This is the first of four “Travel Extras – What to Bring …” posts planned for four Thursdays.  I apologize in advance that I expect all of them to be pictureless.  I’m just not sure supplies make for super interesting pictures and I don’t have readily available pictures of hotel room interiors.

First, the definition of a hotel kitchen.  For purposes of this post a hotel kitchen includes a sink, full size fridge, microwave, and at least two burners.  It might or might not have an oven and/or dishwasher.  Some hotels have a microwave and mini-fridge.  Although useful (especially for breakfast) that is not what I’m discussing here.

We have stayed multiple times in hotels with full kitchens.  With the exception of a Marriott Residence Inn, I never felt like they lived up to the hope.  First, they are often stocked with exactly four of everything, even if its a suite with a pull-out sofa that can sleep six.  Second, what pans you have for the stove are hit or miss and usually low quality.  That being said, if you are committed to it, a hotel kitchen can save you some serious money and time over going out to eat each meal.

Let’s tackle breakfast first.  Lots of hotels these days have free breakfasts, even those that that offer in-room kitchens.  I tend to take advantage of those first.  If anything I might bring something back to the room for later and stash it in the refrigerator.  I’ve never met a hotel kitchen frying pan that I wanted to cook eggs on.  Oatmeal can be done in the microwave.  All in all the kitchen is not offering much here.

It’s a similar story for lunch.  The fridge is nice for storing drinks and lunch meat.  But, this is only useful if you will be bringing your lunch to your destination or at the hotel at lunchtime.  Again, this is not particularly useful for us.

Dinner is where the hotel kitchen should shine, in the sense of adding value for your trip.  You come back from your day out, make some dinner, maybe put the kids to bed while you eat separately.  Unfortunately, there are some serious considerations here.

First, the aforementioned pans.  Hotel pans tend to be a random collection of cheap stuff.  Probably a frying pan, a large saucepan/small stockpot, a small saucepan, and maybe a cookie sheet.  Cooking utensils are even harder to guess in advance.  Therefore, when I have the opportunity to cook, I go for heating vs cooking and stovetop options.  Spaghetti works well for us.  Macaroni and cheese would be a good choice if my kids would eat it.  Soup heats well in pretty much anything.  If I know in advance I have an oven I might consider chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, or other such things.  I’m not going to try to bake bread, make a casserole, or poach fish.

The second element to this is what, exactly, you are going to cook.  I prefer to bring as much as possible from home.  So, boxed spaghetti, canned sauce or soup, bread, peanut butter, etc. works well for us.  It’s fairly straightforward to find milk locally.  It’s much less straightforward to find obscure produce or deli items (especially if you cross into Canada where these items are sold by the kilo vs the pound).  Similar to the pan comment, knives tend to be very cheap.  So, this probably also isn’t the time you want to be dicing lots of onions, slicing steak, or otherwise breaking down food.

Third, one needs to consider the hardware to go with all this.  If you like, you could bring the proper pans and utensils from home.  Since you would know exactly what you were working with that would make meal planning a bit easier.  But, assuming you’re not going to those lengths, there are still a few non-food items I would recommend to make the kitchen more user-friendly.

  1. Paper towels – One tends to get what was left on the roll from the previous resident, if that.  Often you’re stuck with tissues or bathroom towels.  Paper towels can also double as napkins.
  2. Dish soap – You’ll probably get a tiny bottle at best.  If you actually plan to use the kitchen, this will not be enough.  And, even if the staff cleans up once a day, you may not have enough glasses (for example) to make it until the next time they come through.
  3. Rubber gloves – If you use them at home, you might want them on vacation.
  4. Dishwasher tablets – It’s much easier to bring these now that they’re single use vs larger boxes/bottles.  With the relatively small number of dishes, it is likely you’ll be running the dishwasher relatively empty, but its nicer than having to hand wash everything.
  5. Paper products – If you have more than four people you may want to bring some disposable plates, cups, silverware so everyone can eat without having to double use items.  It will also cut down on how much you have to wash.  It may seem wasteful, but think how much you’re saving just not eating dinner at a restaurant and you might relax a little.
  6. Bottle opener – If you may need one during your stay.  A bottle opener is usually included, but its small and when you need one you really need one.

Finally, consider your schedule.  If the kids will fall asleep in the car after a long day of sightseeing, odds are they won’t eat a good dinner after you’ve cooked it at the hotel.  Will you want to be cooking dinner, or do you want to spend the evening relaxing?  Do you want to listen to the dishwasher while you’re trying to sleep?  It is a vacation after all.