No doubt one of the best parts of travel is trying new restaurants and local cuisines, and eating out all the time feels like a natural thing to do on the road. But eating at restaurants three times a day will get pricey fast, and it’s not the most health-conscious habit. You probably knew that already, but thought the only other options were things like ramen noodles and butter pasta, right?
Without a stove, refrigerator, and pantry, food options are undoubtedly limited, but with a little planning and creativity, it’s definitely possible to prepare some of your own meals on the road. We hope this post will shed some light on how to save money on food and also eat healthier while traveling. If you’re not accustomed to searching out Safeways when you travel, now’s the time to start!
Road trips might be the form of travel most synonymous with less-than-healthy eats – like fast food meals and gas station snacks – but having a car actually gives you lots of other possibilities.
It’s easier to get to a grocery store and transport food, you can keep a cooler in the car, and there’s more space to bring ingredients and utensils than if you were just packing a suitcase.
For everything in these lists, you’ll be able to easily pick up the groceries you’ll need at most supermarkets and quickly whip them up! And while you may be hard-pressed to create a perfectly balanced diet, we find mixing in foods like these to be an improvement over eating out multiple times a day.
As a couple other useful hacks, for any recipes that include a complicated dressing, you can probably pick up a small packet of ready-made dressing to use instead. And for recipes that call for tons of spices, you may be able to replace them with a seasoning packet (just opt for low-sodium, MSG-free types) – or you can just leave some out in a pinch.
Eat Anytime, Anywhere: Foods That Require No Prep & No Storage
If you don’t have any way to prepare things or keep them cool, or you just need a snack to carry in your bag while you’re walking around, try the basic grab-and-go options. You’ll probably recognize many of these options from typical lists of healthy road trip snacks, and they’re popular for a reason.
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Baby carrots
- Trail mix
- Dried fruit
- Sunflower seeds
- Protein bars
Chill It: No-Prep Foods That Need to Stay Cool
The food choices expand if you have a way to keep things cool, like if you’re traveling with a cooler or staying at a hotel with an ice machine. These also work if you’re planning to eat right away.
- Sliced fruit (like watermelon, pineapple, mango, or cantaloupe)
- Hummus and baby carrots
- Celery sticks and peanut butter
- Cheese and crackers
- Marinated olives
Slice, Mix, Eat: Simple No-Cook Foods
Now we’re getting more into things you may not think of eating on the road. But the options in this section are actually great food for traveling because they require no actual cooking. You’ll need a knife and a bowl or container, though, so keep that in mind when you’re packing.
- Guacamole and tortilla chips
- Fruit salad
- Cereal and milk
- Veggie (or cold cut) sandwich
- Tossed salad
- Balsamic cucumber salad
- Caprese salad
- Three-bean salad
Add Water and Presto: Foods Made with Hot Water Only
Most of these aren’t typical travel foods either, but they’re actually ideal because all you need is hot water, which is pretty easy to come by. If your hotel room has a coffee pot or electric kettle, or the lobby or breakfast has a hot water dispenser for tea or a Keurig machine, you’re golden. If not, you might be able to ask a restaurant to fill up a thermos for you, or fill one up yourself at a grocery store buffet or a gas station coffee bar.
Without any other cooking implements, you’ll be pretty limited to just adding some basic seasoning, so these admittedly won’t be the tastiest or most nutritious creations. But for easy travel foods, they’ll do in a pinch!
- Rice noodles
- Instant rice
- Instant noodles
- Instant mashed potatoes
- Instant oatmeal (Pro-tip: Pour the hot water directly into the packet, no need for a bowl!)
Travel Cooking: Meals You Can Make on the Road
If you’re staying at Airbnb apartment or a hotel with a kitchenette, the options expand dramatically. But unless it’s super well stocked, you may not have everything you normally use for cooking – and you probably don’t want to spend hours slaving over a hot stove instead of out enjoying your trip, anyway.
So try one of these options; they’re quick and easy to make, use few ingredients, and require minimal equipment.
Or try our very basic versions of some favorites:
- Coconut curry: Sauté cauliflower with garlic and onion, add some curry powder and then coconut milk and chickpeas, season with salt, and serve over rice.
- Roasted vegetables: Coat any chopped veggies (broccoli, zucchini, beets, bell peppers, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, butternut squash) in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, pop in the oven for 20 minutes, and serve with quinoa.
- Stir-fry: Sauté your veggies (bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, peas, mushrooms), add some soy sauce, and serve over rice.
A Food Packing List
To make things much easier – and give yourself the ability to make tastier food on the road – it helps to pack at least a few basics.
Olive oil: There’s little chance you’d ever use a full-sized bottle of oil, but there’s a strong possibility you’ll need a little bit of it. Grab one of those refillable bottles normally used for toiletries (wash it thoroughly if you’ve previously used it for shampoo!), and fill it with olive oil. Just be sure you use a bottle that seals well, and it’s a good idea to put a piece of saran wrap under the cap, too – we don’t want to be responsible for you ending up with oil on your clothes!
Balsamic vinegar: If you bring another little bottle of balsamic vinegar, you’ll be able to combine it with the olive oil (plus salt and pepper) to make a basic salad dressing.
Soy sauce: If you have a penchant for Asian flavors, pack a third bottle of soy sauce to use for stir-fries.
Salt and pepper: Salt often comes in enormous containers that you don’t want to lug with you on the road (and would never use up unless you’re taking a multi-year trip). Put some salt and pepper in a container like this mini-shaker so you can easily season your food on the road.
Peanut/Almond butter: The amount that’s worth carrying on a trip is directly related to how much you love nut butters (in our case, a lot!). They’re a great source of vegetarian protein, so a whole jar might not be a bad idea for a longer trip, and you can easily pick one up on the road. Otherwise, a couple little packets of Justin’s nut butters might be more appropriate.
Thermos: Make it easy to get hot water (and keep it hot until you need it) with an insulated bottle. Plus, using it at coffee shops instead of a disposable cup saves plastic (and might even score you a discount!).
Silverware: Nobody thinks to bring silverware on vacation, but it can actually be really convenient to have. If you’re not pressed for space or weight, feel free to pack a regular set from the kitchen. If you want something more travel-friendly, we recently bought this bamboo silverware set, which we’re liking so far.
A knife: You don’t want to end up with the perfect mango or avocado, only to realize your plastic knife won’t even begin to cut into it. Pack a real knife with you to make sure that doesn’t happen (just don’t put it in your carry-on!).
Collapsible bowl: These containers work equally well for mixing, eating out of, or storing food. And because they’re collapsible, they don’t take up much space.
What are your best tips for eating on the road?
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