Best Travel Meals for Your Next Hotel Stay
Eating in new and exciting places — and experiencing unfamiliar flavors — has always been a highlight of my travels. But on long trips, dining out every meal can become taxing and expensive, and when you’re staying in a hotel, there isn’t always a way to prepare your own food (nor is this a desirable option for everyone).
Over the years, I’ve found some creative ways to eat things I love that are easy to pack and require almost no prep or refrigeration.
The Travel Meal Challenge
Rushing between airports and hotels, I often get tired of fast food and packaged snacks like granola bars, chips, and trail mix. But there are many factors that my go-to travel meals should ideally abide by. These include:
- Nutrition – A sausage biscuit for breakfast, burger and fries for lunch, cheesy quesadilla for dinner… I’ve had travel days where I don’t even lay eyes on a vegetable. To be fair, if you’re like me, calorie-counting diets go out the window while on vacation. But non-stop junk food can result in digestive upsets and sugar crashes that make the trip less enjoyable. Plus, the healthier you eat, the healthier you feel, and you deserve to be your best self for your trip.
- Cost – Behind airfare and lodging, food is one of the biggest expenses on most trips. When I pack a travel meal, I want it to cost less than a combo at the nearest fast-food restaurant.
- Time – On some trips, cooking outdoors on an open fire or preparing a lavish breakfast is part of the fun. But during the average hotel stay, I want to spend my time exploring. Travel meals must be quick and hassle-free.
- Equipment – Most hotel rooms don’t offer much in the way of appliances. You can probably find a coffee maker or an electric kettle. Maybe you’ll luck out with a mini-fridge and a microwave. Travel meals have to work with what’s in stock.
- Intolerances – Unless you live with a food allergy or intolerance, it can be difficult to understand the burden of not being able to grab just any snack from the vending machine in the hotel lobby. Travel meals must cater to your needs — in my case, a dairy intolerance.
- Taste – Yes, you need to eat in a responsible, healthy, and efficient manner, but don’t forget, you’re on a trip — pick meals that treat your taste buds!
Bonus tip: If you’re flying, travel meals must also be lightweight and abide by TSA liquid regulations.
Best Travel Foods
Whether your room comes equipped with a microwave, a coffee pot, or nothing at all, your hunger can be conquered in a delightful way during a hotel stay. Below are some of my favorite easy travel treats.
A Complete Meal with Only a Microwave
Most hotel rooms today come equipped with a microwave oven. For this reason, I always carry a few bags of microwave popcorn in my overnight bag. Many brands are gluten and dairy-free. At around 360 calories per package, this warm treat can replace a meal if needed.
Popcorn is good in a pinch, but I’m often left craving something a bit more satisfying.
To get in your daily veggies, consider packing a pop-top can of your favorite vegetables (if it’s not a pop-top, don’t forget to pack a can opener) and a microwave-safe bowl. I often opt for a combination of green beans and sliced mushrooms.
Pair this with a microwavable macaroni and cheese cup, and you’ve created a streamlined edition of a classic comfort food meal. Annie’s makes microwavable mac and cheese cups that are both gluten-free and vegan.
Does this meal meet the other requirements? The vegan mac, green bean, and mushroom combination weighs in at around 300 calories and costs less than $5 USD.
If you’re looking for a meal with protein, I suggest packing a can of beans and ready-to-eat rice (or a rice and quinoa combination). To season your dish, bring a small bottle of olive oil (you can find travel-size bottles at many dollar stores), salt, and tear-open packets of lemon juice (found at most delis). When combined, this dish resembles Cuban rice and beans with mojo sauce!
A Complete Meal with Only a Kettle
At times, the only kitchen appliance in your accommodations will be a coffee maker or an electric kettle. Don’t worry! So long as you can make hot water, we can work with that.
Many brands offer instant noodle bowls, where you just need to add water. Snapdragon’s pho and curry flavors are exceptional, rivaling what I’ve had in pho restaurants. The included dehydrated vegetable pack ups the nutritional content, and the meals are easy to make — empty the noodles, oil, and spices into the bowl, add hot water, and wait five minutes before digging in.
Freeze-dried “adventure meals” are all the rage among backpackers and hikers, but they are well-suited to other styles of travel, too. They are lightweight and compact, making them ideal for airline travel. They also need only heated water to prepare. Additionally, you won’t need to bring plates or bowls — they’re designed to be eaten right out of the pouch!
If you have dietary restrictions, finding adventure meals that don’t contain ingredients like wheat and powdered milk can be a challenge. Good To-Go has three meals that cater to these specific needs — the Bibimbap, mushroom risotto, and Mexican quinoa bowl are vegan and gluten-free. I recommend these single-serve meals if you’re traveling solo.
Do they meet all the requirements of the travel meal challenge? Adventure meals average less than $10 USD per pouch. Calories per serving range between 200 and 350.
Are they easy to make? Yes! Heat water using your coffee maker or electric kettle. Tear open the top of the pouch, and pour in the suggested amount. Reseal the pouch and wait 15 minutes while the water is absorbed. Then, enjoy your meal straight from the pouch.
But, you may be wondering, how do they taste? They are surprisingly delicious! Good To-Go even calls their meals “dehydrated gourmet.” And, with Asian and Latin-inspired selections, you can complement your trip with international flavors.
A Complete Meal on the Go
Long airport layovers or full days on the go may necessitate simple, nutritious meals that require no preparation at all. In that case, I like to keep Epic bars and Poshi marinated single-serve vegetable packs on hand — Epic’s bison bar and Poshi’s marinated green beans are my favorite flavors. This combination provides plenty of protein and a full serving of vegetables and costs around $5 USD.
Another option is canned dolmas — stuffed grape leaves. The pop-top cans are easy to open, and the seasoned rice-filled grape leaves drenched in olive oil are uniquely satisfying. One can, costing around $3 USD, is a small meal for two people.
So there you have it, my official guide to tasty travel meals! Bon appetite and safe travels!
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Cara Siera is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer from Tennessee, USA with a background in psychology and sociology. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction’s online journal Brevity, the Red Mud Review, Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal, and countless websites. Cara also curates the work-from-anywhere lifestyle and travel blog Anatomy of Adventure. She is a foodie with a passion for international travel, recipe creation, understanding other cultures, and the great outdoors. Learn more about her work here.