A backpacker’s life is not easy. Living out of a suitcase, managing a tight budget, changing accommodation almost daily and still seeing the world up close and to the fullest. It is a full time task and requires extensive planning and budget management. One particular field of cutting costs, unfortunately, is that of food intake. Backpacker meals can get super boring fast. While some backpackers opt for going hungry to make their stomach shrink and eat less, others opt for takeaways and BBQ events at hostels. My approach is different.
I go with the classical CIY, cook it yourself backpacker meals. That is no world news but by saving a buck here and there, I save up in the long run and can occasionally splurge on local food at cheaper establishments, which I have located throughout my city walks. But there is nothing more boring and food crave inducing than having bland pasta or – even worse – instant noodles day after day. I say, treat yourself. Let me show you how to do it on a backpacker’s budget and with the limited means of hostel kitchens.
Bringing Essentials for All Backpacker Meals
I have come across less than a handful of hostels that supplied salt and pepper and only one that had spices. An actual range of spices! It was bliss. To be prepared, I always carry my own salt with me (even though I pack it away too well and can never find it when I need it). I am considering stocking up on cinnamon to sprinkle my breakfast with as well. Pepper I was never a big fan of. But you see, you should carry around what you need to make your food just a little bit tastier. Herbs go a long way. But be warned, the container might break and then you have spiced up your wardrobe as well. And I can tell you from experience, herbs and salt is hard to wash out of a woollen hat. Put a plastic bag around it.
Another thing I can advise but has nothing much to do with the quality of your food is plastic cutlery and a plastic container to carry a meal around with you. It cuts down on time and costs when having to eat out during lunch. You bring your lunch with you and can eat it on the road! If you are lucky, you can even find a place to heat it up a little if you have such a kind of food.
Certainly not the most classy food, but it is comparatively filling (fat least in the beginning). I am talking about the ultra easy porridge. Just grab a dollar’s worth of oats from the supermarket (in a Western country), stir in some water or milk and bring to boil on the oven or in the microwave. One or two minutes and you’re done. To make it more edible and less sticky, simply add yogurt or milk before and afterwards. This also enhances the taste.
Special tip #1: Instead of always buying a container of dairy, why not try (coconut) milk powder instead? It lasts longer and weighs much less. Special tip #2: Add a bit of butter when it is still warm. (Also, you can use the butter for cooking instead of carrying oil with you.)
The necessary morning vitamin boost comes in the form of fruit. Head to the local market to stock up on fresh and cheap seasonal fruits of your choice. Quarter and sprinkle them on top. Maybe throw in some nuts and cinnamon, too? Make it look pretty and cosy up in a corner on the couch with a window view. You are worth it!
Improved Instant Noodles Backpacker Meals
At first I mirrored my fellow travelers and stocked up on Chinese instant noodles. A bunch for just a couple of quid? Bring it on! But after those my body seriously rebelled at the mere thought of yet another mug of hot water touching the stiff noddles and creating a soft, splashy mess. Daytime nightmare visions right there!
I could not even stand the smell any longer. And the smell was everywhere. It screams backpacker! So I started cooking again. There is a simple twist that could have prevented my newly developed nausea: make your own instant noodles, but better! Invest in cheap pasta (backpacker nutrition #1 anyway) and satchels of cup soup. There are a variety out there and they have different thingies floating in them! Now add some frozen and/or fresh veggies, let it simmer for an hour and you have your own noodle soup! On top of that, the little sachets fit into your tiny spaces in your backpack and every backpacker knows space is key.
Backpacker Meal of the Day
Unless you’ve had enough of Italian wheat products, why not make pasta a lot but each time add something fresh of what is on sale or special prices that day? If you get sick of it, try switching to potatoes instead. They are cheap wherever you are. How about making tomato sauce with 69 cents canned tomatoes, diced carrots and corn with added sausages that you have browned in a frying pan?
Chop up eggplants and zucchinis, boil for 10 minutes and then fry in a pan before you add mashed tomatoes that are left to simmer and mix with the juices of the fellow veggies as sauce. Eat together with boiled potatoes and meatballs made from price reduced minced meat. Why mix everything up in the most boring manner when you can make it into a world class looking dish?
To give the pasta a better taste, think of buying veggie or chicken stock and boil them in it. You can even make soup with the stock on another day when you don’t feel like either pasta or potatoes. Eat it vegetarian or add little bits of chicken to it. Or start making salads and add nuts and avocado in the mix. I feel less like a little bunny chewing on grass when I do this.
Give a Toast
Oh yes, the toast. Handy to carry around, easy to spread things on and can be toasted for some “variety”. Some hostels even have free toast! A glass of peanut butter lasts ages, so why not have that for lunches during sightseeing? Just make sure you put the bread into the fridge once you’ve landed in your accommodation or you will quickly find that mold wants to have a quick bite as well.
And for toast you can go all out as well. Not for nothing do the British celebrate their cucumber sandwich. And sandwich is the key word here. You are a sandwich master. Want to have a salad topped with cheese and BBQ sauce? Cheese and walnuts? Cream cheese and cucumber? Banana and peanut butter? Your imagination knows no bounds. I once even had it with ketchup, mayo and peas fresh out of the oven. It was delicious! (No, I’m not insane. Maybe just a little bit.)
The Chocoholic Treat for Backpacker Meals
Are you a chocoholic like me? Then instant of feeding that eternally hungry monster with another bar, why not prepare a fruit bowl that has lots of tasty sugary juices in it. But wait, that’s not all. Dice all your different kinds of fruit, such as grapes, kiwis or strawberries and add little cubes of chocolate on it. It’s like sprinkles, only tastier. (I don’t think highly of sprinkles.)
You can make yourself a banana split as well! If you always have a secret stash of the gold of the Maya and bananas for breakfast and creepily stalk the ice cream boxes in the supermarket like me, you can make that happen without a problem! And no, you do not need to splurge on Ben and Jerry’s for this. Unless you want to. I won’t judge.
The Bonus – More than Just Backpacker Meals
Now if you want to save money on all aspects of travel so as to travel longer and with more comfort (the backpacker life can get weary after a while), I put together a 5-part email series on all the tips I gathered throughout my years of travel.
And to surprise you even further – it’s absolutely FREE!
Free tips on saving money? Now if that doesn’t excite you yet maybe this little graphic will. I poured my heart in it. Just sign up to receive the emails and you’re good to go.