We’ve all been there before. The times before you packed a travel kitchen set.
After going to the supermarket and picking out some local ingredients, you return to your accommodations all excited to cook up a feast.
You set everything out on the table. Then you open the cupboards to find a bent fork, a warped pan, and a butter knife so dull it wouldn’t even cut butter.
Anger and frustration set in.
How will you boil that pasta?
How are you gonna chop those veggies?
There aren’t even any plates or bowls!
You sigh in defeat and polish off that loaf of bread you bought with some wine. You vow never to cook on the road again.
Cooking while traveling doesn’t need to be this way! We have found that by traveling with a few essential items (that we tweak depending on the trip), we can prepare great meals wherever we may be.
If, like us, you’re a long-term traveler, digital nomad, house sitter, or all of the above, unless you have unlimited funds, eating out every meal is incredibly unrealistic. Self-catering is essential for slow traveling.
We’ve prepared food in countless kitchens in houses we are house sitting, at campgrounds while we are road tripping, while couchsurfing, and even in budget motels. The key to successful cooking while traveling is a kick-ass travel kitchen set that’s actually mobile. We’re not talking about the surprisingly toted-as-convenient travel cooking equipment that requires a car trunk, or several baggage claims (you’d be amazed at what people insist they must travel with).
We’re talking about a portable travel kitchen that will fit into your backpack.
One would think that every kitchen comes equipped with the same essentials. But if there’s anything we’ve learned cooking in myriad kitchens, it’s that not one single home is ever alike. Whether you travel via house sitting, Airbnb, hosteling, or Couchsurfing, these items can help you budget, feel better, and enjoy quality food (like yummy produce) wherever you are.
Here’s what we usually pack in our travel kitchen kit. What you pack in yours will depend on length of trip and your food preferences/habits. Let this list guide you as you make your own travel kitchen set!
Call us dweebs, but we are obsessed with this utensil. Not only is it incredibly lightweight, but it’s a spoon, a fork, AND a knife all in one, without being useless like most sporks. It even will get past airport security (so say the Amazon reviews, we have not had to test this yet). We literally cannot say enough good things about this handy little tool. It’s great not only when cooking and eating wherever you’re staying, but for places that’ll hand you a plastic fork or spoon with your meal. Use this guy and save some plastic!
Not only do they double as weapons, chopsticks are lightweight and super reusable. We have ones that come in two parts, so they’re easier to pack than long chopsticks. They’re a great conversation piece and everyone loves them when we pull them out. We got ours at zero waste store Package Free in Brooklyn, New York, but these titanium two-part chopsticks are pretty much the same thing. We love all types of Asian food, so carrying chopsticks makes sense for us. If just carrying the above spork makes more sense for you, do it! Remember, this is your travel kitchen set to adapt for your needs.
Read more: Eco-Friendly Packing List
This veggie peeler is super small, entirely stainless steel, and hardly takes up any space. This set comes with a julienne peeler, as it allows you to get those great matchstick strips without the precision knife work. I’ve had it for years and still works great.
The most important thing I did when moving out on my own? Abscond with the greatest garlic press – aka this one:
Garlic presses are more uncommon than you’d think. And if you do find one wherever you’re staying, it’s some flimsy shit that auto disassembles during use. I use it for more than garlic – any fresh roots like ginger or turmeric, also with herbs, when you can’t be bothered to finely mince. I’ll press lemon peels in place of a zester. Get a lightweight aluminum one. I suggest the one piece, 3 movable parts, design by Zyliss, as mine still works great over 10 years later.
What for you say? So many veggies are grate-able. Some veggies, once grated, are undetectable (to the veggie-phobic) when mixed into other things like rice and couscous. A great way to sneak in some extra fiber, something that can easily go forgotten when traveling and eating out a lot.
Not only is it practically a few millimeters thick, it weighs hardly anything and has last us many years. Aluminum and flat, it’s super travel-friendly.
Again, not as common as you’d think, and this one is definitely optional depending on the kind of cooking you do. But if you like preparing creams and sauces, then you want to scrape every last drop. Get one where the end and the stick can separate so that you can pack it better. Rubber and wood are super light to keep your travel cooking equipment manageable and not like a rock in your suitcase.
Swiss Army Knife
Sometimes classic is best. If you want to save even more space and weight, you could go for a Swiss army knife designed for cooking while traveling. Getting a Swiss army knife can be quite handy as they come with a can opener, corkscrew, and other utensils. Be careful not to bring it in your carry-on though, or you’ll get it taken away as happened to us. =(
Containers for Your Travel Kitchen Set
Collapsible Salad Spinner
Whether it’s leafy greens or veggies that need washing, we (mostly Veren) find this indispensable. Not being able to wash and properly dry your greens is one reason (other than the required effort) why so many people aren’t in the habit of making a salad. Don’t make excuses – make the salad.
Bonus: doubles as a mixing bowl and the basket as a strainer. You can also use it when you’re not traveling – we’ve seen quite a few homes with these collapsible salad spinners instead of the normal giant ones that take up tons of space.
What do you do with those leftovers? Stash ‘em! These silicone storage bags are endlessly reusable and can be used to store anything from cooked pasta to sandwiches. Bring them on the go to enjoy a snack in a newly discovered park. Shoutout to RTWGirl for telling us about these!
Another way to store leftover food is with a reusable wrap. These are best for sandwiches, cookies, and bread.
Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
Produce bags are a great alternative to all the plastic bags you’d normally use grocery shopping. You can use them for much more than storing produce, such as for bulk shopping. Although my favorite use is for them is – you guessed it – storing lettuce. These bags will keep your leafy greens from rotting by allowing them to breathe.
The worst that happens is that they wilt over time – but don’t toss them greens away yet. All that means is that they have lost water content and are still perfectly edible. Just put them in cold water (iced even better) for a bit and they’ll crisp back up. If you can’t be bothered with that and grimace at the thought of chewing wilted greens – toss them in a smoothie.
Travel Kitchen Coffee Corner
Calling all coffee drinkers! Depending on where you’re traveling, having a daily coffee out might really eat (or drink heh) into your budget. Or maybe you just love savoring a coffee inside before greeting each day. We (Sam mostly) like coffee every morning. The ritual makes us feel at home. Whatever the case, there are a few ways you can make your own coffee while traveling.
Steel Mesh Coffee/Tea Brewing Basket
There may be portable French presses out there, but this steel basket coffee filter is perfectly tiny and fits easily into any mug. Not only is it super durable, but this size can easily accommodate two servings of coffee grounds. It’s actually a tea basket, so if you’re a tea drinker, this one is for you too!
Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker
We first came across the magic of the Aeropress while traveling with friends in Portland, Oregon. It makes a mean espresso, it is super-fast, it’s lightweight and easy to pack. All you have to do is boil water, pack the coffee grounds in, and press down.
If you’re an avid coffee drinker, an Aeropress is well-worth the minimal space it takes up (it packs into a little bag) as well as the price – besides, they are quite cheap, generally around the price of 10 cups of coffee out! Bonus: morning arm workout.
Reusable and Collapsible Coffee Cup
On the subject of coffee, if you’re an avid coffee drinker that travels a lot, chances are you’ll be getting your coffee to go on many occasions, whether its in an airport, train station, or coffee shop that only has takeaway cups. Takeaway cups are extremely wasteful and unnecessary when you can bring your own cup! We use a 12 oz collapsible silicone coffee cup that packs into nothing when we’re not using it.
There are also non-collapsible ones like the stylish glass KeepCup. The collapsible one does retain the taste of coffee a bit if you forget to wash it out immediately, so keep that in mind. A quick vinegar soak will take out the taste.
Bonus: sometimes you’ll get a discount of 10-20 cents off for bringing your own cup. While it doesn’t seem like that much, it adds up and eventually pays off the cost of the cup.
Optional: Appliances in Your Travel Kitchen Kit
Most people won’t want to travel with appliances. But if you’re traveling long-term and are checking a bag, you might want to consider some of these depending on your food habits and preferences.
We try to incorporate as much raw food into our diet as possible. Every morning we have a smoothie.
Hands down the easiest way to keep this habit is to always have a blender. In the States, the Bella Rocket Pro was our favorite. Spain has the best immersion blenders, so that’s what we use when we are there. While the personal blender is more powerful, it’s hard to beat the portability of a hand stick blender. They’re not as affordable in the U.S. (we got an 800-watt immersion blender in Spain for 30 euros, while one with the same power will cost you about three times as much in the U.S.).
**Keep in mind that blenders are checked baggage only!**
And that’s it – everything in our travel kitchen kit. Budget slow sustainable travel in a nutshell.
We make travel affordable because otherwise, we couldn’t do it. Eating out every meal just isn’t an option for us, as much as we do enjoy trying all the vegan food wherever we end up.
Also, we enjoy establishing a routine. For us, home is very much rooted in routine. Being able to make that smoothie and a morning cup of a coffee gives more than satiation, but a feeling of being grounded (pun intended).