Hotels, Hostels & BNBs

Travel kitchen essentials | Hotel cooking

Cooking meals while on the road can save you lots of money! Experienced backpackers know the benefits of eating PB&J sandwiches for a meal or two, especially if it means using the money saved to purchase a ticket to a new town.

Sidenote: I use “hotel” here but really this will work for any accommodation where you don’t have access to a proper kitchen space. That could be a bed and breakfast, homestay, motel, hostel, etc.

If you’ve never cooked in a hotel before, it might seem intimidating or very complicated. But like any new skill, once you get the hang of it you’ll have no problem at all.

I’ve stayed in nearly every type of hotel, including 2 star budgets, 4 star chains, family-owned bed and breakfasts, hostels, AirBNBs, student dorms turned into hotel rooms, and rooms in someone else’s house. I’ve had access to a wide range of hotel amenities, from free breakfast to microwaves to full kitchens to nothing at all, and since I’m traveling on a budget I’ve had to keep things under a relatively low price. 

It’s easier for me to keep eating in my hotel room because I’m not a foodie– I don’t care about eating special dishes in every place I visit, though I do like buying local brands in grocery stores and trying things that way.

If you’re the same, or if you’re just really interested in saving money while traveling the world, then this post is for you!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and buy something, I get a small percentage of that at no extra cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.)

This post in particular is about non-food items for what to pack and what to buy once your get to your destination. Next I’ll post about food items, and some recipes ideas.


The key to success is to limit yourself to items you’ll REALLY need. Save your backpack space for souvenirs! Bring only the essentials, then see what’s available at your destination and buy what’s necessary.

First, consider how long you’ll be at your hotel and/or traveling overall.

If you’re going straight to one hotel and staying there for a week, then that’s a bit easier to plan for and you can make more elaborate meals. If you’re heading to a hotel that’s just one stop of many within a month, then you’ll need to focus on being able to pack lightly and quickly between stops.

Second, research your hotel and see what amenities they provide.

Hotels in the US almost always have a microwave and mini-fridge, but no hot water kettle. European hotels have a kettle, but no fridge or microwave. You may also have access to shared amenities like a toaster or water dispenser in the lobby. Some US hotels have grills available, too!

Shared amenities at a B&B in France: microwave, mini-fridge, hot water kettle, plus plates/bowls/utensils.

Third, think about what kind of cooking you’ll do.

Some people like coming up with complex meals and others just want something quick and easy. It’s easier to plan for simple meals, but that doesn’t mean you’ll need to just eat sandwiches the whole time.

I’ll have another post soon with recipes and food ideas, if you need inspiration, but for now just think about what you like eating and whether you’d be up to the challenge of making it in a hotel room.

For me, I generally like to eat breakfast and dinner at the hotel, and eat lunch out (lunch prices are typically cheaper than dinner prices). That means at the very least I’d like something to make a hot beverage and usually soup for dinner.

Fourth, consider your packing space.

If you’re going on a road trip, you’ll have a lot more space to play around with than someone with just a small backpack.

But also consider the time you’ll be away. If you’re only going for a week, you won’t want to use half your suitcase for cooking stuff. If you’re going for a month or more? Perhaps you’d like to have some dedicated room in your bag– which might mean leaving behind something else to make room for it.

What to Pack

Reusable bag(s)

These are silicone bags used for storing foods, which can be washed and reused and hold up well for months. I prefer using these rather than a hardsided container because you can pack more of them easier into a backpack.

If you’re going on a short trip and don’t want to buy anything new, standard Ziploc bags are find, too.

Camping spork

This is a combo fork/spoon/knife utensil very popular with campers. You can also just get a set of utensils if you have a bit more space. Plastic ones are the easiest to clean, but wood could also work well.

Binder clips

These are used to hold bags of food closed! You don’t want an open bag of salad in your mini-fridge. The nice thing about binder clips is you can use them for other stuff if needed, unlike the “chip clip” kind of closures. And you probably already have a few floating around your house as well!

Optional: camping bowl/mug.

If you’re planning on cooking a LOT and want something that will pack a bit easier than a standard bowl, then one of these small combos with foldable handles might work for you.

Collapsible ones would work, too, but I find they wear out quicker than expected (and it’s hard to hold them when there’s hot liquid inside!). If you go for that style, get a set from a good brand like Sea to Summit.

Optional: an immersion coil.

If your hotel has absolutely no access to boiling water, and you KNOW you’re going to want coffee and/or soup, then one of these are definitely needed. They’re smaller than a collapsible hot water kettle and can be used in a variety of containers.

Optional: a rice cooker and/or pressure cooker.

This is really only for those who have a car or who don’t mind taking a huge suitcase. One of these will increase the kinds of meals you can make in your hotel exponentially, so it’s well worth taking one if you have the room. Toshiba has a tiny 3 cup rice cooker that has settings for things like cake and brown rice, and Instant Pot has a mini 3 quart pressure cooker with a dozen different settings.

And that’s it! Really! The nice thing about world travel is that everybody needs to cook, and that means there’s supplies available EVERYWHERE. You can get away with only taking a small amount with you.

Standard amenities at British hotels/B&Bs: hot water kettle, mug, coffee/tea supplies.

What to buy

Once you’re at your destination, here’s some things you’ll need to pick up:

Sponge, dish soap, hand towel. This is the bare minimum for cleaning supplies. (Tip: If you’re already bringing Dr. Bronner’s soap to use in the shower/laundry, then you can use that here as well.) Get a sponge with a scrubby side, as it’ll be much easier to clean up scrambled eggs and such.

Small net for the sink (or maybe something like this, depending on the type of drain). This’ll keep food particles from going down the bathroom pipes and clogging them up.

Utensils: vegetable peeler, small knife, cutting board, large spoon. Self-explanatory, really! It’s annoying cutting veg with a small knife, but it does pack easier– and they’re cheaper, too.

Mug and/or bowl, if none are provided or you didn’t bring one.

Optional: Large glass bowl, if you have a microwave. This’ll make cooking a bit easier. Otherwise, try a collapsible salad bowl or something similar to use for mixing and eating large meals.

General Tips

You may not want to use the hot water kettle in a hotel. I’ve heard tales from cleaners about people boiling their underwear in them (why??) so you may not want to chance it. Generally, if you’re in an aparthotel or hostel with a dedicated kitchen, you’ll be fine. Just check to see how clean the kettle is before you use it, and give it a scrub before using it yourself.

An alternative is to bring your own collapsible hot water kettle, or an immersion coil. Then you only have to worry about your own cleanliness. 😉

Wipe down the inside of the microwave before using it. I guarantee it’s not being done before you get there.

Put the net into the sink drain so you don’t accidentally put food down it and clog the pipes.

If you don’t want to buy new, check thrift stores at your home location and your destination!

The next post will be about what kinds of foods to buy for hotel cooking, and some recipes.

You may also be interested in these other packing posts:

Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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