The easiest way to save of money (and stay healthy) while travelling is to cook your own food, but between the fun of making friends and sightseeing, spending hours in a crowded community kitchen sounds like a daunting task. To help you out, we’ve come up with 10 delicious and super-cheap meal ideas you can whip-up in no time! Zero expert-level cooking skills necessary.

You’ll just need a few simple ingredients that you can easily stash in your backpack but are often available for free in most hostels:
  • Oil (olive is best)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Red pepper flakes (if you like it hot)
  • Dried oregano or Italian Herbs Mix

1. Simple Stir Fry

easy ginger chicken stir fry


Eating lots of veggies will help keep your body and mind sharp so you can make the most of your trip! Cook them in a little oil for a quick and tasty way to get your daily veg.

  • Ground beef, chicken or turkey (vegetarian: chopped peanuts or tofu)
  • Frozen or pre-prepared bag of assorted vegetables (or save money by cutting your own pepper, carrots and broccoli into bite-size pieces)
  • Asian noodles like vermicelli or Hoikken (variation: cook your own rice)
  • Teriyaki or Soy sauce

  1. Heat a little oil in the pan and cook meat until brown. Put aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cook noodles (or rice) according to package.
  3. In the same pan, heat a little more oil and add vegetables cooking according to package. If using fresh, cook stirring frequently for 6-7 minutes or until slightly brown.
  4. Add meat and vegetables together. Top with sauce.

2. Chili Con Carne

chilli con carne healthy budget food easy


Laugh, as you watch your hostel friends die of jealousy with this deceptively easy recipe (or just be nice and share it with them). Meat is optional and any kind of ground mince will do. The longer it stews, the more flavourful it will be, but it can be made quickly as well. This is great served with rice or pasta!

Recipe from: 

  • Sweet peppers
  • Ground meat (if using)
  • Garlic seasoning, onions
  • Beans (canned kidney beans work well)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Rice or pasta
  • Cheese

  1. Saute the peppers in a pan with a little oil and mix in the meat.
  2. Cook it all up with the tomato sauce and beans. Add extra spices and chili seasoning to taste.
  3. Mix with some sort of pasta or rice, depending on what’s available.
  4. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired!

3. Wrap It Up

Tomato, lettuce, avocado wrap

Tomato, lettuce, avocado wrap via Flickr

Wraps are unbelievably versatile and make a great healthy lunch for day trips. Think of it as a nutritious salad or stir fry wrapped-up in a delicious flour package. Here are a couple great combinations to get you started:
  • Mexican: cheese, cooked meat (or lentils), bell pepper, onion, avocado, fresh tomato
  • Croque monsieur: spinach, ham, cheese, tomato
  • Vietnamese: cooked meat or omelette, julienned carrot, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, cilantro, sweet & sour sauce or soy sauce
  • Elvis: apple (or banana), peanut butter, cinnamon (optional)
  • Vegetarian: grilled or raw veggies with hummous
  • Caprese: mozarella cheese, fresh basil, sliced tomato, rotissere chicken (optional), drizzled with olive oil
  • Greek Salad: lettuce, tomato, red onion, bell peppers, fetta cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, oregano

4. Pasta con fagioli (Bean Pasta)

spinach parmesan chickpea pasta

Kick up your bean pasta with spinach and Parmesan via Flickr

Pasta doesn't get any simpler (or cheaper) than this! Beans are an inexpensive, vegetarian protein, packed with fibre to keep you going.

  • Can of beans
  • Pasta

  1. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain.
  2. Drain beans and add to cooked pasta with a healthy glug of olive oil, a pinch of salt/pepper, and red pepper flakes (if desired).

5. Baked sweet potato

Stuffed sweet potatoes with tahini sauce

Stuffed sweet potatoes with tahini sauce via Flickr

The sweet potato is a friend to all who travel: just stab it to make sure it cooks evenly, and pop in the microwave for about 8 minutes (depending on size), and turn it halfway through. After removing from the microwave and slicing open your delicious package of goodness, top with anything from grated cheese to sour cream to cooked salmon! This also works for regular baking potatoes.

6. One-Pot Wonders

one pot wonder hawaiian fried cauliflower rice

Hawaiian Fried Cauliflower "Rice" by @erinmarks5

One thing that makes cooking in a hostel extremely frustrating is the lack of available cooking tools. Fortunately, all you need is one pot all to yourself to make beautiful, satisfying meals that you can save for lunch the next day. Plus, you'll have hardly anything to clean up when your done! Just follow this simple formula:
  • One starch (pasta, potato or rice)
  • One protein (meat, seafood, cheese, tofu or beans)
  • Plenty of veggies (such as celery, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, eggplant …)
  • Seasonings

Combine with oil in a frying pan to make a delicious and nutritious meal in no time! Here's a site with some great One-Pot Wonder recipes if you need inspiration.

7. Cheap Tomato Sauce

homemade tomato pasta sauce


Skip the store-bought pasta sauces – they're expensive and packed with sodium and sugar – and make your own simple tomato sauce using ingredients you already have!

  • Italian passata or pureed tomatoes (anything that’s 100% tomatoes will work, but may require different cooking times)
  • The basic ingredients you already have (see above) plus any veggies you like such as onion, garlic, spinach, mushrooms or broccoli

  1. Heat olive oil in a pot on medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oregano, pinch salt & pepper and red pepper flakes (optional), and onion and garlic if using. Cook for about 1 minute until fragrant, stirring constantly.
  2. Lower heat and add tomato passata and more veggies if you want. Cover and cook on medium low for about 10 minutes or until desired thickness.
  3. Serve with pasta and top with Parmesan cheese (optional). Buonappettito!

8. Canned Tuna: the backpacker’s caviar

tuna sandwhich


Tuna is super cheap, low in fat, goes with just about anything and is very portable! Take a can on your day trips with bread, wraps or precooked pasta for a quick and protein-packed lunch. Stir into rice with cooked veggies for an easy dinner. Check out more awesome tuna recipes here – the varieties are endless.

9. Ramen Hacks: more ways to use your noodle(s)

bowl of ramen noodles vegetables


Alongside canned tuna, instant noodles are a backpacker’s lifesaver. They’re probably the cheapest meal you’ll ever find and taste great. Only problem is they’re full of processed ingredients and lack nutrition. Ramp up your Ramen with these cheap and simple upgrades like adding hard-boiled eggs, fresh veggies or simmered meat. Long live the cup-soup!

10. Oatmeal: beyond breakfast

bowl of oatmeal breakfast banana walnut with coffee


Not only is dry oatmeal portable, dirt-cheap and easily prepared, it’s actually so healthy for you it’s considered a superfood! It’s packed with satisfying fibre, nutritious vitamins and minerals, meaning it can help ward off cancer to help regulate your digestive system. Don’t just limit yourself to breakfast, try it with spinach and Parmesan cheese for a hearty dinner, or check out some of these 50 other great ways to use oatmeal!

While cooking might seem like a chore, it’s the best way to cut-down your travel budget and keep you feeling your best. Make it fun by collaborating with others and be creative!

Do you have an awesomely easy hostel-friendly meal idea? We want to hear from you! Share it in the comment section below.

Madeleine Lee