Next to transportation and airfare, food and alcohol is most travelers biggest budget item. We all have to eat and with so much amazing food around the world, how can you not try everything?
In some regions of the world, like Southeast Asia and Latin America, it is often cheaper to eat street food or at local restaurants. In Australia and Western Europe eating every meal at a restaurant is a sure way to go broke.
While I always recommend trying the local fare in whatever country you’re visiting, sometimes you just have to cook your own meals to afford the bus ride to the next destination.
Many hostels, especially in more expensive countries, have kitchens for you to use during your stay. Sometimes the kitchens aren’t the most modern and lack the necessary tools to cook a gourmet meal, but you can do a lot with a few pots and pans.
Some of my favorite meals while traveling have been around the hostel dinner table with my fellow travelers.
Last November I spent Thanksgiving in the Azores (Portugal). On Thanksgiving eve one of my roommates, who happened to be Canadian, decided to cook us all a delicious pasta dinner to celebrate the American holiday. It was one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.
While cooking communal hostel meals is an excellent way to meet and connect with other travelers, it is also an excellent way to save money. You don’t have to be Julia Childs in the kitchen. You just have to know the basics, so you don’t burn the hostel down.
Pasta is the main staple of any backpacker’s diet. Not only is it cheap, but it is universally available.
It is also one of the easiest things to cook. You just need to boil water and put the pasta in it until it’s thoroughly cooked. Just don’t overcook angel hair pasta as it turns into mush.
Throw the pasta in a little butter, cream sauce, or red sauce and voilà – you have dinner!
If you want to get fancy, you can add some meat and vegetables. Can’t afford or find hamburger to make meatballs? Use pepperoni or sausage.
2. Stir Fry
Stir fry is another delicious backpacker staple that is a little healthier than the rest. Head to the local market to pick up some fresh local vegetables and your choice of meat (if you eat meat) and on your way home to the hostel stop at the store and buy a bag of rice.
While you are boiling a big batch of rice of the stove top, you can fry up your meat and vegetables in a frying pan. Add in some sauces or spices and you’ll have an excellent well-rounded dinner in no time. Share with your friends or store it for tomorrow’s dinner.
Sandwiches are an old on-the-go lunch choice for long days exploring a new city. Sandwich ingredients are easy to find in most countries and can save you some dough in more expensive countries.
Just buy some bread, cheese, and cured meat and you’ll have a delicious and budget-friendly meal. Unfortunately, cheese can be hard to find in some Asian countries.
Staying in for the night? Grilling a Panini or toasting a sandwich makes a boring old cold sandwich something fun and delicious. I also love a good old fashion grilled cheese. Nothing says home like a little comfort food.
While omelets are a great breakfast food, they are delicious and filling anytime of the day. Eggs are easy to come by in most countries and are an excellent source of protein. Head to the closest market and buy some local vegetables to add flavor.
Omelets are super easy to make. Crack some eggs in a bowl, mix them up, and pour into a frying pan, add some cheese and chopped up veggies, like onion, peppers, and tomatoes, and you’ve got yourself a simple and healthy meal.
If you’re a carnivore, add some finely chopped meat like ham or bacon. If you’re omelet folding skills are subpar, don’t worry, just turn the eggs into scrambled eggs.
Tacos are a staple of Latin American cuisine and utterly delicious. You can get tortillas throughout Central and South America and other parts of the world. If you can’t find tortillas, you can make a taco salad. Trust me, it’s just as yummy!
Tacos can be made with just about any meat or meat-substitute you can find in your local market. While ground beef is popular in North America, try chicken, pork, or fish, which are all authentic taco meats in Mexico.
Once you’ve chosen your meat of choice, fry it up in a pan with some spices, like chili powder and cumin. Black or pinto beans are an excellent vegetarian alternative, or you can add the beans to the meat for a more flavorful bite.
Once everything is cooked, place it on the tortilla, top it off with some lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, and cheese and you’re good to go.
Cooking dinner at your hostel shouldn’t be a scary experience. It’s a great way to save money, make friends, and improve your culinary skills. And who knows, maybe by the end of your stay, you’ll be the next Julia Childs. Paris anyone?
As a bonus, many of these meals can also be cooked around the campfire if you have the proper equipment. Bon appetite!
What’s your favorite meal to cook in hostels?