if you can avoid pricey restaurant bills.
Eat what the locals do.
Don’t stress too much about replicating your diet at home, especially if you’re travelling in another country. You will save money, eat the freshest seasonal ingredients, and spend less time cooking if you imitate the local eating style as much as possible.
I’m in the middle of a two-month trip to Brazil with my husband and kids, and we’ve been eating black beans and rice almost every day. Not only is it delicious and healthy, but it’s also cheap.
Buy the basics.
There are a few things I buy as soon as I get to a new destination because, without them, it’s almost impossible to make anything delicious. I buy olive oil, salt, pepper, vinegar, and cumin (for all those Brazilian black beans!). Breakfast staples are a necessity, especially when traveling with kids. I make sure there’s oatmeal or granola, milk, yogurt, fruit, and coffee on hand so that mornings get off to a smooth start.
Plan the menu.
It doesn’t have to be detailed, but at least have a rough menu plan in mind before heading to the store. Foreign grocery stores are fascinating places, but they are also confusing with their many strange brands and packaging. A list will help you stay focused, and will reduce the amount of leftovers and ingredients to be carried on to your next destination.
Have a few food blogs you like in order to find good, easy recipes online in a pinch. I like TreeHugger’s vast archive of great vegetarian recipes, Food52, and Epicurious.
Simplify your meals.
If you love to cook, as I do, then cooking while travelling can feel like a disturbing simplification of what you’re used to making. With limited tools, a non-existent spice rack, new ingredients, and less time to spend cooking, it can be hard coming up with tasty meals on a daily basis. That’s why it good to have a few basic recipes up your sleeve that work well on the go.
Some of my go-to meal staples are:
- Beans and rice (with or without meat)
- Egg-based meals such as frittate, omelets, and huevos rancheros (eggs poached in tomato sauce)
- Pasta of all types (with tomato sauce, canned tuna, sautéed vegetables, cream sauce)
- Vegetarian curry (as long as you can find curry powder, or take some from home) and rice
- Braised / roasted meat or fish (for fancier meals, or if I want to make a large batch for leftovers)
Try to have some reusables on hand.
Hopefully your furnished kitchen will come with some Tupperware in which to store leftovers. At the very least, take along some Ziploc bags to ensure leak-proof storage and transportation. Always travel with a reusable water bottle (some come with a built-in filter) so you don’t have to buy expensive bottled water everywhere.