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How to cook a healthy meal as a backpacker

Updated: Jan 23

My metabolism is still a good pal after 34 years so I figure it's only fair to make the most of this friendship and eat copious amounts of delicious things. I do tend to cook vegetarian and dairy free due to a combination of ethics and health concerns, but sampling local delicacies is a highlight of any travel experience for me.


However, if you're on a cheap-and-cheerful backpacker budget, then it's hard to eat out every night. Hostels will generally have cooking facilities - and a fridge of leftovers from other travellers - which is a great way to make a quick meal with just a few items.


And don't forget the local markets where you can pick up fresh produce really cheaply:

Note: I brought 2 jars of smoked paprika from home, as this makes everything taste better in my opinion. I also picked up a jar of soya sauce from a local supermarket.

Smokey flavour covers a multitude of sins
My guide on how to eat as cheaply & healthily as possible

1. No matter where you are, local supermarkets will generally stock the following key items: onions, carrots, garlic, fresh tomatoes, tinned peas, corn & beans, potatoes, instant noodles/pasta and eggs. With these, you can make a filling meal, see example below.


2. Buy small portions of unpackaged fruits from a market or grocery store: this way there's less waste and it's less to carry. Plus, buying from a market is also a fun way to meet locals and enjoy a bit of charades when it comes to bartering on price.


3. When in restaurants, always take your leftovers with you (including the bread). It's surprising how tasty these things are the following day for elevenses on a bus trip.


4. Forage. I must add, carefully and legally, of course. I love to pick fruits straight from the branches, ripe grapes from their vines and fresh herbs from bushes. I often feel that us city dwellers have lost touch with nature a lot these days and are almost fearful to eat that which is not packaged in neat boxes on a shelf.

A beautiful grapevine at our hostel in Bihac
Example of hearty bean stew

You need:

  • 1-2 onions

  • garlic (optional)

  • carrots

  • bell peppers

  • tinned peas/corn

  • fresh/tinned/carton tomatoes

  • sweet potato (or normal)

  • plus any other fresh veg available that you like - I added a courgette and some fresh sage leaves from the hostel garden.

I love to add bell peppers to everything but The Boyfriend is allergic to them so sadly they rarely feature in my life any more.


Step 1: Cook the onion, carrots and peppers in any oil/butter that you can find in the hostel fridge (or take the small portions of butter you get in restaurants for this purpose). When everything is soft, add garlic and cook until it smells nice, then add lots of smoked paprika.


Step 2: Add the drained beans (I used borlotti beans) and stir for a minute.


Step 3: Add chopped tomatoes and/or a carton of tomatoes, plus slices of potato.


Step 4: Add the tin of peas/corn with their water, plus any extra veg you are using.


Step 5: Bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes are soft.

While everything is cooking, guard your food like a ninja to prevent hungry travellers from helping themselves.
Alternative quick hostel dishes

1. Vegetable noodle soup.

Step 1 as above, then add 2 packs of instant noodles with boiling water and flavourings.

2. Basic omelette

No oil/butter needed but much better if you can pilfer some from the communal fridge.

Cook onions, garlic and paprika. Mix 2 eggs in a cup then pour on top. Cook until underside is soft, flip if you can using a plate. Add grated cheese and herbs.

3. Stir fry

Cook lots of veg in a pan, add soya sauce. Serve with pasta or noodles, your preference.

4. Creamy salmon pasta - try Jack Monroe's recipe.


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About Kelly

Kelly lives by the philosophy of:

'You're more likely to regret the things you didn't do than the things you did do'.

Which is a good way to giggle about the ridiculous situations she often finds herself in...

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