Gorging on Travel – Savoring Culture and Cost

Food preparation in your own kitchen is easy, but what about cooking abroad while in guesthouses, hostels or B&Bs?  As full time travelers, we are constantly challenged with shopping, preparing and storing meals.  We love to cook and spent lots of time in the kitchen back home, so finding ways to incorporate cooking into travel is an important part of our experience.  This can reduce expenses but also assist with healthy eating on the road.  When balanced properly with local eating, there is still room to appreciate the cultural aspects of food.  This post details our top tips for cooking while traveling, including when it does not make financial sense.
img_4059-1For many travelers, sampling local foods, flavors, desserts and even regional wines and beers is an important part of the cultural experience.  While traveling in higher cost first world countries, cooking some meals can significantly lower food expenses.  This still allows for some local cuisine experience, but does so in a budget friendly fashion.  On the other hand, it makes sense to eat out more liberally in second and third world countries due to the low cost of food.  In many places it is even cheaper to eat out than cook!

All countries have unique food challenges.  There are numerous places in the world where access to healthy food is difficult or nonexistent, and many that have the best availability are also the most expensive.  For example, many areas such as the United States, Western Europe, and Australia have very high food costs which can be a challenge for budget travelers.  In addition, some parts of Europe have carb driven diets which can be difficult for balanced nutrition.  Nepal, India and many countries in Africa are prone to food and waterborne disease spread due to poor sanitation, but prices tend to be low.  Parts of Asia have limited vegetable options creating nutrition difficulties for vegetarians.  Islands tend to have fresh options but may not have a wide variety due to need for importation.  Some, like Iceland have limited fresh foods and also extremely high restaurant prices.img_2518-2

Developed Country Considerations

Costs in these countries are much higher on average, where low end meals can be upwards of $25 USD.  Some of the more expensive areas we have visited are Iceland, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand.  Don’t fully deprive yourself of local cuisine, but find ways to lower food costs.  Breakfast is an easy meal to make with limited cookware, and can usually be prepared for just a few dollars in even the most expensive areas.  Coffee tends to be expensive in many countries but is one of the easiest items to make at any accommodation.  We carry a compact ultralight mesh filter and make coffee anywhere we can boil water.  (See our minimalist packing list for more details.)  This can easily move a daily cost per cup from upwards of $6 to less than $0.50.  Consider these additional tips if you want to optimize your budget:

  • Cook one or two meals daily
  • Street food is the best way to eat like a local for cheap
  • Vegetarian dishes are typically less expensive
  • Pack a picnic lunch in your backpack, or buy a cooler for road trips
  • Purchase healthy snacks to avoid cravings
  • Make your own coffee and tea
  • Beer and wine is cheaper at shops than restaurants, vineyards or bars
Developing Country Considerations

These countries often provide some of the most rich and authentic culture available.  Some of the most incredible experiences happen by discovering hidden local gems when wandering the streets in search of food.  Eating where the locals eat gives you a chance to interact with and better appreciate the culture.  The cost to eat out in these areas can be anywhere from reasonable to extremely cheap, with meals in many parts of Asia being only around $1.  In contrast to developed countries, there is a limited availability of grocery stores, sanitary supplies, and cooking facilities so eating most or all meals out makes sense.  In many of these areas, unsanitary meats or unsafe water can lead to food contamination, so be mindful.  We carry a reusable water filter which saves from buying thousands of plastic bottles while ensuring safe drinking water.  (Learn more in our packing list.)

  • Eat all or most meals out
  • Eat street food from hawker stalls and from local markets
  • Find where the locals eat for the most authentic food
  • Avoid continental style food on tourist streets which is more expensive and lower quality
  • Eating vegetarian is safer in questionable environments
  • Take an affordable cooking class to learn local cuisine
  • Beer and wine is cheaper at convenience stores than restaurants and bars
  • Use a water filter and a reusable bottle to save money (and the environment)
img_3776

Travel Cooking

Now that we’ve discussed country considerations, let’s talk about cooking while traveling.  This can seem overwhelming if you don’t have a strategy, but use these tips to be better prepared before your next trip.

Think About Your Accommodations

Food prep can be difficult when you don’t have the proper kitchen equipment.  Being mindful of accommodation amenities when booking can save a lot of hassle for cooking.  If the pots or pans are unusable due to wear you might just need to get creative.  For instance, we hard boil eggs or boil omelettes in a zip top bag to save the agony of scraping a non-stick skillet.  Think about the following when choosing a room and after arrival:

  • Look for places which have access to kitchens
  • See what cookware, utensils, and containers are available
  • Confirm which appliances are available
  • Check if there are essentials like cooking oil, sugar, salt, spices or coffee, which are staples in many, but not all, guesthouse kitchens
  • Read reviews to see what other guests have to say about the kitchen
While at the Store

Shopping is different in every country, and when adding a language barrier it can become confusing or even frustrating.  Much of the experience is a local learning process, but there are a few ways to make it easier:

  • Count the meals needed and shop accordingly, avoiding unnecessary trips or wasted food
  • Prepare meals which can be easily stored and reheated and make enough for leftovers
  • Know whether you need to weigh and tag your own produce
  • Use a translation app with scan function to decipher products and ingredients
  • For people with dietary restrictions, know translations and carry pictures to help communicate while shopping
  • Eat before shopping to limit impulsive buys
  • Carry reusable bags to cut down on plastic waste
Backpack Cupboard Essentials

It may make sense to carry some cooking essentials as many rentals will not be well stocked.  Here are some versatile long lasting items to keep handy in any backpackers stash:

  • Zipper plastic bags – various sizes
  • Salt and pepper – buy grinders for fresher flavor and grind into a bag to save space
  • Seasonings or herb packets
  • Cooking oil and vinegar – used for cooking, dressings and marinades
  • Hot sauce
  • Coffee or tea
After the Meal

Leftovers are an essential part of being a more efficient travel chef.  Prepare food which can be easily pre-portioned, stored and reheated for subsequent days.  Consider the following simple storage ideas while preparing your next meal:

  • Portion out the leftovers into individual meals
  • Use the cookware to store leftovers, and get creative with plates or cutting boards as lids
  • Makeshift containers can be made from a bowl, plate or cup
  • Use the stove top or oven in place of a microwave if necessary
  • Bring extra meals in plastic bags to eat as picnics or on trains, etc.
Examples of Cheap and Healthy Meals for Some Inspiration:
  • Oatmeal with walnuts and bananas
  • Omelette and toast with fruit
  • Meat and vegetable ragout over pasta
  • Pan seared lemon butter fish with asparagus and steamed rice
  • Smoked salmon salad with veggies, pumpkin seeds, and vinaigrette
  • Pan chicken with baked sweet potato, stir fried zucchini and mushrooms
  • Herb, vinegar and oil marinated chicken with rosemary potatoes and broccoli
  • Chicken salad with apricot and avocado, spring mix, arugula and dressing
  • Garlic marinated shrimp, sweet potatoes, green beans with garlic and onions
  • Peri-peri seasoned ground beef and veggies in a buttered chapati wrap
  • Sliced meat or fish, cheese, crackers, veggies and hummus for packed lunch

img_1194


What are your best tips for travel eating?  Add a comment below to share your insight, we would love to hear your ideas.

We hope that you enjoyed these tantalizing food pictures from around the world!  Make sure to gorge on our Planning Page where you will find details on minimalist packing, planning for long term travel, and understanding travel insurance.

6 thoughts on “Gorging on Travel – Savoring Culture and Cost

    • Thanks Julie. We felt this was a important topic to discuss with other travelers as it is something we are faced with three times each day. We are currently in Malaysia where the food is some of the world’s best and we are loving every meal!

      Like

  • We recently returned from a trip to Central America and didn’t cook once in 8 weeks! I’m a vegetarian and found it so cheap and easy to eat out. Not only did we save money on food, but we saved on accommodation as we didn’t need to pay extra for places with a kitchen or BBQ. I also found that some of the best moments happened while we’re eating out – meeting new people, learning Spanish a little bit better, discovering new suburbs on the hunt for decent cuisine. Of course its completely different in developed countries. Great blog full of awesome tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is great! It really adds a lot to travel when you can free your time to allow more cultural immersion. Not having to worry about meal prep is incredible, and definitely provides some of the best opportunities to interact with truly authentic people and places. We have recently met some amazing local people in Malaysia simply by sitting near them in restaurants and striking up conversations. This inevitably leads to recommendations for what to try or where else to eat, creating new experiences that would otherwise not be found in your average travel book or review site. Thanks for the addition!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s