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Must Haves for a Traveling Kitchen

must haves for traveling kitchen

When you’re constantly on the move, dining out can quickly get expensive. Sometimes you just want a taste of home or have a special diet like a gluten intolerance or are a vegan. I always cook while traveling and find that going to the local grocery stores and markets can be an equally authentic way to experience a destination. There are a few items that I typically bring to make cooking a lot easier, particularly in hostel kitchens when a sharp knife can be hard to come by.

Cutlery, Containers and Bags

cooler bag
A cute lunch tote or cooler bag can come in handy. Get this one on Amazon.
Cooler bag – I pack a small cooler bag that keeps items like cheese or milk cold enough for longer train rides so that I am not constantly throwing things away. I don’t recommend them as a complete substitute for refrigerators.

Tupperware – You can by aluminum foil or cling wrap just about anywhere, but I bought a few reusable containers at the dollar store in Australia so I could save leftover pasta for a second meal.

Reusable bag – Stuffable bags that fold down into keychain size can be used for trips to the market and to store extra snacks.

Spork – Although most places you stay will have cutlery, it’s nice to be prepared. Light My Fire makes cheap varieties in multipacks.

Pocket knife with corkscrew – While you may have to check it in your bag, depending on country rules, a pocket knife can be used to make sandwiches or chop up veggies. A corkscrew is also important for opening that cheap bottle of wine!

collapsible bowls
Collapsible travel bowls, available on Amazon.
Collapsible bowls – I have never traveled with these, but have heard good things about them from fellow travelers.

Collapsible and standard water bottles – You don’t always have to fill them with water, but can also take leftover wine with you to the next location.

Unless you’re camping, I don’t think you’ll need a camp stove and will prefer using hostel kitchens, even if it means waiting your turn.

Food Staples

There’s not much you need to bring from home unless you follow a strict diet or won’t be able to find your favorite items while traveling. Always think about the weight of what you’re bringing and whether or not the place you’re visiting allows you to bring food in. I know that Hawaii and Australia in particular have strict quarantine rules.

The Basics

Rice, pasta and ramen noodles are easy to pack and can be used to create hundreds of meals. Microwavable rice is another easy dinner item, as most hotel rooms and hostels have the appliance.

Instant or Powdered Items

As with microwavable rice or pasta, instant or powdered items make for a good traveling kitchen. For soup bases, try bouillon cubes. Instant oatmeal (or grits for me) makes an easy breakfast and powdered drinks like Crystal Light or Starbucks Via give you a buzz on the go. Don’t forget the spices to add flavor!


peanut butter
Mmm… peanut butter. An excellent travel snack!
Peanut butter – I have brought small tubs of peanut butter on nearly every trip, snagging bread from the breakfast bar to make sandwiches for lunch. I’ve also been known to eat it with a spoon.

Nuts and dried fruit – High protein snacks like dry roasted almonds and freeze dried strawberries don’t really go bad and can be brought with you as you go sightseeing.

Granola bars – When you get really desperate for a snack, throw a granola bar in your bag. I personally love Lara Bars, which come in tasty flavors like carrot cake.

Easy Recipes

It’s difficult to find recipes that are both healthy and easy, but I have a few standbys that aren’t too gluttonous.

Peanut butter noodles – I found this recipe from Martha Stewart’s website, so you know it’s good. You take one packet of ramen noodles, drain most of the liquid, add peanut butter, soy sauce and hot sauce for a tasty meal.

Spaghetti bolognese – This was my go-to while traveling in Australia. I typically substituted beef for whatever meat was cheapest that day, either pork or lamb. I saved it for multiple meals.

Pizza bagels or sandwiches – Throw some tomato sauce and cheese onto a bagel or piece of bread and you’ve got yourself a pizza for lunch.

See Also

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Amanda says

    For the pizza idea, you could also try it with a tortilla.
    My sister-in-law showed me this: in a frying pan, in-between two tortillas (or one, folded), spooning on tomato sauce, cheese, and whatever other “toppings” you want and cooking until both tortillas are crispy and the insides gooey. It can be a little messy, depending on how much sauce is in it, or cheese, but I’ve also packed it up in foil for us to take to lunch somewhere else and it does really well when it’s chilled out, too.

    I was just wondering if most hostel kitchens come stocked with olive oil, salt, and whatnot, or is it another thing to buy while there if you want to cook?

    • Brooke says

      Some do come with communal seasonings and oil… or other people leave them behind for others to use. Varies by hostel. If you’re lucky you can find someone else who has some and give them some change for a bit.

  2. Lou says

    Couscous is a good one to cook. I found it was quick and easy, all you need is boiling water. It can be a bit bland though, so semi-dried tomatoes and other little things you can add will make it a bit more exciting. It is also very filling and cheap!

  3. Charli | Wanderlusters says

    I tend to make a big batch of something like veggie stew or bean chili – providing you have access to a big pan and divide it up into containers. It can last me a week and means I only have to source a microwave the majority of the time but can enjoy some home cooking too.

  4. Kaylin says

    Fellow southerner here and… Grits! yes! I had my mom send me a box of instant grits when I lived in Korea and I rationed those suckers out like they were made of gold haha. I never thought about alot of these things because I usually eat out when traveling in hostels but I may have to reconsider now. I am going to be basically living in a hostel for at least a couple weeks probably when I head to NZ next month for my working holiday so these are great tips!


  1. […] Are you staying in luxury hotels or saving on hostels? This will determine whether you need to bring your own towels, hairdryers and sheets. Do you prefer to keep it thrifty, enjoying as many free activities as possible or do you splurge for unique experiences? If you’ll be going scuba diving, you’ll need to pack your certification book and dive log. If you’re trying to save money, you might want to bring items to help you cook meals. […]

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