Eating out can sometimes be the most expensive part of any trip, so this week I’m sharing some easy vegetarian meals that you can cook while traveling. Taking a few breaks from eating out on your next trip can save you money while ensuring your dietary needs are met throughout you trip. After all, no one wants to feel sluggish and tired while they’re traveling if they can avoid it!
The best cooking advice I’ve ever gotten was from a friend’s mom. She was a notoriously great cook, and she told me that the secret to cooking is to take a recipe and add more of all of the good stuff. For example, if you’re making chocolate chip cookies, follow the recipe but add a few extra chocolate chips. If you’re making a caprese salad, add in some extra basil and mozzarella. It doesn’t take much to make a big difference!
How can I eat healthy and cheap while traveling?
The key to eating healthy and cheap while traveling is to plan ahead as much as possible. Be sure that you’re staying somewhere with a well equipped kitchen, make some time while you’re traveling to stop at a grocery store, and familiarize yourself with basic cooking techniques.
What is “healthy” and “cheap” will vary from destination to destination, but in general you’ll want to be sure you’re eating enough vegetables, proteins, and nuts/seeds. I’ve included meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as some of my favorite snacks to help you in your preparation.
Why you should cook your own meals while traveling
There are two main reasons that I suggest you cook some of your own meals while traveling. First, it’ll allow you to stick to your travel budget, as eating out can quickly add up in most destinations. Second, it’ll allow you to balance out your diet, if needed.
I’ve been to Italy twice, and both times my entire group was fiending for vegetables by the third or fourth day because we ate almost exclusively carbs for every meal. We used meals at home to sneak in some extra veggies and give ourselves a break from the pizzas, pastas, and pastries we had throughout the day.
Whether you’ll need to balance out your diet is entirely personal and dependent on where you’re traveling. If, after a few days, you’re still feeling great from the food you’ve been eating, you probably don’t need to cook at home to make a dietary adjustment.
Likewise, there are some places you’ll visit where it’s cheaper and easier to eat out than to cook in your hostel. This probably won’t be the case in Europe, but it might apply to your next trip to Thailand. Always be adjusting to your body, your surroundings, and your budgetary needs while traveling.
What are the best foods to eat while traveling?
The best foods to eat while traveling are ones that will fuel your travels and allow you to have the best possible experience. I always try to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and nuts when I travel because I’ve found that they help me to have enough energy to enjoy my adventures. Try to balance this with sampling the local cuisine, as you’ll want to be sure to eat pasta in Italy and croissants in Paris.
My rule of thumb is that you’ll want to enjoy the local food anytime you feel excited about it or interested in trying it. If you’re feeling a bit fatigued with pizzas after a few days in Naples, you might want to spend a night or two eating in so that you can make a big fresh salad or veggie-packed pasta dish.
Some destinations will have more plentiful healthy options than others; that’s ok, just do your best wherever you go. Your goal as a World Traveler is to experience the destination and the journey as much as possible, so don’t worry too much about whether you’re doing it right.
Where you can cook when you’re traveling
Sometimes when you’re traveling, the hardest part is knowing where you can cook. If you’re staying somewhere like a hostel or an Airbnb, the answer is typically going to be “in the kitchen.” If you’re ever in a pinch, just use the desk or whatever flat surface you can find. Use a cutting board, paper plates, or even cardboard to prepare your food, taking care not cut yourself (if using a sharp knife) or damage the surface underneath.
Can I cook in my hostel?
Generally speaking, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to cook in your hostel. Most hostels will have a communal kitchen where you can make meals, and they’ll often have cooking basics such as knives, pots and pans, and basic oils and spices from previous guests who have left them behind.
If you’re planning to cook in your hostel, it’s always a good idea to double check the state of the kitchen before you buy ingredients. The overall cleanliness of the kitchen may or may not be acceptable to you, and it’s better to know before you buy ingredients for your dinner. If you know that you want to cook in your hostel in order to save money on your trip, be sure to check the reviews for any information about the kitchen or, failing that, email the hostel before you book to be sure that they have a communal kitchen.
Remember that hostels are typically locally fun businesses, so the amenities and standards will vary pretty widely from one hostel to the next. For this reason, you’ll always want to read the reviews carefully so you know what you can expect when you arrive!
Can I cook in my Airbnb?
Similar to hostels, you’ll find that Airbnbs can vary really wildly in terms of amenities and setups. If you know you want to cook while you’re traveling, read the listing closely and choose a stay that has a decently equipped kitchen. Unlike hostels, you cannot necessarily assume that your Airbnb will have a kitchen!
If you do use the kitchen in your Airbnb, be sure to clean up after yourself and leave the kitchen as close to how you found it as possible. Airbnb hosts are notoriously demanding in their checkout instructions, and some may charge you a cleaning fee if you’re not careful.
How to prepare a meal in your hotel room
Unless you’re staying in a rather unique hotel, you probably won’t have a kitchen in your hotel and you’ll need to stick to the no-cook recipes for vegetarians. That’s ok! There are plenty of quick and easy meals that you can make from your hotel that are vegetarian-friendly.
If you’re planning to travel in hotels, you may want to pack a small cutting board, knife, bowl, dish soap, and utensils to be able to prepare any food. You can easily buy these items from a discount store once you arrive, so there’s no need to worry if you don’t want to bring your kitchen supplies from home.
How to cook while camping
Cooking at a campsite is a skill in and of itself, but there are a few basic things you should know. First, you’ll want to focus on no-cook or one pot meals, since it’s already more challenging to clean up when you’re out in the woods. Second, you’ll want to be conscious of the perishability of any foods you bring.
If you want to bring fresh foods like cheese, cut vegetables, or hummus, you definitely can; just be sure that you’ll be able to keep it cool enough to prevent spoiling. You can always buy backpacking meals if you want an easy but filling meal that weighs very little. My favorite backpacking meal is this pad thai (I just add hot sauce).
Tips for easy meals while traveling
Whenever you can, opt for simple meals while you’re traveling to save yourself time and headaches. The fewer dishes involved, the better! Only a handful of ingredients? Sounds like a winner. If the recipe is intimidating to you, you’ll probably want to wait to try it until you get home.
Shop in local markets
Whenever they’re available, try to shop at local markets for your produce or other local specialties.
This helps local farmers and vendors, and it’s often the best place to buy delicious produce that’s better than the stuff that’s available in grocery chains. Be aware that you may need to haggle with the vendor in order to get a fair price; you can ask your host for advice or Google local customs if you’re nervous.
Aside from local markets, your next best bet is probably going to be the grocery store. Your host or really any other local is likely to be the best source for information about grocery stores. Ask around if you can, since there can be variations in quality and selection even within chains.
Bring your own seasonings
If there are special ingredients you know you’ll want for your trip, you’re better off bringing them yourself. Depending on what you’ll be able to find while you’re shopping your destination, you may want to bring: hot sauce, chili flakes, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and thyme. You may also want to bring your own salt and pepper, even if it’s just some of the small packets that you get from a fast food restaurant.
How do you pack food when traveling?
Once you’ve decided what you’d like to bring on your trip, you’ll want to pack everything in your bag. I recommend taking foods out of their bulky boxes and instead keeping them in ziplock bags. Be sure to double bag any foods that might leak, melt, or get sticky, like syrup or hot sauce.
If you’re bringing a cooler, be sure to keep the most perishable foods near the ice to extend their shelf life. If you’re in doubt about whether a food has spoiled, it’s best to compost it instead of risking a bout of stomach issues on your trip. Keep any foods that might break or squish (think: bread, crackers, bananas) towards the top of your bags or you can grab a small separate bag to carry them.
Tasty Vegetarian Breakfasts
Breakfast should typically be a cheap meal when you’re traveling. If your hostel or hotel doesn’t provide a free breakfast, you can usually grab a pastry and a coffee in town while you’re out and about. However, if you’re someone who needs a filling breakfast before you head out for the day, you’ll want to make your own.
Here are some ideas for vegetarian breakfast meals that you can eat while traveling.
The Very Best Granola and yogurt
Yogurt and granola or milk and granola are classic, filling, and healthy breakfast options for any traveler. If you’re not sure what the options will be when you arrive, I’d suggest that you bring granola with you on the road. You can either make your own using the recipe above, or you can buy some from your local grocery store.
If the place you’re visiting has fresh fruit and vegetable markets, you can grab some local bananas, berries, or apples to add to your granola bowl. Be sure to wash any unpeeled fruit before adding to your breakfast, and stick to peelable fruit (bananas are a great option!) if you have any concerns about hygiene or potable water.
Egg and Cheese Sandwiches
An egg and cheese bagel sandwich is a classic vegetarian breakfast. It’s perfect for a morning on the go because it only takes a few minutes to prepare. You’ll want to grab some bagels, cheese (I like pepperjack), and eggs.
If you’d like to add veggies, these would be great additions: red onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, tomato, and/or sprouts.
Simply toast your bagel, fry or scramble your eggs, and assemble with a slice of your chosen cheese. Top with hot sauce, tomato relish, and/or veggies if desired. You can bring parchment paper or aluminum foil if you need to take your bagel sandwich to go.
If you’re traveling somewhere with large markets full of delicious, fresh produce, a fruit plate is probably the perfect option for your breakfast. Making a fruit plate is super simple, just cut the fruit into bite sizes pieces and arrange on a plate. If you’d like, you can drizzle with honey and lemon juice for a little added complexity.
If you have any concerns about the potability of the water in your accommodation, best practice is to choose fruits that you can peel in order to prevent food safety issues.
Delicious and peelable fruits include: bananas, oranges, and tangerines. If you have a clean knife and cutting board, you can add on any fruits where you’ll need to cut away the skin, like watermelon, mango, papaya, and pineapple. Avoid fruits where you’d normally eat the skin, like apples and pears.
Quick Vegetarian Lunches
In my experience, the best and quickest vegetarian lunches are usually salads and sandwiches. If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, any of the dinner recipes below could certainly be eaten for lunch!
If you’re trying to save money and you’re debating whether to eat out for lunch or dinner, always go for dinner. It’ll be cheaper, and your options will probably be very similar to the dinner menu. Similarly, if you want to try a more upscale restaurant but can’t afford to splurge on dinner, go for a happy hour cocktail or for dessert and drinks.
This broccoli salad from Cookie and Kate is a wonderful travel meal. It’s tasty, healthy, and requires minimal dishes, especially if you buy pre-washed broccoli and toasted sunflower seeds. In the recipe, she tells you how to make a honey mustard dress–you can skip this and buy bottled honey mustard dressing to use instead to cut down on the number of ingredients.
This can also easily be made vegan by swapping the dressing for a vegan vinaigrette and skipping the cheese.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
It feels like you never see peanut butter and jelly on “what to make” lists, but I’m here to change that. A PB&J is probably the original travel meal, and for good reason: it has protein, it has sugar, it’s portable, and it’s affordable. If you’re camping, you can always use a tortilla instead of bread to make your sandwich; it won’t taste as good, but it also won’t get smushed.
I like to do a slight upgrade on my PB&Js by using sourdough bread, natural peanut butter, and a nice jam. I’m also a big fan of potato chips on sandwiches, so I’ll usually add a few just before I eat for a nice crunch. If you’re worried about the jam seeping through the bread, put a peanut butter layer on both slices of bread to create a barrier.
Grilled Cheese with Tomato
There’s something supremely comforting about a grilled cheese sandwich, and sometimes it’s just what I’m craving when I travel. A simple grilled cheese sandwich is only three ingredients: butter, bread, and cheese, and that will make a great meal alone if needed. Tomatoes are widely available and add a bit of fiber and flavor to a grilled cheese sandwich; just add sliced raw tomatoes with the cheese.
Should you decide to dress it up, here are some additional ingredients you can add: onion, tomato relish, dijon mustard, and carmelized onions.
At its most basic, a caprese salad is just tomato, mozzarella, and basil, usually topped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This five ingredient meal is easy to prepare, delicious, and filling on its own. I would only recommend making this salad if you have access to fresh and delicious tomatoes and basil, as the salad is meant to highlight the produce.
If you have some tomatoes but they’re not going to taste very good raw, you can always make a caprese sandwich by adding the ingredients to bread and toasting in a skillet. Alternatively, you can use the tomatoes and basil in the “viral TikTok pasta” recipe that I included below.
Similar to the caprese salad, a Greek salad is intended to highlight the freshness of the ingredients. In this case, you’ll typically see cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, olives, and feta as the central ingredients. If your tomatoes aren’t at the peak of freshness, they will probably taste better in a cooked dish.
Here’s a great recipe for a simple Greek salad, which would tast great with some fresh bread on the side. If you’re traveling, just pick up a bottle of Greek salad dressing instead of making your own as she instructs in the recipe.
Easy Vegetarian Dinners
One of the easiest ways to save money when you travel is to make your own meals, and dinner is where you’ll see the greatest impact of this strategy. Most restaurants increase their lunchtime prices for dinner, offering the same food with a slight upsell for the later seating. If you can make your own dinner even a couple of nights on your trip, you’re likely to save some money (and have a chance to freshen up after a day of adventuring).
Bean and cheese quesadillas
Quesadillas are super simple to make and are perfect for travel meals. All you’ll really need are some tortillas, cheese, and black beans or whole pinto beans for a simple and tasty meal. You can upgrade your quesadillas with salsa, hot sauce, sour cream, avocado, and/or sauteed veggies.
If you decide to add veggies to your quesadillas, the best combinations are peppers and onions or sauteed collard greens. Sautee the collard greens in garlic and olive oil, then top with a bit of acid (lemon juice or apple cider vinegar both work here) and some chili flakes.
I love veggie burgers; they’re one of my favorite foods to make while traveling. All you really need to make veggie burgers is a pan, some oil, some veggie patties, and buns. The more condiments you add, however, the better they get!
You can absolutely take veggie burgers car camping, but know that you must keep them in the cooler and eat them on the same day. You can cook them on a small campstove, and they’re pretty easy to clean up. My favorite brands of veggie burgers are Beyond Burgers, Field Roast, and Pruegers.
Viral TikTok Pasta
You might remember when, sometime in early 2021, a recipe for tomato and feta pasta went viral on TikTok. Stores around the world were running out of feta because everyone was so excited to try to make this dish! Eventually, I, too, had to hop on the trend, and honestly I don’t regret it.
The premise of the dish is simple: you roast cherry tomatoes with feta, garlic, and herbs until the tomatoes burst. Then, you mash up the tomatoes and feta to make a creamy sauce, then pour that over freshly cooked pasta. It’s simple, tasty, and has a decent amount of veggies because of all of the tomatoes.
Here’s the original recipe, but this is a pretty flexible dish. You can use dried herbs and chili flakes instead of fresh, and I’d suggest sticking with any short cut pasta for best results. The author suggests broiling the dish for the last few minutes, which I personally wouldn’t try away from home–just keep the temperature around 400 until the feta is evenly browned.
Pasta with broccoli
Pasta with red sauce is probably one of the easiest homecooked meals you can make, and it definitely belongs on this list. It would be a great idea on its own, and sometimes it’s all you’ll have the energy and time to make. If you’d like to make it a little healthier and tastier, add some garlic, oregano, black pepper, and salt to the canned red sauce to jazz it up a little.
You can also top the pasta with sauteed broccoli with garlic and cheese. My favorite cheese options for pasta and red sauce are: fresh mozzarella (commonly sold in Europe for less than a euro), parmesan (always a good choice), or ricotta. Word to the wise: small curd cottage cheese is a poor man’s ricotta, just put it right on top of your pasta and season with salt and pepper.
Boxed mac & cheese with greens
I have a confession: I love boxed macaroni and cheese, especially Annie’s white cheddar shells. You won’t find boxed mac & cheese almost anywhere in Europe, so be aware that you may need to bring your own in your luggage if you want to try this meal in the EU. If you are near a Tesco, you may be able to find a more expensive–but still good–premade macaroni and cheese dish in the refrigerated section.
Once you have your macaroni and cheese, you’ll want to prepare it according to the instructions on the package. While it’s cooking, sautee some greens in olive oil with garlic in a separate pan. I prefer to make this dish with kale or broccoli, but spinach, collard greens, or even cauliflower would also work. When the macaroni and cheese is done, add add the greens on top and drizzle with hot sauce.
It’s comfort food, but with a little extra roughage.
Beans and rice
One of the simplest and cheapest meals you can make is beans and rice (or beans and quinoa). This dish costs only a few dollars to make and can be pretty tasty, especially if you add in some vegetables and seasoning. Great additions to beans and rice include peppers, onions, jalapenos, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, cheese, tortilla chips, and lime.
If you’re really in a pinch, though, you can get away with beans, rice, and some hot sauce.
Prepared food from the grocery store
Sometimes the best and easiest meal is one that you buy mostly ready to eat. Similar to the macaroni and cheese dish above, you’ll want to make the food as described on the package, then add some veggies or protein to make it a little bit healthier. The safest vegetable for adding to foods is broccoli, because it goes with most cuisines.
You can buy broccoli already washed and cut into florets, then add to ramen, soups, or pasta dishes for an easy meal upgrade. It’s important to eat vegetables while you’re traveling, since a high carb and low fiber diet can tank your energy levels and leave you feeling sluggish on your adventures.
Simple Vegetarian Snacks
I’ve never met a vegetarian who didn’t like to snack! If you have go to travel snacks, by all means pack them. If you’ve been looking for a few new snack ideas, I’ve included some of my favorites below. I always want my snacks to be filling, tasty, and easy–I don’t like to spend much time, if any, prepping my snacks.
Avocado with hot sauce and chips
I have never seen anyone else eat this snack, but I swear by it. If you like guacamole but don’t have the time, patience, or ingredients to make it yourself, I have a shortcut for you. Take an avocado and cut it in half, then dispose of the seed.
Then, fill the hollow part of the avocado with the hot sauce of your choice, taking care not to spill too much on your hands. You’ll then use the chips to scoop out the mixture, leaving you with a tasty snack with only one dish to wash afterwards (the knife).
If you’re not such a fan of the avocado-as-bowl method, you can also scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl and mash it up with a little salt and hot sauce.
Toasted nuts with chocolate chips
Toasted nuts and/or seeds are always a great travel snack. When I can, I prefer to buy raw nuts and toast/salt them myself, as the “roasted” nuts you buy at the store are often deep fried. However, in a pinch or if I’m already on the road, I’ll definitely still buy roasted nuts from the store.
Then, I like to add some chocolate chips or M&Ms in the mix so that I can have a salty/sweet snack. Any chocolate chips you like will work for this purpose, but I usually use dark chocolate chips.
A packet of almond butter
If you like nut butters, you might like to keep a small packet of almond or peanut butter in your bag. They take up little to no room, they’re under the liquid restrictions for most airports, and they can save you if you start to feel hangry. You can always squeeze them onto toast or fruit if you want, but I find that I usually just eat them straight out of the pouch.
I almost never go anywhere without at least one granola bar in my bag, including at least one Cliff Bar. Granola bars are the ultimate portable snack, and you never know when you might really need one. Sometimes things happen when you travel and you find yourself waiting around for hours; at times like that you really need to have a quick snack on hand.
If you really can’t stand Cliff Bars, I don’t blame you–but I encourage you to carry another similarly filling bar in your bag, just in case of emergency.
Best Blogs for Vegetarian Recipes
When I’m not sure what to cook, or if I just need new ideas, I usually turn to food blogs. I’m always impressed by the ingenuity, talent, and creativity of the recipes that I find online. I wanted to share the three blogs I always turn to first, since they have consistently high quality recipes with plenty of comments to alert you to any modifications you may need to make.
Cookie and Kate is a vegetarian food blog that focuses on using whole foods making healthy swaps for classic dishes. Her recipes are reliable and relatively easy to follow, a great option for newer cooks.
In a way, Cookie and Kate taught me to cook! I bought this blogger’s cookbook in 2017 and cooked every recipe in it. Along the way, I learned a number of new techniques that I use all of the time to prepare delicious and vegetarian meals.
Love and Lemons is a vegetarian food blog by Jeanine Donofrio, and it’s a bit more advanced than Cookie and Kate. I love this blog because the recipes are almost always delicious, with interesting flavor combinations I’ve never tried before. As a bonus, her site is organized by fruits and vegetables, so it’s a great place to go to brainstorm what to do with your latest farmer’s market haul.
Half-Baked Harvest is not a vegetarian blog, but the author includes a number of delicious and comforting vegetarian dishes. She also usually offers ways to modify recipes to make them vegetarian or vegan, which I always appreciate. You’ll find more recipes for comfort food than salads on Half-Baked Harvest, but she usually finds a way to incorporate some vegetables without sacrificing any flavor.
Final Thoughts: Easy Vegetarian Meals to Cook While Traveling
Knowing what to cook when you’re on the road can be tough for even seasoned travelers; I hope these easy vegetarian meal ideas can help you on your next trip!
If you’re planning some meals to take on the road, remember to always think about the more annoying parts of cooking and try to reduce or eliminate them. Will you have a big pile of dishes to contend with? Will you need a cutting board or other surface for your meal prep? Will you have dish soap available if you need it?
Do you like to cook while you’re traveling? Do you have any tips to share? Let me know in the comments!