One of the biggest questions I had before embarking on my backpacking travels was "What the heck do I eat!?"
I had visions of having to fork out money for restaurant meals or pre-prepared food at cafes or grocery stores. Turns out, self-catering while backpacking is a breeze. In fact, it's just like eating at home, but on a different scale.
Book accommodations with a kitchen
You may not have access to your own personal kitchen complete with all the spices, sauces and that perfect knife or pot that you're used to. BUT in a hostel you will usually have access to a functioning kitchen with all the basics: pots and pans, cutlery and dishes, a kettle, a stove, a microwave and a fridge. Some places also have an oven.
So while you're backpacking you can continue to buy groceries and prepare your meals just as you normally would. Though instead of doing a couple of big shops a month, you have to go more often to pick up enough supplies for your stay. I go shopping every 3-4 days and fill up my reusable grocery bag which is also the perfect way to transport all my food stuffs from place-to-place.
Buy groceries cheap and often
I'm not picky when it comes to brands; I choose what's on sale! Saying that, it's often more of a priority to find a store within a reasonable distance of where I'm staying, so it's not always possible to compare prices and find alternative grocery stores.
When I'm travelling I like to keep my kitchen routine simple and usually stretch the ingredients across a few vegetarian meals that are easy to prepare. With just a few staples, here's how I rotate through some of my favourites:
- Stir-fry: 1 pack extra-firm tofu, 1 bag bean sprouts, 1-2 vegetables, small pack of soy sauce
- Wraps: 1 pack tortilla wraps, 1 tub of tzatziki sauce, onion, carrot, bell pepper, half can of mixed beans
- Pasta: any type of pasta and ready-made pasta sauce
- Rice: any type of rice, mayonnaise, vegetables (a pack of frozen veg works!)
Other than that, my shopping bag for a few days' stay will likely contain the following:
Breakfast: 1 tub of yogurt (1kg), 1 bag of muesli
Lunch: 1 bag of bread rolls, bunch of bananas, 1 jar of peanut butter
Snacks: 1 box of muesli bars, nuts, apples
I also drink plenty of water and I have found that many of the hostels I stay at offer free tea and coffee (and sugar)!
In my two months of backpacking, I have had a total of three alcoholic drinks: one that came complementary with the dinner on my birthday; one that the tour operator threw in for the group on our final evening together; and one can of cider that a girl at a hostel had bought by mistake. That is, I didn't pay for any of them!
Alcohol is too expensive for my food budget while I'm travelling so I just cut it out. It's very easy to have fun without it and your wallet will seriously thank you!
The free food shelf
Aka the best idea hostels have ever had. Every hostel I've been to has a free food shelf or two, which is usually one in the cupboards for dry goods and one in the fridge for refrigerated items. These are things that people have bought and no longer want or need, or can't take with them on their journey. I've picked up everything from pasta to soy sauce, tortilla wraps to salsa, and fresh bread to cereal this way.
Make sure you double-check the expiration date before you help yourself and it's best to stick with sealed food (or check carefully if it's in consumable condition if the seal has been broken).
Some hostels will even go so far as to offer a free breakfast. This is amazing. Oftentimes it's just a simple collection of bread with various spreads (Nutella, jam, peanut butter, etc.) but I have also stayed at hostels that have a whole assortment of cereals with milk, and in Melbourne, I even spent a week at a hostel offering free pancakes every single day.