When we travel, especially for longer periods of time, we tend to self-cater a lot. There are a couple reasons for this: 1) it’s more cost efficient than dining out; and 2) after a long day traveling or exploring a new area, we find it relaxing. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t try local foods and restaurants, we just tend to do that for lunches while we are out exploring.
Typically, we try to book accommodations that have kitchen facilities (either shared in the case of hostels, or private when we rent apartments), or at a bare minimum a fridge and kettle.
We’re writing this post from Iceland, which has really reinforced this for us. Most of the budget guesthouses we’ve been staying in have no access to a kitchen, and restaurants are ridiculously expensive. As an example, in Akureyri we checked out one restaurant that offered sushi – for $25-30 per roll. No thanks!
But without cooking facilities, we either had to accept the high prices or make meals out of sandwiches, Skyr (a local yoghurt-like cheese that is actually fantastic), and hot dogs (Tip: hot dogs in Iceland are amazing!). We chose the latter!
Self-catering, even when you have the facilities, can still be challenging. Some places you stay at may have basics (salt, pepper, tea, coffee etc.), while others won’t. We tend to travel with some of those basics just in case, and so we aren’t stuck buying more pepper (etc.) in every town.
Cooking utensils may be plentiful or practically non-existent. If you’re planning to cook a few meals that are dependent on your AirBnB rental having a sous-vide machine, you will be disappointed. J
The key is simplicity. When you’re cooking, that generally means 5 ingredients or less. That means planning for multiple meals, so you’re not wasteful. That means being able to cook with not much more than a pot and/or a skillet.
Many grocery stores also have ready-to-eat options, and these can be great. We found individual salad kits in Spain that had premium ingredients like shaved hard cheese and real Iberian ham – all for about €3.
Either way, it is definitely doable to self-cater on the road and it also helps you get a bit of that “local” experience that so many travelers claim they want.
Below is one recipe that we’ve used many times, and which can be varied depending on what protein you have, or even to be vegetarian (do vegetarians eat eggs and cheese? If not, they should).
Obviously a traditional carbonara uses pancetta or bacon instead of shrimp. But since Christine doesn’t eat pork and Trevor can’t convince her how awesome bacon is, we use shrimp. We’ve also done this recipe using sauteed or grilled asparagus. If you’re feeling fancy, you can sprinkle some chopped parsley on top. The flat leaf kind, not the curly kind. The curly kind sucks.