The Portable Kitchen: An Ingenious Family Travel Solution

Recently, my family traveled, spending about a month in a Virginia Beach hotel to be with my husband as he prepared to go to sea. The hotel stay, though it was in an inexpensive off-season room, just about broke our military-family budget. If we’d had eaten out every night, that would have shot and buried it.

For this reason, I chose a hotel with some sort of an excuse for a kitchen. Unfortunately, it came equipped with only a two-burner stovetop, a microwave and a mini-fridge — no dishes, dish soap or cooking implements.

Since this is not the first time I’ve had this happen, I decided it was time to start carting around a portable kitchen for those long road trips.

My first step was choosing a good container. In my case, I chose a medium-sized soft-sided cooler that I could also use for beach picnics and other family outings. To prevent damage (and for later reuse), I lined it with a 13-gallon trash bag. Then I filled it with:

  • Utensils: a sharp paring knife with cover, cutting board, sharp scissors and a can opener
  • A roll of paper towels with disinfectant spray (disinfectant wipes will do as well)
  • Disposable sandwich-size plastic containers with lids
  • Measuring cups and spoons and a small spice kit in a baggie that includes salt, pepper, onion powder and meat tenderizer (modify for your own family’s tastes)
  • Paper plates and napkins and plastic cups and tableware
  • One roll each of plastic wrap and aluminum foil
  • A small bottle of dish liquid and cheap sponges

This sounds like a lot, but packed well, it should only take up the bottom several inches of your cooler. It helps if each small set of items is contained in its own baggie so you can quickly grab what you need.

This also leaves you plenty of space to pack other items on top. Because you’re likely to be tired when you reach your destination, it’s a good idea to include just a few grab-and-eat items like PB & J sandwiches or whole fruit. If you pack chilled items like yogurt or lunchmeat sandwiches, fold the trash bag liner over your portable kitchen to prevent condensation from getting into your supplies.

For rooms with no cooking facilities, a small crock pot and an electric skillet can provide you with rudimentary cooking facilities. For rooms with at least a stovetop, unless you confirm with the manager that they provide cooking utensils, it’s a good idea to get a small pot/skillet set that nests together compactly as well as a small spatula set.

That’s it. Unless you bring canned food and staples with you on your trip, you’ll have to run by the grocery store, but your portable kitchen ensures you’ll have all the other supplies you need to feed your family nutritious and inexpensive meals they’ll love.