Living out on the road can be costly, three meals a day plus that coffee etc starts to add no matter where you go. Of course, it depends on how tight a budget you’re on, and another factor to consider is what you’re eating. Especially in Asia.
The use of MSG and salt is prolific, once MSG was introduced there was no turning back as there was simply no way to keep the flavor up to a region of ‘foodies’. The stuff is banned in many countries so that kinda says something. Maybe now and again is ok but probably not continually over a long period. That aside, there’s also the issues about hygiene, preparation, and freshness. Nothing can ever beat a home cooked meal in reality.
Let me get back to the point of the article, keeping healthy and keeping food costs down while traveling. There are few places that you’ll stay at short-term that have kitchen facilities, some hostels may have shared kitchens and at times they can be quite hit and miss. So, until you find somewhere to make a stable base for a while you’ll need to improvise.
Whilst many places don’t have kitchens they will have a kettle, and you should have a cup, or just borrow one from somewhere. This gives you breakfast covered and maybe even surprisingly, main meals covered when you are in a pinch.
When I was in Cambodia I could find a decent breakfast at just a dollar for a baguette and omelet at numerous cafes, but some days I just wanted to hang at the apartment and eat in. The simple solution? Buy some fruit on the way home the night before and together with quick cook oats plus Ensure, that was breakfast. Ensure is a nutritional milk powder sold locally and there are probably other brands out there.
In Asia quick cook oats are everywhere, particularly in China where there are whole supermarket aisles dedicated to things you can mix with hot water and eat, that includes oats. Oats with powdered milk, oats with walnut, oats with red date and on and on and on. You could also get walnut powder to make a drink, and also quite popular is black sesame powder. In some places, there are also stalls which grind up dried nuts, beans, seeds and more to make a powder that can be mixed with hot water and drank.
Of course, instant coffee packets are everywhere in Asia also, you can buy a box full at the supermarket and most common is Nescafe 3 in 1 or go for Kopiko for a richer taste. Or get serious and get an Aeropress and Hario hand grinder plus beans. But then of course, you have to carry that stuff everywhere too.
And that’s not a bad way to start the day, fresh fruit, oats, plus your coffee. And best of all you know it’s clean, fresh and no other garbage added. And, it cost next to nothing and you can map your day out according to your plan rather than planning around going out for food.
Or, if you want to get real fancy, how about omelet in a bag? Simply crack the eggs into a resealable freezer bag, add a little salt and some dried herbs and then mix it up a bit. Push the air out of the bag and roll it up. Into the kettle and boil it, wait a minute, boil it again, wait a minute and then remove it. And here’s a chance to use those ketchup bags you’ve been stashing from fast food restaurants. For this, you must be using a kettle with a pan bottom and not an element.
Technically it’s called Sous Vide a French cooking technique that’s coming back into vogue with app-controlled kitchen appliances such as Anova Precision Cooker.
For another simple meal idea, you could also buy some vegetables, chop into small pieces, into a bowl with boiling water and cover for 3 mins or so. Remove the veggies and place into a bowl and sprinkle with dried herbs.
Of course all the above would be better with a little olive oil, but you probably don’t want to buy and carry a bottle of that around, some supermarkets in touristy areas do stock the small one-serve packets of butter though.
Some finely chopped veggies, chicken stock into a large cup with some noodles (you may need two cups) cover and wait for two-three minutes. Eat at will. You probably don’t have a fridge so you only want to buy enough for that meal or use the remainder in the morning. Veggies to choose depends on what’s available locally think things like celery, carrot, zucchini, ginger, garlic, radish and some greens like spinach and herbs depending on taste coriander or parsley.
And don’t stop with these quick options, you can also heat canned food, boil an egg, and even a lentil curry according to the book ‘How to Cook Without a Kitchen’ by Hugh Morrison.
Learning to Eat Like a Local
Hover around the touristy areas of your new destination will drain your wallet fast, and generally, offer little value. I’ve found that to be true almost everywhere. The best idea is to make friends fast, you cannot beat local knowledge, it’s knowledge that you won’t find in any Lonely Planet guide or travel blog and it will save you a fortune not to speak about seeing the real side of local life.
The price differences are often staggering, using Siem Reap as an example, a meal for two in the central part of town and popular area for new visitors, Pub Street, will set you back at least ten dollars plus. And to be honest, the food is tailored to tourists and far removed from true local cuisine. Head to where the locals go, Road 60, as an example, and you’ll find true local cuisine and get a real insight into local life and culture. The price just a few dollars for two people to walk away completely stuffed!
Locals will also know the good markets to buy from and the safe places to eat. So make friends fast!
Another key point when traveling is keeping hydrated, I’m making a sure fit bet that you are a caffeine addict like the rest of us and you’ll need to be adding extra fluids and getting to an amount appropriate for your weight and conditions.
Some experts say drink 8 glasses a day, some are more specific and say 4% of your body weight. If you’re in a high heat area you need to drink more and also if you are exercising.
When traveling it’s an easy thing to let slip by, with so much going on it’s easy to get distracted from the body’s signals that it’s time for a drink.
It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not. People who grow up in different environments have different gut bacteria, and if you have just landed from the overly sterile western world, then don’t be surprised if your stomach struggles a bit at first.
You may find it useful to carry a bottle of Grape Seed Extract which may help to kill off bacteria at the first sight of a food bourne illness. Or you may choose to just ride it out and let your body grow accustomed to it. But I’m not a doctor and you should seek proper advice if you get an illness that, if not properly diagnosed, may develop into something worse.
There is a guide here which can be useful failing be able to get a proper diagnosis http://wikitravel.org/en/Travellers%27_diarrhea
Put everything in your favor
When you are traveling, and super nutritious home cooked meals are not on the agenda, be sure to stack everything in your favor by skipping on junk foods and looking for the healthy options, for example, replacing coffee with fresh juice, replacing cake with clean fruit, and letting a local guide you to the safe places to get your fill etc.
And once again, let me mention keeping hydrated. It’s essential.