15 Best Tips for Cooking While Traveling

I love to cook. 

The reason I first became interested in cooking was due to health conscientiousness. Certain genetic illnesses run in my family, and I wanted to do everything in my power to avoid developing them. From there it took off, and I’ve loved it ever since. 

Cooking is fun, exciting, and rewarding. There’s nothing like sharing a meal you’ve cooked with others and having the knowledge of exactly what’s on your plate and where each ingredient came from. I love it so much – almost as much as I love traveling – and once I learned how wonderful it was, I didn’t want to give it up while I was on the road. 

I am a frugal person, and when I first began traveling, I survived off of cheap restaurants, street food stalls, and whatever the local convenience stores had in stock. This led to unhealthy food choices, and was expensive, despite my desire for a budget travel lifestyle. So as it turns out, learning to cook was a blessing in more ways than one. 

In this article, I will share with you some travel cooking tips I picked up along the way. Hopefully they’ll be useful to you, and will help you make the most of your trips. Let’s get to it.

1. Stay Somewhere With a Kitchen

Doesn’t matter where. I am an advocate for staying anywhere and everywhere in between – experience as much as you can. That being said, if you want to cook while you’re traveling, it’s gonna be hard without a kitchen. 

You don’t need a full kitchen – just the basics. A stove and fridge will suffice, with dishwashers and other appliances acting as luxuries. Don’t plan on being able to make smoothies or forty-five minute stews unless you’re planning on shelling out the extra money required for access to blenders and instant pots.

Basic kitchens are included in most apartment, house, and condo rentals. You can also find a communal kitchen in some hostel rentals.

2. Eat Like Locals

You know what they say – when in Rome, do as the Romans do. When visiting a foreign land, follow the customs of its locals. Act the way they do, eat the way they do, live the way they do, and most importantly, treat their customs and environment with respect. They may differ from you, but that’s not a bad thing.

If you do this, your trips will be more immersive, you’ll learn more about your destination and the people who inhabit it, and the locals will like you a whole lot more. 

Also, eating like locals is just plain fun. You learn how to make new meals, develop a love for different cuisines, and become a better cook overall. When in Brazil, learn how to make feijoada and when in Japan, learn how to make katsudon. You won’t regret it.

3. Look Around

Before heading to the grocery store, look around your accommodation and see what you’ve got to work with. Make a mental note of the appliances you’ve got access to and go through the cupboards to see what cookware is included in the rental. This gives you an idea of what tools you’ll need to grab from the store. 

Some rentals only supply you with the bare minimum when it comes to cookware. I’m talking one small pan, three sets of dinnerware, and two dull knives. By checking the place out first, it saves you from having to make another trip to the grocery store. 

Also, you’ll want to base your meal preps off your findings, utilizing the tools and appliance given. 

4. Get the Necessities

There are few items that, no matter where I’m staying, I buy at as soon as I get to my destination. I do this because it’s difficult to cook without them, and because I don’t want to live a life without some of these items. 

Everyone’s list will be a little different, catered to their tastes. That being said, most items on this list I consider a necessity in every kitchen. Here’s the rough list of items I always buy at the beginning of my trips: 

  • Salt
  • Pepper (black, red, white, whichever you enjoy)
  • Favorite spices & herbs (mine are cinnamon, ginger, rosemary and basil)
  • Oil (I prefer olive oil)
  • Vinegar (balsamic, red wine, apple cider, etc.)
  • Sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.)
  • Garlic
  • Tea

5. Buy the Right Amount

Keep the duration of your trip in mind when you’re going to the grocery store. If you’re only staying for two weeks, you won’t need a regular sized olive oil. Instead, buy a smaller size. Remember that whatever you don’t use, you’re gonna to have to throw away or leave at your accommodation.

6. Plan Your Meals

Before you head to the store, it’s a good idea to plan your menu. You can make it as detailed as you want to. 

Some people prefer having a rough list of things to buy, while others like their meals and ingredients planned down the ounce. I lean more towards the latter, because I find it overall less time consuming, and it helps me buy the exact amount of ingredients I need for each meal.

Either way, having a list will make shopping a whole lot easier, and will help ensure you don’t have too little or too much food.

7. Be Flexible

Everything is unforeseeable, including whether the local corner store in Matsue will have almond milk in stock. Don’t fret over the little stuff – nothing is ever gonna go perfectly according to plan, and I guarantee there will be times when you’ll have to think of new meals on the spot. It’s part of the fun. I enjoy the spontaneity, and I hope you will too. 

8. Cook in Bulk

This will save you so much time. 

I’m a supporter of cooking in bulk and do so both at home and while I’m traveling. It makes cooking and eating more convenient and makes packing lunches a breeze. Instead of having to cook every day, if you make a big enough portion on one day, you can pack up the leftovers and eat it for the rest of the week. 

Because I enjoy cooking, I don’t cook in bulk for every meal. Instead, I do so for meals that take a long time to make. Meals like roast, stew, and lasagna are great to cook in bulk.

9. Keep It Simple

Making complicated meals while traveling is difficult, so you might not want to bust out those Beef Wellington and Gateau St. Honoré recipes. I find it best to stick with simple recipes. Meals that don’t require a whole lot of ingredients, but are still exciting. 

One way to do this is to mix and match recipes. I love making different kinds of rice and serving them with different proteins and sides. 

You also can’t go wrong with simple yet mouth-wateringly delicious meals such as spaghetti aglio e olio, shrimp scampi, carbonara, and stir-fry.

10. Don’t Cook Every Meal

This is another great way to save time. I set a goal to cook one meal a day at most, and typically it’s dinner. 

For lunch, I like to pack my meals, because I’m often out and about and don’t want to buy food. For breakfast, I grab things like cereal, bread, fruit, and yogurt from the grocery store.  All things I can eat without having to cook. I also like to keep a hefty amount of snack foods at hand. Crackers, hummus, nuts, and dried fruit are your friends.

11. Take a Piece of Home With You

As rewarding and exhilarating as travel can be, it can get lonely sometimes. I am no stranger to homesickness, and through my own experiences, I’ve found something that helps. 

On your next trip, take a piece of home with you. Take that one ingredient or item that you love, but might not find abroad. 

For me, it’s Bigelow lemon ginger tea. I take a few tea bags with me and steep them when I need a pick-me-up. It gives me much-needed comfort when I’m feeling down, and I 100% recommend it to everybody.

12. Bring Your Own Tools

As I’ve mentioned previously, not all of your accommodations are gonna have the tools you want. To be honest, you’d be lucky to have a sharp knife, let alone a coffee maker. For that reason, I try to take a few items with me wherever I go. Those items include: 

  • Can opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Bottle opener
  • Silicone tongs
  • Mini grater
  • Tea steeper 

You can find these in travel friendly sizes, and some you can even find combined in a multi-tool. 

A couple other things you might consider bringing are a sharp knife or coffee press. The only reason I don’t bring a sharp knife is because I know how to sharpen one in a pinch. Take a ceramic mug, turn it upside down, and drag the dull knife you’re wanting to sharpen up and down the unglazed bottom of the mug. It won’t be store-bought quality, but it’ll work well enough.

13. Take Reusables

Maintaining sustainability and eco-friendliness is my number one concern while on the road. I do everything I can to lessen my greenhouse gas footprint, and one of those things is reuse, reuse, reuse. Single-use items are the bane of my existence, and I try my best not to use them unless necessary. In that light, here’s a list of reusable cooking/consuming products I take with me when I travel. 

  • Reusable water bottle
  • Reusable shopping bag
  • Silicone ziplock bags
  • Cotton produce bags
  • Reusable food wrap
  • Collapsible tupperware
  • Travel cutlery

14. Save Some, Lose Some

Cooking your own meals while traveling can save you a load of money and give you the freedom to eat whatever you’d like. That’s no secret. But keep in mind that this saving comes at the cost of something else – your time. It takes more time to cook a meal than it does to buy a meal.

15. Eat out Every Once in a While

It can be tricky not getting caught in the mindset that eating out is bad. Eating out isn’t bad. It’s fun. You get to eat some authentic food and meet people you wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s just not something I want to get in the habit of doing every day. 

So try to dedicate a day out of every week to eat out. There’s nothing like eating a delicious meal prepared by somebody else.

Hi, I’m Ash!

I’m a laid back traveler who loves experiencing new things and spontaneity. My favorite hobbies are hiking, gardening, skincare, and all things tea.

My biggest goal is to spread the word about sustainable travel and show everyone how easy it is to partake in. If you wanna learn more about that or get to know me better, feel free to click here.


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