Not to ruin my budget travel cred or anything, but I didn’t try super hard to have a cheap trip to Iceland. (And by Iceland, I mean Reykjavik, because we didn’t leave the city other than a couple of day trips.) The last minute nature of the travel, plus the Covid situation meant I tried to focus on convenience and safety rather than budget.
But don’t worry—I’ll always be a cheapskate at heart, so I still saved money when I could. Mostly this savings came from preparing our own food.
After a couple of nights in a hotel, following the quarantine guidelines for vaccinated travelers, we moved into an apartment. The apartment was centrally located and came with a stocked refrigerator. This was the most comfortable and spoiled we’ve ever been. Imagine it: your scrappy traveling couple, taking hot showers, washing their clothes in a not too hard to operate washing machine, with a lady that stops by to bring groceries and take away the trash. We hardly recognized ourselves.
Food is pricey in Iceland, because most of it has to be shipped in from somewhere else, and, though we didn’t go to any restaurants, we could see by the posted menus that they were quite expensive. That wasn’t a problem, of course, because of our magical self-replenishing refrigerator.
The magic refrigerator came with bread, eggs, cheese, milk, Skyr, butter, tomatoes, cucumbers, fruit and orange juice. Plus there were the usual sketchy pantry items and coffee. I suppose we could have lived on these foods alone for a couple of weeks, but we supplemented with a few groceries from the nearby Bonus supermarket (said to be the cheapest.)
Working with the available cooking supplies (has any rental apartment ever in the history of rental apartments ever had a sharp knife?) I put together a rough meal plan:
Granola and chopped fruit over Skyr, orange juice and coffee
Picnic lunch and snacks:
Sandwiches, boiled eggs, sliced cucumbers, and fruit
A variety of simple meals, mostly using the magic refrigerator ingredients livened up with an epic ton of olive oil, vinegar, fresh garlic and rosemary, greens, broccoli, mushrooms, red peppers, canned beans, tortillas and pasta.
The apartment came with a sheet pan—thank goodness—so I roasted a pan full of veggies and heads of garlic that we ate with several dinners and used as sandwich fillings.
Here are some wraps that I made from roasted veggies along with an omelet, cheese and tomatoes from the magic fridge. They made a yummy and filling dinner.
This dinner was made from broccoli, chickpeas, rosemary, garlic and some peppercorns I found in the cupboard roasted in a lot of olive oil and served over pasta.
After living through Covid supply shortages, I’m a firm believer that anything can be a frittata if you try hard enough. Here’s a frittata I made from the provided milk, eggs, tomatoes and cheese plus our fresh spices and roasted vegetables. The pan was cracked and I couldn’t figure out how to set the temperature of the oven but it still turned out tasty.
Leftover pasta and veggies also made a decent pasta salad, dressed with olive oil, vinegar, garlic and a mysterious spice out of the cupboard and we used the leftover tortillas for quesadillas.
So here’s a good blueprint for travel cooking:
- Sheet pans are your friend. Roast lots of veggies at once with plans to use the leftovers in several meals.
- Anything can be a quesadilla, pasta salad or frittata if you try hard enough.
- One fresh herb plus garlic can go a long way to flavor basic dishes. (We didn’t buy lemon this time, but that’s always a winner too.)
- Sandwiches: duh! I packed sandwich baggies and washed them out to reuse.
- Canned beans make for quick, healthy meals—mind the farting, though.
While cooking while traveling is a money saver, for HOB and I it is also a health saver. In our younger days we’d get by on lots of fried things, but if we did that now our energy would flag and we’d feel yucky. On this trip we felt great and had loads of energy (and I never once had the urge to tear apart a rotisserie chicken in a grocery store parking lot).
Not everything we ate was healthy: we bought fresh cinnamon rolls, sampled ice cream, and ate these supermarket treats. One was kind of a rice cake covered in caramel and then we really went after the licorice (don’t tell HOB I took home a bag and I am hiding it to bust out for a special occasion). And of course we tried out a hot dog after we climbed a mountain to look at the volcano.
Picnicking is actively encouraged in Reykjavik. So even if you don’t have access to cooking supplies, picnic tables and benches are everywhere and the views are fine—pack sandwiches and fill your bottle with that lovely, crsip Icelandic tap water.