Tag Archives: budget

Waste Not! Foodies On a Budget

27 Sep

We only have one fork.

Cooking without a kitchen or my usual gadgets has made me a more inventive and skilled cook. My recipes are simpler, my dishes are few and I do just about everything by hand. Living out of the van has taught me to use my resources and to see every bit of food as having the potential for a gourmet meal. My boyfriend and I constantly surprise ourselves when we taste the dishes we’ve concocted and it’s inspired us to waste as little as possible and to stretch that dollar as far as we can.

We can still scratch our foodie itch while on the road and a budget – all it takes is a little creativity. We’ve always got a few non-perishables on hand, such as refried beans, canned veggies, rice, pasta and noodles, but we’ve also got the important stuff, like peanut butter, balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, olive oil, honey, Himalayan sea salt, and my homemade exotic spice kit. (We may be living out of a van but that’s no reason to leave my herbs de Provence at home!)

We also try to limit our trips to the grocery store, only buying fresh food once we’ve used up what we already have. However, sometimes we’re in remote areas and don’t have a choice. That’s when the real creativity blooms! Last week, for instance, we camped in Corindi Beach, NSW and the nearest grocery store was 30 minutes away. There was, however, a tiny corner store within walking distance but the half empty shelves, inflated prices and lack of gluten-free items forced us to see how long we could go before stocking up again. I saw it as a challenge.

Challenge 1:

We had some strawberries that had frozen and unfrozen and were no longer appetizing since they were a mushy mess. We also had some pork chops that needed to be cooked that night. We were coming up with side dish ideas when the light bulb went off and I suggested we mash the strawberries, add some honey and sage, and use it as a glaze for the pork chops.

“That could be alright,” said the boyfriend with a raised eyebrow, and I proceeded to cut off the leafy strawberry tops and mash the flesh with the glass bottom of my truffle oil bottle. I handed him the concoction for grilling and then chopped up some broccoli and spring onion (which was also approaching its expiry date) and tossed it in some truffle oil before giving it a quick saute.

The results were amazing and we mmm’d and smiled the whole meal through. We couldn’t believe how well we eat considering our circumstances. (I wish I had photos to share but it was one of those impromptu dinners made with a glass of wine in hand and some music in the background and, I guess I just wasn’t thinking about it. Sorry, readers!)

Challenge 2:

While looking through our “pantry” I found brown bananas that needed to be eaten two days earlier. Banana bread was out of the question so I made a toastie using our gluten-free bread, extra-chunky peanut butter, the sliced extra-ripe bananas, some honey and a little Himalayan sea salt. The ooey-gooey crunchiness of it all was enough to make me look forward to the next culinary challenge and that’s when I found the blue-brie cheese that expired in two days…

Challenge 3:

With the brie in hand I took stock of our fridge and some items stood out to me: a few slices of bacon, the last of the chicken lunch meat, some lettuce, one gluten-free wrap, a tomato, a very ripe avocado and heaps of condiments. This was a no-brainer: I’d make a chicken-cordon-bleu-style quesadilla! I smeared the wrap with our roasted raspberry chipotle sauce, covered one side with slices of the blue-brie, then layered the chicken and cooked bacon and threw it on one of the public barbies. I let it brown on each side then opened it up and added some chopped lettuce, tomato and avocado.

I surprised my boyfriend with half when he was elbows-deep in some IT work and he looked at me in wonderment, not knowing how I could look at the same half-empty fridge as he, and come up with this concoction. But then, he surprises me too sometimes…

Challenge 4:

Our fridge was empty. We had no meat, no eggs, no milk, no fresh veggies except for two small potatoes and half an onion. We were craving fish n’ chips and considered blowing our budget for the day and ordering some from the corner store. But then my boyfriend spotted the ‘prawn-man’ (think ice-cream man but with seafood, kangaroo, goat and duck meat instead of desserts).

My carnivorous boyfriend chatted up the prawn man and bought a couple of flake filets for the price of one mediocre fish n’ chips meal. He pan-fried some potatoes and threw in the filets, which he marinated in onion, lemon juice and herbs de Provence. It had  a beautiful flavor-complexity and was much healthier than the fried and battered stuff we could have gotten down the street. Halfway through the meal I asked what kind of fish flake was. He looked at me like I was a dumb blonde and said, “Shark, honey. Shark.”

I thought shark would be tougher for some reason but this was light and soft (which must be why Aussies call it flake). I ate the rest of my meal, with sadistic pleasure, happy there was one less shark in the water below.

 I daresay we eat better on the road than at home, but at the very least we enjoy it more because of the strategizing that goes into each meal. When I think of all the times in the past that I threw out the perfectly good leafy tops of a celery bunch or those broccoli stems, or when I let veggies go bad because I bought too much of them, I cringe because I’ve trained myself to view food differently. Now, I’d make a soup, a giant salad or I wouldn’t have bought more than I needed in the first place.

Once you challenge yourself not to waste any food, eating your meals has an added sense of satisfaction to it. Now I’m passing the challenge over to you – whether you’re backpacking, living in a home, on a boat, in a flat or in a van – let’s see how little you can waste!

What are some of your favorite cheap meals that pass the foodie test? Do you have any tricks for minimizing waste?

Weighing Your Options: Hostels, Hotels and Couchsurfing

6 Mar

The sign in the bathroom at the Little Bird Hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

When traveling, where you rest your weary head each night ultimately depends on your budget, how much time you plan to spend in your room and if you’re traveling alone or in a group. I’ll breakdown the pros and cons of staying in hostels and hotels versus couchsurfing to give you a better idea of which option best suits you.

Hostels

Pros: 

Community – Hostels are the perfect option for the solo traveler because the common areas and dorm rooms offer plenty of opportunities to meet fellow travelers and find someone to explore the town with or to share a meal. In hostels, you’re hardly alone and since I’ve been traveling the constant influx of travelers from all over the world has been a godsend. Everyday new people come and go and it’s a great way to hear the insider track on destinations you want to go to or didn’t realize you’d want to go to. I’ve found wonderful travel buddies and new lifelong friends through hostels and I’ve also changed my trips around because of the recommendations of others. Hostels are the perfect place to meet your fellow travelers.

Price – Dorm room prices can range anywhere from $1-10 a night. Again, if you’re traveling alone dorm rooms are a great way to go because you pay for your bed, not the room.

Staff – The staff at hostels usually have insider knowledge of the town you’re staying in and can answer your questions with better, more current information than any guidebook can give you. Also, depending on the hostel, the staff will help you book buses, arrange visas and can recommend good restaurants and things to do. Sometimes they’ll even tell you how much a taxi should cost so you don’t get ripped off or they’ll arrange group outings so you can see the town with the people who know it well.

Cons:

Privacy – There is none, unless you opt for a private room which is typically double or triple the price of a dorm. Get used to changing in the bathroom and hearing when your bunkmates go to use it. Also, though I haven’t had this experience myself yet, many of my friends have woken up to the sounds of people having sex in their dorm. Sometimes to save money couples will stay in dorms but then after a few drinks they can’t contain themselves and hope everyone is asleep. Or, as I mentioned before, since you’re constantly meeting people sparks do fly and people get caught up in the moment. Don’t be that person. Take it outside, or in the bathroom.

Community – It was Jean-Paul Sarte who said, “hell is other people” and after sharing a dorm with enough oblivious or just plain inconsiderate people, I’d have to agree with him. In dorms you get the snorers, the drunks that stumble in at four in the morning, bumping into things the whole way, and sometimes you’ll come across a bad seed who will go through your things if you aren’t careful. (If there’s a locker, use it!)

Another issue is that everyone is on a different schedule. Some people want to start their days early, some want to stay out late. You’re all in the same room and when the earlybird is annoyed by the people who wake him/her up in the middle of the night because they’re just getting home, those same people will be annoyed when the earlybird is getting ready for the day and they’ve only had 3 hours of sleep.

Hotels

Pros: 

Privacy – In hotels you can shut the door and enter your own private world. You can sleep naked, go the bathroom with the door open, and waltz around at any hour of the night without worrying about waking up strangers. It’s complete freedom, but it comes at a price.

Cons:

Price – You pay for what you get. If you want a nice bed with a nice view it’s going to cost you, but if you all you want is a place lay your head then find something that fits those standards. If you’re only traveling for a few days or weeks and you’ve got the money, hotels are a great way to treat yourself and feel like you’re really on vacation.

If you’re traveling as a couple or with friends and can split the cost of the room, hotels might end up being more cost-effective and pleasant. When I backpacked with a friend through Europe there were several times when we found that the price of a hotel room for one night was cheaper than paying for two separate beds in a dorm. Look around.

It’s also nice to break up a few weeks of staying in hostels by splurging on a hotel for a night or two. You’ll be revived and ready to go back to shared dorms. You might even start to miss the chaos.

Couchsurfing: 

Pros:

Cultural exchange – With couchsurfing you save the money you would have spent on accommodation and often get a more genuine cultural experience because you’ll be staying with someone who actually lives in the place you’re visiting. Sometimes hosts will let you use their washer machines, cook you meals and even drive you where you need to go. That all adds up to major savings not to mention the fact that you could be making a new friend in the process. Hosts also know where the best restaurants, shops and hidden gems are. They’re a wealth of information and are usually eager to share it with you.

Cons:

Bad hosts – Sometimes you just don’t click with your host and other times you can’t seem to find anyone to host you at all. In places like Europe it’s relatively easy to find a couch but in Asia and America it can be difficult. Couchsurfing takes preparation but you can get lucky if you post in the ’emergency couch’ thread.

Intrusion – The other tricky aspect of couchsurfing is that your host has a life and you can feel like you’re intruding on their routine. They may have work from 9-5 but you want to stay out until 4, or after a few days you could start to feel some tension like they wished they hadn’t accepted your couchsurfing request.

In hostels and hotels you’ll never get that feeling. You paid for your bed/room and you have every right to be there and come and go as you please. Sometimes that’s worth shelling out the extra cash.

Community – While with couchsurfing you have a more honest experience with the country and the people you visit since you get to see the area through the eyes of someone who lives there, you miss out on connecting with the traveling community that is also seeing it for the first time. If your host doesn’t have much time to show you around you could end up going alone but in a hostel you have a lot better chances of finding someone who is excited to see them with you.

Everyone has different reasons for traveling and different ideals for what makes a good trip. Decide if your budget, cultural experience or need to unwind is most important to you. Or, you can do what I do and mix up your trip by choosing to experience all three!

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