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Cooking in a Hotel Room: Creating a Portable Kitchen

Tonya Prater, Owner

Let’s be honest here. If you’re in vacation mode, the last thing you probably want to do is plan your meals too. To a lot of people, trying new foods when traveling is a huge part of the experience.

But for those that are on a special diet, have food allergies or need to cut cost, cooking in a hotel room (or vacation rental) is a great way to ensure that your diet, health and budget stay on track.

Cooking in a Hotel Room: Creating a Portable Kitchen

There are many reasons one may plan to cook in a hotel room.

Budget, food allergies, diet and time all play a part.

Eating out while traveling can put a big dent in your travel budget. This site states that meals for a family of four would typically cost about $132 a day. This does not include snacks, tips or alcohol which could easily add an additional $50-100 (especially if you imbibe in a couple of your favorite adult beverages). 

I can easily prepare three meals a day in a hotel room for my family for a fraction of that cost. 

What about food allergies? I admit that finding gluten-free and dairy-free options are much easier than they once were but depending on where you’re traveling, options still aren’t widespread. If you have severe allergies, your only option may be to prepare your own food. 

The same goes for diets. If you follow a diet plan to lose weight, you know how easily you can ingest your daily calorie allowance when traveling. Even preparing one meal in your hotel can help minimize weight gain. 

It only takes me a few minutes to whip up a great meal which saves time driving to a restaurant, waiting to be served and driving back to the hotel or resort. Plus, if I enlist the help of my family, our meal can be prepared even quicker and we can call it family time (you may want to insert an eye roll here, nine times out of ten, I’m preparing the meal solo but one could hope). 

Have you ever gone on vacation and longed for a home cooked meal? I have. Plenty of times. Which is actually the real reason that I started cooking in a hotel room. My husband got tired of eating out.  

When our kids were younger, my husband traveled for weeks at a time with his job which often led us to travel with him. When traveling that frequently, the cost of dining out at a nice restaurant was prohibitive and while the occasional stop at McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A is fine, too much of a good thing (or bad, depending on how you look at it) is bad for your health and waistline. 

It was during this time that I began to seek out hotel rooms with a kitchenette. But sometimes that’s not possible and other times, the kitchen wasn’t properly stocked with basic cooking tools, making it hard to prepare the meals I planned. So I started to pack a few essentials. Over time, my list of essentials has grown and so has the number of decent meals I can prepare with limited resources.  

Are you curious as to what I pack in my portable kitchen? Follow along, I’m getting to the good stuff. 

What is a portable kitchen anyway?

A portable kitchen is simply a collection of basic kitchen utensils and items you need to create quick and easy meals in your hotel room. Just so you know, I’m not talking gourmet, but you should be able to create good basic meals while you’re traveling with little advance preparation.

Gather kitchen utensils and other supplies for a portable kitchen.

It’s important to note that my portable kitchen won’t look like yours. I have spent a large number of years traveling and preparing meals in a hotel room so what I opt to pack is based on what I’ve found lacking in most hotel room kitchenettes.

My list of supplies includes:

Items for a portable kitchen
  • Small cooking appliances (choose what works best for you; I have used all of these over the years but typically only travel with one or two at a time). Some ideas: a small George Foreman Grill, an instapot, a kitchen kettle/fryer/steamer,
  • A can opener. I can’t tell you how many kitchenettes are missing a can opener.
  • A small cutting board and paring knife.
  • A large plastic serving spoon and/or spatula.
Collapsible products

Squish offers a line of collapsible products that are perfect for rounding out your portable kitchen without sacrificing valuable space.
Basic Cleaning Supplies are always a good idea

  • A dish towel and scrubbing sponge.
  • Dish washing liquid.
  • Clorox wipes.

I pack all my supplies in a medium sized plastic tote that can also serve as a makeshift sink if I need it to.

Other items that may come in handy.

  • Ziploc bags.
  • Aluminum Foil.
  • Cooking Spray.
  • Salt, Pepper and basic spices.
  • Paper plates, bowls and plastic ware for easy clean-up.

I keep my portable kitchen packed and ready to go at all times so when an opportunity to travel arises, we’re ready to go with minimal preparation, ensuring that my family can continue to eat home cooked meals, even on the go.

What would you add to your portable kitchen?

Disclaimer: I was provided with Squish products to use for the purpose of writing a review (to come). No further compensation was provided. This post does contain affiliate links.


Wednesday 17th of July 2019

We travel a lot for hockey tournaments. I take an electric skillet and a small hot pot. I don’t take a crock pot because I don’t feel comfortable leaving a cp going in the hotel luck it would short out and burn the place down and then I’d somehow be liable or something crazy. Plus, i am just not THAT organized. But the skillet is great. We can make pancakes (easy travel, because a mix and water is all I need, plus syrup). We can grill sandwiches, or heat up a meal that I premake, or make on the spot. One time I made cube steak, but it got a bit too steamy and i was afraid I was going to set off the sprinklers. Haha. So I was cooking in the bathroom.

The hot pot helps heat water super fast, and sometimes I take a small toaster. Great for toast and bagels in the morning....great for when we have a 6 am game and hotel breakfast isn’t ready yet.


Monday 4th of January 2021

A note about travel cooking boxes that you prepare ahead or store for that spur of the moment, "Let's go to the [beach lake, mountains]. Oil and Some spices get old, depending on the time and temperature (I bought a tiny gormet oil (for the size) and had to use it at home bef it got too old.. And if you store for readiness, cans of tuna. Beans, etc, ON THE OUTSIDE OF YOUR LARGE plastic storage tub, pist, in large letters, the expiration date or " best by" date so you can easily see from a distance, and rotate in newer items. FOOD PRESERVATION principles work for preparation for TRAVEL or EMERGENCIES.

Also, after our extensive fires in California this year, the election company is doing rotating power outages during times of very high fire potential. They notified power'd be out 1 day, turned into 3. So my daughter &family went camping. So now everyone there is planning for electricity-free cooking needs. Which is another way to prep foe some kinds of travel!

Tonya Prater

Monday 16th of September 2019

Those are fantastic ideas! My appliances have changed since I first wrote this post and it is on my list of posts to update. I know use an Instapot instead of the crockpot- for the same reason. Plus, an Instapot can cook things so much faster. My favorte it a jr fry daddy that I use as a skillet, to boil water and even to steam things or heat things up. I've traveled with this alone many times and didn't miss anything else. Thanks for sharing your ideas! Cooking in a hotel room has saved us SO much money over the years!

Have Trisha will travel

Saturday 18th of May 2019

I am just putting together some ideas for a travel kitchen. Last year I made a travel picnic case for our trunk when stopping at rest stops. It work well because everything is there and goes right back into the soft cooler. Now I am ready to make another bag for some cooking in the hotel. Thinking of an intapot but I already have a small crock pot a small george foreman a pressure cooker and a hot plate. Might just see how it all fits in a rolling duffel bag. I would add your collasable bowls and maybe a dishpan for clean up is difficult with the small sink and faucets. Let be this blog

Tonya Prater

Saturday 8th of June 2019

I'm in the process of updating this post. :) My new travel kit includes a George Foreman Grill, a jr. fry daddy, an instapot and a collapsible dishpan to match the collapsible bowls. I carry all my items in a bag from Thirty-One Gifts but a rolling duffel bag is good too. The Jr. Fry Daddy is perfect for using it as a skillet, bowling water and even steaming veggies.

Rosa Tribble-MacDonald

Tuesday 5th of December 2017

I'm a Truck Driver, and I cook all the time in my truck. I love these ideas all of you have. I get tired of the same recipes all the time. In my truck I have a mini fridge, crock pot(2qt), microwave, and coffee pot. I use the coffee pot to heat up soups, and cook pasta with noodles. I don't have a lot of space for all that I want, but this post gave me a great deal of ideas to use. Thank you

Tonya Prater

Saturday 16th of December 2017

Thanks so much for your comment, Rosa! I'm glad you found it helpful. I have changed up the items I travel with a bit and plan to update this post. My biggest find was a Jr. Fry Daddy, which was suggested by a reader. I use it to boil water and steam veggies. Now I really can make anything in a hotel room. I have tried the new Instant Pots, but admit I don't understand the craze yet. I may change my mind if they come out with one that is smaller and better suited for one to two people which would also take up less space.


Sunday 4th of December 2016

Coming into this blog 3+ years after it was written -- thank you! Recently found out we have some health issues and going out to eat when we road trip is not good for either of us. So I started packing "the portable kitchen".

I recently put in an induction burner, skillet and saucepan, to go with the other "portable kitchen" necessities. I find that a decent spatula (pancake turner) is also lacking in the average kitchenette, so that's in my kitchen box. We carry our own plates, cups and silverware, too, because we don't always get a kitchenette. (Have you seen how difficult they are to find, these days, except in the extended-stay places?)


Saturday 11th of February 2017

I've considered adding an induction burner to my portable kitchen as well. I may have to give it a try. I've noticed that even when hotels offer kitchenettes, they sometimes charge for the pots, pans, cooking utensils and dinnerware. I made the mistake of leaving my portable kitchen at home when my family traveled to Atlanta last year. We had booked a kitchenette so I thought I'd save space. They charged an extra fee for the items I needed to cook and I ended up running to Walmart to buy what I needed for substantially less than what the hotel charged for two weeks of rental fees.


Saturday 16th of April 2016

We were just relocated due to catastrophic storms that hit our home and will (per the insurance) be in a hotel for the next three months. That being said I am eager to see your post. I am already sick of eating out for a week. Thanks in advance.


Wednesday 20th of April 2016

Sorry to hear about the storms, Erin. Did you see this post? You could make some of these recipes, depending on what equipment you have with you. I invested in a Jr. Fry Daddy for my portable kitchen which allows me to boil water quickly so I can make pastas and cook veggies. I also have a toaster oven, but I don't travel with that as often. Both are relatively inexpensive & if you have the extra money and can greatly increase the type of meals you can cook- especially if you don't have a kitchenette in the hotel room. Protection Status
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