Cooking On The Go!


Anyone who’s taken a typical vacation knows that travel can involve some culinary compromises, that is why I always carry on my santoku knife to prepare all my meals.

For the hotel-bound traveler with no kitchen and limited time in a locale, eating out is the perfect option. At first. But no matter how delicious the street vendor fare or the country’s classiest cuisine, buying meal after meal can take a toll on your palate and your pocket. Trips often end with a serious case of restaurant fatigue.

So the long-term traveler has some challenges on her plate. What’s a Go! Girl to do for a home-cooked meal when she’s on the road?

Here’s a heaping helping of options, with a pinch of advice, for the globe-trotting gourmet.

Food Exchange

Many international volunteer exchanges revolve around an offer of “bed and board.” Try WWOOF, Workaway, and HelpExchange to find a place to live, work, and eat with your host.

In addition to eating at home with hosts, the volunteer duties here often include a few stints preparing food.

If you like to cook, let prospective hosts know! They’ll thank you for your enthusiasm, whether you’re a master chef or just make sandwiches with a smile.

But be warned: this can entail something very different from what you’re used to in the kitchen. Take one bunch carrots and two onions, finely chop… now multiply by 20.

Cooking for a crowd is common when you’re staying with a team of volunteers or big host families.

Never fear, just be bold! For the newbie high-quantity cook, try a one-pot wonder like chili, soup, or a curry: they’re forgiving on flavor and timing, and you won’t have to spend all night washing dishes!

  • Find a Market

One fantastic way to explore a new place is by diving into the kaleidoscopic colors and scents of an open-air market, found in city and countryside alike.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Atom Ess

Here you can get a feel for local life while also practicing the fine art of ‘uncooking.’

You’ll find a bounty of things you can assemble into a meal just by slicing, stacking, or sampling, no need to enter a kitchen. Lip-smackingly delicious local produce, deli-style meat (sometimes from animals you never knew existed) or cheese, fresh breads and a panoply of sweets for dessert.

You can bring your food finds home to plate up, or eat them on the go.

With so many options and a throng of locals to guide you, you’ll never be puzzled about how to put together a no-cook meal here.

  • Kitchen Invasion

In any language, the phrase “I’d love to come over and cook you a meal!” generates an enthusiastic response.

I made a lot of local friends while I traveled, and they were overjoyed when I’d show up with a bag of groceries and a few recipes I was dying to try. I’m no pro chef, but with even a simple meal I could give them a welcomed night off from dinner duty.

And I was in heaven because I’d have access to a well-supplied, cozy home kitchen for the night. Playing Chef For A Day for friends made for some of the most fun I had on the road.

Haven’t had a chance to meet anybody yet? Here’s a trick to find foodie fun:

Check social gathering websites like Meetup or Couchsurfing’s online forums for your area – and bond over the universal appreciation of all things delicious.

I took a day trip to one city’s Couchsurfer Cake Off baking competition, which yielded Polish, Turkish, German, Italian and English entries for best home-cooked treat. Yum!

Good food and good company? These meet-ups will have you going back for seconds.

  • Hostels and Homestays

If you’re paying for a place short-term, skip the hotel and put that hard-earned dinero toward “kitchened” accommodation.

Creative Commons License photo credit: FALHakaFalLin

Hostels usually have kitchen facilities. They vary in size and stock, but all you really need is a fridge and a stove top to make all sorts of meals.

If you’re not into hostels, you can find a stove-away-from-stove by opting for a home rental instead of a hotel. Websites like Airbnb, HomeAway or Craigslist have rooms or whole apartments to rent all over the place where you can get your cook on.

The trick when you’re so temporary can be shopping. Do you really want to do groceries on the go?

But if you strategize you can avoid spending hours in the shops.

When you arrive, go for one big buy-up of some staples like rice and pasta that won’t go bad. Then cook your way through them during your stay, adding different ingredients like veggies or meat which you can buy each day as needed. One minute in the local grocer a day can yield a tasty array of home-cooked meals that your belly and your bank balance will thank you for.

  • Be A Flexible Foodie

Traveling comes with a shake-up of all sorts of routines, and whether you eat to live or live to eat, you might be surprised how different you feel when your food habits fluctuate.

Go with the flow and see what your travel life serves up. But listen to your body, and remember that food and mood are linked.

If you’re feeling tired or out of sorts, think about what you’ve been noshing and whether you’re getting the nutrients you need.

Enjoy regional recipes and flavors, but don’t discount the comfort factor of familiar foods. If you can’t get the ingredients for a favorite dish from home, try and create a local variation. Pining for PB&J? Give cashews and mango chutney a try.

The universal activity of making a meal is at once a way to connect with people the world over and a typical task that’s a little piece of home. So no matter what’s on the menu, cooking will sustain you on your travels in more ways than one.

Any favorite recipes for the road? Or a truly tasty travel memory? Tell us your thoughts on Go! Girl gastronomy!


About Author

When Julie was a little kid, she conspiratorially whispered to her dad, "You know what? I have powers." It took the world, and Julie, about 20 years to figure out what the heck she meant by that. But in 2010, when a chance backpacking adventure turned into a year of transformational travel, she cracked it: her super power is Wonder Wandering. Her mission? Using her powers of volunteering for globe-trotting good, not evil. Her kryptonite? Stayin' put.


  1. These are some great tips, I’m one of those people who starts to feel pretty “unbalanced” if I eat too many restaurant meals in a row, even if they’re healthy ones. Having worked in restaurants too, I know that even fairly healthy seeming dishes like you might cook at home are likely to have loads more fat, oil, and who knows what else in them when you eat out.

    When I was traveling around Australia a lot of the hostels offered free cooking oils and rice or pasta, which was a HUGE help in being able to prepare a nice meal without having to either keep buying those base ingredients (and then leave them behind when you move on) or weighing down your luggage carrying them around with you. I haven’t found this practice to be common in many other countries, but it’s worth looking for. Also, the Free Shelf in hostel kitchens can be a huge help, usually it’s food left behind just because people couldn’t carry it anymore, not because it’s bad, and I’ve made many a meal almost entirely from what I’ve found there.

  2. Good tips! As I get ready to hit the road again it’s a good reminder that it’s not all about the spaghetti bolognese! Cooking while camping is an interesting one to master as well, have you tried it?

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