“I would rather own a little and see the world than own the world and see a little of it.”~ Alexander Sattler
Back to the Basics
In order to maximize independent adventuring and minimize cost, my partner and I usually tour around in a small car with a trunk and use our tent to sleep in. Sure, there are a few things that need to be worked out such as where to take showers and find toilets along with what semi-healthy food to fill the trunk up with if you don’t have any way to refrigerate things. However, we find that this mode of transportation allows us to go where buses and trains don’t and is at least more environmentally friendly than most larger vehicles would be.
As for showers, it certainly depends what country you are in but, you can usually find campgrounds or recreation centers with these amenities. So even if you are freedom camping most nights perhaps do what we do and splurge on a campground every once and a while so you can take a cold (or hot if you’re lucky) shower and use a proper loo. When you don’t have shower facilities check the area for waterfalls, streams, rivers, or lakes to bath in. When going this route you must forgo the soap as it may harm the delicate ecosystem in these waterways but you will feel amazingly fresh. If there are no running water options available, take some biodegradable wet wipes with you just be sure to pack them out.
When you don’t have a toilet and nature is calling grab your shovel or a natural digging tool and make sure to bury your poo, pack out your toilet paper, and stay a good distance away from any water supplies! Just need to sprinkle? Be mindful of sensitive plants and insects and stay well away from water sources. If you don’t like the idea of having to get out of the tent at night to pee, don’t! That empty, washed out can that once held the beans you had for dinner will work just fine. Ladies, take your Tinkle Belle in the tent with you. It might take some practice but it is easy enough to kneel and pee into the can in the middle of the night inside your tent. A headlamp may be necessary when the moon is shy.
Travel Food List
Okay, now onto what I really want to discuss, food. Necessary to fuel your adventuring body and hopefully delicious and nutritious. I will be talking mostly about pescatarian/vegetarian (ovo-lacto) options since that is what my partner and I currently practice. I am also NOT a nutritionist. For information regarding what foods are healthy for your body seek out books on whole, slow food and consult a nutritionist and/or your doctor if necessary! While it is not always possible we try to avoid added sugar. A three, max five ingredient list on a label helps and it is important what those ingredients are. Basically, we avoid ingredients our grandparents wouldn’t recognize.
I am going to start with a list of everything I can think of that we have bought and found to be good options throughout our world tour. That way if you are done reading by now you can take a quick peek and highlight the items you may wish to add to your shopping list. I will then get into more detail about how we use the items and some creative combinations.
*Hot tips- watch out for some neat tricks below!
First a note on our cooking gear! We have a roughly 10″ aluminum pan (though we prefer titanium), a 900ml titanium pot with a lid, 2 titanium sporks, and a small folding knife. We use either a compact Easy Clic® Plus Campingaz® stove or a compact screw-in (not sure what brand) stove depending on what type of fuel is available.
Reusable water containers and grocery bags are a must! Yes, occasionally you will find it near impossible to get out of a grocery store or a fresh market without acquiring a plastic bag of sorts. However, let’s do our best to deny single use plastics. Some countries now ban plastic bags and some have biodegradable produce bags! Progress.
Water– This should be a no brainer but make sure you have enough containers to carry plenty of fresh, clean drinking water. Fill up at any and all opportunities. Make sure you carry a filter, life-pen, and/or tablets based on your preference as well. We carry tablets as a backup and have had to use them when our filter bag busted at the seams (#don’tknowmyownstrength). These will mostly be used on the trail but prove useful when you don’t have a potable source of water when freedom camping, at some campsites, or in certain countries as well. Water is life.
Bread– Whole grain (Norway rocks at bread btw), no high fructose corn syrup or added sugar. The rougher (more whole) the better.
Whole wheat wraps/tortillas/pita pockets (whatever your flavor)- Much better option than bread to take on multi-day treks. They take up less space and hold up a heck of a lot better! Just make sure if you have a hungry partner that you take enough.
Rice– To be honest we usually buy the cheapest 2-5kg bag of rice we can find because we go through a lot of it. I have read conflicting accounts on eating brown rice versus white in relation to the amount of arsenic that it may contain. Therefore, you will have to make up your own mind on that front.
*Hot Tip- recycle a resealable muesli bag to fill with rice to take on your multi-day treks! Also, a hook and loop strap works well to keep any bag closed and packed tight.
Muesli– We love it! It is such a good energy source and can serve as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anywhere in between. Some manufacturers add a crap ton of sugar so read the labels. New Zealand has an awesome selection. Go NZ (and go to NZ)! Sometimes it can be challenging to find crunchy muesli that can be downed on it’s own. If it looks more like oatmeal it will probably be a bit too dry to consume dry.
Nuts– In my opinion you can never have too many nuts. Besides controversy surrounding sustainable production of some nuts such as almonds, these little buggers are a great source of protein. Our favorites are raw or roasted almonds, raw or salted cashews (if you’re active the salt will help replenish electrolyte stores), and skin-on peanuts. I am drooling just thinking about nuts. Hang on while I grab a quick snack!
Dried fruit– Go great with nuts! Raisins, apricots, prunes, and dates are our go to’s.
Fresh fruit– We find that bananas, apples, and citrus do well in a trunk and will last a week easy. Of course, if someone approaches you while waiting in your car for a ferry in Norway with fresh red raspberries and strawberries you buy and consume them immediately and then apologize to your partner (who is waiting patiently for a turn) that there are hardly any left for him! We haven’t got into canned fruit which would be a good option too but I think whole foods are better when possible and you have to watch the added sugar content in syrup preservatives.
*Hot tip- eat local fruit when available. We love mangoes when in Thailand, for example!
Fresh vegetables– Eek, I am so excited just thinking about fresh veggies. Peppers do great in a trunk. I will buy big bags (or loads without a bag when affordable) of any color pepper when available and they easily last a week. Red onion and garlic cloves also grace our nightly dinners. Unrefrigerated tomatoes of any size seem to do well for up to a week depending on ripeness when purchased. We have also incorporated canned diced tomatoes with green chiles into an abundance of dinners. We do buy other veggies but I will discuss them in the “eat within 24-48(?) hours” section.
Beans and lentils– “beans, beans, a wonderful fruit…” It is true but a rice/bean combo provides a complete protein and when you do not eat a lot of animal protein this is essential! Red, black, white, spotted, 4-bean, lentils, chickpeas, you name it we eat it. Every night. Okay, so we buy canned beans. Dry are arguably more healthy (less added salt) but they need soaked in something the night before you plan to cook them so they get tender more easily. Usually, I drain the brine but if we are doing a multi-day trek and/or don’t have olive oil I may use a little of the brine when cooking.
Peanut Butter– Try to look for no sugar added, no salt added, all-natural, and a single ingredient of peanuts. This may be a difficult task in some countries and sometimes based on availability and/or price you just buy what you can buy.
Honey– Oh my goodness, local honey. Please buy local honey when available and affordable. The only ingredient should be amazing honey made by even more amazing bees.
Spinach, kale, or salad greens- Perhaps this fits better in the 24-48(?) hour category but not if you eat them like I do and besides they are essential. Each time we make a grocery run I grab a bag and down it either immediately after or for lunch or dinner. Sometimes, I buy the salad mixes that come with fixings and a dressing packet and share it all civilized like with my beau. Sometimes, I eat leafy greens straight up and sometimes I add a little dry seasoning and some olive oil. Anyway you look at it we should all be incorporating plenty of leafy greens into our diets so don’t make any excuses and just do it!
Bulgar– a good rice substitute if you feel like a change. Easy to find in Greece and Turkey.
*Hot tip- Tabouli or couscous make a great base for hot or cold meals when affordable.
Pasta– Probably on someone’s essential list but we find our pot is a bit too small to cook a decent amount of pasta. That being said if you make enough veggies to go with it you’ll have plenty of food. Perhaps we just prefer rice. It is nice on occasion especially when we have access to a kitchen with a larger pot.
Pasta sauce– To go with pasta.
Oatmeal/porridge– If we were not so obsessed with muesli we would buy more oatmeal. Oatmeal packets are a sensible choice for breakfast on multi-day treks. Especially if you are looking for a morning warm up.
Crackers– We often have a variety of crackers in our trunk. Occasionally, they make the trek.
Eggs– should be an essential and we do eat them routinely. Buy local when possible, free range, fresh, not refrigerated and they will last up to two weeks. The only reason we do not eat them more often is that they are fragile and it is a pain to clean our pan after cooking.
Olives- Not just tasty, these guys can add some flair and bulk to a boring wrap or a cracker with cheese and hummus.
Pickles– While we don’t have them routinely we will grab a jar when we see a dill variety.
Tofu- Occasionally I have found small boxes of unrefrigerated, firm tofu which is a great addition to a dinner. The small box can be used in one sitting for two people so there is no worry about how to store it and keep it fresh.
Falafel mix- Just add water and fry with a little olive oil in a pan! This is a treat for us as boxes can be pricey. Make a sandwich, add to a salad, or eat with some hummus.
Canned fish– Tuna, salmon, or mackerel. It really depends on where you are or more importantly where the can came from to determine if it is sustainable to eat. Canned fish is a good sources of protein and other vitamins such as iron and go well on sandwiches, crackers, or alone. I personally find canned fish a little strange though I do eat it on occasion.
Olive oil– Great aid for cooking veggies in our pan. May be added to protein powder, honey, water smoothies for your partner who needs extra calories. Also, great for bringing out extra flavor in that bag of spinach I down after leaving the grocery store.
Dry seasoning– We like pepper based seasonings though anything will do. While we can eat peppers, onions, garlic, beans, and rice every night with no problem it is nice to add a bit of flavor.
Sauce or paste– We have found Nando’s sauces do well for 48 hours or a bit longer in a trunk. We also found great single serving packets of different Thai pastes at Pak’n Save in New Zealand (could be elsewhere too just never looked). Of course you have to consider the sustainability of small individual plastic containers.
*Hot tip- Pesto is also a great option for hot pasta and cold pasta or bean salads.
Salsa- Sometimes we put our rice and beans in a soft shell tortilla and then salsa is just an amazing additive. This usually coincides with the purchase of a block of cheese.
Mustard– A small jar of peppercorn mustard tends to stay fresh for a week or so.
Great options to eat within 24-48(?) hours:
Cucumbers– Buy unrefrigerated when available as they hold up longer. Unless you have saved a container with a lid they can be tricky to keep for more than 48 hours in a trunk.
Hummus– We have not tried smashing our own chick peas with a little salt and olive oil yet now that I think of it. Perhaps we could put this in an old peanut butter jar and see how long it would last! We buy premade when we know we are going to eat it within 48 hours.
Cheese– The harder the better as it can last up to 48 hours, although questionable at times, in a trunk. If we buy cheese then we just consume it at every meal and snack until it is gone. Feta is also nice to have on occasion.
Yogurt– Our favorite is Greek yogurt though we have bought other varieties including coconut. Yogurt is a special treat that we will buy if we are camping at a resort or staying in a hostel or b&b for a night with a fridge or if we happen to do a morning shopping run. The classic pairing of muesli sprinkled on top of yogurt finished with chopped fruit is just divine.
Milk- Very rarely we will buy up to a liter of whole milk mostly when my partner has protein powder (veggie based) and we both are in the mood to drink a good amount of milk on a particular day. Most of the time he mixes his protein shakes with water. Of course if we happen to have milk then I get to add a little to my coffee!
Vegetable based protein powder- While this is essential for getting extra calories into some people like my partner this certainly isn’t an essential for me. It keeps extremely well in the trunk and can even be put into a smaller ziplock for extra calories on a multi-day trek.
Protein and/or granola or other meal bars- These certainly keep and travel well. We usually just buy a few before a multi-day trek to have on hand for when hunger strikes. It is best to stave off the hanger. (Of course a snickers still works the best).
Just remember everything in moderation. Luckily, neither of us have a sweet tooth and we consume considerably less alcohol while traveling than at home. Mostly due to cost but also there are less social occasions calling for an adult beverage and we like to be at our best when exploring the outdoors and the world for that matter.
Dark chocolate– The darker, the better! Seriously, the purer the chocolate, the healthier. Of course we have been known to stock up on Snickers before long, arduous hikes such as our 17-day Himalayan trek in Nepal. Summit snickers are the best!
Instant coffee– This may shock you if you are a coffee connoisseur but buying coffee at a shop is just not an option as it is an expensive non-essential. That said, sometimes it happens when we need to find wifi for trip planning and then a cappuccino is ohhh so good!
Wine– Boxed wine does great for the budget and the mind unless you happen to be in South Africa, Portugal, Spain, or somewhere else where you can find uber cheap bottles. If buying bottles remember the opener! Yes, I know that there are particular temperatures specific wines taste best at. However, I find that dry red wines do just fine unrefrigerated. Secretly, red wine and dark chocolate are actually on my personal essential list.
Beer– If you don’t mind warm beer or plan to drink a 6-pack that day…
Liquor– Duty free whiskey, rum or whatever your flavor. May not hurt to have a small, refillable flask to take on hikes with you if you’re into that sort of thing. Mixers can be tricky though we found individual cans of ginger beer work well. Of course, consider the sugar but if we opt to drink alcohol how healthy are we trying to be in this instance?
Now that we have our shopping done let’s start thinking about meal options based on the supplies above!
Muesli and fruit with yogurt if you happen to stop at a gas station or grocery in the morning!
Peanut butter on bread or a wrap by itself, with a little honey or banana or both.
Banana pancakes. A good ratio is 1 banana to 2 eggs. I use a little olive oil in the pan. This seems to be the least sticky way to make eggs and doesn’t require milk or anything else.
Eggs and a piece of fruit or some muesli or both. Second best after banana pancakes is scrambled eggs for us. I usually cook up a little garlic, onion, and pepper in olive oil too (plus tomato if you’ve got ‘em) if I am going to the trouble of making eggs. I find that milk is not necessary. A little oil may subjectively help keep the eggs from sticking to your pan. If we happen to be at a place that has a toaster then we absolutely toast up some bread to go with the eggs.
Oatmeal and a piece of fruit. Oatmeal packets are light and convenient to take on treks. They also provide a nice warm breakfast on a cold morning.
Citrus usually serves as a routine breakfast desert.
Coffee. I usually drink my instant coffee black but you could buy some powdered milk. Alternatively, you could grab some of your favorite tea packets instead.
Lunches for us can sometimes be recognized as extended snacking…
Muesli and a piece of fruit or nuts or both.
Bean salad. Combine cucumber, tomato, fetta, olives, and bean salad with olive oil drizzled on top! Or a simplified version using a can of mixed beans, olives, diced tomatoes, olive oil, and a little dry seasoning. Place in a wrap for added calories! If you have some pesto, add it!
Veggie sandwich/wrap- cucumber, tomato, cheese, olive, pepper, hummus or mustard or both. Basically, any combination of any of these ingredients.
PBB! Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread or a wrap. May slice up some apples instead of a banana for a PBA. My partner adds apricots sometimes. We may use honey if we have it too.
*Hot tip- PBA’s work well for lunches on the trail with a side of nuts.
Crackers and cheese. Also, crackers and anything in the trunk.
Homemade trail mix. Mix into an existing bag of any ingredient that has been eaten down enough to house other ingredients. Nuts, dried fruit, plus/minus muesli. This usually follows or precedes consumption of a whole piece of fruit.
Rice and beans plus/minus any vegetables. Sometimes you go with what you’ve got left.
Pasta and veggies. If we did make pasta for dinner the night before we usually have more noodles to cook and will do so for lunch with some vegetables and olive oil.
Rice, beans, and veggies. This is what we eat pretty much every night unless we just finished a multi-day trek and are treating ourselves to a takeaway or sit-down meal prepared by someone else. There are endless combinations of beans, lentils, and chickpeas with garlic and any color pepper. Add in some tomato or a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles. Add cheese when you have it. Top it with salsa and stick it in a burrito when the craving hits. Find a sauce you like or a dry seasoning to zest it up a bit.
Pasta & vegetables in sauce or pesto plus/minus cheese. When you have rice and beans every night it feels special to make pasta with the vegetables instead. I usually consider this a special occasion meaning that I should of course have a glass of wine at least while preparing the meal. We will often add olives from our jar in addition to any other vegetables we have and have even bought mushrooms for the occasion! We usually do pasta dinners when a kitchen and a larger pot is available.
PBB sandwich. There have been long travel days or just long days in general when I just didn’t feel like cooking rice and beans and scarfed an easy PBB down before bed. Hey, it beats waking up in the middle of the night hungry!
Of course there are times we will stop at little cafes, takeaways, or have a sit down meal and a couple drinks. Usually these are special occasions such as after a multi-day hike, when we need to find some wifi at a cafe and do some trip planning, or when it is raining intensely outside and we have exhausted free entertainment options.
I suppose our menu is more diverse than I thought before jotting it all down! I am sure that there are many other items that could be added that we just haven’t tried so please share in the comments what your favorite camping/trekking foods are!