On my first backpacking trip, I was up to my eyeballs in hot, steamy, delicious food. I still reminisce about the best meals I ate over those months (numero uno: huevos rancheros in Granada, Nicaragua).
Latin America is a food paradise, but there was something frequently missing: fresh food.
Vegetables were not a part of every meal. I went days or weeks without eating any vegetables besides potatoes, and those were usually deep fried. Fresh fruit is everywhere and easy to eat, but it takes more work to work veggies into your meals.
The effects of not eating properly accumulated after a few weeks: I felt unwell, I kept getting colds and my stomach was not operating as usual.
Now when I travel, I take these items in my pack to make eating fresh food easier and to stay healthier while on the road.
1. Single kitchen knife with sheath / One of my big challenges with eating fresh food was the lack of kitchen amenities. Finding a hostel with a kitchen was rare – maybe once or twice a month I had access to even the basics. This will vary depending on where you are in the world and how much money you’re spending, but carrying a few basics is a game changer.
I recommend an actual kitchen knife over a pocket knife because it can keep things more sanitary and the blade is the right size for the job. This can give foods like broccoli, sweet peppers, carrots, etc. the snack potential. If you pick up something fresh at a market or grocery store, now you can do something with it.
I picked this knife up at TJ Maxx years ago for a couple of dollars, but here’s a similar one on Amazon. Or even better, you may have something at home already. I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money on a fancy one in case you accidentally leave it in your carry-on bag going through and airport and it’s confiscated.
2. Produce bags / I wish I had these bags with me in Latin America, where huge markets were overflowing with fresh fruits and veggies.
The obstacle with eating fresh food right from the market: the food isn’t washed, and odds are there won’t be a strainer at the hostel to wash everything.
Say you want to take some delicious fresh blueberries on a long bus rise: how are you going to clean them? Handful by handful in the bus terminal bathroom? And then load up all of the rinsed blueberries back into the plastic bag that they came in? I’ve been there, and it’s a mess.
Produce bags are mesh and food can be washed directly through the bag. The food also keeps better in the mesh bags because the water dries and they have fresh air, unlike a plastic bag (which should always be avoided anyway because of the plastic epidemic in the ocean).
The bags are also virtually weightless and take up almost no space. I’ll never travel again without a few in my pack. You may be able to find mesh produce bags at your local grocery store, or they can be bought on Amazon.
3. Spices / I found this little travel spice assortment at a camping store after my trip, and it could’ve saved me from a lot of boring meals. I don’t eat meat, and would’ve loved some Old Bay or curry powder to toss on the eggs and rice that I ate pretty much every day.
If you’re not big into cooking, this packing items may not be for you. My fiancé and I love to cook and did so at every hostel with a kitchen, so little things like spices on the road feel like a luxury to us and expand our food horizons.
4. Vitamins / Disclaimer: I’m not a healthcare professional. But given my experience on the road, I think it’s a safe bet that your body won’t be getting the prime amount of nutrients.
Halfway through my Latin America trip, I went home to the US for family matters and then returned traveling. During the first half of my trip, I wasn’t taking any vitamins. While I was home, my doctor recommended specific vitamins for me to take, and I took them religiously from that point forward.
I felt a huge difference. I had more energy, my stomach functioned more regularly, I had fewer colds. I will never travel again without a supply of vitamins that lasts the whole trip.
A packing tip for handling bottles: to make the bottles take up less space, empty them into Ziplock bags and label them with the information that you need to remember.
While we’re talking about vitamins.. Does vitamin B really keep mosquitoes away?
One of the vitamins my doctor recommended for me was vitamin B, and it just so happens that some people believe B makes you unappealing to mosquitoes. It was recommended to us in the Amazon to take B to help minimize exposure to malaria.
Before taking daily vitamins, I was a mosquito magnet. I would sit down and have 12 new bites while my fiancé sitting right next to me had none. After I started taking vitamin B, the tables turned and the mosquitoes bit him much more than me.
If you search on Google you’ll quickly see that the theory isn’t scientifically proven, but I had luck with it. I’m ~not~ a doctor and I’m just sharing the experience that I had. If you consult with your doctor and they say you could benefit from taking vitamin B, it may help you on your travels through high mosquito zones!
I hope these tips help prepare you for whatever adventure is ahead. If you have any additional suggestions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!