How not to live off McDonalds when travelling!

Hi it’s Jess here! So being the one with some cooking knowledge I will be writing about the cooking side of things and in this post in particular I want to talk about how to eat cheaply and well without resorting to those golden arches (like Ben did for three weeks travelling!). My travelling experience so far involves me inter-railing around Europe with four friends, all of us at university with not very much money in our pockets. This meant we wanted to make the trip as cheap as possible whilst still fully experiencing the different countries and cites that we visited. One of the main ways we did this was by not eating out and instead buying supermarket food and making meals for ourselves. So what I’d like to do is just give you a few tips and pointers on what foods can be bought cheaply, easy foods to cook with and important things to remember.


Your options of course depend on where you are staying but if like us are planning on staying in hostels, the best thing you can look for in a hostel (bar the price, location and possibly cleanliness!) is whether or not it has a kitchen you can use. By having access to a kitchen your options are almost limitless, meaning you can cook whatever you want and spend as much or as little on ingredients as you like. We unfortunately made the mistake of only staying at two hostels that provided a kitchen out of the eight we stayed at, meaning that when we finally did get to cook a hot meal, since we hadn’t been eating out, it tasted like heaven!




‘But how did you live?’ I hear you ask. Well when we didn’t have access to a kitchen we lived very cheaply by making our own sandwiches, which often consisted of nothing but bread, lettuce and cheese. Cheap, if not a little dull and tasteless. Of course there are better ways of going about this, such as mixing up the fillings (this was a little difficult for us as there was two vegetarians on the trip, including myself!), mixing up the breads (we found baguette was the best tasting and cheapest to buy) and of course buying something extra to go with it. For us the extra was usually some sort of fruit everyday (very important to keep those bowel movements regular!) which was really not that expensive particularly when choosing bananas and apples.


Now you may be thinking, how on earth do you make sandwiches with no kitchen, utensils or even a side to place the bread on? Well you improvise. A lot of the time we would find a park bench, a low wall or seating area somewhere, have a sit down and create our own factory line for sandwich making. Of course this was made easier by the warm weather, but when it rained we simply went back to the hostel for an hour or so and attempted to make the least amount of crumbs possible! This all meant a lot of ripping up of baguettes, tearing at lettuces and using sliced plastic cheese, but by the end of it all we developed a pretty good routine.




If on the other hand you do have access to a kitchen some good basic meals to cook are things that revolve around pasta and rice as you can buy lots of these on the cheap. We found the best recipe to make was a risotto. It only involved us buying some rice, onion, stock and any other veggies we wanted (like mushrooms and peppers), which we found were really cheap to buy, especially when split between us. Now I know that of course not everyone is a sous-chef in the kitchen, so maybe prepare yourself before hand so as not to make some basic mistakes like attempting to cook pasta without water and not using an oven glove when getting trays out of the oven (yes I have seen both of these before!).


If you’re not too sure how to go about cooking for yourself, please do leave a comment and let us know and I will be more than happy to write up in detail some really simple recipes that you can use when cooking in a foreign country, in a kitchen you don’t know. And don’t forget if you find yourself with some odd ingredients and don’t know what to do with them, log in to the hostels wifi and find your own simple recipe.




Another way to save on a bit of money is to find a hostel that offers a free, or if not cheap, breakfast. This is something we overlooked when booking hostels, which meant once again that only a couple offered us this, however when we didn’t have this option we made the most of it by buying things such as brioche, croissants and fruit to wake us up in the mornings. This might sound like it would come to a fair amount of money but not only were many of these items no more than a couple of Euros, once split between the five of us, it was merely cents! Nevertheless, when a cuppa tea or coffee was available with breakfast, rather than just some water, it definitely made us all happier for that day!


Speaking of beverages I want to emphasise how important it is to drink plenty of water when travelling. I know I might be stating the obvious and I don’t want to patronise you all but this is something easily forgotten, especially when, depending where you are, drinking tap water may come with unwanted consequences. It’s a good idea to ask the hostel workers in each area whether the tap water was ok to drink, which we did and in each place it was. We also collected many 2litre water bottles en route, filling them up in each place as we went and taking it in turns to carry around the heavy water bag. Yes this was a burden lugging it about in the hot sun but as the day went on and we drank more water it soon got lighter. So make sure you get your fluids in!



Aperol Spritz


Now of course in our upcoming trip to New Zealand things will be slightly different as we will be living and eating out of our camper. This means we will only have a teeny tiny flame to cook over and a sink with a limited amount of water. We’ll keep you updated while we’re there on what we manage to cook up in the camper. Having our own kitchen space to cook in will however be a blessing as this can be tricky when in a hostel and everyone decides to cook at once!


However cheaply we lived when travelling around Europe we did promise ourselves that treasured McDonalds when we had gotten to the end, so after that final train journey from Paris to London St Pancras International we skipped across the road, bought ourselves some fast food goodness and tucked in at the train station. Finally I also have to implore that you don’t hold back on everything when it comes to food, you can limit yourself to not eating out every night to save money but when it comes to trying the different delicacies from all over it has to be done! Especially Italian ice cream!




Once again, thanks for reading and hope you stick around for more. Jess 🙂

10 thoughts on “How not to live off McDonalds when travelling!

    • It is a lot of fun but we do agree that Maccy D’s has to be done at least once 🙂 We’ve heard that New Zealand McDonalds have pies which is news to us so we’ll have to let you know how they go down!

  1. What a great post! I’ll be travelling a ton this summer (not in a foreign country though), and I’ve been trying to think of how I can still stay on track without resorting to take out all the time! Seems like a welcoming challenge. 🙂

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