As much as I love to eat outside when traveling and explore new dishes, it can be draining and also expensive, especially when being en route for a longer period of time. Apart from that, I love to prep food myself and explore the local markets and supermarkets for new ingredients to try, including the locals’ favorite spice mix.

Cooking yourself also helps a lot when having special requests like vegan or allergy-friendly food. And frankly, often all I crave are simple and fresh things like a plate full of veggies, which surprisingly often is a thing quite hard to get. As I still want to keep it light and not carry tons of equipment with me, I wrote down the very essentials that I found to be helpful during the last years of traveling and share those with you. If you’ve items to add, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts!

Just some (nerdy) essentials: Chopsticks, homemade fruit and veg soap, hand sanitizer, a water bottle, a reusable coffee filter (!!!), a lunch box, fork, knife, peeler, spoon, spices, a reusable straw (from left to right)

1. A good (pocket) knife

Basic survival equipment. I love my little Opinel, but a small basic kitchen knife also does the job. The advanced version would be a Swiss army knife, that also comes with a corkscrew (!!!), scissors and potentially a bunch of other tools nobody knows what to use for exactly. Pro tip: Don’t leave it in your hand luggage when going through airport security…

2. A reusable coffee filter

I have a serious coffee addiction; it‘s literally the first thing I think of in the morning and you don‘t want me to start a conversation with you before I’ve indulged in some of that heavenly drink! Of course I‘m always tempted to bring my Bialetti coffee maker with me, but as much as I love that guy, it IS bulky and heavy. I found a reusable coffee filter to be the lightest and easiest option to ensure my daily caffeine dose. It doesn’t weight much and you don‘t even need a stove to prep your coffee, a simple kettle will do the job. If you wanna play safe also bring a little bit of coffee for the first few days until you manage to secure a local supply. If you are planning to go into the complete wilderness, consider bringing a mug. Otherwise there always will be some kind of drinking vessel to enjoy your coffee out of…

3. Peeler

This one might be a bit nerdy, but is actually a very helpful tool and doesn’t take up a lot of space. It allows you to quickly and safely remove all of your veggies’ and fruits’ skins which often is the best way to eat stuff you buy en route. It can also be used to make veggie spaghetti and create pretty salads.

4. Lunchbox

I always travel with a lunch box. My favorite one is big enough for a kick ass salad or good amount of sandwiches and ultra leak-proof to avoid a mess. In transit, it serves as a plate, cutting board, transport box for basically anything or just recently to share a giant watermelon with fellow travelers on a chicken bus in Nicaragua.

5. Water bottle

Another mandatory item I‘m taking with me, wherever I go. Give me all those refills straight from the tap! My favorite material is lightweight stainless steel, as it’s durable and hygienic. There are plenty of options and brands to choose from – just make sure it’s high quality and leak-proof and then get that baby traveling!

6. Water filter

When entering certain destinations you realize once again how precious it is to have access to clean, safe and fresh water; it’s something that cannot be taken for granted for many of us. Since it always makes me very sad to buy all those plastic bottles, I‘ve been thinking of adding a water filter to my list (although it will make things heavier and a bit more pricey) and found this article  to be a helpful source of information as there are a lot of different models and techniques plus all their pros and cons. What filter do you use, if you own a to-go version?

7. A spoon and a fork

There are many camping tools, combining all kinds of different cutleries, but I quite honestly like to stay (somewhat) classy here and just go for a light weight steel or bamboo fork and spoon, as they are easier to clean and keep things simple. If you prefer chopsticks go for the metal ones; you can also use these as reusable skewers for a pretty snack presentation en route.

8. Reusable straw

Often it’s more hygienic and fun to use a straw when you’re traveling. If you feel like collecting karma points bring a reusable one that won’t end up as trash in our oceans. I love mine from Eco Brotbox from Berlin, it’s made out of stainless steel and comes with a little brush to clean after use; a very light, eco-friendly and hygienic solution.

9. Spices

I find that when cooking on my travels, I always end up with too many half-used packages of basics like spices and salt, that I don’t wanna carry home with me, but feel bad to toss. Thus I love to pack small amounts of spices that will give me a suitably-dosed variety en route. Little, reusable plastic test tubes are a great way to safely transport them. You can also bring small amounts of oil or toasted seeds for the crunch in them. If you or your country have a very special spice mix, think about packing a few extra tubes and bring some empty ones to trade spices with locals – it‘s a fun way to connect, get in touch and learn from each other…

10. Ziplock Bags

A few leak-proof ziplock bags that you can wash and reuse are a helpful and lightweight thing to have when you love buying souvenirs with a tendency to spill or break in your luggage on the way home. I‘m talking hot sauce, local booze, pickles… all those very fun things that are very nasty when spilled. Ziplock bags are also able to transport your sandwiches, cut veggies, things you collect at the beach… you name it!

13. Hand sanitizer

Always be ready to snack! If you are not able to properly wash your hands go for hand sanitizer, simply bring a small bottle with you when en route. I love the one from Dr. Bronner as it is environmentally friendly and actually smells good.

14. Homemade fruit and veg soap

Nerdy but helpful if you love to eat all the raw stuff and wanna play safe. I use this easy mix at home to get rid of (mainly) pesticides, germs and other things you don’t necessarily wanna eat, and you can also bring a bit of it in a little bottle when traveling. Mix 1/2 cup of white vinegar, 1/2 cup of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 cup of water. For extra strength, optionally add some grapefruit seed extract, as it is highly antiseptic (order online or find it at the health food store). When you wash your food, simply use a few drops of the mix, rub the skin of your veg and fruit with it, let it sit for 30 seconds and rinse it off. You can also wash your dishes with this mix.

Do you cook a lot when traveling? What do you always bring with you?

All images Tabea Mathern