A Grocery list for the Budget Backpacker

if you want to save some pennies get your butt in the kitchen.

Cooking while backpacking is by far one of the most effective ways to cut costs. When we travel we make a very conscious effort to make sure the places we are staying at have a fully functioning kitchen for us to use. Firstly, I love to cook so I need to have access to a kitchen. Secondly, cooking is going to keep your wallet fatter and your waist slimmer.


cooking / Eating healthy is not more expensive.

Before we get started, I want to dispel the myth that eating fresh produce is expensive. Saving money doesn’t need to mean eating instant ramen or pasta with bottled tomato sauce every night. In fact, in most places you will travel fresh local produce will be far cheaper than the brand names you would see back home. It is important to know what type of products are budget-friendly and which aren’t. For example, don’t expect to eat avocado toast with prosciutto every day. Not going to happen within a slim budget. But, there are loads of really flavorful things you can eat, just chose wisely.

Below is a list of budget-friendly items for every backpacker. This is an extensive list not of everything you should buy but of things you could buy during your trip to the local supermarket. Note: some of these items may not be available in the country you are currently in. Also: buying locally grown produce will be cheaper, so stay away from imported goods or brands. There are other inexpensive items outside of this list but these items are the one we think are the most backpacker friendly.


Vegetables

These should make up a good bulk of your shopping cart. Vegetables are nutritious, filling, relatively cheap and a great way to check out the local produce! They are filled with fiber and ‘good’ carbs, things you need while being an active traveler.

  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Bell Peppers

  • Tomatoes

  • Brown Potatoes

  • Sweet Potatoes

  • Broccoli

  • Spinach

  • Carrots

  • Butternut Squash

  • Fresh Peas

  • Corn

  • Zucchini [Courgette in the UK]

  • Cauliflower

Fruit

Stick to the staples. In general, fresh is best, berries are very expensive and it is best to the local produce. For example, mangos may be an indulgence back in the UK but in South America they are pretty cheap. Fruit is a great thing to snack on when on hikes or to fill yourself up in the mornings. They are also a good way to absolve your sweet tooth when you’re craving your third ice cream of the week.

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Oranges / Manderines

  • Grapes

  • Melon

  • Pears

  • Kiwi Fruit

  • Mango (country dependent)

Carbohydrates

Carbs, they are going to be very tempting to the budget backpacker. Super cheap, super easy to make and super yum. Carbs are super important! We need them for energy, especially when you’re doing extreme activities. It is just very important that you don’t completely rely on them when you travel. A diet of just rice and pasta is not going to make you feel great. Try to stick to the whole grains when they aren’t too pricey. As a rule, eat in moderation, buy in bulk. Rice and pasta is not going to go off, so they are something you can carry around with you as long as you don’t mind the extra weight.

  • Brown rice

  • Pasta

  • Wholewheat bread

  • Dried beans

  • Lentils

  • Quinoa

  • Couscous

  • Cereals

Proteins

A very important part of a balanced diet, especially when traveling. If you’re going to be hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, or anything else that requires your muscles to work overtime then you’re going to need to make sure you are consuming enough protein. Proteins in the form of meats are quite expensive so substitute with vegetarian options sometimes to keep costs down.

ANIMAL PRODUCTS

  • Canned Tuna in Oil

  • Chicken (200 - 300g per person)

    • The thigh is cheapest but higher in fat. You will pay a little more for the breast in general but it is much leaner, our preferred option.

  • Eggs

  • Beef Cuts

    • Mince: Try to get the highest percentage of lean meat vs fat.

    • Steak: Depends on the country but in some parts of the world (Latin America) you can get a good chunk of beef steak for pretty cheap.

  • Pork

    • Sausages: Make sure you are buying sausages made with minced pork, not american hot dogs which are highly processed and stuffed with saturated fat.

    • Cured Ham: Not the healthiest option but great for sandwiches when you need a meal on the go.

  • Fresh white fish fillets from the fish market

VEGETARIAN / VEGAN OPTIONS

  • Nuts [Almonds, Cashews, Peanuts]

  • Spinach

  • Canned or Dried Chickpeas / Beans

  • Lentils

Dairy

Yummm, I love dairy products. They are my weakness. In our experience, they aren’t the cheapest of food groups so it’s good you don’t need a lot.

  • Whole Fat or semi Skimmed Milk

    • Consider powered milk if you aren’t staying somewhere for long

  • Individual Yogurts

    • Make sure you try to find the ones lower in sugar

  • Sliced Cheese

  • Cottage or Creamed Cheese

  • Unsalted Butter

Other  

Most hostels will provide the basics for cooking such as oil and spices but it doesn’t hurt to have your own supply just in case. There are a couple other necessities, such as coffee, that are good to have on hand also.

  • Small 500ml Olive Oil

  • Salt + Pepper (Other packaged seasoning if you can find it cheap)

  • Jar of Instant Coffee


If you would like some inspiration of what to create from this list of ingredients check out our backpacker recipes here!