Eating well: when you’re stuck living in temporary accommodation

“Oh, what a shame – It’s too difficult to cook, so we better just get take away!” Sounds like a fun proposition when you’re away from home for a few nights, but what happens when you’re traveling and living in temporary accommodation for months on end?

We have been living in temporary accommodation for the past 6+ months both in London and Melbourne, while we travel and jump through the various hoops that are placed in front of us to ultimately move to London.

Throughout this time, we’ve had varying qualities of the kitchens available to us.  This leads to some poor choices. The temptation to click on HungryHouse or MenuLog to fulfil our dinner needs was real until the inevitable ‘rock bottom’ – where we realised that if we’re going to make this work long-term, we’ll need to put in the effort to eat well.

The hotel – ‘Cooking ability factor’ zero!

Let’s face it – staying in a hotel will generally mean that you have zero ability to cook for yourself (unless of course, you partake in pot noodles for your main meals).  You’re limited to a kettle and potentially a microwave – in some rare situations you’re even provided a hot-plate and sink.

If you plan on living long-term without becoming severely malnourished or flat broke from eating in restaurants – steer clear of the hotel stay for anything longer than a few days.

The serviced apartment – ‘Cooking ability factor’ 5

Serviced apartment living isn’t that bad.  Someone comes and cleans for you if you’re lucky and the kitchen is relatively well equipped for a medium length stay.  Generally, you’ll find at least 1 saucepan and maybe a frying pan – there’ll most certainly be at least a hot-plate and microwave and in a lot of instances, an oven.

You’ll have a place to wash the dishes in a sink – and hopefully, a dishwasher to save your hands.  A word of warning though, serviced apartments are some times poorly equipped due to catering for the business traveller who is very unlikely to want to cook for themselves.  Make sure you check the facilities available before you book.

We found that the ready meals from Tesco worked a treat when we stayed in a serviced apartment for 3 weeks upon arrival in London.  Relatively inexpensive and with deals that include beer or wine in the price, we ate well.  These meals generally contained a good amount of real food with vegetables and easily cooked in our oven.

Added bonus was that there was little to no wash up – aside from the plates and cutlery used.

I certainly can’t recall us cooking a meal from scratch in this place, mainly because there were things annoyingly missing from the flat;

  • Cutting board and decent knives
  • Clingwrap and containers for leftovers
  • Oven dishes / foil etc
  • mixing bowls
  • Condiments and flour etc.

Because we were only staying for a few weeks, it didn’t make a lot of sense to go out and buy this stuff, so beware.  If you’re staying in a serviced apartment for the medium term, be prepared to not really be able to cook unless you’re willing to throw away some cash on utensils that will be difficult to take with you or bring from home.

The AirBNB – ‘Cooking ability factor’ range from 3 – 7

Similarly to the serviced apartment, the AirBNB is pretty good for a medium length stay.  We stayed in 2 different AirBNB’s in London over the 6 months for a decent amount of time, and another in Melbourne for a few months.  All with very different levels in available equipment in the kitchen.

The first AirBNB;

Our first place in London included an oven, microwave, cook-top, dishwasher and decent fridge – everything you could need.  It also had a few pots and pans which were usable.  The only problem?  The oven didn’t work – however our AirBNB hosts were very good at getting this replaced for us (I know, great, right?).

We managed to survive on our M&S and Tesco meals (yum yum), but also started to cook things like Steak, Sausages and simple ‘put together’ meals that didn’t require a lot of prep.  Again, we didn’t have access to a heap of condiments / flours, oils etc. – but fortunately this airBNB was actually a home and had some of this available to us – so we did alright.

The second AirBNB;

Our next place was a little bit more modern and upmarket – so we expected to have a wonderful time in the kitchen.  Unfortunately, this was an ‘own to rent’ flat listed on AirBNB rather than the host’s home.  We think that we may have been the first or second guests staying from AirBNB, but certainly were the first guests staying for any length of time.

A well equipped kitchen was available with cook-top, oven, microwave, dishwasher and decent fridge too.  A quick look in the cupboards was a bit shocking – there was a wok, 2 cups, 2 glasses, a knife (which appeared to be bought from a gift store – it had bright colours and patterns all over the blade) and one each of fork, knife and, spoon.  No cutting board, no condiments, no mixing bowls.  As the old nursery rhyme goes, the cupboards were bare.

The owner was a bit surprised that we would ask for something like a pot or frying pan and cutlery – but anyway, we were given a baking tray and an additional mug (I don’t really remember asking for these though…). So, it was clear that we would need to fill the gap in available cookware to survive on something other than microwaved mushy peas.

We purchased our own frying pan and saucepan, cutlery, glasses and mugs.  This wasn’t so bad as we did plan on moving in to our own flat shortly anyway so this was a start of equipping ourselves – but come on.  This place wasn’t cheap, but does go to show that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to AirBNB.

Once we had established ourselves, I was able to utilise that baking tray to roast meats and heat up meals.  We also had the occasional steak & Veg, pasta and meatballs, other ‘put together’ meals and the like.  We still weren’t able to cook from scratch like I was accustomed to at home (I miss being able to bake and make a hearty stew from scratch) – but we ate well nonetheless.

The third AirBNB (in Melbourne);

Upon return to Melbourne, we (are currently) staying in an AirBNB.  Oh, it’s gorgeous, lots of Art Deco features and appeal, wooden floors and high ceilings.  Its kitchen is well equipped with oven, cook-top, microwave and fridge.  For those keeping tabs on what’s available, you may have noticed a horrifying omission.  That’s right, no dishwasher.

Oh the kitchen is fabulously stocked – we have a dutch oven, 2 frying pans, 2 saucepans, chopping boards, chef’s knives, mixing bowls, fully stocked flatware and glassware, place mats etc.  It’s actually a great cook’s kitchen (aside the lack of bench space, but I’ll leave that for the psychologist’s couch).  But gee.  I haven’t washed a dish in 15 years, how on earth are we going to survive this for a few months?

Well, the answer here is that we just have to.  So, we’ve sucked it up, we don the gloves and take it in turns washing and drying.  A new routine which, whilst annoying, is also a nice little break from the monotony of television or checking our Instagram feeds (out of interest, here’s mine).

Oh, in the way of cooking, we don’t have much problem here.  We have most that we need to cook a great meal – I haven’t baked, but I certainly have cooked.  We’ve made stews and casseroles (which is great because we’ve caught the end of Winter here).  It’s just as well we have a good kitchen, because the ready-made food in Australia is terrible!  So, Mr Mark and Mr Spencer, if you’re listening – please open up in Melbourne to help struggling travellers like us!

The lessons;

  • Don’t stay in hotels for any length of time greater than a few days, otherwise you’ll starve or go broke
  • Serviced apartments are good to get your bearings in a city, but still not great for cooking (I can’t imagine the serviced apartment business focusing on those who are culinary inclined)
  • AirBNB’s can be hit and miss and while you may assume it’ll be OK – you never quite know what may be missing
  • You can make do if you’ve got access to ready-made meals like in the UK – but don’t expect cordon bleu in Melbourne’s supermarkets
  • Don’t forget that good nutrition will help with your overstressed body and  mind – so don’t forget the vegetables

Tell me your travelling kitchen nightmares

I’d love to hear how you got on when you had to travel for a long period.  Did you suffer or did you thrive?  Let me know in the comments below.

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