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Eat Homemade Dehydrated Food on Vacation to Save Money and Time

This is a post for anyone who likes to enjoy hot beverages or eat hot food on the road but do not enjoy waiting in restaurant lines or paying exorbitant prices for fattening, unhealthy food.  Being a hot tea junkie, I can't stomach paying $2 for a cup of hot water with a 20 cent tea bag when I am away from home.  For short trips, such as a day trip, I carry a thermos of hot water and keep tea bags, sugar, and creamer in my car, along with snacks.

But for longer, overnight trips, I carry a backpacking stove.  That's right!  Those cute little backpacking stoves aren't just for the back woods.  I carry mine just about everywhere.  Instead of stopping at convenience stores for cups coffee or hot chocolate, stop at rest areas and fire up the stove.   Likewise, prepare pre-portioned dinners from dehydrated foods at home in ziploc freezer bags and simply add hot water to rehydrate in the bag.  This method, called "Freezer Bag Cooking," or FBC, has been used by backpackers for years to savor homemade goodness when on the go.

Jetboil Stove
Granted, this method requires a stove and a dehydrator.  My favorite on-the-go stove which has served me well for almost three years is the Jetboil, but there are a lot of less expensive options available at your local outdoor retailer such as REI or Eastern Mountain Sports.  Dehydrators are more readily available at department stores.  I highly recommend buying both stove and dehydrator used.  I have seen dehydrators in excellent condition at thrift stores and yard sales.

Sarah Kirkconnell has one of the best sites for FBC how-to and recipes here.  I have her book, and while a lot of the recipes use pasta, instant potatoes, and rice, which I don't eat, my kids really like many of the meals.   For healthier dinners, replace pasta with dried julienned zucchini noodles ("zoodles"), dried riced cauliflower for the rice, and dried mashed cauliflower for potatoes.

Roadside Stop to Heat Water for Tea and a Snack with an Alcohol Stove
My kids may disagree that freezer bag meals in a hotel room is better than pizza or hamburgers in a restaurant, but then again, they don't pay the bills!  We ski a fair amount during the winter.  Since the nearest ski resort is several hours away, we stay for one to three nights in a hotel room.  Skiing is not a cheap hobby; paying for lift tickets, equipment, gas, and accommodations means a weekend out can break the bank.  One way I save money is to bring a cooler of snacks and fruit, and to eat in the room at night by heating water in the stove then rehydrate pre-made freezer bag dinners.

The upside to eating in the room after a day of activity like skiing or hiking, is that we can shower and eat at our leisure. We are usually dirty and exhausted, ready to clean up and lounge around the room instead of waiting for food service and paying ridiculous resort prices for dinner.  A word of caution here:  I feel much safer heating water on my Jetboil, since the likelihood of a fuel spill and subsequent fire is unlikely.  I also cook outside on the balcony or on the front stoop.  Depending on the stove, in 2 to 6 minutes I have 16 ounces of boiling water, which is enough to rehydrate  one dinner and one hot beverage.

A couple years ago we travelled to Yellowstone National Park, planning to spend 9 days driving around the park, staying in park operated hotels. My husband thought I was nuts to pack a good portion of our checked suitcase with dehydrated meals prepared at home, along with my trusty Jetboil. "Why can't we just eat in restaurants like normal people?" he inquired.

Rich Fly Fishing while I make dinner nearby
Although we had to hit the outdoor retail store in Jackson Hole upon landing to buy fuel, he ended up being appreciative when we arrived at the hotels to find that very few rooms (only two our entire trip), came equipped with in-room coffee service, especially when I was able to dig out his favorite instant coffee from my bottomless food bag and make up coffee and tea first thing in the morning.  And later, when he found that perfect trout stream about an hour from the nearest restaurant, he was thrilled that we wouldn't have to leave at dinner time, since I was able to whip up some spaghetti with meat sauce in minutes, complete with grated Parmesan cheese.

I was happy to have some food in my tummy when we had to drive around to the nearest outfitter to find some pliers to get the fishing hook out of Rich's arm after he accidentally caught himself instead of a fish!  We would have been very late to dinner, indeed :)

The Biggest Catch of the Day!

Keep in mind that when air traveling, your backpacking stove is allowed in checked baggage, but fuel is prohibited.  Research ahead of time to find a place to purchase your fuel of choice once you reach your destination.  Canisters for stoves like the Jetboil can be purchased at any outdoor retailer, while alcohol stoves have a little more flexibility; methylated spirits can be purchased at hardware stores or WalMart in the paint aisle, and Heet brand fuel additive in the yellow bottles can be found in auto parts aisle.

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