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Easy & Practical Backpacker Meals That are Not Instant Noodles [Recipes]

by Nat Took

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It can be hard figuring out what to eat when you’re backpacking. You never know what food is available or what the hostel kitchen will be like (if it has one) until you get there. Add that to not wanting to carry a ton of food around, plus it may be your first time without parents cooking for you, not to mention you’re most likely to be on a tight budget! With all of this put together, you can easily end up with a poor diet. 

Travelling, especially long-term, can really take its toll on your body. You’re constantly active, early mornings and late nights - it all contributes to taking it out of you so keeping a good & fairly balanced diet is especially vital.

However, as backpackers, we’ve all been there. There’s at least one person in every hostel basically living off the free breakfast and dehydrated/ instant noodles. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against cup noodles (especially after a night of heavy drinking), but they’re definitely not good if they’re all you’re eating!


travel planning


That said, you need not worry. Here, I will share some recipes that are easy to make, nutritious, and tasty. And the best part is that they can be done in a hostel kitchen! Some can easily be made for one person, some you may have to use leftovers for a day (or make a friend to share food with), some are vegetarian-friendly or can be made to be so, some are not. Read on for some tasty meals when you’re backpacking around the globe!


But  First.. The Hostel Kitchen


The Dictionary Hostel Kitchen

Image credit: The Dictionary Hostel Kitchen


Before I get on to the recipes, a small word of advice - check out the hostel kitchen first. There’s nothing worse than getting the ingredients for a great meal, only to find out there’s no oven, no knives, no kitchen at all! Hostel kitchens greatly vary, I’ve been in hostels with amazing kitchen, three ovens, plenty of hobs, pots, and pans in all sizes and plenty of room. On the other hand, I have been in a hostel where the ‘kitchen’ was two camping stoves, and you had to rent your (plastic) plates and cutlery, as well as pans (one per person). Basically, a joke of a kitchen.

So, before you go shopping for ingredients, be sure to check out the kitchen and look for:

  • The number of ovens
  • The number of hobs
  • The utensils
  • Free shelf (look for spices, oils, and sauces)

Also, do check out the free breakfast. If it’s a good one, make sure you fill up, so you don’t need lunch. Some hostels will even leave some of their breakfast gear out to use all day, such as honey and jams, which can be useful. 


The Rules 


In hostel kitchens, there are some unwritten rules that you should abide. So, make sure you:

  • Don’t hog the facilities, if what you’re cooking takes a while only do it if there are plenty of facilities available or at a quiet time;
  • WASH EVERYTHING you use;
  • Don’t throw leftover food. Label it as free and enlist the best by date. 
  • Use the free shelf and leave what you can at the end of your trip.


The Recipes


I would advise having a few ‘staples’ in your food bag. Literally pick one spice that’ll go with pretty much anything (such as paprika, cumin or chili), and a small bottle of sauce (I’d pick soy), as these two items won’t take up much room and will go a long way. 





Image credit: Taste.com.au


Simple and quick to make, this Mexican cuisine staple enables you to be as adventurous as you like. Definitely worth checking out any free spices first though! This can easily be done for one or beefed out with extras for a group. Plus any leftovers can be used for lunches for a day or two after (Make sure that they have been refrigerated properly).


You will need (serves 1): 

  • 1 Chicken Breast (cubed)
  • 1 Small Onion (diced)
  • Half a Red Pepper (sliced)
  • Half a Yellow Pepper (sliced)
  • Tortilla Wraps (Any extra can be used for lunches)
  • Lettuce (Torn)
  • Grated Cheese
  • Oil (hopefully can be found on the free shelf)
  • Any available Spices (cumin, paprika, turmeric, and chili preferred, be as generous as you want)
  • Any Sauces you want (i.e salsa)
  • Any other Vegetables or Salad you fancy!


How to prepare: 

  • Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the chicken and spices, stir so that the chicken is coated. Fry on a medium heat until the chicken is browned, add the onion. Fry until the onion has softened then add the peppers and any other veg. If it is looking dry add a splash of water. Fry until the chicken is fully cooked.
  • Heat your tortillas according to packet instructions. Then pack them with lettuce, cheese, sauces and the chicken and veg mix. Fold and eat!


Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries


This particular dish may take a little more effort but is worth it. You can add as much or as little as you want to the burgers, it’s completely up to you! Leftover baps (buns) can also be used for lunches in the days to come. Though if burgers come in packs, you may want to share or you’ll be eating them for a few days!


You will need (serves 1): 

  • 1 Burger (For a veggie option, use 1 large flat mushroom)
  • 1 Burger Bap
  • 1 Small Onion (sliced)
  • Tomato (sliced)
  • Lettuce (Torn)
  • Grated Cheese
  • 1 Sweet Potato (cut into chunky fries)
  • Oil 
  • Any Sauces you want (i.e salsa)
  • Any other Vegetables or Salad you fancy!


How to prepare: 

  • Put the sweet potato fries into a saucepan and cover with boiling water and boil for ten minutes.
  • Drain and place on a lined baking tray, cover with oil (make sure they are evenly coated) and put in an oven preheated to 200℃ for thirty minutes.
  • Check halfway through the cooking time and stir, turn down the heat if necessary.
  • As the potato fries are cooking prep your burger. Slice the bap and pile on your salad.
  • Once the fries have been in for half the time required, fry the burger (leave a few minutes later if using mushroom) in a frying pan with a bit of oil until cooked.
  • About five minutes before it is cooked, add the onion.
  • Once cooked layer the burger, onions, and cheese onto the bap. By now the fries should be done, so serve.


Bangers and Mash



Image credit: Thespicehouse.com


Really quick and easy, this recipe can be done if only hobs are available to use.


You will need (serves 1): 

  • 2 Sausages
  • 2-3 Potatoes (peeled and sliced)
  • Vegetables of your choice (I like onions/peas/broad beans/broccoli)
  • Oil 
  • Milk
  • Butter


How to prepare: 

  • Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with boiling water, boil until they are soft (about 10 - 20 minutes, depending on how thick you sliced them). Once soft drain them and pop back into the pan with the lid on, in a warm place.
  • Whilst the potatoes are cooking, fry the sausages. Put them in a frying pan and fry them over a medium heat until cooked through. If using onions, chop them and add to the pan about five minutes before the sausages are done, and boil any other vegetables at this time.
  • A couple of minutes before the sausages are cooked, use a masher to mash the potatoes. Once mashed add a little bit of butter and milk and mash again. Repeat until you have the desired consistency of mash. Plate everything up and enjoy!


Fried Rice


You may be a little dependent on the hostel’s kitchen free shelf with this one but if you can make it is filling and tasty, well worth the effort. Plus you can change with various combinations of veggies, or even add meat (start frying meat before any veggies, so make sure you account for that extra time). 


You will need (serves 1): 

  • Half a Mug of White Rice
  • 3/4 Mug of Water plus extra
  • 1 Small Onion (diced)
  • Stir-fry veg of your choice, cut into bite-size dices (I like broccoli, mushrooms, peppers)
  • Soy Sauce (Hopefully on free shelf)
  • Pinch of flour (optional)
  • Honey
  • Oil 
  • Any spice you want (check the free shelf)


How to prepare:

  • Put the rice and ¾ mug of water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Once boiling turn down the heat, cover and leave to simmer for eleven minutes. Whilst the rice is cooking make a sauce. Combine a bit of water, soy sauce, honey (I use 1 tbsp honey to 2 tbsp soy sauce, but experiment to find your preference), any spices and the flour in the mug and stir.
  • Once the eleven minutes is up, turn off the heat and leave to one side (the rice must be left for at least ten minutes), start prepping your veg. Fry the onion in a little oil in a frying pan until soft. Add the other vegetables (depending on what you’re using you may do this in stages, i.e. broccoli needs longer than mushrooms). Once the veg is cooked add the rice and fry for a couple of minutes. Stir the sauce and pour in. Once the sauce has thickened, serve.


Patatas Bravas



Image credit: BBCgoodfood.com


A recipe I sourced from Net Mums, this dish can be served as an accompaniment to something else or works as a meal in itself. And the leftovers make a great lunch the next day! Although you may need to substitute some of the spices, depending on what is available.


You will need (serves 1): 

  • 1 Red Onion (diced)
  • 1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
  • 1.5 tbsp Tomato Puree or Ketchup
  • 2-3 Potatoes (cubed)
  • Pinch of Sugar
  • Oil 
  • Spices (garlic powder, chili powder, and paprika are preferred)


How to prepare:

  • Place the cubed potatoes in an oven tray and drizzle with oil.
  • Cook in an oven preheated to 200℃ (20 - 30 minutes).
  • As the potatoes are cooking fry the onion in a frying pan with a little oil until soft.
  • Add the spices, tomato puree, sugar, and tomatoes and bring to the boil. Simmer and stir for ten minutes until it’s pulpy.
  • Once the potatoes are roasted add the sauce and place back in the oven.
  • Leave until the sauce has reached the desired consistency (I prefer it quite thick). Enjoy!




I found this recipe at All Recipes UK and it’s a great vegetarian recipe that is not much faffing around. Although it does take quite a while to cook, so don’t do this when it’s a busy time in the kitchen!


You will need (serves 1): 

  • 2-3 Potatoes (sliced to 3mm thickness)
  • 1 Red Onion (sliced to 3mm thickness)
  • 2 Tomatoes (pulped, get a bowl and beat them up a bit) OR Half a Tin of Chopped Tomatoes
  • 1 Courgette (sliced to 3mm thickness)
  • 2-3 Potatoes (cubed)
  • 30ml Oil 
  • Salt and Pepper 


How to prepare:

  • Place the potatoes, courgette and red onion in the largest baking tray you can lay your hands on (you want the vegetables layered thinly). Pour the tomatoes and oil over the vegetables and season well with salt and pepper (add any other herbs if you want).
  • Stir everything so that the vegetables are well coated. Place in an oven preheated to 200℃ and leave for one hour.
  • After the hour is up, stir and add a little water if it’s looking dry. Put back in the oven for another thirty minutes, then serve.


Creamy Avocado Pasta



Image credit: Tasty-yummies.com


Another recipe from All Recipes UK, this recipe serves two people and would be a pain to half. So it’s advisable for you to share with a friend or have for lunch the next day. But it is really quick and easy to make, which is why it made it to this list!


You will need (serves 2): 

  • 170g of Pasta
  • 1-2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • Garlic Powder or Fresh Garlic (finely chopped if fresh)
  • 1 Ripe Avocado
  • 2-3 Potatoes (cubed)
  • 2 Tbsp Oil


How to prepare:

  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
  • Whilst the pasta is cooking, in a bowl mash the avocado until smooth, then add the lemon juice, garlic, and oil (you can add a bit of salt here if you want).
  • Once the pasta is cooked, drain and put back in the pan.
  • Add the avocado sauce and stir until the pasta is coated.
  • Serve and enjoy!


Looking to learn how to whip up easy, inexpensive yet delicious dishes that are practical when you’re backpacking the globe? Why not sign yourself up on a budget culinary vacation


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