While traveling, sometimes you just want to cook a quick and healthy meal and get on with your day. This guide outlines how to cook in a hotel without a kitchen. I’ll explain exactly what tools and utensils you need to pack to prepare simple, affordable, and most importantly healthy meals while traveling. I also describe exactly what precautions you need to take to stay safe while cooking in your hotel room. Finally, I’ll share a few of my favorite hotel room recipes.
Eating in restaurants every day gets expensive. It’s also unhealthy and time-consuming. The tips in this guide work great for long-term travelers, business travelers, backpackers staying in hostels, and those who are traveling on a tight budget. You can cook in pretty much any hotel room, even bare-bones rooms without a fridge or microwave.
Table of Contents:
- Why Cook in a Hotel Room?
- Hotel Room Cooking Tips
- Equipment for Cooking in a Hotel Room Without a Kitchen
- How to Pack Cooking Gear
- Stoves and Cooking Appliances for Hotel Cooking
- How to Cook in a Hotel Without a Kitchen
- Hotel Room Meal Ideas
- Useful Ingredients to Carry While Traveling
- Where to Cook in your Hotel
- Staying Safe
- Alternatives to Cooking in a Hotel
Why Cook in a Hotel Room?
Pretty much anyone can benefit from cooking some of their meals in their hotel room. When cooking in a hotel room, you’ll:
- Save money- If you buy food in a grocery store and cook it yoursef, you can prepare a decent meal for just a couple of dollars. When I travel long term, I like to keep my food budget to less than $10 per day. This is an easy budget to stick to if I cook most of my meals myself. I’ll share some low cost recipes later on.
- Eat healthy- Restaurant food isn’t healthy. To make the food taste better cooks add way more butter, oil, and salt than any home cook would. According to this interesting article, restaurant meals contain more calories as well with an average of over 1200 calories. Some countries cuisines simply aren’t healthy. You may find local foods to be too greasy or too heavy. In these cases, it’s nice to have the option to cook something healthy once in a while. When you cook your own food, you can eat more veggies and less fat and salt.
- Avoid unhygenic foods- In some parts of the world, food hygiene standards are low. It’s nearly impossible to avoid getting food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea. If you travel long enough, you will get sick from eating contaminated food. When you cook your own food in your hotel, you know that it has been properly washed. You know that it isn’t undercooked. You also know that it has been stored properly. You’re far less likely to get sick.
- 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. For example, in Vietnam, many ‘vegitarian’ soups contain beef broth. Cooking in your hotel room allows you to avoid certain foods. When you cook for yourself, you know exactly what you’re eating.
- Save time- It’s often quicker to cook for yourself than to go to a restaurant. In some parts of the world, restaurants are incredibly slow. For example, I’ve waited over an hour for some eggs and toast while traveling in Africa. Why waste time waiting around a restaurant when you could cook yourself a simple meal in just a few minutes.
A Few Hotel Room Cooking Tips
- Use local staple ingredients- Local staples are always cheaper than imported foods. If you’re traveling in Mexico, integrate tortillas and refried beans into your cooking. If you’re traveling to Italy, cook pasta. Staples foods are always cheap.
- Don’t cook all of your own meals- Trying different foods is one of the best parts of travel. Be sure to sample the local cuisine during your trip. Every region of every country has a unique and interesting dish to try. Don’t miss out just to save a few bucks. I like to eat at least one decent meal out in every destination I visit. I also eat lots of street food when it’s available.
- Use locally produced ingredients- Local ingredients will often be fresher and tastier because they don’t have to travel. Eating locally-produced foods is also a great way to sample the region’s cuisine. It’s what the locals eat. To get the freshest ingredients, shop in local markets and farmer’s markets. When travelingin the tropics, take advantage of the abundance of fresh fruits and veggies.
- Don’t try to get too elaborate with your cooking- Your goal is to cook an affordable, quick, or healthy meal. If you try to cook full home-cooked meals, you’ll end up spending more time and money than you would have if you had just gone out to eat in a local restaurant. Make simple soups, sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, etc. instead of multi-course meals.
- Eat meals that don’t require cooking- You don’t need hot food for every meal. Make cold sandwiches, salads, cold-soaked oats, or pre-prepared foods. Eating no-cook foods saves time and energy. Check out this list of no-cook recipes for some inspiration.
- Avoid cooking smelly foods- Some foods leave a lasting odor. You don’t want the next guest to have to smell your cooking. You also don’t want the hotel to charge you a cleaning fee. This could cost hundreds of dollars. Avoid cooking smelly foods like fish, bacon, burnt food, onion, broccoli, etc. Also, open a window while you cook. Spray some room deodorizer to get rid of any remaining odor. Cooking in the bathroom with the vent fan on can also help to prevent odors. If you’re staying in a fancy hotel or if the owners are picky, don’t cook.
- Adapt- When you’re looking at recipes, think about how you can cook them with the cooking equipment that you have. For example, if a recipe calls for chicken and all you have is a rice cooker, buy pre-cooked chicken from a deli rather than raw. If you’re in a hurry use instant rice instead of cooking rice.
- Substitute- If an ingredient isn’t available or is too expensive in the country you’re visiting, substitute it for something similar. For some common substitutions, check out this guide.
- Avoid buying any ingredients that you’ll only use once– You don’t want to waste a bunch of food. For example, if a recipe calls for some kind of exotic cheese, consider substituting for a more common variety such as cheddar or swiss. You can use these varieties for sandwiches, on salads, on crackers, in soups, and on pasta. They won’t go to waste.
- Use pre-cooked ingredients- You don’t have to cook everything from raw. If you’re in a hurry, buy some pre-cooked ingredients. For example, you can use deli chicken, ham, lunchmeat, spam, smoked sausages, and other meats in your recipes. All you have to do is heat these meats up and they’re ready to eat.
- Don’t bother cooking dessert- Baking a cake or making cookies in your hotel room is a hassle. Instead, stop by a local bakery and buy some pastries or visit a local ice cream shop and enjoy a scoop of your favorite flavor. If you don’t feel like going out for dessert, eat some fresh fruit.
Equipment You May Need to Cook in a Hotel Without a Kitchen
You will need to pack some extra equipment in order to cook a decent meal in your hotel room. When choosing cooking equipment to pack, try to be as minimalistic as possible. Choose items that are lightweight, packable, durable, and have multi-uses. You can’t fit a full kitchen in your suitcase but you can get close if you choose your cooking gear strategically.
To cook in your hotel room, you may want to pack the following:
- Some type of stove or heat source- You need something to produce heat to cook with. This could be a camp stove, electric hot plate, toaster over, crock pot, microwave, etc. There are also a number of more creative options. I’ll list all of your stove and heat source options in the following section.
- Knife- You want to choose a do-it-all knife for hotel room cooking. You’ll be using your knife to chop foods, peel fruits and veggies, open packaging, and to eat with. A serraded paring knife works perfectly. You can use it to slice bread, chop vegetables, and cut cooked meat. If you plan to cook a lot, consider bringing a non-serraded paring knife as well. This will work better for peeling vegetables and cutting raw meat. If you can only bring one knife, it should be serraded.
- Knife cover- This prevents your knife from cutting through your luggage or other travel gear while it’s packed. By covering your knife, you’ll also avoid cutting yourself while you’re digging through your luggage. Most knives come with a cover. If yours doesn’t, this Mercer Culinary Knife Guard would work well. It’s available in a range of sizes.
- A pot or pan- You’ll need something to cook in. Camp pots and pans are ideal for travel due to their light weight and durability. How many pots and pans you’ll need and what size depends on what you plan to cook and how many people you’re cooking for. If you’re a minimalist, you could get away with a single 500-750ml camp pot. If you plan to cook more elaborate meals, you may want a pot and pan. I’ll talk more about your pot and pan options later on.
- A lid- Your foods will heat up faster if you have a lid to cover your pot with. To cook some foods, such as rice, you’ll need a lid. If your pot doesn’t come with a lid, you can use a piece of aluminum foil. You could aso place your pate over your pot.
- Cutting board- You need something to process your food on. Ideally, your cutting board should be thin, small, and lightweight. This MSR Alpine Deluxe Cutting Board would work well. If you don’t want to carry a cutting board, you could use one of your plates. Don’t cut your food directly on any surfaces in your hotel room. You don’t want to cause damage to the fixtures or contaminate your food.
- Plate– Try to choose a plate that is lightweight and made from non-breakable and microwavable material. You can also use your plate for reheating food if you have a room with a microwave. If you’re a minimalist, you could use your plate as a cutting board. You could get away without a plate if you’re okay with eating out of the pot or pan you cooked in.
- Bowl- Look for a bowl that is microwavable, lightweight, and non-breakable. You don’t absolutely need a bowl. You could use your pot as a bowl instead if you choose. The drawback is that pots aren’t microwavable because they are made from metal. Some camp plates are deep enough to double as a bowl.
- Cup- Something to drink out of. Choose a cup that’s made from a non-breakable and microwave safe material. You may not need a cup as most hotel rooms come with some disposable cups. If you’re a minimalist, you could use your pot as a cup.
- Fork and spoon or spork- You’ll need a fork and spoon for stiring your food and to eat with. Pack one set per person. You can simply bring silverware from home or buy travel silverware. I like this Portable Stainless Steel Flatware Set. It includes a butter knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks, two straws, a cleaning brush, and a nice case to carry it all in. If you’re a minimalist, you could get away with a spork like this Snow Peak Titanium Spork.
- Kitchen tools- Think about which tools you’ll need for the meals you cook. A few helpful tools include a spatula, tongs, slotted spoon, measuring cups. Whether or not you’ll need these denpends on what you plan to cook.
- Can opener- If you eat canned foods, you’ll wan to pack a smal can opener.
- Corkscrew- If you drink wine while you travel, a corkscrew will come in handy.
- Oven mit or hot pad- Some pots don’t have an insulated handle. In this case, you’ll need a hot pad to pick the pot up. You should also place a hot pad under your hot pots so you don’t burn the surface underneath. If you don’t have a hot pad, a sock an work well.
- Sponge, scruber, or towell- You need something to clean your pots, pans, plates, and silverware with. Try to choose a sponge with an abrasive surface. This makes it much easier to scrape off cooked on food.
- Dish soap/ all purpose soap- You’ll need some kind of soap to wash the food off of your pots and pans and dishes as well as to clean up any spills. You don’t want to leave a mess in your hotel room for the maids to clean up. You could simply buy a small bottle of dish soap at your destination. I like to use all purpose camp soap like Campsuds All Purpose Cleaner. You can use this to wash your dishes, clothes, and your body.
- Ziploc bags- For storing leftovers. If your hotel room has a refrigerator,you can cook one large batch and eat the same meal for several days.
- Air freshener- Cooking can get smelly. Bring air freshener to get rid of the odor.
- Fuel- If you use a gas stove, you’ll need fuel to run it. Most types of fuel are not permitted on airplanes. This means you’ll need to buy fuel when you reach your destination.
- A lighter or matches- To light your gas stove.
Chances are, you won’t need all of the above items. If you’re a minimalist, you can get away with a stove, pot, knife, and spork. If you plan to cook more elaborate meals, you’ll need more equipment.
Pick and choose the gear you think you’ll need. Remember, if you forget something, you can always buy it at your destination. Basic cooking equipment is commonly available and affordable.
Sometimes it’s better to buy some of your equipment at your destination. If you want to fly with carry-on only, wait until you arrive to buy a kitchen knife. If you want to use a bulky piece of equipment, like a crock pot, buy it at your destination.
How to Pack Your Travel Cooking Equipment
One drawback to cooking in your hotel room is the fact that you have to pack quite a bit of extra gear. This adds weight and bulk to your luggage.
You’ll want to consider this when packing to avoid going over your airline’s weight or size limit if you’re flying. If you’re taking a road trip, the weight and size of your equipment don’t matter as much. You’ll still want to be careful not to overpack.
Remember, you’ll have to pack all of your cooking equipment up and carry it around every time you move to a different hotel. If you move around frequently while you travel, this can become a hassle. If you’re staying in the same hotel for the duration of your trip, it’s less of an issue.
To keep weight down and save space in your pack, you’ll want to be as minimalistic as possible. Only pack items that are absolutely necessary. Try to choose equipment that offers multiple uses.
Instead of packing a grater, garlic press, and a vegetable peeler, just pack a knife. You can finely chop, mince, and peel just fine with a good knife. You don’t need a bunch of fancy kitchen gadgets to prepare a basic meal in your hotel room.
Also, consider the packed size of your travel kitchen. Try to choose items that can pack inside of one another to save space. For example, you can store your stove, bowl, sponge, and dish soap inside of your pot. Bundle your silverware, can opener, corkscrew, and knife together. Lay flat items like your plate and cutting board up against the walls of your backpack or suitcase.
When putting together your travel kitchen, consider using cooking equipment that is designed for ultralight backpacking. Ultralight cooking gear is much lighter and more compact than standard gear that is designed for your home kitchen. You can save a lot of space and weight this way. For example, a titanium pot weighs around 3-4oz. A comparable pot used for home cooking weighs 2-3 lbs.
Also, remember that some items are not permitted in a carry-on bag. If you pack kitchen knives or a bottle of dish soap, you’ll have to check your luggage. Some types of fuel aren’t permitted on airplanes at all. If you’re using a gas stove, you may have to wait until you arrive to buy fuel for it.
Stoves and Appliances for Cooking in a Hotel Without a Kitchen
In order to cook, you need a heat source. In this section, I’ll outline some of the best types of stoves and small kitchen appliances for cooking in your hotel room. I’ll also suggest a few alternative hat sources that can work in a pinch.
Electric Burner/Hot Plate
For most travelers, a hot plate is the safest and most convenient option. Hot plates don’t have an open flame so you don’t have to worry as much about starting a fire. No open flame also means no dangerous fumes being emitted while you cook. You can safely use a hot plate indoors. The temperature is also easily adjustable on most models. Hot plates are also very easy to use. Just plug it in, turn it on, and start cooking.
Hot plates have two main 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 frequently. Second, hot plates require that you have access to an electrical outlet. In a hotel room, this isn’t a problem. You may not be able to use your hot plate outdoors or while camping,
For travel, I like this Cusimax Electric Burner. It’s affordable and fairly compact. It also offers 7 temperature settings.
To increase safety, consider using an induction hot plate. These only heat objects that contain iron particles. If you accidentally drop a piece of clothing on the cook top, it won’t’ burn. Of course, you still have to be careful. There is still heat and electricity involved.
Universal Gas Stove
This is the best choice for those traveling in the developing world, where electricity or fuel canisters may not always be available. A universal gas stove can burn a wide range of liquid fuels including kerosene, white gas, and unleaded gasoline. Wherever you are, you can find at least one of these fuels.
If you plan to cook indoors, you need to be careful about which fuel you use. You should only cook indoors if you’re burning white gas. If you’re burning kerosine or gasoline, only use your stove outdoors.
When cooking in your hotel room, make sure the room is well ventilated. Open a window and turn on a fan. If the room has a balcony or patio, cook there. Also, don’t cook near anything flammable. If the room has poor ventilation, don’t use your gas stove.
I recommend the MSR WhisperLite International Multifuel Backpacking Stove. The stove is simple, compact, and can be cleaned and serviced in the field.
Tip: Before flying with your stove, clean the fuel bottle carefully. If it has even the faintest odor of fuel, airport security could confiscate it. Use soap and water to clean the container and dry it out thoroughly.
A rice cooker is a surprisingly versatile piece of equipment. In addition to cooking rice, you can use a rice cooker to make hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal, pasta, soups, chili, cooked vegetables, risotto, quinoa, and more. You can also use a rice cooker to bake breads and cakes. For more ideas, check out this guide.
The drawback to a rice cooker is that it’s a fairly large appliance. You wouldn’t want to fly with one. A rice cooker is a good option for road tripping. You could also buy one when you reach your destination.
This Dash Mini Rice Cooker would be perfect for travel. It’s portable and compact and can be used to cook a number of simple and healthy foods including rice, pasta, soups, sauces, veggies, and even cake.
This handy appliance basically combines an electric hot plate and a pan. you plug it in and cook directly to the attached cooking surface. You can cook, fry, or even bake in an electric skillet.
An electric skillet is a bulky appliance. You would only want to use one of these if you’re taking a road trip. If you’re flying, you could buy one once you reach your destination. Entry-level models start around $25.
These days, many mid-range and higher-end hotel rooms come with a microwave. You can use a microwave to cook a wide range of meals if you’re creative.
For example, you can heat up pre-cooked foods such as rice and pasta pouches, canned soups, TV dinners, sauces, and much more. You cook eggs, couscous, and vegetables. You can also boil water for preparing dehydrated foods such as instant mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and ramen.
Slow Cooker/Pressure Cooker
A slow cooker allows you to easily cook a whole meal while you’re out and about sightseeing. Prepare your food in the morning and let it simmer all day. You’ll have a beautiful meal waiting for you when you return.
Pressure cookers produce similar results faster. Slow cookers and pressure cookers are ideal for cooking meats, soups, stews, and casseroles. You can easily cook for multiple hungry travelers.
Slow cookers work well for road trips. With the right adapter, you can run a small one while you drive. They are too bulky to fly with. If you’re flying to your destination, you could buy a cheap one when you arrive.
You can buy a basic slow cooker for $20-$30 then give it away at the end of your trip. If you plan to move around frequently, you wouldn’t want to use one of these. They’re too bulky.
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 a great option. These stoves are cheap, efficient, and easy to use.
They are also incredibly lightweight and compact. An ultralight canister stove weighs just 25 grams and packs down small enough to fit in your pocket.
Most canister stoves use either propane or butane. Both of these can be used indoors if the area is properly ventilated. Open a window in your hotel room and turn on a fan. If you can’t ventilate your room, don’t use your stove. Also, only use the stove in an area where there is nothing flammable nearby.
I like the AOTU Portable Camping Stoves Backpacking Stove. It’s durable, compact, and affordable. It also comes with a case.
These simple stoves burn alcohol. 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.
Alcohol stoves are also incredibly compact and lightweight. If you only plan to cook occasionally, an alcohol stove is a great option. As an added benefit, they, never require maintenance.
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 stoves, check out this great article from bikepacking.com.
The drawback to alcohol stoves is that they can be dangerous. There are two reasons for this. First spilling is possible. The alcohol just sits in the stove. The flame could spread quickly if the stove got kicked or tipped and the alcohol spilled out. The flame is also almost invisible while it’s lit. It would be easy to burn yourself.
If possible, it’s better to use your alcohol stove outside. You can use an alcohol stove indoors if you’re extremely careful and ventilate the room well. Set the stove on a solid surface far away from anything flammable. If there is a risk of your stove spilling, don’t use it.
A toaster oven is an incredibly versatile appliance. You can use a toaster oven to bake meats such as chicken, fish, sausage, burgers, or a small roast. You can bake breads, pastries, and cookies. A toaster oven can also heat up pre-prepared foods such as frozen TV dinners and pizza. Of course, you can toast bread, bagels, and tortillas as well.
This is another large appliance. You wouldn’t want to fly with a toaster oven. You could buy one at your destination or take one with you on a road trip.
These heaters 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 few dollars.
The drawback is that you can only cook meals that require boiling water. This limits you to dehydrated foods and drinks. For example, you could prepare ramen, instant mashed potatoes, instant oatmeal, dehydrated camp meals, etc.
I like this Diximus 300W Travel Immersion Water Heater. It features dual voltage (120/240V) compatibility so you can use it internationally. It also comes with an adapter for EU-style outlets. A travel case is included.
Safety tip: It is possible to shock yourself with these heaters. Never touch the heating element or the water you’re heating when the immersion heater is plugged in.
In many parts of the world, mid-range hotel rooms come with an electric kettle. These allow you to cook a number of simple meals.
For example, you can use boiling water to prepare dehydrated foods such as camp meals, mac and cheese, ramen, etc. Electric kettles also allow you to boil foods inside such as eggs or veggies.
For some more ideas, check out this list of meals you can cook in an electric kettle.
Many hotel rooms come with a coffee maker. If you’re creative, you can cook a surprising number of meals with a basic coffee maker.
For example, you can use the coffee maker to heat water for rehydrating foods such as instant mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, or ramen. You could also cook hard-boiled eggs in the hot water in the pot.
The filter basket where the coffee is supposed to go works well for steaming veggies. Just fill the water reservoir to the top and run the coffee maker and you’ll have a nice serving of steamed vegetables. The hot plate can also act as a small griddle.
If you decide to use your coffee maker for cooking, don’t run any liquid but water through it or you could destroy it. You don’t want to get charged for a new coffee maker.
This is kind of a last resort option if you don’t have any other heat source. It is possible to use an iron to cook food. Find a way to mount the iron with the hot side up. You can cook a meal in your own pot or pan. You can even use a piece of aluminum foil to cook in.
How to Choose a Stove or Heat Source for Hotel Cooking
The ideal stove or heat source for hotel cooking depends on a number of factors including:
- How often you plan to cook- If you’re only going to cook a few times, it doesn’t make sense to bring a bulky cooking appliance. You can get away with a small camp stove and pot. If you’re planning to cook every day, you might want to bring a more elaborate cooking setup.
- What you plan to cook- If you only plan to cook instant or dehydrated foods, all you need is the ability to boil water. You could use your hotel room’s microwave, coffee maker, or electric kettle. If you plan to cook full meals, you’ll need some kind of stove or cooking appliance. A good stove and pot is the most versatile setup.
- The type of energy source you’ll have access to- Not all fuels are available everywhere. For example, if you plan to use a gas stove, you’ll want to make sure you can buy fuel at your destination or choose a universal gas stove. Most types of fuel are not permitted on airplanes for safety reasons so you’ll have to buy fuel when you arrive. If you plan to use an electric stove, you’ll want make sure that electricity is available everywhere you plan to cook. For example, if you plan to camp during your trip, you may not be able to use your stove.
- Your mode of travel- You must consider the size and weight of the stove or heat source. This is particularly important if you’re flying. Airline luggage allowances are pretty small. You won’t want to carry a bulky appliance like a toaster oven or crock pot through an airport. If you’re driving to your destination, the size and weight don’t matter as much. You can find space for any small cooking appliance in your car.
- Where you plan to cook- Will you cook indoors or outdoors? You should never cook with an open flame indoors or in a confined space. Will you cook at sea level or at altitude? Some fuels don’t burn as well in the mountains.
- The type of hotel you’re staying in- If you’re staying in a fancy high rise hotel, you probably won’t want to cook with gas. The windows may not open for ventilation and you won’t want to intorduce odors into the room. If you’re staying in a cheap motel, you could cook outside in the courtyard on a camp stove.
- The voltage and plug design of the electrical outlets- If you’re using an electric cooker, make sure it is compatible with the voltage of the electrical outlets. For example, if you’re traveling in a country that uses 220 volt outlets, you can’t use your 110 volt appliance without a converter. Some appliances are compatible with both 110 and 220 volt outlets. You’ll want to check this before your trip. You’ll also want to make sure your appliance’s plug is compatible with the outlets in your hotel. You could also get a converter. For more info on compatibility, check out this guide.
Pots and Pans for Cooking in a Hotel Room
If you plan to cook with a camp stove or hot plate, you’ll need some kind of pot or pan to cook in. The two most important considerations are the material and size of your pot or pan.
If you’re flying to your destination, a titanium or aluminum pot is best due to its light weight. If you’re taking a road trip, the material doesn’t really matter. You could just take your favorite pot or pan from home. You don’t have to buy special camp cookware if you don’t want to.
When it comes to size, you want something small enough that it doesn’t take up too much space in your luggage yet large enough to cook a full meal in.
For one person, a 500 ml to 1 liter pot is ideal. With my 750ml pot, I can cook up a large, filling meal and sometimes even have some leftovers for a midnight snack. For 2 people a 1.5-2 liter pot is preferable.
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.
If you’re taking a road trip, you can just take a couple of pots and pans from home. When I road trip, I like to take my cast iron pan. It’s heavy but it’s a joy to cook in. I also take a stainless steel pot.
How to Cook in a Hotel Without a Kitchen
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- Look for a cooking area with nothing flammable around. If you plan to cook with an open flame, try to cook outdoors in the courtyard or on the deck. Make sure there is ample ventilation in your cooking area. Also, try to choose a spot where spills will be easy to clean up. If you can’t find a safe location to cook, go out to eat. I’ll talk more about cooking safety later on in this guide.
- 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. Have something nearby to douse out a flame with.
- Decide on a recipe- I recommend you stick to simple and quick meals. This reduces the amount of time that you have to spend cooking. Remember, you’re on vacation. Time is limited. You also don’t have all of the utensils that you’re used to at home. If you’re on a tight budget, choose a recipe that uses cheap ingredients such as rice, bread, pasta, beans, vegetables, etc. I’ll share some recipe ideas later on in this guide.
- Gather all of your ingredients- Make sure you have everything that you need for your recipe. If you can’t find an ingredient, make a substitution.
- Gather all of the necessary equipment- Think about which cooking utensils you’ll need. Gather your pot, spatula, knife, cutting board, etc. so everything is ready to use.
- Prepare your cooking area- Remove any flammable items from your cooking area. Open a window and turn on a fan for ventilation.
- Prep your food- Chop all of your veggies and meat. Measure out all of your ingredients. If everything is prepped first, you can pay more attention to your food while it’s cooking
- Set up the stove or cooking appliance and fire it up– Make sure it’s stable. Also, make sure you have enough fuel and that everything is in good working condition.
- Start cooking- Keep an eye on your food so you don’t burn it or undercook it.
- Once your meal is done, make sure your stove is off or the flame is extinguished- Some fuels make hot flames that are nearly impossible to see. Some cooking appliances get hot.
- Enjoy your hotel room meal- Share your recipe and hotel cooking tips in the comments below!
- Clean up to reduce odors- Don’t let the food sit out and dry onto your pot or utensils. Cleanup can become a real hassle. The food can also start to stink. Clean up immediately after you eat.
- Properly store your leftovers- Let your leftovers cool a bit then put them in the fridge if your room has one. If there is no fridge, eat everything.
What Foods Can I Cook in a Hotel?
Exactly what you can cook depends on the cooking equipment you pack. I have found that a stove and pot is the most versatile option. A little bit of creativity goes a long way in hotel cooking. You’d be surprised what you can cook with some simple tools and ingredients.
Some of my favorite hotel room meals include:
- Canned soups- Simply open the can dump it in your pot, and heat it up. You can also microwave canned soups.
- Instant noodles/ramen- This is one of the easiest meals to cook. All you need is hot water. You can heat water in a microwave, pot, or electric kettle. Stir in an egg or some cooked veggies to jazz it up a bit.
- Eggs- Hard-boiled eggs make for a simple breakfast that you can eat on the go. You can boil eggs in a coffee maker, electric kettle, or in a pot. You can also cook eggs in the microwave.
- Oatmeal- This is my go-to hotel room breakfast. All you need is hot water. Cut up some fresh fruit in your oatmeal to add some nutrition and flavor.
- Potatoes- There are lots of ways to prepare potatoes. You could make baked potatoes in the microwave, boil them in water, or fry them in a pan with some oil. When you cook the potatoes, cut them into small chunks. They’ll cook faster this way.
- Rice and beans- This is one of my favorites. It’s cheap, filling, and healthy. Simply cook some rice and heat up some pre-cooked canned beans. To save time, use instant rice. Add some hot sauce for flavor.
- Canned or frozen vegetables- These can be microwaved or heated in a pan. They make a great healthy side dish. You can also add them to soups and pasta dishes.
- Pasta and sauce- Simply boil the pasta and stir in your favorite canned pasta sauce. If you’re in a hurry, use instant pasta. You can use tomato sauce, pesto, alfredo, or any other type of pre-made sauce. I like to jazz my pasta up a bit with some veggies.
- Stir fry- Fry up some veggies and diced meat, add some type of sauce or spices, and serve it over rice or pasta. I like to use soy sauce or teriyaki and hot sauce to add flavor.
- Mac and cheese- Everyone’s favorite meal as a kid. You can make the stovetop variety or the instant variety. For hotel room cooking, the instant version is faster. All you need is boiling water.
- Hot sandwiches- Toasted cheese sandwiches are quick and easy to make if you have a stove. Add some lunch meat for a bit more substantial meal. Hot sandwiches go great with soup.
- Frozen meals/TV dinners- You can heat these up in a microwave or toaster oven. These aren’t very healthy but they are fast, easy, and surprisingly tasty.
- Instant mashed potatoes- All you need to make these is boiling water. These are a great side dish.
- Couscous- This is another dish that can be cooked with boiling water. Couscous is an excellent side dish. It goes with meat, seafood, or veggies.
- Toast- Ifyou have a pan or toaster oven, you can easily make toast. This is a great simpe breakfast or snack. Smear some peanut butter or nutella on it to make your snack a bit more substantial.
- Pre-cooked rice/pasta pouches- These heat up in the microwave in seconds.
- Various fresh vegetables- Veggies are versatile. They can be microwaved, steamed, fried, or boiled. I like to add broccoli, spinach, and peppers to my cooking.
- Hot dogs and hamburgers- Shape some ground beef into a patty and fry up a burger in a pan. Hot dogs can be fried, boiled, or microwaved.
- Seafood- Fish, shrimp, and shellfish are great choices if you’re near the ocean. One benefit of seafood is that it tends to cook faster than meat from land animals. Serve with a side of cooked veggies, rice, or pasta.
No-Cook Meals You Can Prepare in a Hotel Room
You don’t have to cook every meal. There are plenty of healthy meals that don’t require any heating. A few options include:
- Sandwiches- Buy some fresh bread, lunch meat, cheese, and some greens and make yourself a nice sandwich. Tuna or peanut butter and jelly are also good options. To make your meal a bit more interesting, consider making your sandwich on a local style of bread. For example, if you’re in Grease, use pita. If you’re in France, use a baguette. If you’re in Mexico, make a wrap with a flour tortilla. Add some chips or fresh veggies as a side. This is one of my go-to hotel meals.
- Salad- Buy some fresh greens, wash them off in the hotel room sink, tear them up, and drizzle some oil and vinegar or your favorite dressing on top. Add some tomatoes, olives, or avocado to make the salad a bit more exciting. Add some canned beans or tuna for protein.
- Cheese and crackers- Buy a nice block of local cheese and some crackers and enjoy a simple lunch. Add some ham, salami, or pepperoni for a bit more protein. Eat some raw veggies such as carrots, bell peppers, or avocado on the side to make the meal a bit healthier.
- Pre-prepared foods- There are plenty of pre-prepared foods that you can buy in grocery stores and delis that require no heating. Examples include cold fried or baked chicken, sushi, wraps, pasta salads, potato salad, bagel and cream cheese, sandwiches, and more. It is generally faster and cheaper to buy these pre-prepared meals in a grocery store or deli than buying the same meal in a restaurant. You can take the food to your hotel to eat.
Useful Ingredients to Carry
In your home kitchen, you probably have dozens of types of herbs, spices, sauces, oils, etc. When you’re cooking in your hotel room, options are a bit more limited. Many of the above dishes are pretty bland on their own. A bit of seasoning or sauce goes a long way. A few items I always carry in your pantry include:
- Salt and pepper– These are staples. Add salt and pepper to any bland food to add some flavor.
- Olive oil- Pure olive oil can double as a cooking oil and salad dressing. You can also drizzle it over pasta, bread, pizza, or any number of other foods. Alternatively, you could also use butter.
- Hot sauce- Add a little kick to your food. I like to sample different hot sauces while traveling. Pretty much every country has a local hot sauce. While living in Mexico, I tasted over a dozen varieties until I found my favorite, El Yucateco.
- Sugar or honey- Having a sweetener comes in handy. You can add it to your coffee or tea, oatmeal, or to sauces.
- Soy sauce- This works great for stir fry. You can easily add some sweetener or spice to change the flavor to suit your taste. It also works great as a marinade. You can also add it to soups for more flavor.
- Seasoning blend- If you plan to cook one style of cuisine, consider bringing a seasoning blend. For example, if you’re traveling to Mexico, pack a Mexican seasoning blend. You can buy one pre-made or mix your own at home. The benefit of this is that you only have to bring one bottle instead of multiple types of seasoning.
- Your favorite seasoning, herb, or spice- If you really like a particular flavor, bring it with you.
- Your favorite condiment- If you really enjoy a particular condiment, pack a small bottle. Some condiments are extremely versatile. Examples include ketchup, barbecue sauce, mustard, and mayonnaise.
- Rice, pasta, or instant noodles- These are incredibly versatile, affordable, and common foods. They can be eaten as a side or you can add some veggies or meat and sauce and turn them into a meal.
- Bread- This is a versatile food and affordable that can be eaten as a side with almost any meal. You can also turn your bread into a sandwich. Most countries specialize in a different style of bread. Visit a local bakery and try out some local fresh-baked varieties.
- Beans- These are a great source of protein. They are versatile as well. You can add beans to salads and pasta dishes. You can eat them as a side or eat them with rice as a meal. I like lentils because they cook up fast.
- A can of tuna- I always carry a can of tuna with me while traveling. If I get hungry or don’t feel like cooking, I just eat tuna on bread or with crackers. It’s a simple, healthy, and filling meal.
You don’t need to bring these ingredients with you. They’re available pretty much everywhere. Simply stock up when you arrive at your destination. If one of your favorite ingredients isn’t available, buy a local alternative.
Try not to buy too much food. It’s a hassle to carry around a bunch of open packages. Buy what you need and restock frequently. This costs a bit more but you’ll end up carrying less around and you’ll waste less.
Foods to Avoid Cooking in Your Hotel Room
There are a few categories of foods that you should avoid cooking in your hotel room:
- Smelly foods- You don’t want to stink up your hotel room. Other guests could smell your food and complain to hotel staff. Housekeeping could report the odor to management. 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. Cleaning fees can cost hundreds of dollars. Smelly foods to avoid cooking in your hotel room include fish, bacon, garlic, curry, onion, some types of cheese, burnt food, etc.
- Messy foods- You don’t want to make a mess, stain fabrics, or draw ants in your hotel room. Avoid cooking messy foods. Examples of messy foods include baked goods and fried foods.
- Large pieces of meat- It can take hours to cook a big piece of meat like a roast or whole chicken. It takes even longer if you’re using a small appliance. Stick to smaller cuts of meat or pre-cooked meats instead. If you buy a large chunk of meat, cut it into thin steaks or cubes so it cooks faster. The only exception is if you’re using a slow cooker. In this case, you’re expecting your meal to take hours to cook.
- Hazardous foods- Some foods need to be cooked thoroughly in order to be safe to eat. Some foods also need to be kept at a particular temperature so they don’t go bad. Try to avoid foods that could give you food poisoning. Some foods that you need to be careful with include seafood, meat, and eggs. You must be particularly careful if your room doesn’t have a refrigerator.
- Noisy foods- Some foods create quite a bit of noise when cooking. For example, the sound of grease sizzling while you’re frying foods can get loud. This could potentially annoy other guests. This would only be an issue if you’re staying in a cheap motel with paper thin walls .
Where Should I Cook in a Hotel?
The best place in your hotel to cook depends on whether you’re using a gas or electric cooker. Every hotel is different. Some hotel rooms just aren’t safe to cook in.
Cooking with Gas
Only cook in a well-ventilated area. You don’t want to poison yourself with carbon monoxide and other contaminants that your stove emits. Also, don’t cook near anything that is potentially flammable. You don’t want to start a fire. Avoid cooking with a gas stove indoors.
The three best places to cook in your hotel room are:
- In the courtyard or parking lot- Outdoors is the safest place to cook with a gas stove. Most hotels have large open common area outside or a paved parking lot. Look for a flat spot on a concrete, gravel, or dirt surface whre you can set up your stove. 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.
- 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. Also, make sure there is nothing flamable nearby.
- In the bathtub or shower- Here, the walls and floor are usually made from 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. Most bathrooms also have a vent fan or window as well.
Cooking with Electric
While cooking with an electric hot plate, microwave, kettle, rice cooker, slow cooker, immersion heater, you have to set up near an electrical outlet.
You don’t need to worry as much about ventilation because electric appliances don’t put off any gasses. You should still consider odor. Food smells can linger.
Set up your cooker on a solid surface that isn’t flammable or sensitive to heat. For example, you don’t want to set up your stove on the carpet which could melt or burn. Make sure no drapes, clothes, bedding, or anything else that could catch fire is clear of the stove or appliance.
You’ll also want to choose a surface where spills can be easily cleaned up. The bathroom works well. If you spill some sauce on the tile floor you can simply wipe it up.
Staying Safe and Avoiding Fire While Cooking in Your Hotel Room
Cooking in your hotel room can be a bit dangerous. You risk starting a fire, burning yourself, and breathing harmful gasses if you’re not careful. There are a number of precautions you must take to reduce the risk of causing damage or injuring yourself.
To stay safe while cooking in your hotel room:
- Know the location of the nearest fire extinguisher- Most hotels have fire extinguishers mounted in the halls. Before cooking, take note of their location. If you can’t find one, look at the safety card in your room. It should tell you where the fire extinguisher is. If you’re on a road trip and you have your own fire extinguisher in your vehicle, consider bringing it into your room with you.
- Make sure there is nothing flammable near your stove or cooking appliance- Set up your cooking area away from any curtains, bedding, towels, carpeting, clothing, wood, plastic, or anything else that could catch fire. You don’t want to start a fire. Keep in mind that the underside of your stove or appliance can get hot as well. Only cook on a heat-resistant surface such as concrete or tile.
- Learn how to extinguish different types of cooking fires- Different types of cooking fires require different techniques to put out. For example, putting out a grease fire requires a different approach 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. Before trying to put out a fire, turn off the heat source.
- Have something nearby to douse out a flame- If the fire is in a pot, put a lid on it. Pouring salt or baking soda on a flame also work well to douse it out.
- Have some water nearby to throw on the fire- The ice bucket would work well for this. Remember, don’t pour water on a grease fire! It will spread.
- Use the fire extinguisher- If you can’t extinguish a flame by dousing it out, use the fire extinguisher. That’s what it’s there for.
- Only cook in a well-ventilated area- This is particularly important if you’re cooking with a gas stove. Burning propane, kerosene, butane, alcohol, and all other fuels put off carbon monoxide. If you breathe too much carbon monoxide, you can suffer carbon monoxide poisoning. This can be deadly. For more info, check out this article. To avoid breathing harmful gas, only cook in well-ventilated areas. Open a window and turn on a fan while you cook. Cook on the hotel balcony if you have one or cook outdoors. If you can’t properly ventilate the hotel room, don’t cook in it.
- Avoid cooking with an open flame indoors- If you’re using a gas stove, consider doing your cooking outside.
- Always keep a close eye on your food- Don’t go watch tv or go to the bathroom 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.
- Don’t use too much cooking oil- Using too much oil creates a fire hazard. Grease fires are dangerous and difficult to extinguish. They can spread easily.
- Make sure your cooking surface is stable- Never cook on an unstable surface like the bed.
- If the hotel room doesn’t have a safe place to cook, don’t cook- It’s not worth risking burning down a building to cook your meal, no matter how delicious it may be. Just go out to eat or eat something that doesn’t require cooking.
- Don’t burn yourself on your stove or pot handle- Many camp pots don’t have insulated handles. I like to use a sock as an oven mitt. Also, be careful around your stove. On some stoves, like alcohol stoves, the flame is almost invisible. It would be easy to burn yourself. Cooking appliances can get hot as well. Make sure everything is cooled off before you touch it.
- Don’t use your stove or cooking appliance if it’s not working properly- Before you start cooking, check for gas leaks or damage to your cooker. If you spot any issues, don’t use it.
- Call for help- If you start a fire that you can’t get under control or if you burn yourself, call emergency services for help.
If you take the simple precautions outlined above, you shouldn’t have any trouble cooking in your hotel room.
Food Safety While Cooking in a Hotel Without a Kitchen
Food poisoning is a risk if you don’t safely prepare and store your food. It’s a bit harder to stay hygienic when cooking in a hotel because you don’t have a full kitchen to work with. You may also not have a refrigerator.
Practice good food safety while cooking in a hotel. Be sure to wash your hands before cooking and after handling food that could contain pathogens, such as raw chicken. Also, wash your cutting board, utensils, and pans thoroughly between uses. Avoid cross-contaminating your food.
Storing food can be a challenge if you’re staying in a basic hotel room that doesn’t have a refrigerator. Some foods go bad quickly if they’re not kept cold. You’ll want to take this into consideration when planning your meals.
To avoid giving yourself food poisoning, buy your refrigerated ingredients right before you plan to cook. Only cook enough food for your meal. Eat everything so you don’t have leftovers. You shouldn’t leave perishable foods out for more than 2 hours, according to the FDA.
If you want to keep food chilled but your room doesn’t have a refrigerator, a good option is to use a cooler. Most hotels have an ice machine on each floor that dispenses free ice. Fill your cooler when you arrive to keep your food cold.
If you’re taking a road trip, you can bring a big rigid cooler with you. If you’re flying to your destination, you can buy a disposable cooler when you arrive or pack a folding insulated bag or even an insulated lunch box.
This Coleman Collapsible Cooler would work well. It is designed to keep ice for up to 20 hours. It folds down flat so you can easily pack it in your suitcase.
How to Avoid Causing Damage to the Hotel While Cooking
No matter what type of stove or heat source you’re using, consider the materials nearby. 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 where you’re cooking. You don’t want to leave food stains on the carpet, bed, or curtains. Tile and concrete make for excellent bases to cook on.
It’s also important to consider odors. Leaving your room stinking of fish or burnt food could be considered damage.
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. Some hotels charge hundreds of dollars for cleaning if you make a mess of the room.
Do your best to leave no trace while cooking in your hotel room. Everything in the room should look and smell like it did when you arrived.
Can I Cook in a Hotel Room? A Few More Considerations
It’s important to note that some hotels prohibit cooking in the room. If you’re caught cooking in a hotel room where cooking is prohibited, you could be charged a cleaning fee or you could get kicked out. If you plan to cook extensively, check the hotel rules before you book. Avoid hotels that don’t allow cooking.
You’ll also need to take smoke into consideration. This is important if you use a cooking method that can produce smoke, like frying. You don’t want to set off a smoke alarm in your room.
The electrical system is also worth considering. Some cooking appliances draw a lot of electricity. If you’re staying in an old building or a poorly made building, you could trip a circuit breaker. you don’t want to overload an outlet.
Drawbacks to Cooking in a Hotel
Cooking in your hotel isn’t for everyone. A few reasons you may not want to cook in your hotel room include:
- You’ll miss out on trying local foods- The food you’re cooking in your hotel room will not be authentic. Chances are, you’ll cook meals you eat all the time at home. You’re missing out on the experience of eating local foods whenever you cook for yourself.
- It’s a hassle- Going grocery shopping, setting up your stove, chopping veggies, cooking, and cleaning are all annoying little tasks. While you’re on a vacation, you probably want to take a break from these tasks.
- It may be against the rules- Many hotels prohibit cooking in the room. You’ll see this listed in the hotel rules. If you don’t feel comfortable breaking the rules, you may not want to cook in you hotel room.
- You have to pack heavy and bulky cooking gear- If you’re an ultralight traveler, you won’t want to cook in your hotel room. It simply requires too much buky equipment.
Alternative Options: Stay in a Hotel, Hostel, or Airbnb with a Kitchen
If you don’t feel like carrying around cooking equipment in your luggage, just book yourself into accommodation that includes a kitchen.
On the lower end, many guesthouses and hostels have a shared kitchen for all guests to use. These basic kitchens usually include a refrigerator, stove, pots and pans, and some utensils. For more info, check out my guide to choosing a hostel.
You will have to share the space and equipment. Shared kitchens get busy during meal times. If you use a shared kitchen, be sure to label your food in the fridge with your name and check-out date so nobody eats it.
In the mid-range, consider booking an Airbnb instead of a hotel. Most hosts allow you to use the kitchen. Renting an Airbnb is often cheaper than booking a hotel room with a kitchen. Before you book, be sure to double-check to make sure the property has a kitchen that you can use. Some lower-end properties only come with a hot plate and kettle.
If you have a higher budget, you can book yourself into a higher-end hotel room that includes a full kitchen. You’ll usually have to book a suite to get a kitchen.
If you don’t want to or can’t cook in your hotel room, you can find another place to cook. If you pack a gas camp stove, you could cook in a park or on the beach. You should check the rules first but in most cases, it’s fine to cook in these places.
My Experience Cooking in a Hotel Without a Kitchen
I started cooking in hotel rooms while living in Mexico. I stayed in a hotel for around a month while searching for an apartment. The hotel room was extremely basic. It didn’t have a kitchen, fridge, or any appliances. During the first couple of weeks, 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. Even street food gest expensive. 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 out of a tuna can. I bought a small pot and some denatured alcohol for fuel. 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.
When I ran out of fuel, I upgraded to a basic hot plate. started cooking slightly more elaborate meals. I also bought an immersion heater at a grocery store that I used to make tea and coffee.
I have continued using the methods outlined in this guide during my travels. Usually, I pack some kind of camp stove and a titanium pot. Occasionally, I will bring or buy a hot plate.
When cooking for myself in a hotel, 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.
Of course, 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.
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.
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. Cooking for yourself in your hotel is a great way to save money and eat healthy while traveling.
Carrying a small pot and camp stove only adds a pound or two to your luggage. These items don’t take up much space either. To me, having the ability to cook is worth the extra weight and bulk in my pack.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to cooking in a hotel room. Most importantly, you won’t get to experience as many local meals. You’ll end up cooking basic foods that you eat at home. You’ll also have to deal with the hassles of cooking. Shopping for ingredients, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up are annoying little jobs that you may not want to deal with while on vacation. Of course, you also have to take plenty of safety precautions so you don’t start a fire, bun yourself, or inhale dangerous gasses. You also have to carry some extra equipment that takes up space in your pack.
Have you tried cooking in your hotel room? Share your experience and recipes in the comments below!
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