Cooking in hostels - it’s not very glamorous but a great way to save your money for things that really count. You’ll find it’s cost effective in most countries, but keep in mind that you’ll have to make a judgement based on the country you’re in. For example, eating out in Australia will set you back whereas in Thailand it’s super cheap to dine out each meal so you may as well enjoy the luxury while you can.
In destinations that you do decide to cook in, keep in mind it’ll be cheaper to buy in bulk. If you’re moving around a lot, it may not be the most practical however I found that you can buy a cool bag pretty cheap in most places. While not too helpful if travelling via plane everywhere, if driving or taking a bus you can store your food for a number of hours between destinations safely. As hostel kitchens have fridges, just dump it in there as soon as you arrive.
HOT TIP - Make sure you padlock your cool bag. It sucks that you have to 99% of people you can trust, unfortunately there are sometimes people wanting to take advantage and take your food. Also, label your bag too as lots of people will have the same idea.
Remember not all hostels will have kitchens, but most in destinations that it’s cost effective will. You can check online if they do, so keep an eye on this when you’re booking your next few nights if you want to dump your cool bag or be your own chef. If the hostel doesn’t have a kitchen, don’t stress though - you can treat yourself every now & again!
Another thing to keep in mind, hostel kitchens aren’t always the most clean places in the world. Generally run by backpackers who clean for room & board, there is not always the best quality control in terms of hygiene levels. Now don’t let this put you off by any means, just remember to clean the dishes before you use them, along with any pots & pans. I do have to say the kitchens are generally pretty well equipped with all the crockery that you need which is helpful, so at least you’ll still have space for all those extra outfits in your backpack. When you finish cooking though, please can you wash up after yourself? Just because some people don’t doesn’t mean you can be a slob. Respect your surroundings and it helps everyone out.
HOT TIP - Cooking for one is a little annoying on a daily basis, so if you can join others it’ll save you money & make it easier. Nervous about joining people? Just remember everyone is in the same boat.
So you’re all set and ready to be your own head chef, but what do you cook? You want quick, cheap & easy. A hostel kitchen is no place to be creating a Michelin star tasting menu, partially because they rarely have ovens so you may struggle a little with your 7 bird roast. Luckily, you should always find a hob, a toaster and maybe even a microwave so do have some options. It obviously does come down to taste, but I’ve popped a few of my suggestions below for you to had a read over to get you started.
1 - Pasta
Such a versatile dish and super cheap, no wonder uni students around the world flock to buy their spaghetti and penne pasta in bulk. While the main ingredient is the same, you can chop & change the toppings to make enough dishes that you won’t get too bored. I’ve had pesto pasta, tomato pasta, carbonara pasta, pasta salad, cheesy pasta - the opportunities are endless.
I’m hoping you all know how to make pasta or at least in it’s basic form. If not, good luck surviving hostel cooking… Perhaps asking someone will be a good conversation starter?
2 - Beans on Toast
Maybe it’s because I’m English, but what better meal to start OR end a day with than beans on toast? Beautiful in it’s simplicity, this classic dish can be completed in minutes and can cost less than £1 / serving. The number of travellers I met that I had to introduce to this is painful, so if you’re not from England & are slightly confused from a Brit and ask - usually we’re delighted to share this piece of national heritage with fellow explorers. If you’re feeling bold, you can grate cheese on top for the ultimate dish or throw in a little paprika to add a cheeky kick.
3 - Eggs
Once again, like pasta, eggs are an item that can create such a variety of dishes. You can have them fried, scrambled, poached, hard boiled, baked, turned into an omelette - isn’t it so exciting? Being fairly cheap & fast too cook, if your hostel kitchen is a little bit gross it’s an awesome ‘in and out’ dish. Bulk up with some toast if you have a big appetite too or throw on some bacon if you’re looking to treat yourself. Just think, you could be as happy as this little egg chappy!
Side note - if travelling with a cool bag, be sure to wrap your eggs up well. As we know, they break easily & that is a fast way to ruin your day.
HOT TIP - Need a little seasoning that you’ve forgotten? Hostels generally have an area in the kitchen for you to leave items you don’t need / want anymore for other travellers to use. Always have a quick check in there before asking someone else, and leave anything non perishable that you don’t want in there are well before you leave as it’s really appreciated.
4 - Salads
A lot of backpackers tell me they rarely get enough fruit and veg when travelling so having a delicious salad is a great way to tackle this. An iceburg lettuce is always half the price as bagged salad, and normally contains the same amount, if not more. Throw in some tomatoes, onions, sweetcorn, a little cheese, maybe a boiled egg or shaved carrot and you have a cheap, delicious and healthy meal.
Worried about your super fresh ingredients in your cool bag here? Not to worry you can make salads from long lasting items. Switch your tomatoes for sun-dried tomatoes in a jar, or your lettuce for some cous-cous (delicious but does defeat the idea of having greens). You can do a lot here to keep it healthy & interesting.
5 - Wraps
Generally, you’ll be doing a fair amount of moving around during the day so are unlikely to make it back to the hostel for lunch. However, making meals in advance to take with you is a great way to keep your money safe & still eat on the cheap. Grab your favourite few items and throw it in a wrap for a delicious & easy meal on the go. If you’re going down this route, it’s a good idea to bring some tupperware with you. I find it’s easy to buy a tub or two on the cheap when you arrive to a new country (along with your cool bag), and they’re great for storing things that may leak in your cool bag too.
6 - Sandwiches
I mean it’s pretty much the same idea as a wrap, however it’s more acceptable to pop marmite or chocolate spread on bread than on a tortilla wrap. Aussies have Vegemite instead of marmite, not as delicious but if you’re desperate it’ll do the job. If you find an Aussie, they’ll probably have packed some in their backpack and will be happy to lend you some - and no, I’m not joking. The amount of Aussies I’ve met with the stuff while abroad will never cease to amaze me.
Obviously the normal contenders are great between your bread as well, so ham, cheese etc will be good to take around with you. You may even find your hostel does a free breakfast, so you can nab some of the items to throw in your lunchtime sarnie too. You can also turn your cold bread into hot bread by opting to have a toasted sandwich instead - melted cheese= YUM.
7 - Pancakes
Want to make some friends? Make pancakes. You will always make too many and if you say no to a pancake when someone offers one to you, you’re a little bit odd. They’re another easy & cheap dish to master as well when you’re feeling like something sweet instead of savoury. Easily topped with nutella, lemon & sugar or even syrup you can’t go wrong.
8 - Coffee to Go
Much to many travellers disappointment, despite being unbelievably English I am not an avid tea drinker when I travel. Partly because coffee is life, but mainly because I don’t care for tea when it’s made badly which it so often is anywhere other than England (or India in my experience who can also make a great cup of brew). Due to this, when I’m on abroad I’ll stick with coffee. While it can also be made offensively bad, it can be covered up by a little milk and sugar. Alternatively, if you just need the caffeine boost, you can close your eyes & think of England while you down it.
As all hostel kitchens will have kettles, the best thing to do is to get a travel cup and make your own daily to go. Yes, instant coffee isn’t the greatest but you’re backpacking instead of going on the luxury tour so you sadly just have to be a grown up & deal with it. Also, a cute travel cup will stop you using all the disposable ones meaning you’ll be doing a little bit for the environment - winning!
9 - Hot Dogs
Ah the humble barbecue dish, made good with a splash of ketchup. If you’re feeling like treating yourself, you can fry up a few onions or throw some cheese into the bun. You may even find that your hostel has some BBQs set up on the premises if you’re travelling through Australia or New Zealand. If so, go out, make some friends, fry up those sausages and enjoy. Bored of hot dogs? Switch it up for burgers instead - too easy.
10 - Fajitas
Definitely a meal for a group, fajitas are delicious and will be an ideal change for all your new friends who have been living off pasta for the last month just like you. Add some veggies and a little chicken with some spices, grab your leftover wraps and get munching. If there’s more than 4 of you, grab some nachos as well. Simple to make (heat up nachos, add cheese, sour cream & tomato salsa and tuck in). You’ll feel like you’re in Mexico in no time, and with the money you saved cooking in you can spend on your tequila to keep the vibes alive.
11 - Super Noodles
We don’t really need a whole paragraph on these, but they’re worth mentioning. They last forever so can just be thrown in your bag, and can be purchased super cheap from nearly all supermarkets or corner shops. Not the healthiest option, but you can eat these even in a hostel without a kitchen. Reception will have a kettle so just ask them to boil you a little water and eat away.
12 - Rice Dishes
Really not a fan of rice personally, but I do accept I can’t exclude it as many travellers actually do like due to it’s ability to be done on the cheap. Throw in some veggies and a little soy sauce (which I’m told is a must) and you have a little meal for one ready made in a flash. Sorry I can’t give you more here, it’s just really not my thing. Give me noodles any day please.
13 - Granola
Easy to carry around in small quantities and perfect for breakfast or afternoon snack, granola is one of my all time favourites. I’ll normally add some yogurt and fruit for a perfect start to my day. It also requires no heated preparations which is great in a super busy kitchen.
Do you have anything to add to the list? Throw it in the comments and I can pop it on. Keep in mind, just because you’re backpacking does not mean you can’t treat yourself every now and again and eat out, or grab a takeaway pizza. You absolutely should. However, as a general rule of thumb if you’re backpacking it’s because you’re on a budget, so save money where you can so you can spend it on what really counts - more travel (or beer - you decide).