As budget travellers, I like to think that we can stretch our hard-earned dollars as far as possible to make our trips last longer. If any luxuries can be cut from our costs, they’ll be unceremoniously disposed of and left for the not-so-frugal people to enjoy.
Cooking our own meals is the number one way we cut costs. Why spend $30 on a restaurant meal when we could spend less than $10 at the grocery store?
When I put together the Budget For Our Backpacking Through Europe I accounted for us making our breakfasts plus one other meal per day in our hostel. Sampling the local cuisines was also important to us so we ate out occasionally, but tried to stick to street food and cafes most of the time to keep costs low.
Hostel cooking can be unpredictable. We had a mix of great success and absolute failures in many of the places we stayed. We learnt the best tricks for simple meals and what to look out for in grocery stores to make the experience easier.
Here are my 6 tips to make hostel cooking a breeze.
Unless you’re planning to stay for a while, leftover ingredients in the fridge will probably get thrown away. And if you do have leftovers, there’s also the chance of Hostel Food Theft. Making single serving meals ensures you’re not paying for food you won’t eat.
If you’re travelling solo, you could buy tinned soups or packet meals to serve one. Or if you’re travelling with a partner or friend and cooking together, buy only the amount of fresh ingredients you require for your meal.
Simple ingredients for a tasty hostel meal
Rice or pasta can be paired with a jar of curry or pasta sauce for a quick meal. We carried around quinoa and rice, and breakfast foods such as granola or quick oats for porridge.
Packets of dry ingredients can easily be rolled up and fastened with rubber bands (or hair ties, if you’re like me and don’t have rubber bands handy) to take up less room in your bag.
If you usually make recipes with more than 5 ingredients, you may find it’s a struggle to make them. Hostels will usually supply the bare minimum of cooking oil, salt and pepper, but it’s best to presume they’ll have nothing. We purchased an Arrabbiata spice mix (to this day I don’t know what spices are in it, the ingredients are all in German) and I used it in pretty much everything to add flavour.
You can easily make a meal with only 2 or 3 ingredients. Frozen vegetables, stock, and rice? Voila, risotto! Packet ravioli and tinned tomatoes? Instant pasta meal!
There was one time when we purchased bread rolls, dip, and cherry tomatoes, and just dunked the bread and tomatoes straight into the dip for an instant sandwich (kind of – it’s the same ingredients, right?).
Try and purchase food items that won’t require many tools to prepare, and remember to check the kitchen first to discover what tools you have available.
In Bali our ‘kitchenette’ happened to contain no utensils whatsoever. I ended up using a butter knife to haphazardly hack to a tin of taco sauce until I made a hole big enough to extract the liquid trapped inside.
I have also used a butter knife for peeling and slicing vegetables when our Air BnB apartment in Paris failed to have a chopping knife and peeler stocked in the tiny kitchen. Sometimes you’ve just gotta make do with what you’ve got.
I don’t want to be the kind of person that pushes vegetarianism on people, but it sure makes hostel cooking a whole lot easier when you don’t have to bother cooking meat.
You could try to have meat only when you eat out, or if you absolutely need it in every meal (I don’t know why you would, but some people get weird about eating meals without it) you could mix in tins of shredded fish or chicken.
We purchased a small food container to store some leftover salad. Afterward I used it to store tea bags, our random spice mix, stock cubes, and other assorted cooking bits that could be of use in future cooking experiences.
Plastic cutlery also comes in super handy if you want to take a packed lunch out and about with you.
Delicious vegetable soup and bread
Three months of hostel travel taught me that to make a meal, you require very little. You don’t need a fully stocked kitchen or fridge, you don’t need a bunch of fancy utensils, and you don’t need elaborate cooking skills – all you really need is a little creativity and the ability to improvise.