While traveling, sometimes you just want to put together a quick, cheap meal and get on with your day. In this guide, I explain, step-by-step, how to cook in your hotel room without a kitchen. I outline exactly what tools you need to pack to prepare simple, cheap, and most importantly healthy meals. I also describe exactly what precautions you need to take to stay safe while cooking in your hotel room.
This guide is designed for extreme budget travelers or travelers staying in basic hotel rooms in the developing world.
I just want to start off by saying, be careful using the cooking methods I describe in this article. Some involve cooking over an open flame indoors. You don’t want to accidentally burn down a hotel just to save a dollar on a bowl of rice. You must also be extremely cautious about ventilation. Don’t poison yourself with carbon monoxide. I talk extensively about safety later on in this guide.
Why Cook in My Hotel Room?
I recognize that this idea isn’t for everyone. There are a few valid reasons to cook in your hotel room including:
- To save money- If you buy and cook your own food, you can prepare a decent meal for just a dollar or two. When I travel, I like to keep my food budget to around $5 per day. This is only possible if I cook for myself.
- To eat healthily- Some countries cuisines just aren’t healthy. Maybe they are too greasy or heavy. In these cases, it’s nice to have the option to cook something healthy once in a while.
- To stick to your diet- Maybe you’re a vegan or vegetarian. Maybe you don’t eat pork. You could have a food allergy. In some countries, it’s nearly impossible to avoid certain ingredients without starving yourself to death. Cooking in your hotel room allows you to avoid certain foods.
- To avoid dirty or bad foods- In some parts of the world, it’s nearly impossible to avoid getting food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea. Food hygiene standards are low in some countries. If you travel long enough, you’ll get sick. When you cook your own food, you know that it has been properly cleaned. You know that it isn’t undercooked. You’re far less likely to get sick on your own cooking.
- To save time- Sometimes it’s just quicker to cook for yourself than it is to go to a restaurant. For whatever reason, restaurants in some parts of the world are incredibly slow. I’ve waited over an hour for some eggs and toast while traveling in Africa. Why waste time at a restaurant when you could cook yourself a meal in a few minutes.
Tools You Need to Cook in Your Hotel Room
One drawback to cooking in your hotel room is the fact that you have to carry some extra gear. This adds weight and bulk to your luggage. Luckily, with the increasing popularity of ultralight hiking gear, everything you need weighs just a few ounces. To cook in your hotel room, you need:
- Some type of stove or heat source- I’ll list your options in the following section.
- Fuel or electricity- This depends on the type of stove that you choose.
- A lighter or matches- To light your fuel. You may not need these. It depends on the type of stove that you choose.
- A pot or pan- Something to cook in. I’ll outline your options in the following section.
- Fork and spoon or spork- To stir your food and eat with.
- Knife- To cut food and eat with.
- Can opener- Not required but it comes in handy on occasion.
Stoves and Heat Sources
The ideal stove depends on your travel destination and your expected use. When choosing a stove or heat source, consider:
- The type of fuel you’ll have access to- Not all fuels are available everywhere. Can you buy canister fuels at your destination? If not, you’ll need a stove that can run on denatured alcohol, kerosene, or gasoline. Electric stoves are also an option.
- Transporting the stove- You must consider the flight. Some stoves and most all fuels are not allowed on airplanes for safety reasons. You may have to buy them when you arrive at your destination.
- Where you plan to cook- Will you cook indoors or outdoors? You want to avoid cooking with an open flame in confined spaces. Will you cook at sea level or at altitude? Some fuels don’t burn as well in the mountains.
Universal Gas Stove
If you can only buy one stove, this is your best choice. A universal gas stove can burn kerosene, white gas, or unleaded gasoline. Wherever in the world you are, you can find at least one of these fuels. Because cars are everywhere, you can always get gas.
I recommend the MSR WhisperLite International Multifuel Backpacking Stove. The stove is simple, compact, and can be cleaned and serviced in the field. There are two drawbacks. These stoves are kind of noisy which limits where you can use it. They can also be a bit difficult to use as you have to pressurize the fuel yourself.
Canister Gas Stove
If you’re traveling in the developed world or a region where you can easily buy gas canisters, a simple gas stove is your best option. These stoves are cheap, efficient, and easy to use. They are also incredibly compact. For most trips, these are your best option.
I like the Etekcity Ultralight Portable Outdoor Backpacking Camping Stove. It’s durable, compact, and affordable. The stove runs on 7/16 thread butane or butane/propane fuel canisters.
This is the safest option. There is no open flame so you don’t have to worry as much about starting a fire. No open flame also means there are no dangerous fumes being emitted while you cook.
Electric stoves have two drawbacks. First, they are usually large and bulky which makes them a hassle to carry. You’d probably only want to pack one if you were planning to cook daily. Second, they also require that you have access to an electrical outlet. This means you can’t use them while camping.
A good choice would be the Imusa USA Electric Single Burner. It’s affordable and fairly compact. It also has an adjustable burner.
These aren’t really stoves but they can be used to cook quite a few simple meals. Immersion heaters simply use electricity running through a coil to boil water. They are incredibly cheap and easy to use. You can buy one of these at most grocery stores or hardware stores for just a dollar or two. They aren’t available in all countries due to safety concerns. I like the Norpro Instant Immersion Heater.
This is my favorite type of stove. They are dead simple and fuel is pretty easy to come by. The best fuel is denatured alcohol but you can use any type of alcohol that is high enough proof to burn. That means you can buy fuel almost anywhere. Even the liquor store.
The biggest benefit to alcohol stoves is the fact that you can make your own for free. All you need is a tuna can or soda can and something to punch holes with. Multiple variations exist. For a step-by-step guide to making 5 different types of alcohol stove, check out this great article from bikepacking.com.
Other Possible Heat Sources
Even if you don’t have a camp stove, you still may be able to cook in your hotel room if you’re resourceful.
You can cook a surprising number of meals with a basic coffee maker. The hot plate acts as a small griddle or stove. The pot works for cooking or boiling foods in hot water. The top part where the coffee traditionally goes works well for steaming.
Another great hotel cooking tool. Irons work great for toasting or frying. Find a way to mount the iron with the hot side up, and you can cook a meal in your own pot or pan. You can even use a piece of aluminum foil to cook in.
Many mid range hotel rooms include one of these. If you have a way to boil water, you can cook. Electric kettles allow you to boil foods inside or prepare ready to eat meals that just require boiling water.
Pots and Pans
You have a lot of options in terms of pots and pans. Which you choose really depends on how often you plan to cook, what you plan to cook, and your budget. You can decide between the size and material based on your requirements. Materials include:
- Titanium- The most durable, lightest, and most expensive.
- Stainless steel- Strong, heavy, and affordable.
- Cast Iron- Incredibly heavy and durable. Also pretty expensive.
- Aluminum- Light and cheap but not very durable.
When it comes to size, you want something small enough that it doesn’t take up too much space in your pack yet large enough to cook a full meal in. For one person, around 500ml to 1 liter is ideal. With my 750ml pot, I can cook up a large, filling meal and sometimes even have some leftovers for a midnight snack.
Camping pots come in all sizes from 250 ml to 2 liters or more. Smaller pots are good for quick meals or hot drinks. Larger pots are good for cooking for multiple people.
I like the TOAKS Titanium 750ml Pot. It’s a nice compact size and weighs only 3.6 oz (103 grams). It also includes a lid.
Where is the Safest Place to Cook in My Hotel Room?
Where you cook depends whether you’re using gas or electric. Every hotel is different. Some hotel rooms just aren’t safe to cook in.
Cooking with Gas
Remember, this is a bit dangerous. Only cook in a well ventilated area. You don’t want to poison yourself with carbon monoxide. You don’t want to start a fire and burn the place down. Really, you shouldn’t cook with a gas stove indoors. Having said that, I have done it many times without any issues. The three best places to cook in your hotel room are:
- In the courtyard or parking lot- Again, outdoors is the safest place to cook with gas. Many hotels have large open common areas or paved parking lots where the risk of starting a fire is low. Depending on the type of stove you use, you may get some funny looks while doing this, but most of the time nobody cares. Before cooking outside, make sure camp stoves are okay to use. During the dry season, stoves with open flames may be prohibited in some places due to the risk of fire. You don’t want to get a fine.
- In the bathtub or shower- Here, the walls and floor are usually tile or some other non-flammable material. Another benefit of cooking here is the fact that you can simply turn on the water if your fire gets away from you.
- On the balcony- Here, you have plenty of ventilation so you don’t have to worry about carbon monoxide. You do have to consider the wind. Either set up a wind block or don’t cook if it’s too breezy.
Cooking with Electric
While cooking with an electric stove or immersion heater, you have to set up near an outlet. You don’t need to worry about ventilation. When choosing your cooking location:
- Choose a solid surface that isn’t flammable or sensitive to heart. For example, you don’t want to set up your stove on carpet which could melt or burn. Choose a surface where spills can be easily cleaned up.
- Make sure no drapes, clothes, bedding, or anything else that could catch fire is clear of the stove.
Tip: Don’t Cause any Damage to the Hotel Room While Cooking
No matter what type of stove you’re using, consider the material underneath. You don’t want to cause any damage to the hotel room. You don’t want to cook on top of a flammable material like carpet or materials that are sensitive to heat like vinyl. Make sure that you can easily clean up any spills. Tile and concrete make for excellent bases to cook on.
If you do cause any damage, you’ll probably be fined or asked to pay for repairs. You could also be charged a cleaning fee if the room smells like food when you check out. Do your best to leave no trace while cooking in your hotel room.
What Can I Cook in My Hotel Room?
A little bit of creativity goes a long way in hotel room cooking. Basically, anything that you could cook while camping, you can cook in your hotel room. Some of my favorites are:
- Canned soups- Just dump it in your pot and heat it up.
- Ramen- One of the easiest meals to cook. All you need is hot water. Stir in an egg to jazz it up a bit.
- Boiled eggs- These make for a simple breakfast that you can eat on the go.
- Oatmeal- My favorite breakfast. All you need is hot water.
- Boiled potatoes- Another option that only requires boiling water. Cut the potatoes small so they cook faster to save fuel.
- Rice and beans- This is one of my favorites. It’s cheap, filling, and healthy. To save fuel, soak the beans overnight first so they cook faster.
- Pasta and tomato sauce- Simply boil the pasta and stir in some tomato sauce. I like to jazz it up a bit with some veggies and even a can of tuna.
- Stir fry- Fry up some veggies and meat, add some type of sauce or spices, and serve it over rice. I like to use soy sauce or teriyaki.
- Mac and cheese- Everyone’s favorite meal as a kid.
- Hot sandwiches- Toasted cheese or cooked meats on warm bread.
Useful Ingredients to Carry
Many of the above dishes are pretty bland on their own. A bit of seasoning or sauce goes a long ways. A few items I always carry include:
- Salt and pepper
- Cooking oil
- Hot sauce
- Sugar or some kind of sweetener
- Soy sauce
- Your favorite seasoning or spice
Foods to Avoid Cooking in Your Hotel Room
With a good camp stove and pot, you can cook anything that you can cook on your stove back home. With that being said, there are 2 categories of foods that you should probably avoid:
- Smelly foods- You don’t want to stink up your hotel room. Other guests could smell your food and complain to hotel staff. The cleaning lady could report the smell to her manager. Worst case, the hotel could fine you or charge you a cleaning fee. If that happens, cooking in your hotel room would end up costing you more than if you had just gone out to eat. Foods to avoid include, some cheeses, fish, bacon, garlic, onion, etc.
- Noisy foods- While I’ve never seen a sign explicitly prohibiting cooking in the rooms, it’s most likely frowned upon. Try to keep your hotel room cooking on the down low. That means avoiding foods that are loud to cook. Fried foods are a good example. Boiling grease or frying meats can be loud.
Staying Safe and Avoiding Fire While Cooking in Your Hotel Room
Cooking in your hotel room can be a bit risky. There are a number of precautions you can take to reduce the risk to almost nothing. The biggest danger is, of course, starting a fire. Here’s how to prevent that:
- Know the location of the nearest fire extinguisher- Most hotels have fire extinguishers mounted in the halls. Before cooking, take note of their location.
- Learn how to extinguish different types of cooking fires- For example, grease fires require different technique than food fires to put out. Never pour water on a grease fire. For more info on putting out kitchen fires, check out this article from firerescue1.com.
- Always keep a close eye on your food- Don’t go watch tv while you’re waiting for your food to heat up. Your stove could malfunction or tip over while you’re distracted and start a fire. It’s much easier to extinguish a 6 inch flame than a 6 foot flame.
- Have something nearby to douse out a flame- A bath towel would work well for this. Otherwise, you could sacrifice your jacket if you had to.
- Have some water nearby to throw on the fire- The ice bucket would work well for this. A cup would also work. Remember, don’t pour water on a grease fire.
- If the hotel room doesn’t have a safe place to cook, don’t cook- It’s not worth burning down a building to cook your meal, no matter how delicious it may be. Just go out to eat.
- Don’t burn yourself on your pot handle- Many camp pots don’t have insulated handles. I like to use a sock as an oven mitt.
A Few More Hotel Room Cooking Tips
- Don’t try to get too elaborate- You’ll end up spending more time and money than you would have if you had you just gone out. Your goal is to cook a basic, healthy meal with little supplies. Simple meals can taste good.
- Don’t cook all of your own meals- You want to taste the local cuisine as well.
- Eat meals that don’t require heat to prepare- You don’t need hot food for every meal. Make cold sandwiches, cold-soaked oats, or pre-prepared foods.
How to Cook in Your Hotel Room
Now that we have our heat source, pot, and utensils ready, it’s time to cook. Here’s my process for cooking in a hotel room:
- Decide on a safe location to cook in the hotel room- Remember, if you plan to cook with an open flame and there is no ventilation in your hotel room, don’t do it.
- Gather all safety gear and know the location of a fire extinguisher- This is important. Even though a fire is unlikely, you must be prepared.
- Decide on a recipe- I recommend you stick to simple, quick meals. This reduces the amount of time that your stove is on which reduces your chances of encountering any problems. You’ll also save fuel.
- Gather all ingredients- Make sure you have everything that you need for your recipe.
- Set up the stove or heat source and fire it up- Again, be careful.
- Start cooking- Keep an eye on it.
- Once your meal is done, make sure your stove is off or the flame is extinguished- Some fuels make hot flames that are impossible to see. Alcohol is like this, for example. Make sure it’s really extinguished.
- Enjoy your hotel room meal- Share your recipe in the comments below!
- Clean up to reduce odors- Don’t let the food dry onto your pot or utensils. Cleanup can become a real hassle.
My Experience Cooking in Hotel Rooms
I started cooking in hotel rooms while living in Mexico. I stayed in a hotel for around a week while searching for an apartment. The hotel room was basic and didn’t include a kitchen. During that time, I was going out to eat every meal.
While Mexican food is one of my favorite cuisines, it is pretty unhealthy. Most dishes are greasy and heavy. The cost of eating out every meal also adds up fast. I wanted to cook something cheap and healthy. That’s when I began experimenting with cooking in my hotel room.
I ended up making myself an alcohol stove with a tuna can. I bought a small pot and some alcohol to burn. In the shower, I set up my kitchen and started cooking. I made spaghetti, boiled eggs, rice, beans, and a number of other simple meals. I have continued using this method of cooking in all of my travels since.
These days, I try to keep my food budget to about $5 per day while traveling. This is easy to do when I cook most of my own meals.
For more budget tips to help you reduce the cost of your trip, check out my Guide to Ultra Low Budget Travel.
Final Thoughts on Cooking in a Hotel Room without a Kitchen.
Cooking for yourself, whether it’s in your hotel room or the hostel kitchen, is a great way to save money and eat healthy while traveling. It’s easy to get into the habit of going out for every meal or eating quick, unhealthy foods. While this is fine for a while, it can take its toll on your health and budget if you’re traveling long term.
Carrying a titanium pot and alcohol stove only adds a few ounces to your luggage. To me, having the ability to cook is worth the extra weight and bulk in my pack. If I don’t plan to cook for a while, I can ditch the fuel and save some weight.
Having said this, I always eat a local meal or two out at each destination I visit. This gives me the opportunity to sample the local cuisine.
I’m a big fan of street food so I always enjoy a few meals at roadside stands. I also like to order the national dish at a decent restaurant. This is usually a good bet. Sometimes I like to give exotic foods a try. After all, food is one of the main reasons we travel. It’s all part of the experience.
Have you tried cooking in your hotel room? Share your experience and recipes in the comments below!
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