How to Self Cater on the Road

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).

Shrimp Pasta Carbonara

Shimp Carbonara


  • Pre-packaged shrimp. Either raw or previously cooked
  • Parmesan cheese (fresh grated if you can get it, but we’ve made this recipe with that cheap stuff they give you at low-end Italian restaurants)
  • Two egg yolks
  • Milk or cream (a bit more than a splash – maybe ¼ cup or so?)
  • Pasta
  • Salt/pepper to taste


  • Boil your pasta in salted water. We often use penne, but you can literally use any type you like.  And before I get barraged by comments, I realize the pasta in the picture above is fusilli
  • Season then cook or heat the shrimp (defrost in the fridge if they came frozen)
  • In a separate bowl, mix together a good dose of parmesan with the two egg yolks, the milk or cream, and some pepper. If you’re using milk, you’ll need more cheese to get the right consistency.  You want it to be thick, not too runny.  When you mix it with the pasta, it will go further than you think so being too runny is worse than too thick
  • Drain the pasta, and combine with the shrimp
  • Remove from the heat. Pour over the cheese/milk/egg mixture.  The heat of the pasta will cook the egg yolks – if you leave it on the heat, you’ll scramble the eggs
  • Mix everything together, check your seasoning, and serve

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.


  1. posted by
    Jul 8, 2016 Reply

    Self catering on long journeys is super difficult, especially where there are dietary restrictions. Mel is allergic to fish, shellfish, and is gluten free so we struggle in places without a lot of fresh veggies ( Argentina and Iceland were both difficult for different reasons). We lean on shelf stable, or long lasting ingredients like certain sausages, potatoes, mushrooms, peppers and onions to form casseroles if we are cooking over fire and we have somewhere to prep. Any leftovers are used with scrambled eggs in the morning. They are also good for kebabs on rice if we have a pot and water supply. If we are using a camp stove we are limit ourselves to fast fry items like omelettes or sausages. Dry soup mixes or shelf stable tetra packs are great for lunches. Breakfasts are usually tough fruit like apples or oranges, almond milk (because it lasts forever and is used in coffee) and granola or yogurt. It is really a fine balancing act of shelf life, ease and prep

    • posted by
      Trevor and Christine
      Jul 11, 2016 Reply

      Yeah, totally agreed. Our restrictions aren’t quite that tough (gluten free would be hard), but Christine doesn’t eat any red meat or pork – so anything with lamb or bacon etc is off. Definitely limited options while we were in Spain, where so many things had Iberian ham in them.

      For us, it means a lot of pasta dishes because we can buy one bag of pasta and use it for multiple meals, plus it’s easy to transport and you just have to make a simple sauce. But in Europe we’ve found it’s easy to get single serving, high quality salads for ~$5 each which is great. Sometimes we’re just craving some vegetables, especially now after a week in Iceland. We’re also really into the European tradition of main meal at lunch and just a light dinner.

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