Finding a good meal while traveling can be difficult, expensive, or both. Dining out inflates your travel costs dramatically, and you’re probably not going to be eating as healthily as you would if you were cooking at home. Fortunately, with a little prep work, you can make a decent meal inside your hotel room without spending a lot of money.
You’re already used to packing clothes, toiletries, and other essentials for a trip. Depending on how long you plan to be away from home, it may also be worth packing things you can use to cook. Your hotel room may already have some tools you can use to make a meal in a pinch, but if you bring extras—maybe an electric kettle—you can open up a whole new culinary world.
We’re not talking about microwaves, either—we’ll assume you know how to heat up a quick meal on the cheap. We’re going beyond that, into the realm of less-obvious devices that can help you whip up some food with minimal effort in a hotel room.
Bring an electric kettle for quick boiling
- What you can cook with it: ramen, eggs, and potatoes
An electric kettle is one of the best tools for cooking while traveling. Plug this little device into an electrical outlet and you’ll be able to boil a liter or two of water without a stove or microwave. Some of the more advanced models come with presets that will heat water to specific temperatures, giving you even more versatility.
Once you’ve got a pot of boiling water, you can make a pack of ramen or a cup of noodles right in your hotel room. You may also choose to drop some eggs in for a quick snack or boil some spuds to make simple mashed potatoes. None of these are fancy meals, by any means, but they can help you stay fed without spending a ton on eating out.
Use a coffee maker for heartier meals
- What you can cook with it: rice, oatmeal, and hot dogs
Many hotel rooms have a coffee maker, which can make your life a lot easier when you’re hungry. Like an electric kettle, a coffee maker will heat water, but the liquid won’t necessarily boil. A glass coffee pot, however, is sturdier than a plastic electric kettle and can handle foods that might damage a kettle.
Cooking rice in a coffee maker isn’t just a handy way to get some easy carbs—the cooking process can reduce the amount of naturally occurring arsenic in the rice. For a more complete meal, you could also steam vegetables to add to your rice or ramen. Other options include making packets of instant oatmeal or even cooking a pack of hot dogs to a satisfactory, if not necessarily delicious, extent.
Grill sandwiches and breakfast food with a clothing iron
- What you can cook with it: grilled cheese, paninis, bacon, and eggs
Your hotel room likely has an iron in the closet—in case you need to press a suit before a big meeting. In a pinch, though, it can work as a makeshift griddle. But to avoid damaging the hotel’s iron, make sure you add aluminum foil to your shopping list to keep your food from directly touching the device itself.
An iron will grill almost anything you could make on an actual griddle, provided there’s enough space for it. Put together a typical panini—a basic one might consist of sliced meat, cheese, tomato, onion, and mayonnaise on a baguette—and wrap it in foil. Then press the iron down onto it as you would with a panini press, making sure you’re doing so on top of a surface that can’t be easily burned. If nothing else, the ironing board in your hotel room is a good candidate for a safe surface.
Irons don’t have as much temperature variability as something that’s actually made for cooking, but you can still make adjustments. The cotton setting is usually close to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which works best for things like grilled vegetables and meat. It’s one of the most versatile settings, but you may need to adjust your cooking time for food that normally cooks at lower temperatures. Wool and polyester settings are closer to 300 degrees, which is a significant drop and not quite the 350 degrees you might want for pressed sandwiches. If you need a middle ground, try the viscose or rayon setting, which is usually around 375 degrees.
Aluminum foil will also help expand your repertoire. Lay a couple of strips of bacon inside some foil and press on it with the iron to grill it up. Double the foil layers and you’ll even be able to cook an egg or two. You’ll want to make sure nothing leaks or spills, but if you’re careful you can get a decent meal out of your DIY grill.
Consider a sous vide for heavy-duty cooking
- What you can cook with it: eggs and chicken
“Sous vide” is a fancy term for a cooking technique that involves putting food in a sealed bag or jar, placing the container in water, and using an immersion circulator to keep the water at a precise temperature. It’s a powerful cooking method that can produce a wide variety of meals. And all you need for some hotel room sous vide is the immersion circulator, a tub for water, and plastic bags. Since you’ll be cooking with relatively low temperatures, you can safely cook your food on most surfaces, including the desks and tables in your rented room.
The one major downside to this technique is that unless you bring a portable torch, you can’t sear meat as you would in a proper kitchen. That can rule out big meals like steak, but you can still use a sous vide for things like eggs or chicken breast. With a large enough container, you can pre-cook several meals at once, saving you time and money while you’re away. If you’re planning a long trip, and want to get as close to a home-cooked meal as you can, it’s a method worth considering.